Sunday, July 19, 2009

Africa can be awfully cold

This week I went out into the field to meet some of our partner organizations and observe two of my staff lead an orientation for them. This took me to the hill towns of Kaziba and Luhwindja. During the day, the weather was quite pleasant a bit cooler than Bukavu at noon, but sunny and somewhat warm. But at night, holy cow! Literally as soon as the sun started to descend, the temperature plummeted. I slept deeply buried under a wool blanket. And getting out of bed in the morning to go running soo difficult! I brought a good windshirt so the top of me was warm enough, but I wished I had brought my Capri running pants rather than just shorts. And GLOVES. The second day I went running, I wore socks on my hands so they wouldnt become totally numb. Dont be fooled, Africa can be awfully cold.

Running around Kaziba was nice, though. Oh, well, except the other thing was the dust. The first day I went up to the village of Lukuba and there wasnt as much dust. In some places, the road was very hard packed and smooth which was really nice. But the second run, I went the other direction and went through dust that was easily 6 inches deep in places. I shudder to think what the rainy season must be like there.

Its beautiful up in the mountains. Kaziba is actually in a valley, surrounded by hills and even in the dry season, things are quite green. The altitude is pretty high, though, as the tops of the hills were treeless not from cutting but because they were taller than the tree line (thats what we call it in the US the altitude above which trees cant grow). And I was quite the amusement for everyone. I intentionally wore my IRC cap rather than my generic grey one (which I would never do in Bukavu) because I knew I would be the talk of the town and I thought Id just let everyone know why I was there. The older women walking to their fields in the morning were the most astonished, I think, to see a woman running, and a white one at that.

Saturday I went for my long run. 8 miles which is long for me at the moment, but it still feels odd to call that long. Next week, Im going to up it to 10 miles, which really seems like the entry point for long to me. The great news about Saturday is that a) I ran the whole way, including up, up and up the hills and b) I did NOT get lost. Victory! Ah the simple joys of life. My route was safe and boring straight up and into the neighborhood called Kadutu and out the road we had gone on to Kaziba. The road is pretty busy in one section theres a big roundabout that seems to primarily function as a truckstop, and just beyond that is a fork in the road known locally as Essence. This is the fork where last week I turned right and got lost, because turning right avoids the thickest part of the crowd. But this time I barreled on, happy that something rather loud was playing on my headphones to at least modify the many, many comments I got from onlookers. I really had to be nimble on my feet to avoid running into people, but it was fun to be able to move at twice the speed (or faster) of any vehicles. Oh, why is it called Essence? Because there are about 50 guys there selling illegal petrol/gasoline (essence in French) in plastic bottles. Reminded me of Maroua.

The whole first 3 miles of this run is mostly uphill, with some flat parts for relief, which I didnt really register until I was coming back and got to just fly downhill. That was great and very relaxing! And I really noticed the difference in running on pavement. About 1/3 of this route is on pavement. It is so nice to not have to keep my focus on the ground the whole time and my pace was faster. Maybe next week Ill do the local traditional border to Governors office route which would be tarmac the whole way once I get out of my neighborhood.

This week I did all the runs on my schedule (though Friday was a bit short cause I was late and had to get to work) and it feels really good to put in a good solid week and not feel exhausted. Ive lost some weight since I got to the Congo and want to lose another 10lbs (5kg). I can already feel the difference, though. Things are definitely looking up!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wherein Tracy gets lost yet again

Okay, so every week since Ive been in Bukavu, Ive gotten lost on my Saturday morning long run. This week was no exception and it was  a doozy. I really, honestly meant to do out and back, the same route, but somewhere I turned wrong and way overshot my return. So, I was out there, climbing and descending hills for a good 45 minutes longer than I expected. Bukavu is just a series of hills, some of them incredibly steep at least the walking paths that everyone uses are very steep. I was really feeling it in my knees, though Im happy to report that my knees feel fine today. So maybe this is really good training.

So, the plan was to run 8mi and to go up behind Nyawera market toward or to the neighborhood known as Kadutu. I did fine going out, though I did walk up 1.5 of the 3 sequential hills. It was nice that the shops werent really open because Kadutu is a very crowded area, but it wasnt yet when I was running through there. (This is all relative, mind you. There were still plenty of people yelling out mzungu, mzungu, children running after me, etc. But I went back there later in the afternoon to visit the Kadutu market the largest in Bukavu and then it was wall to wall people. Literally there would have been no way to run.) I ran up and up and up, then down and up and down and up and many times came to roundabouts or intersections with 3-5 roads. I thought I kept going straight, but when I saw my route mapped out in SportTracks later, it was clear that I turned right at some point. My watch had given me the low battery warning before I left, but it still had 20%, so I was hoping it would last. At 4 mi I turned around (and the watch was still working).

After climbing the first hill on the way back, I got a bit confused and took the road to the right which I thought was a road I had seen from the *other* road when I was coming down and I thought they met at an intersection not very far away. But when I got to the next intersection, nothing looked at all familiar. Because I thought I had run straight out, I thought I could just feel my way back.  After awhile, thinking several times that I knew where I was and then realizing that I had no clue, I came to a woods and had the choice to either keep moving forward and level or taking a deep descent. Totally baffled, I finally asked some guys (since, frustratingly, men generally speak at least some French and women rarely seem to and I do not speak Swahili. . .) and they said they would accompany me. I said I wanted to run, but that turned out to be folly as we were descending so steeply that it would have been unsafe. At some point I ended up ahead of them and almost went the wrong way (since I kept wanting to follow what looked more or less like roads whereas everyone walks on these sort of back alley paths that wind between the houses), but they called me back. Somewhere around there I lost track of them, but that was the last part of the descent.

Shortly thereafter, I was again confronted with a choice this nice wide road that veered left which seemed to be away from where I should go vs. a footpath that went to the right, but where? Again, I asked a man (and then was joined by a couple of others). I had the great advantage of knowing that all I needed to do was get back to Nyawera market, which is a landmark known by all. This time, when I asked which way to Nyawera, they asked me if I wanted to go by car or foot. I looked at them oddly and said, hmm, by foot, thank you. Would you be okay taking the footpath? they asked. Is that shorter? I replied. Yes, Then thats the way I want to go. Rather amazed, they told me to take the footpath and that would lead down then up to someplace, the name of which I didnt really catch, from where I could descend to Nyawera. Going down was really quite easy and I got to run again for awhile, but when I crossed over a main road and started to ascend, I was back on a steep, narrow, rocky (and dusty) footpath. At one point I passed an older woman climbing up with a bundle of something. Awesomely strong the women are here.

I get to the top and there is a main road. I only have a vague idea where I am, so I dont know if I should go right or left. There werent any people standing around except for 3 policeman in their bright yellow shirts and hard hats (they are quite cool looking, the traffic police uniforms). Taking the decision that they are supposed to serve the public and therefore would be sympathetic to me, I went and asked them which way to Nyawera. They said go left and turn right at the intersection that was about 50 yards away. I did that and voila! I recognized that I was at the top of the first hill above Nyawera. It was so nice to feel asphalt under my feet again that I decided to stay on the main road and not take the flatter dirt road.

Returned home almost 2 hours after I left and I have no idea how far I really ran because the watch conked out at 4.47 mi which was about 10 feet after I took my first wrong turn. . . I tried to map out where I think I went (theres a big gap in the middle where I have no idea how I got from where I knew I was to where I ended up) and it looks like I probably covered 8.75-9 mi, though a heck of a lot of that was scrambling up and down hillsides, not running.

Another Bukavu adventure!