The Gambian Naming Ceremony + Day 5 of Running

Wow, the past twenty-four hours have been quite the experience, starting with our Gambian naming ceremony last night and the 27 km run today.

I will start with the naming ceremony. In Gambian society, it is tradition to name your baby exactly seven days after it is born. When you name your baby, it is accompanied by a large ceremony and celebration, including music, drinks, and dancing. Since me and my sister have now been in The Gambia for seven days, the team decided that it should be our naming ceremony day, and they made sure that it was as authentic as possible, with no exceptions.

So first, we hear that they are ordering a local band and drummers to come in for the ceremony. This starts to make me nervous, “a whole band, are you sure Kebba?” “Yes”, he replies, “we did this all last year.” So I let him plan the naming ceremony hoping he doesn’t go too over the top and that it isn’t too much of a big deal. So much for that…

When evening rolls around, people begin to show up. First, two NSGA teacher coordinators from Bansang Upper Basic School and nine NSGA peer educators from their school. Then the band shows up, then a bunch of people from around the hotel show up. It is officially a Gambian naming ceremony and people are here to celebrate!

The drummers and singers

The drummers and singers

Sitting before we receive our Gambian names.  At this point, I have no idea what is happening/what to expect...

Sitting before we receive our Gambian names. At this point, I have no idea what is happening/what to expect…

It starts out with lots of drumming, singing, and dancing. Everyone, from the older women, to students, to the group of small children gathers and takes part. The dirt from the ground rises in a huge dust cloud as everyone stomps to the beat in a rhythmical way you can only find in Africa. It’s so neat to be apart of this.

Eventually, they stop with the music. Kebba gets to the centre and explains the reason for love4gambia and why they are doing the naming ceremony. Then, they ask two of the peer health educators to take a seat besides me and my sister. After much talking and drumrolls, the new Gambian names are eventually announced:

Cielianna is to be called Adama

and I am to be called Jareh.

They explain that they chose our Gambian names based on the names of two peer health educators in Bansang that were excited about the run and wanted to run with us tomorrow. Jareh was so excited to have a Canadian take on her name, and I also am very excited to take on a name of a Gambian peer health educator.

Dancing with Jareh

Dancing with Jareh

The peer health educators with Team Love4gambia at the naming ceremony

The peer health educators with Team Love4gambia at the naming ceremony

A will go into a bit of detail about Jareh because I was able to talk to her for a while last night and learned about her and her experience as a peer health educator.

Jareh is 15. She attends Bansang Upper Basic School. She is beautiful, a bit shy, and one of the boys keeps teasing her. When she grows up she wants to be a teacher or a doctor. She is smart. She enjoys being a peer health educator in her school because it is fun and allows her to educate and teach others. She also likes the program because it helps her to know what is safe and what is not safe.

I see so much potential for Jareh and the group of peer educators that came along to celebrate with the naming ceremony. They are a bubbly, excited, and talkative group. You can tell they are all leaders in their own way, some are silly, some are talkative, some are serious. It is a neat group of 15 and 16 year olds.

Later on, after the drummers have left and things have settled down, the peer health educators give team Love4gambia a quick sample of a health education lesson they might give in class. One at a time they stand up to say their part. They all start the same way:

Student: “Good evening viewers”
Crowd: “Good evening”
Student: “I am here to inform you”
Crowd: “Yes”
Student: “In case you didn’t already know”
Crowd: “Yes”
Student: “I am Madame/Mister (Insert name of pest/bacteria/virus here)
Crowd: “Hello Madame/Mister (insert same name of pest/bacteria/virus here)

The student would then go on and inform the crowd about themselves. For example, one student said. “I am Madame mosquito. I like to live in wet places and I like to come out especially at night. I carry malaria and can infect you if I bite you. However, if you are under a bed net at night, I am unable to get through and I cannot bite you”. Other examples included Mister Bacteria, Madame Virus, and so forth. It was an entertaining and effective way to learn about certain diseases and some useful information about all of them. I was amazed by how animated the peer health educators were. This method of teaching really is effective and very beneficial for both the students listening to the presentation and to the peer health educators teaching the students. Seeing the presentations by the students really motivating because this run is supporting students exactly like these peer health educators and the hundreds of students that they will teach about health.

Quite the night.

Followed by, quite the day.

Today, we met the team in the morning, took care of a couple of last minute errands, and the set off to the 327km marker to begin our running journey again. Everyone was rejuvenated and back in good spirits after a day off, and we were all ready to get back on the road again. We started out at an easy pace and, well, just kept going from there…

Start to day FIVE already!

Start to day FIVE already!

At about 10km we met up again with the peer health educators that we had met last night. They had walked to the main road to meet us and planned to run a kilometer with us in support of Love4gambia. I found Jareh and we ran together, hand in hand for a while, until both our hand got too sweaty. All of the students were out of breath when we reached the top of the hill at the end of the kilometer. They were all ready to stop and turn around and get back to school, and I think running a kilometer with us made a lot of them realize just how long 25km per day is. After some hugs and thanks-yous, we parted ways, and continued westward on the South Bank Road.

Running with Jareh and the peer educators from her school just outside of Bansang

Running with Jareh and the peer educators from her school just outside of Bansang

A shot with the Peer Health educators and the teacher coordinator from Bansang Upper Basic School.  These guys are amazing and I'm so inspired to run for them!

