After enjoying the hospitality of the Nova Scotia – Gambia Association’s country director and his lovely family, it was time to hit the road again. Our hostess prepared a fantastic breakfast and then we set off. The director came with us and drove the vehicle today.
We had been on the road for two weeks now and I knew the team was missing their families. And from speaking to their wives on the phone from time to time, I also knew they were missed at home. Since we were getting close to the coast, we had decided to drive there after our run, so the guys could spend the night at home.
To make sure they got home quickly, I decided to try for a good and long run today without many stops. After an afternoon and night of heavy rain, there was still a light drizzle in the morning and it was fairly cool. This helped my plan greatly. Not long after we began running, the drizzle turned into a downpour. I had been longing for a good long shower with full water pressure and today it was provided courtesy of Mother Nature. As a result of the rain, there were fewer people out and about, which also resulted in fewer stops to chat. I only stopped at kilometre 21 to change into a dry pair of socks and Mizuno Ronins to prevent my feet from the blistering. I had also taken off my hydration pack and shirt, as the pack had caused some chafing in the heavy rain.
In one village, a group of people were sitting on a porch looking out into the rain. When they saw me coming by, the kids starting shouting “toubab, toubab!” and then began laughing hysterically. They probably wondered what this crazy white lady was doing running half naked in the rain. As we got closer to the larger towns near the coast, traffic began to get heavier on the road. I ran nearly 35 kilometers that day and felt great. We had arrived in Brikama. This meant the remaining two days would be easy and low mileage compared to what we had done before.
We then drove to town, first surprising Pa Modou’s wife Agie with our early arrival in Westfield. Then we dropped Spider at the Old Bakadaji, the restaurant managed by him and his wife Jane. Another happy reunion. Next Kebba dropped me off at my accommodation and headed back to Brikama to see his family.
It had stopped raining and I decided to go for a quick swim in the ocean before getting cleaned up. I also hand washed my laundry and thanked my lucky stars again for having a washer and dryer at home. The things we take for granted! I dare you to do your laundry by hand for a week to get just a glimpse of how hard people (read: women!) work here every day around the home in addition to work they do to earn a living.
After the laundry was hanging on the line to dry, I headed to the restaurant by the beach for some lunch. Just after I had finished, one of the dogs that belonged to the hotel came up from the beach with one of the staff in tow. He explained the dog, Whiskey, had tried to eat one of his fishing hooks and the evidence was clearly visible in the dog’s mouth. Sussane, who runs the place with her husband, held the dog while the fisherman tried to remove the hook. But Whiskey was putting up a fight. I got up to help and squeezed the dog’s body between my legs, so he couldn’t back away and then forced his mouth open with my hands. Whiskey struggled as Sussane was trying to remove the hook, which wouldn’t budge because of the barb at the end. Whiskey howled in pain and his buddy Brownie came over to see what was happening. I talked to the dog soothingly and told him how brave he was. Since the hook wouldn’t give, our strategy was to find some pliers and to cut it. Finally, the metal was cut and the hook could be removed. Whiskey was no worse for wear and after a few rubs behind the ear took back off to the beach. My hand was bleeding where he had bitten me in his pain and panic to get away, so we attended to this next. It was just a scratch and I made sure to disinfect it after cleaning it up. A whole lot of excitement for one afternoon!
Later in the evening, I headed to Spider and Jane’s restaurant for dinner where we were also met by Agie and Pa Modou. I then came back early to get a good sleep. But before going to bed, I wanted to check my email real quick and as I entered the restaurant by the beach, where I could get wi-fi, the four NSGA volunteers were there for dinner. We ended up talking and catching up for a while.
The next morning, Kebba came to pick me up and we drove back to Brikama to start the run. On the way we were going to pick up Pa and Spider, as well as grab some breakfast. I was feeling a bit off that morning, but thought I’d just need some food. We pulled over and I got out of the car, since I knew I wasn’t done yet. My legs felt like jello and my hands were shaking. All I could think was: “Oh, no, please, just two more days!” My body had held up amazingly well in the heat, tolerated unfamiliar foods, some unsanitary conditions, a nasty fall on day one, and a whole lot of exercise. I had come to think of this as normal. This morning showed me how lucky I had been to date.
