Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's been awhile

It's been awhile

So, I have been travelling and, although I have been running, I have not kept to my same schedule and have only had intermittent Internet access.

This past week looked like this:

Mon:    on the road by 6am
Tue:    on the bus at 6am
Wed:    Maga    7.08mi  1:05:57
Thu:    Maga    4.01mi  36:40
Fri:    Maga    Yoga 15min
Sat:    Maroua  6.4mi   55:47   Yoga 10min
Sun:    Maroua  20km (12.41mi)  1:52:41         Yoga    10min

It felt really great to do a long run this morning and I felt so good afterwards -- not tired at all, which amazed me since it has been weeks since I've run longer than 8 miles. All that rest must have done me some good. One nice thing about the run today is that I got far enough out of the town of Maroua so that people's reactions to me changed. And it felt much more like being back home in Fonta (except in French)--people looked and as we passed each other said, "Bonjour" or "Courage" or "Ca va?". In town, I get more hoots and hollers and "Nasara, nasara" which is Fulfulde (the local language) for "white person".

My pace has gotten much faster since I started travelling and it must be because it is flatter and, in some cases, I've been running on roads rather than just trails. 12.5 miles today at an average of 9 min/mile. Nice.

The human body is a wondrous thing. It's ability to adapt to different environments is really amazing. I'm up in the Far North Province of Cameroon now where it is very, very dry. I would consider this a desert, but they don't -- the "real" desert is farther north closer to Chad. But I have adapted with little problem.

        "God of wonders beyond our galaxy
        You are holy, holy."

I don't really get the issue so many conservative Christians have with evolution and science in general. I've always considered science to be humanity's quest to figure out how on earth God made such an awesome universe. It's been a few thousand years and we know a lot of things -- more by induction or inference than direct experience -- but I don't think we've even scratched the surface of the wonder God creates. I have a friend who is an astrophysicist and she also doesn't see any contradiction between her work researching black holes and her religious faith.

Today, I was running down the road by Maroua mountain and I had one of those mind-blowing moments of wonder -- I'm running, just like I have for years, just like so many other people all over the world, such an ordinary, ordinary thing to do, but I'm running in Cameroon, in Africa! How awesome is that?

After almost 45 years, God, life, the universe, can still blow my mind.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Work of Christmas

A friend just sent this to me and, because I love Howard Thurman, and I love the message of this poem, I just had to share it with everyone:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
                       
Howard Thurman

It has been a well-appreciated blessing for me to be here in Cameroon this Christmas season and so far away from the commercialism and peer pressure of Christmas in the U.S. Yet, to a very large extent, the work of Christmas here is the same as the work in America. The lost, the broken, the hungry, the prisoner -- they are everywhere.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bad day for the right foot

Today's long run brought to me by: Giamma -- his ComeUnion set, brilliant and funky which then seemlessly (thanks to my iPod's shuffle songs feature) morphed into Eric Sharp's Summer Fling set. Musically, it was an awesome run -- thank you gents!

This week:

Mon     Yoga 20 min.
Tues    Yoga 50 min.
        Run 5.04 mi. 46:40
Wed     Run 3.27 mi. 29:32
        Yoga 50 min.
Thu     Run 5.19 mi. 46:48
Fri     Run 3.08 mi. 31:11
        Yoga 50 min.
Sat     Run 3.15 mi. 28:52
        Yoga 60 min.
Sun     Run 11.82 mi. 1:58:45

Hmm, didn't even get on the bike this week. I would have ridden to Bambui today but I had to go to Bamenda yesterday early so I didn't do my long run then and we had a celebration lunch after church, put on by the families of the four people who were baptized and re-admitted into the church today, so I had to let that digest before I could go out for my run. But tomorrow I need to go to Bambui to pick up the vitamins I ordered and the yoga blocks I am getting made.

You should have seen the faces of the boys at the woodshop when I was describing to them what I wanted. Quite incredulous. "A box?", "No, not a box, just a block." "??? Okay". We shall see if they understood my funny American accented English.