A shot with the Peer Health educators and the teacher coordinator from Bansang Upper Basic School. These guys are amazing and I’m so inspired to run for them!

The next 10km passed without much ado. It was just me and Kebba running, and we were both building off of each other and ran faster and stronger until we sprinted in to the 20km mark. Then, time for a quick rest and refuel, and then we finished off with a 7km run in order to make it to the 300kilometer marker, just past the turnoff to Janjaburah, where we are spending the evening tonight. Hoping tomorrow feels as good as today did!

Thanks for the read, and if you are as inspired as I am by the peer-health educators and the work the NSGA does, please consider supporting the Love4gambia 2013 run.

Much Love,

Jareh/Jennifer

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Day 4: 100km Done for Peer Health Education in The Gambia!

We have finally made it to our first rest day and I think it is more than well deserved for all of us. Yesterday we pushed through kilometers 75-100 to make it to the 100km mark, the first big milestone in our run across The Gambia.

At the 100km mark!  !00km completed all in the name of peer health education in The Gambia!

At the 100km mark! !00km completed all in the name of peer health education in The Gambia!

For me, yesterday was one of the first days where I felt like a runner: I enjoyed the challenge of the running and felt like I was able to push myself in a good way. That is not to say that the 25km was easy, because it was not. I just mean that I am starting to feel more like myself again, and this definitely makes the running part a whole lot easier. I think the first three days I was really adjusting to the heat, the food, the accommodations, the lifestyle that comes along with running in Africa. It is entirely different than the lifestyle of Nova Scotia, and I know the adjustment was affecting my running in a big way. When I go for a run in Canada, I usually do it after a good nights rest, on a diet I am used to, and on paths and weather I am expecting. Not the case when you go for a run in The Gambia. These external factors are what really make this cross-country run challenging. However, I think that I am finally adapting to the mileage, heat, culture, food, and so forth, and this really helped me get through the fourth day. So, things are looking up in terms of feeling good while running in the hot hot Gambia!

In addition to this, not only did I complete the 25km interval yesterday, but once again I was accompanied for the entire distance with three members of the Love4Gambia team. Kebba/Egweeee! (King) completed the full distance for the second day in a row, and Cielianna and Spider surprised everyone by working together to complete the entire distance (I don’t think either of them had ran much more than 10km at one time in preparation for the run). Quite amazing, what the power of a team and cause can make the human body do!

I mention this because I think that the love4gambia run is morphing from an individual run into a team run. Like Erin was talking about in her blog post (foreverinrunningshoes.com), this run is not just about one individual crossing the country because it is so much more than that.

• It is about using a sport that almost everyone can do – running – to connect Canadians and Gambians.
• It is about inspiring Gambian and Canadian children about the importance of peer health education and health promotion.
• It is about raising the profile of the NSGA in both The Gambia and Canada so that its life-saving programs can continue to run in schools throughout The Gambia.
• It is about making sure that Gambians and Canadians know how important health education is, so that youth in Canada can appreciate the education they receive to stay healthy and so that Gambian youth can have access to this same information.
• It is about, staying healthy and preventing illness, and making sure that youth are empowered to make healthy choices, whether they are born in Canada or The Gambia.

All of this with one run – it’s a lot, but it is happening. I am so lucky to be a small part of it and look forward to continuing this challenging journey, for Canadians and Gambians. Love4Gambia has grown so much since Erin initiated it in 2011, and I can only see it growing from here, with increasing interest from both Canadians and Gambians. Who knows, maybe one day this will turn into a relay race with Canadians and Gambians all running together in the name of peer health? The energy and interest is definitely there as I see it right now!

But, I am getting way ahead of myself. For now, I must focus on getting my part of the love4gambia 2013 team complete. This rest day has definitely been appreciated (and needed), but I think we are all itching to get back on the road again. 100km done and 324 exciting kilometers to go! BANJUL CALLING!!!

Jennifer

Internet is super slow again – more pictures to come when they will upload faster…

Posted in Running in Africa | 1 Comment

Is Banjul Calling YOU!?

Canadian running with African school kids

Love4Gambia 2013

Are you watching this year’s Love4Gambia run unfold thinking “wow, this is amazing, I’d like to do that too?” Because if so, you’re in luck! NSGA will be proud to have runner(s) travel to The Gambia for Love4Gambia version 4.0 in the summer of 2014.

We look for runners who have a lengthy running background that includes successful completion of, at minimum, one marathon training cycle and race. The road to Banjul is 427km long and we need to ensure that a runner can make it.

Jenn, Spider and Kebba, 2013

Jenn, Spider and Kebba, 2013

Our official call for runners will occur in September, 2013. Dates will be finalized when our runner(s) are confirmed but must be scheduled around Ramadan.

Although we have recruited one runner per year for the past two years, we could accommodate more than one runner provided that multiple runners are a good fit for each other.

This run and the money raised by it support the health, education and human rights activities of NSGA in The Gambia. A runner will be asked to raise $5000 for NSGA along with money to cover their travel expenses, food and water totaling approximately $3500.  Fundraised donations > $20 are eligible for tax receipts, including individual (excluding the runner) donations towards travel expenses.

The NSGA Gambia office will coordinate travel, lodging and meals.  The runner(s) will be joined by the Gambian team: Pa Modou Sarr, Kebba Suso and Dodou “Spider” Bah.

Runners can bring along support people, provided they cover their own travel expenses, food and water.