Kebba bought me a cola and we drove on. I felt slightly better and ate a sandwich in the car. When we got to Brikama, we met our police escort, who would be with us for the rest of the way, as traffic was very busy. The inspector would drive ahead of us on his motor bike, we would follow behind and the support vehicle would bring up the rear. This way, we were much safer on the busy road. We briefed the inspector on stopping for Gatorade periodically, preferably in a shady spot, as it was hot again. Then the motor bike took off, with lights and sirens, and we followed behind.
This was pretty exciting and if you think I attracted a lot of attention running through the country before now, then you should have seen the rock star treatment I was getting with our police escort! People were shouting, clapping, cheering and pumping their fists in the air. While many may have had no idea for what and why we were running, word had spread from village to village that a toubab was running across the Gambia for peer health. I would also often meet people who told me that they had seen me running by in other parts of the country. The Gambia is small and people are quite mobile. Case in point was the man riding a motorcycle in the opposite direction from our run today who suddenly started waving and crying: “Bintou, Bintou!”, calling me by my Gambian name. It was the man who had video recorded us on his iPhone somewhere up country during our run!
The excitement got me through the first few kilometres, but my body clearly did not want to cooperate today. I got sick again and my legs felt rubbery. So much for an easy day today! But if the body isn’t strong, the mind has to be doubly so, as I had a job to do. I told myself I could do this and that if we reached our goal of running the 23 kilometers to Westfield, then only about 15 kilometer celebration remained tomorrow. The team told me we could stop any time if I didn’t feel up to the task today and we could pick it up the next day, but I was determined.
It was not easy to disappear into the bushes inconspicuously to pee with this police escort and I had to time my nature breaks so we were in a quieter area. But eventually we got closer to the hustle and bustle of the city and ran on a highway. There was nowhere to hide here. When I had to go again urgently, I explained to the guys that I needed a washroom. No problem, they said. There was an army barracks up the road and they would likely let me use the washroom there. So, with a police escort, I ran up to the barracks. There, a military police officer escorted me inside, as I sheepishly carried my role of toilet paper (there rarely is paper in washrooms here and most people don’t use it), greeting the many members of the Gambian forces gathered in the courtyard. The MP brought me to a desk from where a young man in uniform escorted me to the bathroom. He went in ahead of me to check the place out, fill a kettle with water (which is what people use instead of paper), and to inspect the door lock. When it did not work, he stood guard outside as I did my business inside. I can honestly say this was the most official bathroom break I have taken in my life and in spite of feeling lousy, I had a good laugh.
Back outside, the heat was getting worse. As always after a day of rain, the sun came back with a vengeance and the temperatures soared. To add to my discomfort, the traffic was now insanely busy and countless vehicles and trucks were belching their exhaust fumes at us. The Gambia does not seem to have any emission control standards for vehicles and often, when a vehicle got a chance to pass our escort and accelerated, black clouds emanated from their tail pipes. As I trudged up a hill, a crowd outside a shop cheered me on and a man shouted: “Courage!” in French.
When we reached the top of the hill, we pulled over under a tree to drink. But I was overcome by nausea again and as my body was heaving, one of the guys came up behind me to squeeze my rib cage. These guys have been taking such amazing care of me and nothing is too much for them. I have no idea how I will ever be able to thank them for sharing this incredible journey with me.
Eventually, we reached the stopping point for the day in Westfield. We had run by Pa Modou’s house and his wife Agie and some friends were out to cheer us on. Now I sat down on the side of the road and the guys came over to tell me how strong I had been and how proud they were. I could feel the emotion well up inside me. We made it – not just through this day, but through an entire country. No matter what, we will be able to get those last 13 kilometers done tomorrow to jump into the Atlantic Ocean.
But the party will have to wait until then. I thanked our police man and we arranged a time for tomorrow morning. I then went back to my accommodation where Sussane had a cup of tea with lemon, sugar and salt prepared for me to help me settle my stomach. I drank it after a short swim in the ocean and while relaxing in a hammock. Next it was time to treat myself for a massage! There was a small hut on the beach where Ibrahim, a trained massage therapist, works. He rubbed my aching body down to release some of the tight muscles.
Tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. will be my last rendez-vous with the South Bank Road. Read all about it here soon. And remember, it is not too late to donate to the Nova Scotia – Gambia Association through this web site’s Donate Now button to help save the life of a child.
Lots of love from this side of the Atlantic Ocean!