Oh, about the right foot. Well, I woke up and the little toe on my right foot was really hurting. It hurt yesterday and I thought it was a hot spot -- a precursor to a blister. But this morning it was much worse and I realized that I had a jigger in it. I think I succeeded in getting it out, but it was a painful process and it still hurts. Then, whle I was running, the front of my ankle was hurting. My initial diagnosis was perhaps my shoelaces were too tight, but no. It kept getting worse and after about 7 miles I retied my shoes leaving a big gap in the middle. That didn't help. Around 10 miles or so, I tied the shoe higher up my foot. That helped a little. When I got home and took the shoe and sock off, I had quite a bruise on my foot. I have no idea why this got so irritated. Poor right foot. Today was not its day.

Sunday afternoon is a sweet time to run. I had one of those "all is right with the world" feelings. Bands of children were playing happily in many places along my route -- I ran through several football games. Adults were hanging around socializing and drinking. At the beginning of my run, this made everyone mellow, but by about 5:00pm some guys were getting rowdy. I ran past a bar and heard some guy yelling and I think he actually attempted to run out to the road when he saw me. But alas, too much mimbo (drink) kept him from his quest, whatever it may have been. But here, Sunday afternoons are just for BEING not for doing. People sit and talk; people walk and talk; people drink and talk; children play and talk. All is well. What a nice way to end/begin the week.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A quandary

So here's the quandary I'm faced with:

        Do I run in the morning or the afternoon?

You see, the mornings are cold and getting colder. By North American standards, they are currently just chilly, but *really* chilly and it's a bit harsh coming back to a cold shower. Some mornings I can get by with a short sleeve shirt and socks on my hands, but other mornings I have to wear a long sleeve shirt (of which I only have two).

By the late afternoon, after work, it is warm -- sleeveless shirt weather.

The advantage to the morning is that nothing else in my schedule can interfere ("I'm tired," drank a beer at lunch, didn't get back from Bamenda until dark, etc.). It also revs up my metabolism first thing and it's a great way to start the day, knowing the most important thing is done.

The disadvantage to the afternoon, aside from scheduling issues and the possibility of being a slug is that it is BUGGY. I spend the whole time wiping them from my face and have to squint my eyes and keep my mouth closed to avoid ingesting them (gotta remember to wear sunglasses).

The schoolchildren in the morning are also a great plus -- they think I am a riot. But I hate the cold. Really I do. The Swedish genes in me must have gotten damaged somehow. And we are just at the beginning of the season now. Everyone tells me it really gets cold in January.

Hmm. Well, a friend sent me a package that includes my running gloves and a couple more long-sleeve shirts, so maybe I'll survive the morning cold.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My strength is back

Just got back from my long run and I'm almost back to where I was before I got sick. Yippee!

This week:

Mon:    Run     3.4mi   32:21
        Yoga    45min
Tue:    Run     5.02mi  48:07
Wed:    Run     3.09mi  31:58
        Yoga    50min
Thu     Run     6.38mi  1:01:39
Fri     Run     3.11mi  29:45
Sat     off
Sun     Run     10mi    1:39:25

"His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love."               Psalm 147: 10-11

I didn't know the Bible had much to say about running, then this morning, I read this. Nice to know God isn't only pleased by the fast ones. But of course, that makes sense -- God always has a preference for the poor, weak, sick and, now we know also the slow <g>.

At least once a week I wonder what I am doing here in Cameroon and if I made the right choice. Lots of reasons for my doubt, not the least of which is that it seems to be my nature. So, then I listen to Eminem:

        "Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity,
        to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment,
        would you capture it or just let it slip?. . .

        You better lose yourself in the music.
        The moment you want it, you better never let it go.
        You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.
        This opportunity comes once in a lifetime."

Ah, okay, so maybe I can't see the whole picture. But, I've walked away from a similar opportunity once before in my life and it's one of the few decisions I regret. So this time around, I still have my doubts, but I also have Eminem.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Focus and contemplation

From Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (Chapter 1, v. 39):

        yatha abhimata dhyanadva

        Or by contemplating on whatsoever thing one may like (the mind becomes stabilized)

Which reminds me of Soren Kierkegaard, "Purity of heart is to will one thing."