For more information, contact Love4Gambia founder Erin Poirier @ erin.poirier@novascotiagambia.ca

Posted in Running for Charity, Running in Africa | Tagged , , , , ,

Day 3

Day three of seventeen complete! Not only did I run the full 25km today, but I was accompanied by three amazing people for the entire day – Congratulations to Kebba for completing the entire 25km after running over 20km the past two days, to Pa for running the entire distance on new shoes (blisters), and chaffing, and to Harouna (Aaroun), the local NSGA coordinator, for completing the entire distance for his first day as a runner. Pretty inspiring stuff, and so neat to work together to get each of us through the challenging parts so we could all finish together. Congratulations Team!

The four 25km'ers

The four 25km’ers

Talk show interview with a local Upper River Region (URR) Radio Station

Talk show interview with a local Upper River Region (URR) Radio Station

Before I get into the run, I would like to talk a bit about what we did last night after the run (besides the usual eat, drink, and sleep as much as possible). Last night, we were able to do a radio talk show with a local radio station about love4gambia, the NSGA , and what the run is all about. Most of the interview was composed in the local Gambian language, but from what I understood it went well, and the DJ (Alhagie Jalbul, a teacher coordinator at a local Basse School) graciously thanked me for my ‘sacrifice’. In return, I was able to thank all Gambians in the region for their support and encouraged them to run with us as we head out from Basse the following day. Hopefully this helps to increase the profile of Love4gambia and more people will know why we are running when we pass them by in the middle of nowhere.

So, day two was over, I was exhausted. Time for some rest and hopefully I am able to recover before the next 25km tomorrow…

Start to day three! Banjul Calling!

Start to day three! Banjul Calling!

Today, we started out later than usual because we were starting on the outskirts of Basse (first major town we had to run through). We wanted to start after the students at the local schools had a chance to go to attendance so that they would be able to run with us. And, wow, we passed four schools while running through town, and each time a huge group of students was lining the road, cheering as we approached. We would high-five them all and the group would join in behind us in support of our run. We must have had about 200 students running through the narrow streets of Basse in support of love4gambia and peer health education. WOW!

A quick photos with all of the students from the four schools in Basse that ran through town with us (3.5km!)

A quick photos with all of the students from the four schools in Basse that ran through town with us (3.5km!)

After leaving Basse, it quieted down quite a lot, we all got into our own rhythm and continued on, running a couple of kilometers, then rehydrating and refueling often. Because we started later today, the sun is blaring hot. We also made the transfer from dirt road to black asphalt after leaving Basse, and there is a noticeable difference. But, we cheer eachother on and keep going.

Proof of how sweaty and hot it is here - salt residue on the camelback after 2 days - bring on the gatorade!

Proof of how sweaty and hot it is here – salt residue on the camelback after 2 days – bring on the gatorade!

href=”https://love4gambia.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/screen-shot-2013-06-17-at-6-00-06-pm.png”>Gels - gotta have them, but that doesn't make them go down any easier - especially when you are stuck with one flavor for the entire run - peanut butter. Gels – gotta have them, but that doesn’t make them go down any easier – especially when you are stuck with one flavor for the entire run – peanut butter.[/caption]

Numuyel School running with Love4gambia in support of peer health education.  (many wearing only sandals)

Numuyel School running with Love4gambia in support of peer health education. (many wearing only sandals)

And off we went again. Soon enough, we had made it to kilometer 20 and it was time to rest for a while. We read and share messages from Erin, Cathy, and “Aunt Debbie”, which inspire us to finish the rest of our run – it really means a lot to us to have support from both side of the Atlantic.

We get back on the road with only 5km to go. At time, one of us needs to stop to drink, we all stop to drink, and when we are ready to run again, we all start to run again. We take one final last drink with 1km to go, then we all finish strong for a total of 25km for all four of us – such an amazing feat considering the heat of the mid-days sun (I have tan lines on my tan lines to prove it – going for a really nice bandana tan at this rate.)

And so, another day is over and we are 25km closer to reaching our goal. Tomorrow we will make it to 100km and then we will be able to rest the following day – something we are all looking forward to. I can’t wait to share with you how tomorrow goes!

Jennifer and team Love4Gambia

P.S: Still no wi-fi – GPS files to be posted soon!

Also, a special shout-out to Spider (now called “bug”) and Mama Cie for their help in getting us through the run today – we couldn’t have done it without their support!

"Mama Cie" is taking good care of me!  COuldn't do it without her!

“Mama Cie” is taking good care of me! COuldn’t do it without her!

Spider is now to be referred to as "bug"

Spider is now to be referred to as “bug”

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Day 2.. We have arrived in Basse!

This is the blog from yesterdays run that we were unable to complete on account of the poor internet connection. Blog about completing Km 50-75 today will be up soon!

Two days, 51 kilometers completed. We have all made it, but the kilometers are definitely not getting any easier as we continue down the long, hot, and dusty road. But, we shall continue; one day, one kilometer, and one step at a time until we reach our goal.

The team ready to begin Day 2!

The team ready to begin Day 2!

