Help I’ve Fallen, Jogging in Africa

17 12 2012

Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

Jogging in Africa

There was a time when if you called me a jogger I would have been offended and quickly told you I was a runner.  I have run upwards of a hundred miles a week  training for a marathon.  But then that is when I was in my 20’s.  I am now 56.  I no longer run on smooth surfaces ideal for quick paces and tracks for speed work.  I run in Africa.  Now it is all rural dirt roads, uneven and strewn with rocks.  And that is a good day.  When in Dar es Salaam I share the road with push carts, motor bikes, cars, trucks and other pedestrians.  But no runners.  I am the odd muzungu out running for apparently no reason.


Before I tell you about my running I must tell you about the effect my running has on those around me.  My host family in Dar es Salaam told me I would be robbed or worse if I went running in Mbezi, Louis, the area they live.  I would also, according to them, likely be killed.  I have had boda boda, (motorcycle taxis) pull over and scold me for not letting them take me to where ever I was trying to go.  Many shout out to me asking where I am going because I seem to be lost.  You see no muzungu could possibly run if he had another option, according to them, since only the poor walk and if late run to their destination.  It turns out I had nothing to fear from the populace.  In fact they feared for my safety and expressed it everywhere.

And of course on these imperfect roads, goat trails and paths I also fall down.  No, I am not so old and tottering that I can no longer run upright.  I typically run for a little over an hour.  The terrain is hilly and rocky and here on Mt. Meru, I dodge, cows, goats, motorcycles, pedestrians and chickens.  And of course that also means, a lot of pooh.  Fine with me as long as I avoid the baboons.  They live to the East of me and I don’t jog there anymore.  I hate being surprised.  But in spite of my best efforts I do fall down.  I have fallen in Kiminimi, Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya, Dar es Salaam and as of today twice on Mt. Meru.  I am the master of the tuck and roll.  Now this is not a new phase in my life.  I have also fallen all over Downtown and Midtown Memphis.  If you run enough you will fall.  Fall enough and you will either quit, learn the aforementioned tuck and roll or you will stay skinned up.  I usually just roll jump up and keep on trucking.  Sometimes a bit embarrassed, especially if I have a large audience.  And yes that has happened.

Today I was running along enjoying the solitude.  I rounded the first corner and there were my morning cheering section of small children waiting on me to come by  at a blazing 11 minute a mile pace, I did say I was a jogger now didn’t I? They line up or rush at me hoping for a high five.  I oblige them most mornings if they are close enough.  The shy ones just watch.  Today, however, they were so thrilled that they began to run with me.  Now this has happened many times.  But today the crowd was large and they pressed in close laughing and having a ball yelling muzungu.  I was forced to run in the middle of the road instead of the smooth tracks worn by the years of various types of traffic.  And of course the middle is crowned and has grass on it and in that grass the rocks hide.  I tripped.  No graceful tuck and roll.  Just a hard and resounding plop.  The children stopped laughing and were obviously convinced I would not survive such a fall.  Or perhaps they had never seen a muzungu “fail”.  Whether I failed or fell the results where the same.  I stood and realized quickly that I had to reassure them as some seemed on the verge of tears.  I told them I was fine.  And limped as I began my run again.  Looking down I had skinned my knee pretty good.  It was bleeding but the volcanic dirt from Mt. Meru, truly amazing stuff, quickly, somehow worked as a coagulant and stopped the bleeding.  The children, however, were having no more of my run.  I do this two laps a morning and they were nowhere to be found on the second round.  I am afraid I have somehow altered their childhood.

Now you may be saying about now, dude, why are you writing about running, and not about something spiritual or perhaps some baptisms and salvations?  Well funny you mentioned that.  I often think of what I would tell my readers about on these morning runs.  They are mostly only interesting if you are there.  But there has been an development.  Since my Swahili is slowly, (poly poly) improving I began a new phase in my running.  Each morning I run by little farms of about 4 acres called shambas.  Typically they have one to four buildings on them, some goats, a cow, chickens and some maze or potatoes planted.  Workers are almost always in the fields and children are everywhere.  I now greet everyone I can.  When they see me several days in a row I try one of my more extended greetings.  Greetings are of paramount importance in Tanzania.  I have learned DO NOT LET THEM start the greeting process.  In my Swahili course they teach you a few common greetings.  The only problem is that Tanzanians use dozens if not hundreds and they are always working on new ones.  Especially the young coming up with cool slang greetings, like mombo vipi, poa, freshy, etc.  Seem like there is a new one every month.  So if I let them start I am going to get a greeting I have no idea of the meaning.  BUT, if I start things off I am in the driver’s seat.  So I rattle of a few quick ones, Hujambo Mama, Habari za asubuhi, Umaa mkagi.  Now that last one is only used by the aged and if you search in your English to Swahili books or online service you will not find it so I am not sure of the spelling.  It means, “how was your waking up”.  When you use it people stop in their tracks, as it is not a tourist phrase.  I use the above sequence and then when I have them stumped I quickly add that I speak only “kidogo” Kiswahili, meaning little.  I vow to return later in the day to visit and then with my translator, they say, “karibu”, welcome.  I have just gotten invited to stop by later in the day or sometimes the next.  I show up with my translator and I share the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  In Tanzania they love visitors so much they cannot refuse your request to share.  Whether they are Muslim, animist or Christian they will listen.  I have only been turned down once and they guy admitted he was basically drunk.  He is on my list for a return visit.


I run slowly, under the beauty of African skies.  I cannot run at night as there is absolutely NO light where I live.  It would be like running in a closet with the lights out as far as vision goes and even with a full moon the canopy of trees would reduce vision to zero.  Did I mention baboons?  But I do go out at night and look at the Milky Way.  I run mostly under Mt. Meru the second highest mountain in Africa.  But I have had occasion to run under Mt. Kilimanjaro as well.  It is dangerous for me to run there, as I can’t take my eyes off of the beautiful glacier at the top.  I fall a lot there.  It is the only glacier in the world at the equator.  Even Mt. Meru has a little snow from time to time.  It is like paradise.  In my heyday of running, Toto, a rock group had a song called Africa.  I always fantasized about running on Mt. Kilimanjaro when listening to it..  Since I was in my 20’s then the vision of myself was me speeding along, effortlessly, tanned and handsome climbing higher and higher towards the summit.   Well I am 56, you can’t run up this mountain, it take a week to hike it in heavy foliage.  But if you listen to the song you might get a glimpse of my fantasy.  I no longer have that fantasy but I have a vision.  You will have to read more of my blog to catch it.

I know that when I go to heaven I will fall there also.  There was an evangelist when I was a young man or perhaps just a television preacher named Jimmy Swaggart.  He got caught in a terrible scandal and is no longer on TV.  I share little theologically with Jimmy but he had an amazing song about a supposed dream he had once where he was in heaven.  The angles in the dream were taking him around showing him the streets of gold, and the beautiful city of God and the gates.  But he told them he only wanted to see one thing.  That asked him what was that?  He said he wanted to see Jesus.  And then when he saw Him, he fell and cried Holy.  I too will fall one day, in heaven.  And I will cry Holy.  Google that song.  It is better than my running fantasy.  It is a reality of the redeemed before their Redeemer.




One response

17 12 2012

Beautiful story….tuck and roll my brother…tuck and roll

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