Tanzania – Part 1: Early Morning


Running Log, 12/24/10 — 3M in early AM, usual morning loop

Ann tells everyone that I hate to travel. I claim that this is an exaggeration, like saying that I hate Christmas or dinner parties… or any other endeavor that requires large amounts of planning, social negotiation, and worrying about food. The truth is that whatever the challenges, once I’m in the middle of these activities, I do fine and I generally enjoy myself, but the period leading up to them makes me anxious; I have to fight the urge to head for the hills. Knowing this about me, Ann was very delicate in approaching the idea of a trip to Africa.

The idea of the trip really became concrete when Joni’s six-month internship working for a foreign aid organization in Zambia was extended to twelve months. Ann and I both thought that not seeing Joni for a whole year would be a sorry thing, and both of us — but Ann especially — had always wanted to see the countries where Joni had spent so much time. A plan began to take shape to visit Joni in Tanzania over Christmas vacation. We could combine Christmas, New year’s Eve, and Joni’s birthday in one trip, visit her friends in Tanzania, and go on a safari through some of the most spectacular wildlife parks in the world.

But knowing how anxious I get planning something as tame as a weekend on the Cape, Ann let me gradually get used to the idea, making it clear that I didn’t have to travel with her to Tanzania. It would be perfectly fine if I just wanted to stay home and take care of the house and the pets, make sure the pipes didn’t freeze, and watch football on TV. Her gambit worked perfectly. After maintaining my neutrality about the trip for months while Ann tackled all the research and planning, all the agonizing about dates and itineraries, with the deadline for buying tickets looming, I announced that of COURSE I wanted to come along.

When discussing logistics, one issue that always lurked was the limited opportunities for running while we were in Tanzania. I felt that running would be an important anchor for me in this strange world, but the opportunities would, of course, be limited. It was also a cruel coincidence that we were scheduled to leave ONE DAY before I was hoping to finish my personal project of running for 365 days in a row. In conversations with Ann and in emails to Joni, I tried to inquire gently about the topic while downplaying the whole running streak thing. I understood that running was not the priority. But deep down, I didn’t want the streak to go without an attempt on my part to keep it up. I packed running shoes, shorts, and plenty of socks. No reason not to keep my options open.

In many ways, I had expected that first day of the trip to be the one most likely to kill the streak. Our flight left at 7:20 a.m. on December 24th, which meant we needed to be at the airport by 5:45 a.m.. After a short flight to Washington-Dulles, we would have a layover of nearly three hours, and I figured I could try to get in twenty minutes of running in the airport in Washington.

But that scenario became unnecessary when I found myself wide awake in the very early morning hours of December 24th, long before any signs of dawn appeared in the night sky. I had set the alarm for 4:55, but found myself staring at the clock an hour before that. After a few minutes of indecision, I slid out from under the covers and began pulling on the winter running gear that I had stacked in a neat pile on the dresser, just in case.

Outside, the cold stung my face, but after several weeks of running in these temperatures, I was used to the feeling. I tried not to hurry, even though I knew that when I got back to the house, I wouldn’t have much time to shower, eat, and take care of the last little details before the taxi came. I tried to enjoy these last few moments of peace and solitude, while quietly preparing myself for the long journey ahead and for whatever obstacles lay in store for us.

My insomnia that morning let me run first and then take a shower in my own bathroom. (I would come to appreciate showers in a new way on the trip.) I was also able to have a bowl of cereal without worrying about the status of the milk that I poured over it. As I enjoyed this last meal at home, I reflected that I was now one day away from completing my full year of running. If all went according to plan, I’d be running again twenty-four hours later in Arusha, the city in Tanzania where we would be meeting Joni.

As we got into the taxi, it was still dark, with only the faintest signs of blue beginning to appear in the East. I tried to imagine arriving in a place where it was 80 degrees every day. I tried to imagine how I would feel running there, and I thought about the last thing Joni had written to me in response to my questions about it:

“…I am sure you will have no trouble running in Arusha – so long as you don’t mind people pointing and staring at you a bit – and yelling Mzungu at you. You also may have some young kids run along with you for a while…”

So if I wanted to continue my streak, I would have to overcome one of my greatest fears — the fear of being conspicuous. It was one thing to sneak out in my own Newton neighborhood for an anonymous early morning run with no one around; it would be a very different thing to arrive in a strange country on Christmas afternoon and immediately hold my own one-man parade in front of throngs of curious and amused Tanzanians. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without help…


When it comes to travel, I have a 19th-century mind; it moves at the speed of an ocean liner, not a passenger jet. Although I accept the reality of it, my brain locks up thinking about how it’s possible to go for a solitary pre-dawn run in Newton on a freezing morning in December, and then, only 24 hours later, be weaving my way through a hot crowded street on the outskirts of a sub-equatorial city, breathing in the fumes of diesel trucks and the smoke of charcoal fires. I didn’t travel to Tanzania to run, or to take a break from running for that matter. I went there with my family to visit Joni and to learn more about a place that has been important to her and a mystery to the rest of us. But like the gazelles and wildebeest of the Serengeti who (according to our Safari guide) have scent glands in their hooves to guide them to water and nutritious grasses, I always seem to use running as a sixth sense to help me understand my surroundings. So I ran in Tanzania, holding on to my stubborn streak for a few more days while I tried to understand this new world in which I found myself.