A long and hot day 2

A long and hot day 2

Today I woke up a bit sore and heat exhausted from day one, but still in good spirits and ready to conquer day two. I started out running with Cielianna and Pa. Right away, a side cramp steps in as if I had never stopped running from yesterday. So this is how its going to be today, I think (I’m still working on balancing drinking enough water (you can never drink enough water here) to stay hydrated, but not too much so that I cramp up. Not to mention trying to find some food that I am used to that is somewhat nutritious – I had some greasy fries with mayonnaise and coleslaw for dinner; its not the easiest place to be a vegetarian). I focus on my breathing and count my steps, the cramp eases. Then, as if I need another obstacle to deal with, my nose starts bleeding about 4km in. The team passes me some tissue, I stuff some up my nose (sorry for the graphic image) and continue running. Luckily, this does the trick and about 6km into the run I am cramp and nosebleed free. Phew – now I just need to keep my head down, my pace easy, and get through the rest of the day.

About 12 km in I am told that we are approaching another school in which the NSGA implements its peer-health education programs. A small group from the school had walked a distance to meet us on the main road on a Sunday to sing and cheer us on. Once again, this spirit from the Gambian community was amazing, and helped to inspire me and the entire team to continue our journey. After saying many thank-yous and shaking many hands, we continue. However, this time we have an addition to our team; a 15-year-old peer health educator named Abdoulie Baleeh from Kundank School had decided to continue running with us – and not just for a kilometer or two, but for the rest of the first part of the day. Not only that, he was also only wearing socks with sandals and blue jeans in 40-degree Celsius weather. He said that he really liked the NSGA peer-health programs and that they were really important to him and his school, and this is why he wanted to run with us. Pretty inspiring and motivating words to hear right when you need them.

Pa, Abdoulie, and I getting it done one step at a time.  All for peer-health education in The Gambia

Pa, Abdoulie, and I getting it done one step at a time. All for peer-health education in The Gambia

Finally, after many Gatorade and ‘cool down’ breaks, we make it to the 20km mark, which means it is time to rest. This is becoming the favorite part of the day. I am so hot when we first sop, I feel as if we may never cool down. Slowly but surely my heart rate lowers, I can feel a bit of a breeze, and I begin to relax. We are all a lot less talkative at the start of the break today than we were yesterday – the exhaustion from the travel, running, and heat is increasing. However, slowly, everyone returns back to life, begins making jokes, and I know it is time to grudgingly take a gel and finish off the last five kilometers for the day.

Kebba always has the strength to yell BANJUL CALLING!

Kebba always has the strength to yell BANJUL CALLING!

I really hope I have been smart about my Gatorade/gel/water intake and that the same post-rest cramps from yesterday do not begin again. Being cautious, I start out with some drills for the first half-kilometer to ease my body (mostly stomach) back into running. I probably look like a crazy “touhbob” to the locals working in the field, staring questioningly at me. The drills really make me feel better and ready to conquer the final leg. I continue and feel much better, stopping less, and feeling (relative to the morning) strong. But, when we reach 25km, I am more than happy to stop and call it a day. Another day! It was slow, but we got through it and we are already on the outskirts of Basse. Tomorrow is going to be a crazy start – with the school in Basse, through town, and onward to Bansang. As Keba would yell when we pass people on the side of the road in an extremely loud voice – BANJUL CALLING!! (Fist pump encouraged ☺)

– Jennifer

Also, I would like to recognize and dedicate the run today to Mizuno Canada, who has generously donated lightweight clothing and shoes to me and the team. Although I did not have much of a chance to train in the lightweight clothing in Canada on account of the never-ending winter, it is so amazing to have it while in 40+ degrees Celsius weather. Thanks Mizuno!

Posted in Charity Run, Developing Country, International Development, Peer Health Educaiton | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day #1: First Day Down, 16 More to Go!

What a great day! We have completed the first 26km of our journey across The Gambia! It was not as hard as I expected and not as easy as I expected, with some kilometers that went by quickly and some that dragged on.

This morning, we work up at 5:05am to the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer – they were much louder than I ever could have expected. I had had a hard time falling and staying asleep last night on account of the heat (my sister ended up sleeping face down on the tile without a blanket or pillow to try to stay cool), so felt quite groggy, but at the same time the adrenaline was starting to kick in. My sister and I met up with the team at 6:00am – an early start because of the long drive from Basse to the border and the naïve thought that it will be slightly less hot at an earlier hour). Similar to yesterday, as we drove west, I kept thinking: Am I really going to run all this distance? Really?

After a bumpy (as they call in Africa: “massage”) drive to the border down smaller and smaller dirt roads, we finally arrive to our starting point – a small concrete knob on the side of the path. (Luckily my team will be doing this for the third time this year, so they know where to go directly; unlike Erin’s run the first year where they had to search for a while to find the border)… So, we ate, packed, prepped, and took (many) pictures, and then, with Spider and Kebba by my side, and Pa and Cielianna blasting the horn, we began!
Screen shot 2013-06-15 at 4.23.54 PM
DSCF1409

The run was quiet and meditative at the start. I think we were all thinking about the great distance to come and what these starting steps mean as we begin this long and challenging journey. In the first village we passed through, Pa and Kebba made sure everyone was “awake” by blaring the horn through the sleepy town on Koina. WE were all excited and shouted “alumbara!” (good work to people working) and “Banjul calling!” as we ran through the first village. Most were in disbelief when they heard that we intended to reach Banjul by foot.

As we continued, the team switched around who drove and who ran with me. Although I am normally a solitary runner, their company made each step so much easier and more meaningful. Today, I was lucky enough to always have someone (often many) by my side as I conquered the first leg. I started out feeling great (there was a ‘slight’ breeze), and, as per usual, a bit fast, but still comfortable.

