Running Log, 12/27/10 – about 12 miles, from Monduli to Monduli Juu and back, with Oju
It may be that everything I have written so far has been motivated by a desire to write about the run I had on Monday, Dec. 27th. That was the day that Oju and I ran from the town of Monduli to the village of Monduli Juu (Monduli Highlands) and back again, a round trip of about 18 kilometers.
It’s hard to fully recall, let alone describe in words, the feeling I had on that day. I remember the swelling sense of freedom and joy at running under the hot sun up the dirt road, seeing an occasional motor bike and passing Maasai children tending cattle on the hillside. On that day, I was as glad as I’ve ever been that I was a runner. Although it sounds like an exaggeration, without that run I’m not sure how much I would have understood about Oju, about Arusha, about myself. That run seemed to make all the difference — and for a few hours, at least, I didn’t have to see Tanzania through the eyes of a baffled, apprehensive tourist, but instead could feel it through the soles of my feet and in the dust of the road stretching lazily before us.
To explain what led to that run in Monduli, I have to go back a few years.
When Joni returned to Tanzania in 2007, she didn’t really have any plan that covered basic things like finding a place to stay. She had many friends and contacts in Arusha, though, so she ended up there and set about figuring out the next step. Although I don’t know the whole series of events that led her there, Joni ended up staying for several months in Monduli with a woman named Rose, a teacher who worked at a school that served the local Maasai. Joni lived with Rose and helped take care of her house and two young sons.
Joni with Rose and her two sons
While living in Monduli, Joni began getting to know some of the people who worked at the open air market in the center of town. One of those people was Oju, a young man in his early twenties who sold produce at the market. They became friends, and Joni discovered that Oju liked to run. Or to put it more exactly, she found out that he would regularly run from Monduli to the Masaai market that was held twice a week in the village of Monduli Juu, about 9 Km away.
Joni and Oju selling tomatoes at the Monduli market, circa June 2007. Notice she is wearing a BSC XC Championship t-shirt.
At least once, Joni ran part of the way with Oju. It was then that she found out that the road to Monduli Juu started easily but then rose sharply over a thousand feet into the hills. I remember her writing about this run, and I remember wishing I could have seen that road.
When planning our trip, I knew there would be few opportunities to run for pleasure. The city was crowded and dirty. and the air pollution from charcoal fires made hard breathing painful. Once on Safari, predators would make the bush far too dangerous. As a runner herself, Joni understood instinctively my need to do a “real” run, and she arranged it with Oju that he and I would run together in Monduli on one of our free days. As the day approached, I experienced a mix of intense anticipation for the run tempered by a small voice in my head that wondered whether I’d be able to handle it.
I don’t think non-runners really understand or appreciate that even fit runners always have these voices of self-doubt. Going into a race or even a challenging workout we always wonder whether we’ll be up to the challenge. I was in that same state of mind thinking about the run with Oju. Here, in no particular order, were the things that worried me and nagged at my self-confidence:
The sun – I was newly arrived from New England, where the temperature had been below freezing for three weeks and the sun had been a listless visitor lurking low on the horizon for only nine hours out of every twenty-four. From that reality, I would be running for a couple of hours in the middle of the twelve-hour equatorial day, with the sun directly overhead. As far as I knew, we would have no water for the twelve mile round trip.
The hills – From Joni’s description, these hills seemed really steep and really long. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but having seen the hills around Arusha, I worried that the mountains would break me, and I’d be left gasping and walking.
Oju’s fitness – I really had no idea how fit Oju was, but I knew that he did this run regularly and that he had sprinted up the hill behind his parents’ house with a spring in his stride that I hadn’t felt in twenty-five years. I knew he wouldn’t abandon me, but feared that I would be a weakling on this run and struggling for the better part of it as I tried to keep up with him.
It was with these thoughts in my head that I prepared for our third day in Tanzania.
We woke early, ate breakfast, and headed downtown. The plan was to do a few errands, meet Oju, find a dala dala heading to Monduli and get there in the late morning. Oju and I would run. Joni and the others would visit with Rose and her kids and have lunch with them. In the afternoon, we would get a ride back to Arusha from another of Joni’s friends who was heading that way.
Our second trip into the city was scarcely less chaotic than the first one. The day before had been a Sunday, and many shops and businesses had been closed. Now it was Monday, and the level of activity seemed to be at least double. Everything took longer. Everyone seemed a little more aggressive, a little more edgy. Even Joni began to get exasperated as she tried to guide us through the hubbub to places where we could do our errands, while brushing off the flycatchers who trailed after us.
When it was time to leave, it took us a long time to find a dala dala that was not empty. The problem with the empty ones was that, this being Africa, they wouldn’t leave until they were full. So if we wanted to avoid waiting for another hour, we had to find one that was already half full but that had room for the six of us. Eventually we settled for one that was mostly empty, and put up with several circuits of the downtown area as the dala dala’s driver and runner tried to round up more riders. With all this, we didn’t actually leave Arusha until about 11:30, and didn’t arrive at Monduli until 45 minutes later.
Monduli seemed very small and provincial after Arusha, not that this was a mark against it. For one thing, the air was much better here. For another, no one immediately came over to sell us stuff. Joni gave us a very brief tour of the market, greeted some old friends, and then it was time for our party split up.
As everyone else headed off to Rose’s house, Oju and I went to drop off my backpack at Oju’s room, which was one of several in a one-story cinder block building near the main square. I took another long drink of water from the bottle I had brought with me, and then left it in Oju’s room. It was time to start running, and I was giddy with anticipation.
Ah, but I have forgotten to tell you about Oju’s shoes.