I love this because it is telling us, on the one hand, that the most important thing is focus and meditation/contemplation and, on the other hand, it is less important what we focus or meditate on. In fact, following our natural attractions can be the most fruitful.

So whether you are mesmerized by a beautiful view on your daily hike or drawn to meditate on a beautiful painting or icon or love the sound of your breath and footsteps while you run, all of these are worthy objects of contemplation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time, plenty of time

Mon:    Yoga    50 min.
Tue:    Yoga    50 min.
Wed:    Yoga    48 min.
        Run     4.65mi  44:41
Thu:    Yoga    45 min.
        Run     3.01mi  29:30
Fri:    Yoga    30 min. (then chanted and meditated for 90 min.)
        Run     3.07mi. 32:49
Sat:    Run     6.43mi. 1:02:34
Sun:    Yoga    50 min.
        Bike    8.86mi. 47:42

I was able to start back running this week, which was really good. And, you'll notice that I did yoga 6 out of 7 days. That was really, really good. I can see at least three immediate benefits to doing yoga every day:

        first, if I'm feeling tired or sore, I feel freer to do a more restorative or relaxing session, rather than feeling as if I must do something strenuous to "get more bang for the buck".

        second, I experience changes in my body -- I can feel that I am more flexible some days than others or in certain parts of my body more than other parts.

        third, yoga is becoming more of a spiritual practice, particularly an awareness exercise, than physical exercise.

Alors, bon, I think I will continue like this.

One thing that is very good for me about Africa is the slower pace of life. When I am trying to get things done, or feeling like I should, this is often frustrating. However, since the entire context of life is far more basic and moves much more slowly, it is easier for me to be more gentle with myself, as I have needed to be this week after being ill. One thing most Africans seem to feel they have is time. They may not have money, they may not have technology, they may not have things, but everyone has time, plenty of time. This is so different than the US where the general feeling is that there is not enough time for anything.

As Chris Rice's song, "Life Means So Much," says:

        Every day is a bank account
        And time is our currency
        Nobody's rich, nobody's poor
        We get 24 hours each
        So how are you gonna spend
        Will you invest, or squander
        Try to get ahead
        Or help someone who's under

Monday, November 20, 2006

Malaria + dysentery

Well, no long run this week. In fact, no runs at all. I came down with malaria and amoebic dysentary and spent a couple of days in the hospital. Feeling better now but still a bit tired and weak.

I rode my bike to the market in Bambui in Saturday and that went well, particularly since I ate before coming back and that gave me strength. I went for a short and easy 3 mile run on Sunday morning which wasn't too bad. It was more of a lope than a run, really. But this morning (Monday) I didn't feel strong enough to run. I did about 45 minutes of yoga, though, and that felt good.

During the time I was in the hospital, I had numerous people pray for me -- friends of friends back in the US, the elders of the church where I passed out after Sunday services (what a scene that was!), and various staff and visitors to the hospital. Somehow, when you are very weak and ill, it is easier to experience the power of prayer. If nothing other than having all those people thinking and caring about me, it was strengthening.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My decorated bike

I finished decorating my bicycle today, so here are a bunch of pictures --
overview and details. I think she's beautiful.


(later) -- can't get the photos up here, rats. You can see them at: telcameroon.vox.com



Saturday, November 11, 2006

Juicy, messy, emotional, passionate

Today's long run brought to me by: Shanti in a mix from the "Stories" ANDC in March 2006. I had shuffle songs on an after about a mile, this mix came on and lasted until mile 9. Thank you Shanti!

Mon:    1 hr. Yoga
Tue:    3.02 mi., 27:35
Wed:    45 min. Yoga
Thu:    5.56 mi., 55:40
        1 hr. Yoga
Fri:    3 mi., 26:32
Sat:    10.01 mi., 1:43:24

Feel like I may be coming down with a cold, but maybe it's just a reaction to the dry season and the dust. I feel a bit spacey, but for some reason, that actually seemed to help on today's run -- I was more relaxed and not so hyper about my pace. But I thought I would do 12 miles and decided to turn around after 5 and only go 10 so I didn't overdo it and get sick. Took what I would consider the "back way" towards Bafut, which is a shorter route, although more treacherous, than the one I biked last Sunday. It was a really nice run because I didn't encounter a single vehicle. I didn't even mind the fact that miles 1.5 to 3 were all uphill.