About 14km into the run, we came across our first school in which the NSGA works (town of Fatoto). The greeting was incredible. The entire school had lined up on both sides of the road and were singing a welcome song as we approached. This was a major goosebumps running moment for me. I really couldn’t believe it. After we passed, the entire school followed behind the team chanting and singing for the following kilometer. I got to meet the teachers and a few peer health educators as well, which was an amazing way to connect this run with the purpose of the funds being raised.
Screen shot 2013-06-15 at 4.24.16 PM

As we continued on, I really began to notice the heat (40 degrees Celcius or more, unconfirmed). I slowed down a lot and attempted to think “happy thought” to get through the kilometers. Slowly but surely we reached the 20 km mark, which mean it was time to rehydrate, refuel, and rest before completing the rest of the days run. This was just what I needed – a forced rest to cool down and break up the run for the day. The team was in good spirits and we were able to cool down in a “slight breeze” under the shade of a giant tree. This was quite relaxing, and enough to make me feel ready to complete the days run – back to it! Banjul is calling!

We begin again, and about a minute in I get a really painful stomach cramp – too much water and Gatorade while sitting is not doing well. I settle into a hunched over run/shuffle position and try to breathe slow – in for 4 steps, out for 4 steps; but its not helping. I try not to look at the km’s on the GPS watch too often so hopefully they will go by faster; this also doesn’t help. After about 3km, we begin to approach another village where the NSGA works and in the far distance I could see hundreds of children lined up on the side of the road. Alright, I think, I can push myself till we get there.

When we got there, the greeting was unbelievable. We stopped to receive the welcome and were immediately surrounded. People had made signs with Gambian and Canadian flags, and there was even a sign saying “Go Jen, Go!”. It was absolutely incredible to meet so many people who are benefiting from the NSGA peer health education programs and to see how excited they are for the Love4Gambia run. We take (many) photos and shake many hands. We are invited to stay in their town, but say thaScreen shot 2013-06-16 at 7.04.39 AMt we must continue to finish the last of the run.
Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 7.04.29 AM

The last couple kilometers were relatively quiet. I kept thinking to myself, did that really just happen? Again, I’m blown away by the excitement and kindness of small Gambian villages, and feel so lucky to be able to run to support education programs for them. Soon enough, the first day is over. We all hug knowing that a large part of the journey is complete, but a huge space still rests between us and Banjul. 26km done, and only 398 to go!

– Jennifer and Team Love4Gambia

PS: Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful good luck and inspirational messages on the blog/facebook/twitter. They mean so much to me and the team (we were able to read a couple during the rest stop and the messages really touched all of our hearts).

On behalf of Team Love4Gambia, I would like to dedicate today’s run to Luke and Aerobics First. Amongst other things, Luke made sure we all had new running shoes to begin our journey today, and will take us the rest of the way across Gambia. A big thank you from Team Love4Gambia to him!

Lastly, I am currently unable to upload the GPS file for the run because the internet stick takes up two USB drives and I need to go through the internet via the second USB drive to upload the GPS files. I will add them when we are able to find a wi-fi location…

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We have arrived in Basse! Banjul and the Atlantic Ocean are calling us!

The time has finally come and Love4Gambia 2013 will be starting at the border of Senegal and Gambia tomorrow morning to begin our 424 km trip across the country!

We arrived (me and my sister, Cielianna) in The Gambia on Wednesday afternoon after a long (long…) trip from Halifax to Montreal to Washington DC to Dakar (7 hour layover) and finally to BANJUL, The Gambia. I had such a feeling of elation when our plane finally touched down in The Gambia. A feeling of ‘wow, this is really going to happen now…we have arrived’. We were greeted with big hugs from the Love4Gambia team and taken directly to where we were staying in the area. They are used to Canadian volunteers arriving and knew we just needed to clean up and rest at that point, and, lucky for us, we were staying right on the beach in Fajara in a lovely apartment a Canadian ex-pat generously let us crash in. Phew – made it to the Gambia with all of the luggage, relatively few hiccups, and connected with the team – now it was time to get some rest. Ahhhhhhhhh.

The next day we slept in and felt refreshed and ready to get everything organized. The team picked us up
DSCF1328
and we headed to the Gambian Nova Scotia Gambia Association Office. It was pretty neat to finally meet the “sister” office of the NSGA after only knowing the Nova Scotia side of the organization. We were generously greeted and welcomed by the entire staff who were all working hard in their various offices when we arrived. I like how a friend described it: “when you walk into most international nonprofit offices, you see a bunch of foreigners working on projects they designed, and a couple locals helping the foreigners. But when you walk into the NSGA office, you see all Gambians, all working hard for health education programs in The Gambia. This is an approach that makes sense.”

In the afternoon I had a skype interview about the Love4Gambia run with Heidi Petracek of CTV Morning Atlantic News. Luckily, the power was working. However, at the start the skype image was not coming in clearly. The tech guy ran to each room in the office and asked everyone to log off the wifi. Sure enough, skype started working clearer and we were able to get an interview in. (It should be airing in the Maritimes on Monday around 8:30am, which is when I will be approximately 75 km across the Gambia). I thought this eloquently summed up business in Africa – it’s not perfect, but you do what you have to do to make things work. The rest of the day was spent doing last minute errands – cell phone sim card, bank withdrawal, mango bartering, and so forth. Also got to sneak in a quick loosen-up run along the beaches of Fajara just before the sunset. A successful first day in the Gambia.

