I think I would have to say honestly that my lack of activity on my blogs (both of them) was a pretty good indication of my happiness and general sincere engagement in my life (or lack thereof). Though I am sorry to not have kept my blog updated over the last few months – months when running was the one thing that I could grasp to maintain my equilibrium and my sense of self – I can certainly see, in retrospect, why I wasn’t able to don my blogging personality.
Brief update – until the beginning of November, I was living and working in Lubumbashi (DR Congo), at which point I very abruptly lost my job and returned to the US. I spent four pretty miserable months in the US where I was at times so cold that I went to the local YMCA and paid $10 to run on the treadmill. Finally, in mid-February, I chose to re-volunteer with CUSO-VSO (www.cuso-vso.org) when I was offered a great post in Katima Mulilo, Namibia. In mid-March, I boarded a plane for Windhoek, spent a week there and now I’ve been up in Katima Mulilo for the past couple of weeks. There’s a little bit more about all this, if you’re interested, on my other blog: http://tlongacre.wordpress.com.
Katima Mulilo is in the farthest northeast corner of Namibia, in a region called the Caprivi Strip. I encourage you to look it up on Google Maps or Google Earth. I think it will be obvious why it’s called a Strip. Caprivi was some German guy apparently involved in the negotiations to secure this strip, in exchange for Zanzibar, as a transport route from the Zambezi River, upon whose banks Katima Mulilo rests.
While I was in the US, I joined a marathon training group, the Menlo Marathoners, through my local running store – Fleet Feet Menlo Park (www.fleetfeetmenlopark.com), absolutely one of the best running stores in the Bay Area. Jim Gothers and Lisa Taggart, the owners, are doing wonderful work creating a running community on the Peninsula, and it was such a great experience to be part of that for a couple of months. The Menlo Marathoners are a fantastic group of people, training for the Big Sur International Marathon on 1 May, and I miss them. I’ve never been part of a marathon training group and it was extremely supportive and motivating. If you have an opportunity to do this where you are, I would highly recommend it.
Then I moved here and in the transition, I’ve had to step back and review my own plan. The week I spent in Windhoek and the first week I was here in Katima, every run over 4 miles felt like such an enormous effort. While the Menlo Marathoners were running 21-milers, I was feeling wiped by 6. At first I thought it was the altitude in Windhoek, then the heat in Katima, but in the end, I actually think I wasn’t eating enough, and probably not enough carbohydrates. Another big change I’ve made in my life is that I’ve started (about 2 months ago) to eat “Paleo”. If you haven’t heard of this, basically it means eating no grains, no dairy, no legumes and little or no sugar, focusing on eating real, high quality food: vegetables, fruit, with a focus on “good” fats (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil) and quality meat (grass-fed) and fish (wild). (Some resources: www.robbwolf.com, www.everydaypaleo.com, www.balancedbites.com, and you can Google Loren Cordain)
For me, the biggest change here is adding meat and poultry. Shortly before I went to Cameroon, I went through a battery of allergy/sensitivity testing which showed me that I was sensitive to most grains and in Cameroon I mostly stopped eating them except for corn and rice, which definitely made me feel better. The naturopath with whom I consulted didn’t tell me to cut them out altogether, and of course, as time went by, and particularly when I was in more “developed” contexts, more and more grains came back into my diet. It is hard to change a lifetime of believing, as the Food Pyramid tells us, that grains should be eaten at every meal. I’ve never been a big bean eater, though I’ve always liked peas and lentils, so legumes have not been difficult to leave out. In “going all the way,” I thought it would be quite easy in Africa because eating vegetables and meat is (sans their staple “white” food) the basic African diet. However, I was quite surprised to find that this is one of many ways that Namibia is very different than other places I have lived and visited in Africa. One basic fact about Namibia is that it is dry. It is the driest country in sub-Sahara Africa and is basically a plateau between two deserts (the Namib and the Kalahari). Because of this, there is very little food grown here and most is imported from South Africa and is bought in western-style grocery stores. In Windhoek, I tried to ask around to find out where “real people” shopped, but everyone I talked to mentioned only grocery stores. “There’s no open market?,” I said. “No!,” they would respond. There is only ShopRite and Pick’n’Pay. . . And, as an example, the most prominent brand of eggs in the shops are proudly advertised as “grain-fed” which is actually the exact type of eggs a Paleo eater wants to avoid.
Caprivi, being surrounded by Angola, Zambia, and Botswana is much closer, culturally and in lifestyle, to what I recognize as generally “African,” but it is still very dry here (relatively speaking – compared to the rest of Namibia, it’s practically a rainforest) and though “downtown” is basically a T-junction, we have both a ShopRite and a Pick’n’Pay as well as numerous new “China shops”, a big shop owned by Egyptians and another big shop owned by Indians – all full of packaged foods filled with sugar and grains. But there is an open market filled with fish from the Zambezi, various dark, leafy greens, tomatoes and the very southern African pumpkins (“squash” in American) of every size and shape. I have learned that the best meat is bought fresh out in the village and I think I have a potential source (one of my fellow volunteers regularly goes out to villages to do field work). The things that are quite rare are chicken and eggs. That is, local/fresh/naturally free-range chicken and eggs. All of the eggs or chicken I have been able to find is imported from South Africa.
I’m really feeling a bit like a modern-day hunter/gatherer, which is kinda the point of the Paleo approach.
I’ll finish this post here and write another about this week’s long run. In reviving my blog, I will be talking both about running and eating Paleo in Africa, and how the Paleo experiment is working out for me as a distance runner. As I settle in here, I’m sure my mind will begin to engage with issues of vocation and what I want to be doing with my life long-term, which have come up out of the events of the last few months, but at the moment most of my wrestling is at a more fundamental, self-care level.