The past week, or two really, I've been very conscious of all the things I miss. Predominantly things from my own culture like the fine arts, reliable infrastructure, public hygiene, freedom of self-expression. . . But today I had the thought, "I miss love." A startling thing to think, but it rang true. I miss real, concrete, here's-another-person-in-your-life kind of love. I've never really been much for abstract love (you know, like "love your fellow man"), although there is some intellectual appeal in that direction. But it doesn't feel real enough to me; I'm too practical and kinesthetic to find that wholly satisfying, I think. I want wipe-the-snot-from-a-child's-nose kind of love. I want heated argument kind of love. I want juicy, messy, emotional, passionate kind of love. 

Just in case you wanted to know, God.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rev Bikes, too

This afternoon I went for a bike ride to Bafut (west of Fonta). I had driven through there two weeks ago when I went to the church in Nchum with Pastor Pascaline and it looked like an interesting ride.

It is quite a bit hillier than Fonta Rd. to Bambui and about twice as far, but it was a good ride. Geez, there is nothing like having a million gears to choose from (well, really only 27, but still a lot). My biggest challenge was controlling my speed going downhill. And some of the road was pretty bone-rattling--there is a way that the red dirt roads get, kind of like an old-fashioned washboard--and my personal shock absorption is apparently in my neck and shoulders. . .

So, 16.7 miles in an hour and forty minutes, with a beer stop at the turnaround point. This was my ostensible reason for going -- to see Beatrice's place. It's called the West Life. Yes, for those of you in the know, it is named after that concocted boy band of Simon Cowall's of the same name. There is a DVD collection of Westlife music videos that apparently every bar in Cameroon (or at least every bar in the North West) has a copy of. And I think it must get a lot of airplay because everyone knows every word to every song. At first I thought it was just the young people, but today in the bar, there was a guy who was my age singing along with every song. Of all the great music in the world, how on earth did Westlife make the big time here? Now, granted I haven't gotten out much, but this DVD is the only non-African music I've heard in the two months I've been here. Eegads. It makes me want to buy a bunch of CDs and just burn a pile of them to distribute to every bar around.

And I'm not even anti-pop per se. My sister used to make fun of Barry Marshmallow (as she called Mr. Manilow) and, sure he was schmaltzy, but at least he wrote his own music.

Riding the bike here is a new experience. I've ridden a bicycle since my 5th birthday and the goal has always been speed. Whether I was riding for fun or transport or exercise, the name of the game was always to go as fast as I could. But when you are riding on trails, that's not the game anymore. I'm sure all of you who mountain bike already know this. (Oddly, although I have a great mountain bike, I never took it off-road when I lived in the Bay Area--the birthplace of mountain biking.) Now the game is control. A game that my two bike crashes indicate I am still learning. It is fascinating and fun to be approaching something I know so well in a totally different way.

And it makes me look at my equipment differently, too. Hard, slick tires are NOT a good thing. Soft and knobby is much better. I appreciate the front shock on my bike enormously. And now I understand why the woman in the bike maintenance dept. at REI was asking whether conditions would be wet or dry when I was picking new brake pads. ("Wet! Wet!" I wish I'd said.) I've always had a thing for good quality appropriate tools -- the kitchen knife that slices through tomatoes in a single pass, the software program that lets me think the way I find natural, the watch that tracks my speed and distance and time and pace and even maps it. Now I am falling in love with my bicycle--a Cannondale F400--designed to fit a woman, which is why I bought it, and tough! The color is a bit garish (really bright blue), so everyone around sees me coming a mile away (as if my being one of the only white people isn't enough of a beacon <g>). I thought I'd cover it in black tape, but I'm not going to go that far, just decorate it with stickers. When I'm done I'll post a photo. So far I only have "We are One in the Dance" (the motto of the Rhythm Society, of which I am a member: www.rhythm.org), Cold Steel Tattoo (where I got my latest tattoo, the day before I left for Cameroon, something I would not advise) and Conexus Cathedral (which I could not attend at Burning Man, since I was on my way to Cameroon, but I am blown away just to know the people that did this: http://conexusvillage.org), but there are a few more to add.