The next morning (today) was leaving and driving time. The team met us at the apartments and we packed up the car to go for a long journey across the country. We also had some window paint and made sure that everyone sees us pass knows that we are team Love4Gambia of the NSGA. And without further ado, we left on our long drive across the country.
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We saw so many things, from markets to forests to livestock, even to the Gambian President. It was quite the daylong adventure. It was also a great time for the team to get acquainted – with Mama C (Cielianna) keeping Pa and Spyder in line, and Keba yelling “BARBEQUE!” every time we saw a goat, cow, mule, or person on the road. He’d start charging to hit the future barbeque (to be roasted on the melting hot dashboard), only to swerve away at the last minute saying “that ones too dirty, too small, too stupid,” and so forth. I feel like this may become a trend for the rest of the trip.

The main thing that kept popping into my mind as we drove east across the Gambia today was holy smokes, this is going to be one long run – am I really going to run this whole distance? It was really hard to believe when you put it all together and drive the entire distance all at once. Then, at the same time, I’m thinking holy smokes, this is a huge distance and area for the relatively small NSGA to implement its programs. A small staff of 22 in the Gambia is ensuring that youth across this country (that may seem small on a world map, but is quite large when you have to run across the entire thing) are educated about their health. If the modest NSGA can implement it’s life saving programs across this great distance, then surely I can run across it to raise awareness and money for them. I know I can do this, and I am more excited, pumped, and motivated to start running tomorrow. I can do the running to make a difference, and hopefully this will inspire others to support the NSGA by donating towards the Love4Gambia campaign. Tomorrow the run of a lifetime begins! You can follow my progress as I run 25 km per day with my team on this website.
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BANJUL IS CALLING!

Jennifer

Posted in Developing Country, running, Running for Charity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

1 WEEK TO GO! BANJUL CALLING!

 With my flight less than a week away now, and my first day of running in The Gambia less than ten days away now, I am getting pretty nervous, excited, and squeeley.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

With that in mind, I’d thought I’d write down some common questions I have received over the past couple of months when explaining why I have decided to run across The Gambia and how I plan to do it.  (Also, I need a break from writing my thesis today…)

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Common Questions about Love4Gambia and the run across The Gambia

Why are you doing this?

I am doing this because it is for a good cause.  I strongly believe that health promotion programs are efficient and effective at helping people to live longer, healthier lives.  I am running in support of the Nova Scotia-Gambia Association, a local non-profit organization that organizes health education programs throughout The Gambia on essential topics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, gender equality, water sanitation, environmental sustainability, and landmine awareness.  I have been extremely impressed by the programs efficiency at reaching an entire generation across an entire country, and its ability to adapt its program to the needs of each community.  The Gambia has a physician/patient rate of 0.4 doctors to 10,000 people.  Therefore, health promotion programs that educate people about key health issues before they get sick are essential and saving the lives of many Gambians today.  It’s an approach that makes sense, and I am more than excited to be running for such a great cause.

How long will it take you?

I will be running for 17 days to cross the country.  I will also have three days of rest scheduled into my itinerary, which means I will start running on June 15th on the Senegal border and finish on July 4th in Banjul in the Atlantic Ocean (20 days total).

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My route, starting on the Eastern border of Senegal, running 427km to the Atlantic Ocean on the Western end.

 

How far will you be running everyday?

I will be running approximately 25km for every running day in order to complete the total distance of 427km in 17 days.  I plan to break up the running into two runs: 20km and 5km.  I will start out with a 20km run each morning.  Then I will rest for about an hour to rehydrate and refuel.  I will then run the final 5km each day easy with the goal of flushing out the soreness and lactic acid in my legs from the morning run.

How have you been training?

I have always been a runner, but began training specifically for this run around December 2012.  You can read the training plan I followed here.  I think the most important part was finding a coach and a group of runners to train with.  This really has made a difference as it has allowed me to track my progress, receive support, and meet some really neat runners in the Halifax area.  I found this especially helpful in the winter – if they are out doing the work on those miserable days at the commons with gusting sleet, then I can also get through the same workout.  Thanks to the training program, my coach, and the runners, I can confidently say I feel prepared to run 25km each day in The Gambia.

 Won’t it be hot?

HOT!

HOT!

Yes, it will be hot and humid and this will be the most challenging part of my run.  On average, temperature will be around 40°C with high humidity.  It will be hottest at the start of the run, on the Eastern side of the country, and will cool down slightly as I approach the coast.  Dealing with the heat will mostly consist of making sure I stay hydrated and sufficiently “salted” to replace all of the electrolytes I will be losing from sweating so much.  Also, I will be running slow, making sure my heart rate does not get too high and I do not overheat.  After that, it is mostly a mental battle to keep me positive and not negative about the heat and humidity.

 

What about wild animals?

Yes, there will be wild animals.  No, there will not be any lions, leopards, or any other predatory carnivores that I will have to worry about stalking me.  The main large animals I will have to worry about will be hippos and crocodiles, which can both outrun a human.  Fortunately, so long as you don’t surprise them or get in between them and water or their young, they are unlikely to attack.  So I am not too worried about larger animals.  I am more concerned about smaller reptiles, notably poisonous snakes, spiders and lizards, but mostly snakes.  Growing up and running in the desert in Southern California made for a few close encounters with rattlesnakes, and I definitely have a (slight would be an understatement) fear of snakes.  However, so long as I avoid the tall grass and keep my eyes open, I can feel comfortable knowing that the snake or lizard probably wants to avoid me more than I want to avoid it.

