Sunday, August 1, 2011, 1030am
Leybato Guest House, Fajara Beach
Ashley and I have been relaxing on the beach and we’ve been processing the incredible experience that we’ve just had together with Pa Modou Sarr, Kebba Suso and Spiderman Dodou Bah.
In “Running the Sahara,” Charlie insightfully states, ‘this experience was so big that I can’t fit it into my head.’ We relate to that.
Ashley and I have been keeping a list of what we’ve run through, what we’ve been through… for our own memory bank as we try to fit experience into our heads.
We are so lucky that we ran through pretty much everything that West Africa had to offer. You’ll see just how lucky we were, as follows.
We ran through:
- A wedding
- A funeral
- A naming ceremony (remember all Muslim events, we are in a Muslim country)
- Refugee processing near the Casamance (Senegal) conflict
- 3 presidential convoys
- 1 presidential convoy causing a monster traffic jam in Serrekunda requiring us to run through heart and centre of said traffic jam
- 1 presidential convoy in Soma that caused a stampede exactly where we were standing in which a young girl got trampled. Our guys, Kebba and Pa Modou, turned into American football players instantly, bear hugging and protecting us in a huddle.
- Dirt road
- Paved road
- Partially paved road
- Side of road
- Road with monkeys
- Road with bushrats
- Road with snakes at pee stops
- No roads with nile monitor lizards, thank God
- Never enough rain
- Sun (34-35 degrees)
- Hotter sun (37-38 degrees)
- Hottest sun (42 degrees)
- Humidity- worse than hottest sun
- Humidity and sun so hot that on the last day in Banjul, as I stood motionless next to our truck as we waited to begin, I felt cold. It was 29 degrees. The weather was “cool” for The Gambia. In that moment, I knew that my brain’s temperature recognition was thoroughly messed up.
- 2 pairs of melted sneakers
We ran through more than these “things:” events, roads, animals and weather.
(Dad, you may not want to continue reading this list. Disclaimer- it’s just as safe here as anywhere else in the world. All cities have crime pockets. And we had a team of very protective men with us. Ashley once said that she was scared of a guy with a stick, thinking he might like to hit her with the stick. The man was mentally ill. If the man hit her with the stick, peaceful Kebba said very simply, “Well then I would tear him apart.”)
We ran through rice fields, ground nut fields and couscous fields.
We ran and drove through long hours together where my team’s bond and friendship turned into family. If you want to really get to know an African country and 3 African men, there’s no better way to become close with the country and its people than to run across it with them. West African societies, especially tribal relationships, are incredibly complex. I now have a wealth of knowledge stored away from conversations that our feet carried us through.
We ran more kilometers as a team than I did alone. Days 8 through 14, I didn’t run a single step solo. On Day 15, I ran 9 km solo (7 by request) and those were my last solo kms.
We enjoyed hours of laughing together.
Ashley and I sometimes giggled late at night until we cried.
We enjoyed hours of a dramatic production where Pa Modou was president and we were the people, engaged in an election campaign. When there’s no television, internet, stereo… you entertain yourself in other ways.
We entertained ourselves with a rotating “boss:” the team member who (besides me) ran the most kilometers that day. We laughed hysterically as the boss tried to wield their power until it expired at midnight.
We enjoyed hours of Serere vs Fula jokes until I had one hour too many and started running between Pa Modou and Spider hoping they would finally stop. They stopped while running, continued the rest of the hours of the day.
We ran through the brief illnesses of 3 of our team members and learned that when one team member is down, we are all down.
We ran with 3 amazing groups who joined us: children, mamas in rice fields and soldiers on convoy. We loved them all equally. While the soldiers in the Gambia National Army and the National Guard didn’t run any steps with us, they began to recognize us and would salute me from their convoy (sometimes up to 6 trucks and over 100 soldiers). I would salute them back.
We ran so long on the same road that the bush taxi drivers began to recognize us and would give us a happy beep and wave instead of an irritated “get the heck outta my way” beep and wave.
We went through a few mornings where I didn’t want to get out of the truck and run. On these mornings Kebba always felt my fatigue and would say, “Oh, Erin. I hate to let you out of the truck.” Ashley would push me out and Pa would drag me onto the road. Once pink sneakers are on the road, fatigue would be replaced with happiness. My team just had to get the pink sneakers onto the road.
We rested for 2 hours under 15 different trees along the South Bank Road and led way more than 15 curious youth through yoga practice.
We ran through the mysterious disappearance of Akon for 3 days.
We stayed in places where our dinner was killed before us. Although in Ndemban, the 10 year-old boy entrusted with killing the rooster with a dull butter knife only managed to mortally wound the rooster and Spider had to step in to relieve the boy of this duties and finish the job.
Ashley and I peed and changed clothes in many hidden spots in the forest together. Sometimes we were only hidden from the truck and that was perfectly acceptable. Sometimes we just changed next to the truck “hidden” by my camping towel.
We ran through forests renowned for armed robbery, although the last incidence was more than one year ago. Though such is the reputation that locals remain weary and police checks are more numerous.
We celebrated each overhead shower and each room with more than one electrical outlet.
We endured a robbery at our lodge in Janjanbureh where the thief knocked off the screen on our window and possibly entered our room. We’re not sure; the runner was dead asleep and Ashley just rolled over in bed without noticing. We heard that he was a very unskilled thief who only made away with one wallet from a guy in another bank of rooms. We did get a lot of mileage out of this thief as he was named as a suspect in the disappearance of Akon.
We knew that we had been running and living “in the bush” a long time when we were in Ndemban, staying at a local compound next to the road leading to Senegal and site of the Casamance civil conflict. Kebba told us: “We are 3km from Casamance so if you hear gunfire overnight, don’t worry, it’s just coming from the rebels across the border.” And we easily replied, “Yea, whatever. Is there an electrical outlet here so we can charge the Garmin?” Then Ashley and I didn’t even think to talk about this conversation for another 4 days.
We ran so long that Stephen Harper was starting to look good.
I ran so long and got called “toubab” (Mandinka word for white person) so many times that I started following Pa Modou’s lead and began calling “morfing” (Mandinka word for black person) back.
We ran so long together that I felt like we could run to the end of the world together.
When Kebba drove us back to Leybato Guest House after our victorious swim in the Atlantic Ocean, we sat in the driveway next to each other in the front seat. We were both silent for about a full minute. I finally looked at him and said, “Kebba, I don’t want to get out of the truck because when I get out, it feels like it’ll be over.” Kebba nodded his head slowly. After a few moments, he looked at me and said, “Our team will never end.” Then we were brave enough to get out the truck.