Thoughts on God

Sat: 10 mi. in 1:34:34

A bit of frustration as, for some unknown reason (unknown to me, at least), my Garmin Forerunner 205 would not pick up and satellites. I spent at least 30-45 minutes delaying my run trying to get it to work. Of course, after my run, I tried again and it worked perfectly. The second frustration was that I used my Nike+iPod transmitter with my new Marware case for the transmitter, but I didn't recalibrate it, thinking it was close enough. It wasn't! After I'd gone a distance I knew to be close to 3 miles, it finally said "1 mile complete". Sheesh.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and I created a special playlist of (mostly) uplifting songs which was quite helpful when my butt was dragging. "All Jacked Up" came on just as I was midway up a hill wanting to stop--thank you shuffle songs!

My playlist was:

Feel Good Inc. (Album Crossfade)        Gorillaz       
Over My Head (Cable Car)        The Fray       
21 Things I Want In a Lover     Alanis Morissette      
Crazy   Gnarls Barkley 
Steady As She Goes      The Raconteurs 
Gia     Despina Vandi  
Tomber la chemise       Zebda  
No Scrubs       TLC    
Pay Me My Money Down    Bruce Springsteen      
Nothing Left to Lose    Mat Kearney    
Suddenly I See  KT Tunstall    
Hey Ya! OutKast
Put Your Records On     Corinne Bailey Rae     
Black Horse & The Cherry Tree   KT Tunstall    
Dani California Red Hot Chili Peppers  
Until the End of Time (Explicit)        2Pac   
Cubicle (Edit)  Rin
ôçérôse     
Lose Yourself   Eminem 
Complicated     Avril Lavigne  
House of Love   East 17
Chasing Cars    Snow Patrol    
Girlshapedlovedrug      Gomez  
Unpretty        TLC    
Close to the Edge (The Solid Time Of Change Total Mass Retain I Get Up I Get Down Seasons of Man)       Yes    
All Jacked Up   Gretchen Wilson
I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)    Sandi Thom     

There's a line in "21 Things I Want in a Lover" that goes "you are happily employed in work that helps your brother" or something like that and I was struck by her use of the male-specific "brother" rather than something more inclusive. This reminded me of discussions I've had in the past where others (most often men, but not always) would argue that "man" and "mankind" were universal terms meant to include everyone. But of course, "woman" and "womankind" would somehow not be equally universal. And this had me begin to reflect on God, so often referred to (in the Western tradition at least) as male. God the Father, God the Son, He, King, Lord, etc. I know people who have successfully and powerfully transitioned to reference to God in the feminine -- Mother, Daughter, She, Queen, Lady -- and I admire them. I have tried this a few times, but it always seemed somewhat fake or strained and I've not worked with it long enough to get past this, although one of the most powerful prayers I have ever experienced is Bobby McFerrin's feminized version of the 23rd Psalm (on the Medicine Man album).

All of which had me reflecting on how distant God feels to me these days. Although I have not been consciously present to it, I think I have been seeking, searching, looking for God or an experience of God, for awhile now. And I think I may have assumed I would find that experience here in Africa, having had the experience quite deeply here on previous occasions.

But ever since the death of my partner, God has seemed very distant, as if in retreat. I always had such a deep experience of God in our relationship--both because we always felt that our relationship was a gift from God (or a test, depending on the day <g>) and because the covenant upon which our relationship was based was not only with each other and our community but with God. So everyday I would look across the table and see the hand of God, regardless of how I felt about it at that particular moment.

Now, without that constant undeniable reminder, I have somehow reverted to childhood thoughts of a distant, parental God high in the sky (which tells you much more about my psychology and family dynamics than about God).