 

Will you be alone?

For the most part, no.  I am so lucky to have an amazing support team of three native Gambians – Pa, Kebba, and Spyder– with me for the entire journey.  They have all been training throughout the past couple of months and will be running with me for parts of my run each day.  I will also have my younger sister, Cielianna, along for the entire journey and will be meeting up with my mom, Rita, and boyfriend, Steve, about 15 days into the run.  I will by no means be alone, but will have this amazing support crew to help me across the country.  From driving to mixing Gatorade to running by my side, I know they will all really make a difference to help me run 427km in a foreign country.

 

Will you be camping?

Luckily, I have the luxury of staying in hotels and guesthouses each night.  I will not have to worry about setting up a tent, finding electricity and so forth at the end of a long run each day.  The NSGA support team in The Gambia is booking all of the accommodations, and though they will be simple, they will have electricity, a bed, and some privacy to relax and recover at the end of each day.  Looking forward to it!

 

Can I follow your progress?

Yes, you can and I encourage you to follow my progress as I make my way across The Gambia.  I will be uploading my GPS running files daily (internet and electricity dependent) onto my website: www.love4gambia.com.  This is a great way to see how the journey is going and to see the villages and school that the NSGA is implementing its health promotion programs in.

 

Why are you doing this again?

Like I said before, the programs the NSGA implements in The Gambia are effective, efficient, and have been working for the past 25 years to keep Gambians living healthier and longer lives.  Here in Canada, we have the internet/doctors/teachers available to inform us about essential health information.  Many Gambians are not so lucky and rely on the information from the NSGA to stay informed about their health and how to keep their communities healthy.  These programs are essential and need to continue to operate in The Gambia to keep the people there happy, and healthy, and alive.

 

How can I support you?

This is my favorite question because it means that the hours and days and months or training, running, and fundraising are worthwhile, and people are responding to the effort I have been making to support the Nova Scotia Gambia Association.  The easiest and most straight-forward way to support me is by making a donation.  Big or small, everything raised helps make a difference and will help me to reach my goal of raising $15,000 for health education in The Gambia.  In addition, you can support me by sharing what I am doing with other people, and spreading the word about my run and the Nova Scotia Gambia Association.  Lastly, you can support me by following my blog and cheering me on from wherever you are.  The comments mean a lot to me and I know they will be especially helpful on those hard, hot, and humid days in The Gambia!

Thanks for your support! Can’t wait to get started!

Jennifer

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Posted in Running for Charity, Ultra running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Energy-packed, healthy, and yummy home-made power-bar recipe

Hello everyone,

Hope you are all recovering from the Bluenose or Cabot Trail Relay Race and slowly easing back into training for the spring season!  With that in mind I decided I’d like to share a great power-bar recipe I found on the world wide web.  I went on a power-bar making spree last week before I left to plant in Cape Breton for a couple of days.  I figured they would be quick, easy to store, and would help me get a variety of nutrients to keep me going when I didn’t feel like using the old camp stove.  I tried four different recipes (now my freezer is packed with a variety of power bars), but one stood out in particular, because of the unique ingredients and it’s extreme tastiness (for a power bar that is…)

I wasn’t too sure about how this recipe would work out – I thought it could go either way, awesome or disgusting.  Luckily, they were awesome, and actually pretty cheap and flexible (in terms of ingredients) to make.  I was really imporessed and will definitely be making these again – they are great for running, tree-planting, hiking, or even a quick breakfast. Yum!

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Power-bar s galore!

I found the recipe on this website: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/homemade-energy-bar-recipe/

It gives you a variety of options in terms of how you can mix and match the various ingredients.  Here is the recipe to the ones I made, they were chocolately, but not too sweet and not too bland, just right:)

Chocolate Power-Bar Recipe

1 1/2 cups Black Beans

1/2 cup Peanut Butter

1/4 cup Honey

1/2 cup Applesauce

1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 cup Cocoa

1 1/2 cups Oats

1/4 tsp Salt

1 cup Chocolate Chips

Directions: In a food processor, mix beans, peanut butter, honey, applesauce, and salt. Pulse until smooth.  Add oats, whole wheat flour, and cocoa and pulse until smooth.  Finally add in the chocolate chips and pulse to combine.  Grease a 13×9 inch pan and put in 350° for 15-18 minutes.  Once cooked (toothpick comes out clean), let cool, then cut into 2 inch cubes.  Enjoy!

Posted in marathon training, running, Ultra marathon training | Tagged , , , ,

Bluenose 2013 Race Recap

Wow! What an amazing day it was in Halifax Sunday.  I’d like to do a short recap of my Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 8.41.05 AMday and what made the Bluenose 2013 with team Love4Gambia such an amazing experience.  But before I begin with my details, I would like to give a quick shout out to the race organizers, the volunteers, and the community who all came together to put this event together and make it the wonderful experience that it was.  So, thank you!

This year was my second year running the Bluenose marathon.  It was really nice to know ahead of time what to expect in terms of the course, venue, etc.  Here’s a quick debrief of some of my Bluenose 2013 highlights from May 19, 2013:

5:00 – Wake up, shower, make coffee and breakfast, pack bags, get dressed, double and triple check everything. Take deep breaths.  It’s looking like it’s going to be a beautiful day to run outside.  Try to remain calm and save the adrenaline for the kilometers to come.