When Joni was living in Monduli back in 2007, she did some running with a pair of well-worn ASICS that she had had for at least a couple of years. When it was time for her to leave and return to the States, she decided she would be buying new shoes and she knew that Oju could use them, so she left the shoes with him. I’m not sure what Oju was wearing before that, but they must have been trouble, because Joni’s shoes were at least a size too small, probably more. But three and a half years later, he was still using them for his runs to Monduli Juu.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, Joni had told me I should bring an extra pair of running shoes that I wouldn’t mind leaving behind. So I brought one pair for hiking in, one pair for running in, and one to give away. It turned out that Oju was the beneficiary. When I arrived at his room in the center of Monduli, I pulled out this pair from my backpack and made a presentation of sorts. Oju took off the shoes he had gotten from Joni, which were too small, and put on the ones I had brought, which were too big. I had this terrible feeling that they would be the cause of blisters, so I convinced him to wear two pairs of socks.
This whole exchange made a big impression on me. I couldn’t quite imagine having such a strong desire or need to run that I would do 18 kilometers twice a week in shoes that forced my toes up tight into the front of the shoe. And then to exchange them for big clown-feet shoes that were too big seemed very unfair. And yet Oju assured me the “new” shoes were much better. The next time I go to Arusha, I’m going to bring the right size running shoes.
We set off at a leisurely trot, and my Swahili lesson began. We took a few turns to leave the main village, so I learned “kulia” (right), “kushoto” (left), and “sawa mbele” (straight ahead). The road was slightly downhill at first, then flattened out. The surface was a reddish dirt, soft without being too loose. The sun was almost directly overhead, but the temperature was very comfortable, and there was a pleasant breeze. It was a beautiful day for a run.
As we left the village behind, we saw small groups of children playing in the fields by the side of the road. Sometimes they yelled something, but it was never sharp and edgy the way the kids had yelled in Arusha. I began to relax.
After about a mile and a half, the road began rising. There was no mystery about where we were heading. We had been able to see the mountains rising up in front us almost since we started. Our pace was still very slow and deliberate. Even so, the steady climbing kept us breathing fairly hard, and there were only a few words exchanged. “Kilima,” said Oju, gesturing at the road in front of us. I repeated “kilima,” and then to make sure, “hill?” Oju said yes. I repeated “kilima” a few more times, because it seemed this would be a very useful word.
After several miles of steady progress, we turned a corner and began ascending a much steeper hill. Here the grade was so severe that the road had been paved to keep it from washing away during the rains. I was just putting my head down, when Oju stopped and began walking. It was a little surprising at first, but then seemed such a sensible thing to do that I fell in step beside him. We were, after all, in no hurry. The road was long, the hill was steep, and we had plenty of time.
I began to think about time. It seemed to me that no one every became a distance runner without having a lot of time on their hands. Obviously no one who was in a hurry and who had money to spend would choose to run from Monduli to a distant outpost six miles away. I thought of all the distractions in my life, and the even greater sense of distraction I sensed in the kids at Concord. There was always something to do, and always someplace to go in a hurry. Oju was not in a hurry. He had all day, and so did I.
I thought about how, at our gentle pace, I could easily run for twenty miles, and then do it again the next day, and the next. Joni had told me that when she was living in Monduli, she would sometimes walk the six miles from town to the main road back to Arusha to catch a bus there. She didn’t need to, she just had time for it and nothing else to do.
In the days that followed, we would drive through the Maasai lands, and would see Maasai men, women, and children walking miles and miles from the nearest village. They could and did walk all day and were never in a hurry. Later, in the national parks, we would get the same impression from the giraffes, elephants, zebras, and other creatures that slouched their way through the hot African day. No one rushed. There always seemed to be ample time to get wherever you needed to go. Even the big cats, who could, had they wanted to, have shown us sprinting that would have made Usain Bolt look like he was running backwards, mostly just slept. These were the thoughts I had as we resumed our easy trot up the road.
After the steep grade, the pavement disappeared again, and we made our way up through the lovely countryside. From time to time we would come across children watching over herds of cattle or goats. Once we met two boys on the road, who ran with us for a little with big smiles before returning to their animals. At one point, a car passed, raising clouds of dust. It had been the first vehicle we had seen since we had left the plains.
Some time later the road leveled out onto a broad plateau, and we saw a low row of buildings. We had arrived in the market town of Monduli Juu. There were a lot of people milling around, including quite a few wearing the traditional Maasai shuka, the colorful robe draped over one shoulder. Oju knew a lot of people here, and exchanged greetings with several. No one seemed to think it unusual that we had run there.
At one point Oju disappeared into one of the shops and emerged a few moments later with two bottles of water. He nodded back towards the shop and said, simply, “my friend.” We walked about, drinking our water, while Oju pointed to things and told me what they were in English and Swahili, or sometimes just Swahili. I repeated everything.
Although neither one of us was in any hurry to turn around and run down the mountain again, eventually we decided that we would. As the afternoon went on, our families would be waiting for us, wondering if we had been eaten by lions. We set out slowly, gathering speed as the road descended. The run back was easy, under control. I’m sure it took less time to run down than it had to run up, but the pace never picked up, even on the steep paved section.
Back in Monduli, we retraced our steps to Oju’s house, picked up my backpack, and then began walking to Rose’s house — about a mile more. It seemed we could have run, but the walk was a nice cool down. Hakuna shida. No worry.
At Rose’s, I used a bucket of water to sponge off and then changed into pants and a clean shirt. Although everyone else had finished their afternoon meal, we feasted on the leftovers. Ann asked whether I had been able to keep up with Oju. I said that I was able to keep with him in running, but my Swahili was still lagging far behind. But I still had time, lots of time, to learn more.
Oju and I after running to Monduli Juu and back. Oju is still wearing his “new” shoes, his two pairs of socks, and the shorts he ran in. I’ve already sponged off and changed into my civilian clothes.