Yet, creating a covenant with God as the foundation of our relationship was a conscious decision on our part, a decision which somehow became a profound, felt experience. Perhaps that is now my guide. I know God can be found not only in relationship, but in nature, in beauty, in community, in the face of suffering. Perhaps it is up to me to make a new covenant with God.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thoughts on art and beauty

Mon:  3.03 miles in 29:12
Tue:  4.12 miles in 42:07
Wed:  3.09 miles in 30:18
Thu:  4.23 miles in 40:14
Fri: 3.01 miles in 28:39

If you want to see my workouts in excruciating detail, go to
www.motionbased.com and search under tlongacre. You'll see little maps and everything!

Went out to the field this week, so Tuesday and Wednesday I ran in a town called Belo (or Mbelo) and Thursday I was in Fundong. The Belo runs were both quite hilly, but it was fun to be in a new place -- and a gorgeous one at that. Green, green mountains, waterfalls pouring down, cliffs -- very beautiful.

There is a tremendous amount of natural beauty here. It is almost overwhelming. When I mention this to the people I live with, they do not seem to notice. It's just "the way it is." And there is very little man-made beauty. I wonder if there is a relationship. There is African art, but most of it is either for adornment (women's clothes, for instance) or for ritualistic purposes (masks, costumes, etc.) Most of the ritualistic art is related to power -- gaining, preserving it, manipulating it. But either for reasons of poverty or different values (I don't know which) there is not a strong aesthetic sense here. Or perhaps it is just very different than mine. People certainly do not leave walls blank -- they cover them with calendars or magazine pictures or unbelievably tacky (my judgment) religious art. Every house or office I have been in has had several out of date calendars on the walls. So, maybe it's just a question of doing the best you can given the circumstances.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Saturday long run

I meant to leave around 8am, but didn't actually get out the door until 9:30 or so -- the computer sucks me in everytime. This meant, of course, that the sun was much hotter, particularly in the last part of my run.

I ran to Mforya and back -- basically the same route I did two weeks ago successfully. Last week, I tried a different route which included a section of the main asphalt road, but that was a disaster because I hadn't had enough sleep or enough to eat. Not that the route had anything to do with it, but I didn't want to jinx it.

This time, rather than go through the main center of Njimbee, I went the other direction by the Food Processing Mill (a PRTC project of a few years ago, BTW). The scenery was much more prosaic that direction and at one point I was running through a grass field with the mountains visible in the distance and the blue, blue sky and it was just beautiful. I discovered that this route is a bit shorter, so when I got to the center of Mforya, I had to go a bit further to hit the 5 mile turnaround point. I felt great for those first 5 miles and felt great to feel great after an entire week of feeling tired. The last half, however, was harder -- hotter, hillier (or seeminly so), tireder. I walked a bit, maybe a tenth or two of a mile altogether, but not too much. Next time, if I go that late, I think I need to bring water. I stopped by the river to splash water on my face and neck, but everyone says that's not drinkable, so that means I'd have to bring my own.

One thing I noticed is that I can run 5 or 6 miles just for the fun of it, just to be out there running, in the world, looking around, enjoying God's handiwork. But after that, it gets tougher and some part of me really wants a *reason* -- a goal, a purpose, an objective. At the moment I don't really have one. The only goals I've ever had have been to get in shape (I'm in basically good shape now), to lose weight (my weight is where I want it to be) and to run a race (can't find any races around). I've heard there is/was a marathon or half-marathon in Yaounde' in October, but only by seeing a news account on the web after the fact. There's also this Mt. Cameroon Race for Hope in January or February, but I haven't been able to find out any information about it. So why do long runs? Why keep going when it gets difficult?

That is something to contemplate.

George Bernard Shaw said: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Introduction

I shamelessly stole the concept and name for this blog from a fellow clergyperson -- Stacey Grossman -- whose blog is RevRows (guess what she does in her free time ). I've been wanting to do a blog like this for a year or two ever since I first saw hers.

This will be a record of my (almost) daily runs and observations, thoughts and ideas while running. Can't promise any insights, but you never know, God's grace is abundant after all.

If you want to follow my adventures in Cameroon, you can check out my blog for that at: http://telcameroon.vox.com

I'm also trying out blogger.com as a blog service. I've been a bit frustrated with Vox's performance on my very slow (via cellpone) Internet connection.

Welcome!