6:00 – Wake up Steve. Jump on the bed yelling “It’s your first 10km race today!  You’re going to run 10km! Time to get up! Time to get ready! Aren’t you stoked!” Only to get the following response: “Why are you so chipper; You’re more excited that a kid before Christmas”.  Well, of course I am…it’s THE MORNING OF THE BLUENOSE!!!

Steve and I before the run

Steve and I before the run

7:00 – Get bikes and pedal to the race start.  Luckily, clean NS was even providing VIP valet bike parking services to park bikes in front of city hall – they even fixed up my brakes a bit while I was running :).  Take a last pre-race pee, do the nervous/happy dance to loosen up/question why I signed up for this race again/ the usual pre-marathon nonsense.

8:00 – Race start!  Woohoo, a bit sore from tree planting earlier this week and biking yesterday, but overall I feel well rested mentally and know that this time I have done the training to prepare me for the long run ahead of me.  After a few km’s of going a bit fast, I settle in on the pace I talked about with my coach, about 5-5:10 per kilometer – a bit slower on the uphills, and a bit faster on the downhills. Nice and calm.

9:00 – The kilometers are going by surprisingly fast and I still feel good.  The course is a lot hillier then I remember, but there are so many people out to cheer it is hard to be too negative about anything.  I think this part (Shubie Park) is my favorite part of the marathon- for a few minutes I cannot see anyone ahead or behind me and can just relax and feel like I am on a long practice run.  It gives me a sense of calm and time to just run before returning to the crowds on the streets.

10:00 – Run up Maple road hill, that’s right, I actually managed to run up the whole thing.  During the marathon last year, I remember walking up the never-ending hill, with people yelling at me, “you can do it” and “stay strong”, but this year heard “you’re killing it” and “looking strong”.  Definitely had the training behind me and felt a lot better throughout this section of the run, and that hill wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember it.  In this way, the marathon this year was a great confidence booster that really helped to show me how the training is paying off and just how much my running has improved throughout the past six months.

One kilometre at a time...

One kilometre at a time…

11:00 – alright, this is where it gets tough, 36km, about 6 kilometers to go, and at this point I was feeling it in my joints.  And the course definitely stays tough throughout this part, including the hills of Point Pleasant Park followed by the gradual uphill up South Park road.   A fellow marathoner (Kirk?) caught up to me around km 41 and shouted, “you’re effing fast – I’ve been trying to catch you this entire race, let’s finish this together”.  It was really just the push I think we both needed.  With this we got through the last 2km together to finish strong.

11:42 – The finish!  It is hard to explain the emotion that comes with finishing any marathon.  So many people help to get you through the 42km and it all comes together for that final moment.  It’s pretty spectacular, and I’ll leave it at that.

12:00 – So stiff – attempt to stretch and talk about the run; mostly try not to think about how much every joint hurts.  Attempt to bike back home (mostly me walking my bike at a very slow rate, stopping to ‘stretch’/lay down in various grass patches along the way).

2:00-4:30 – Recover- shower (very painful with the random chaffing marks acquired during the run.  I kept jumping around yelling when the water would hit a different spot, washing the salt from my accumulated sweat into the sore – this might be the worse part I foresee about running in The Gambia), followed by eat, rest, eat, rest, and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a tough marathon.

5:00 – Team Love4Gambia supper at the Armview.  This was one of my favorite parts of the day.  Because I started at 8:00am and finished around 11:30, I started before most people arrived and finished after everyone had left.  This post-run celebration was a great medium to catch up with other runners and to do the runner talk about times, how you felt during the run, and of course, how you could have “pushed just a little bit faster”.   Everyone on team Love4Gambia did an amazing job; many people completed a new distance for the first time, and many people helped to fundraise for the health education programs for youth in The Gambia.

Some Team Love4Gambia at the start

Some Team Love4Gambia at the start

In summary, it was a pretty epic, wonderful, awesome, and “Christmas-like” day in Halifax to be a runner!  It really goes to show that it is the more simple things in life that count: running, community, being outside, and so forth.  What really made this experience different for me from last year (besides the training) was being apart of team Love4Gambia.  This was an amazing group of over 60 people that participated in events ranging from the youth run all the way to the marathon.  It was great to see the green team t-shirts throughout the day and just to yell “go Gambia” and get a positive response in return.  This also gave me a lot of purpose in my run; I believe running can be used to accomplish great things, as an individual and as a community.  I believe this was exemplified through the Bluenose yesterday and the sense of community and pride it sparked throughout Halifax and Dartmouth.  So many people pushed their individual limits to run new race or run faster times, and the community pushed it’s limits by organizing the largest event to date with over 14,000 participants!  This is also what I hope to do with my run across the Gambia, (on a smaller scale of course).  Yes, it is an individual run, and I will challenge myself physically and mentally on an individual level to overcomes the challenges that come with running across a country.  At the same time, I hope this run will bring communities in The Gambia and Canada closer together through the universal sport of running.  We ran as a team in support of the NSGA this past weekend here in Halifax, and I will be running with children in The Gambia who are the recipients of the NSGA’s life-saving programs.   Please support me (Click the donate button on right and select love4gambia), as I use running as a means to connect Nova Scotia and The Gambia in order to promote health in both location.

Also, check out Love4Gambia on the CBC!  Tv link (love4gambia is about 9 minutes into the show) and the newspaper article.

Much love,

Jennifer

Posted in Blue Nose Marathon | 1 Comment