Run For The World

February 26th, I will be running a half marathon at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, out of the town of Moshi. I have been training hard (with a break for the month of December – oops). Support me by donating to VSO here!

Flocks of children have been entertained by my daily runs around Kamachumu (elevation: 1400m with steep hills galore), and I have found them useful for motivation, whether it’s racing boys up a hill, kicking a soccer ball on the way by, or clapping my hands along to their songs as I pass. Who needs an iPod when you’re the Pied Piper?!*

This won’t be my first race in Africa. Something like the third week I was in the Gambia, I took part in the annual Njawara Marathon, which raises money for the Health Centre. We were still in language training, and in the morning I’d head out and try to run a few kilometres in my long linen pants and t-shirt. The shirt was a gift from Crystal out of a Molson box but I took it for granted that the locals wouldn’t understand “Party Animal”.  In a country that’s 95% Muslim, you tend to keep covered as a matter of course. Running in long pants in sand is hard enough as it is, then add greeting every single person you see. It would go like this: How are you? I am here! How’s the farm? It’s here! The family? They’re there! I hope there’s nothing wrong with them? Nope! Good job for doing that farm work! Thanks, you are running! Yes, I’m running! At that point you would have to start the same conversation with the next person. Even if you saw someone far across a field, you would be expected to yell out to them, clasp your hands in an air-handshake and say “Jerejef!”, expressing how impressed you are at the work they’re doing.

At first the endless greetings seem at best, a waste of time, at worst, paralyzing, when you just can’t remember the proper responses. After a while it becomes a safety net. You know you’re safe, even with white skin, when you’ve greeted every person with a smile on your face. They will come looking for you if you don’t turn up. They’ll come looking for you either way, actually. Here in Tanzania that understanding has served me so well. It even has the ability to turn the tide on a bad day; walking down the street and being cajoled into smiling at everyone and yelling mpao! (mm-pa-OH – goodbye in the local Kihaya language) at the little children is an unbeatable mood lifter.

What with my mostly useless “training”, race day in Njawara crept up rather quickly. I don’t think I mentioned: the “marathon” is not. Men run 11km and women run 5km. Kids run 3km. All the participants got into the manure spreader on the tractor to be driven out to the start points. Prophetically, the village that the girls’ race started from was called Dares Salaam. I’m convinced it was closer to 7km back to Njawara. All along the way, the villagers lined the road and yelled “Toubab! Hurry! Don’t give up!”

I felt pretty awful as I crossed the finish line; thank goodness Leanne was there to take care of me for the next hour. I think I would have kept running straight through the crowds and tents if someone (Sambas, I think, who became a good friend) hadn’t caught me and directed me over to the table to sign my name. The sand and the midday sun were vicious rivals, but I managed third out of seven girls! For the rest of my stay, I was known as the girl who ran in the marathon. Apparently it was even on TV! Way to become popular, albeit while looking completely ridiculous:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time around I have stepped up the training to match the intensity (a real half marathon of 21km) and importance of the race. Last time I ran it to build relationships and to prove that a not-so-tiny white girl could run. It worked. This time, I’m joining the VSO Tanzania team to raise money for Education programming and I have even made a fundraising page. Education is certainly the most important cause in Tanzania and VSO has traditionally made a huge difference in the area. Many successful Tanzanians recall VSO teachers from their school days. The school system in Tanzania is a mess of high fees, underqualified, underpaid teachers, and the preposterous system that Kiswahili is taught in Primary school, switching spontaneously to English in Secondary. The system flat-out doesn’t work. VSO Tanzania is working in a multiple-pronged approach, addressing policy, training teachers, and some actual in-classroom teaching. It’s an initiative that will help this country to step out of corruption and poverty if the players coordinate well.

I have set a modest goal of $500 but I hope to surpass it! Please donate a few dollars to support VSO Tanzania’s Education programming by clicking here. In exchange… I promise to only pass out after the finish line! I will need Venessa and Tijana to catch me (I don’t mind if it’s with one hand and a Serengeti in the other), but experience goes to show that some Tanzanians yelling mzungu! would be helpful as well!

*Instead I use my iPod to drown out the endless thumping bass from the local bars when I’m trying to sleep.

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My Pikipiki Adventures

Right before Christmas I rode my piki for the first time here in Kamachumu. Although I completed my course in Dar successfully, I didn’t ever receive my certificate, so I had been unable to get a license. Similar to the way that even though I completed my course in Canada before I left, I didn’t have time to get my full Class 6 (motorcycle endorsement), because there’s a one-month waiting period after the course. Oh, guess what? The learner’s license expires after a year. I will have to retest when I get home, and no. There is nothing Access Nova Scotia can do about it. The least accessible service portal, ever.

I am reminded of a friend who told me about his first experience on a motorbike: they put him on it, on a big hill, and he promptly ran into a banana tree. Here in Kagera Region there are plenty of hills, really steep ones. These little pikis, never more than 125cc, sound like they’re going to explode, but it’s made up for on the downhill side; the drivers usually turn off the engines to conserve fuel. Unfortunately it also makes it hard to hear them coming….

I’m still trying getting the hang of shifting down early enough to handle the hills. Considering it was only a few years ago I learned to drive a standard, I think I’m doing well. Seems like not so long ago I was sitting in Amy’s car, in Truro, stalling. Through three, yes, three green lights. On a down-hill.

My piki driving is made more difficult by the fact that I always have someone on the back, usually a fairly heavy man. I’m thankful when Steven shows up, as he’s the smallest of the three. They are all surprisingly calm to have a mzungu girl driving them around. They probably don’t realize just how different driving here is. Pavement is a novelty. They drive on the left – except when there are potholes or a drop-off on that side. Villages are mazes of tiny tracks, more suited to goats than pikis. Half-naked children leap out, yelling mzunGU! The other day one of the town’s “crazy ladies” got in front of the piki and held on to the front tire until someone chased her away with a stick. Only a threat, don’t worry! No harm done.

I am becoming acquainted with not only the local crazies, but everyone else as well. People are beginning to recognize me not only as “mzungu” but as Margaret, which is gratifying. Last week I was returning from a visit to Marc and Djoke in Ndolage. I approached the bodaboda stand (bodaboda is the term for a motorbike taxi) asking for a ride to Kamachumu and the boys said, “lakini unaweza kuendesha vizuri kabisa pikipiki!” (rough translation: you can totally ride a piki well!). Bodaboda boys are king on the Ndolage-Kamachumu road. If they say I’m a good piki driver, it’s the truth.

My first day, I stalled coming up the big hill by my house. I almost got frustrated until I turned and saw two little kids on an oversized bicycle coming over the bridge behind us. Their eyes were popping out of their heads at the sight of me. The little boy steering didn’t blink and didn’t take his eyes off the mzungu girl trying (with minimal success) to drive a piki. They went straight into the ditch. Again, no harm done. It was hilarious*.

*Cultural context: it is completely normal here to laugh at people’s misfortunes, or because they look funny, or different. The sight of me out running induces hysterics in groups of children every single day. But that’s a story for next time!

Cuso International Shows Up In Dar!

CUSO-VSO has recently undergone a facelift and transitioned to a new name, Cuso International. Umeeda Switlo, who works with Cuso, is currently in Rwanda doing a placement. She popped over to Dar for Tanzania’s, and VSO Tanzania’s 50 year celebrations which happened alongside our Annual Volunteer Conference (AVC). She interviewed most of the Canadian volunteers, and managed to grab a few minutes of my time between breakfast and my first Intermediate Kiswahili lesson. Needless to say I was only half awake, having come off a very busy week, but I think I sound reasonably lucid!

Listen to the interview by clicking here!