Running Log, 12/25/10 — 27 minutes, out and back from L’Oasis (with Joni)

We departed from Washington-Dulles shortly after noon on Christmas Eve aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Abbaba. After a thirteen-hour flight, we arrived in the Ethiopian capital city at about 9:30 a.m. local time on Christmas Day. One consolation to our schedule was that the last few hours of the flight we passed over the Sahara Desert as the sun came up. The word “vast” is not adequate to describe the emptiness of that expanse spread out tens of thousands of feet below us.

When we touched down in Addis, we were anxious that we had missed our connection. We hadn’t yet realized that most flights on this airline were several hours late. Instead of having to rush, we had to wait. We eventually got on another plane for the short flight to Mombasa, where we waited on the tarmac for another hour. Mombasa is on the Indian Ocean, and it was very hot and humid, a stark contrast to the New England winter we had left behind! At first, the flight crew let us stand at the open rear door of the plane to get a little air, but eventually they made us sit down and we all sweated profusely. Finally, we took off for the short flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon.

After more than 24 hours of travel, my frontal cortex was mushy from lack of sleep and from being subjected to a relentless program of bad Christmas Carols that the airline had chosen to play over the airplane PA system at every opportunity.

At Kilimanjaro airport we showed our proof of vaccination against yellow fever, paid for our visas, and passed through doors to another world. On the other side of those doors we were met by Joni, Rob (our guide), and Peter (our driver). We — that is, Rob and Peter, who wouldn’t let us help — loaded up the land rover and we drove out the airport gates toward Arusha.

What did I expect to see? Although I vaguely knew that Arusha was home to about one and a half million people, I didn’t realize that all of them would be out in the streets at once. The main roads into and out of the city were two lane highways that somehow accommodated cars, trucks, buses, minivans, along with a steady stream of handcarts, bicycles, pedestrians, and even livestock along the shoulders. Off the main arteries, dirt roads fanned out into narrow neighborhoods of shops, shanties, schools, churches, and two-room homes of cement block walls and corrugated metal roofs.

After what seemed like hours (but was probably only 40 minutes) of driving and catching up with Joni, we turned off the paved road onto a narrow dirt lane that led up into a dense neighborhood of shops and houses. The land rover lurched and bounced over the heavily rutted road as Peter expertly avoided other vehicles, motor bikes, and pedestrians. It didn’t seem like this crowded side road could have its own side road, but after a quarter mile, we turned down what seemed to be a driveway that was even more narrow and treacherous than the road we had come from. This route brought us after a few hundred meters to the gates of L’Oasis, the hotel where we would be spending the next few days before setting off on our safari.

After such a long trip, the relief in arriving somewhere was profound. It was wonderful to set our bags down in the circular huts constructed to resemble Masai homes, but with tourist accommodations like electricity, running water, and mosquito nets over the beds. (The picture at the beginning of the blog is Ann standing in front of our hut on the day we arrived.)

It was now four in the afternoon and the moment of truth for the day’s run. If it had been a solo run, I would never have done it. Not only was I mentally and physically beat, I was thoroughly intimidated by the teeming life of the city. Stepping into the street seemed like the act of a crazy person. It wasn’t that I thought anything was going to happen, but then again, who knew what might happen? And if anything ordinary or extraordinary happened, I had no confidence I would know how to respond. I felt like Paul Simon’s words in “You Can Call Me Al” were written about me:

A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the Third World
Maybe it’s his first time around
He doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency…

…and so on.

Not for the first or last time, I turned to my daughter for help.

I asked Joni if she would run with me — nine-minute pace, ten-minute pace, it didn’t matter. I needed the reassurance that it was ok to do this, that I wasn’t stepping off the end of the earth into something that made no sense. Although she, too, was tired and hadn’t run in weeks, she agreed to be my guide, and after a quick change, we passed through the gates at an easy trot.

We turned left, and then right, threading our way between houses with women and small children in the yards. We jogged along, passing boys, girls, men, and women, walking or riding bicycles, dressed in shabby clothes or in suits and beautiful dresses. It was Christmas, and surely some of the well-dressed men and women were coming home from church. The smell of charcoal was in the air, and my lungs felt pinched by the smoke.

Although it was very warm, I noticed that no one wore shorts. I also was amazed that except for a few catcalls — cries of wazungu (“white people”) — almost everyone ignored us. Apparently people in Arusha had seen everything and even the sight of two pale runners plodding along the street in their running gear didn’t merit any special notice.

We ran for about twelve minutes, down a long hill that led us out to the main road and then along the side of that road for a bit. Along the main road there were so many pedestrians that several times we had to slow to a walk and wait for an opening to move ahead. After a half mile of this (probably less), we turned around and picked our way back the same way we had come. For the most part, no one but a few younger boys took any notice of us. Then it was back up the hill, retracing our steps, trying to remember the turns. Feeling elated and energetic at having completed this modest round trip, I dropped Joni off at the hotel, and then continued on the dirt road past the hotel. I ran for about two minutes, picking up the pace until I was running very fast, letting my legs stretch out and play after nearly twenty-four hours of being cramped and inactive. Then I turned around and jogged back to the gates of the hotel.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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