Saturday, March 17, 2007


As in, there were no people running behind me. As in first, only the inverse.

But also, 2:23.

And (give or take), among top 10 female finishers. (As of Wednesday morning, I was the 9th woman to sign up. "20 kilometers is a little long for women," the secretary told me. I didn't remind her that it was 21.1)

What's in a number.


It's actually really hard being last. I knew I was running the right pace for me, and I knew that in another race there would have been plenty of other people around me.

I knew I couldn't run any faster, but that if I kept going, I'd finish.

But there was a tiny voice screaming inside my head: last? LAST? Run faster, you idiot.

Then I ran past a man collapsed on the side of the road. Less than five kilometers in.

Be the tortoise. Love the tortoise.

Theo met me at 7.5-kilometers on my bike, with a backpack full of provisions. I didn't expect to see him so early. I did expect him to say hello, and then jet off to a later part of the course.

But did I mention I was last? All alone? So when he just kept riding next to me, you'll forgive me for not complaining. I felt slightly ridiculous to have my own personal support crew, except also? It was awesome. And he was fantastic. He handed me my iPod (which I'd left at home, and which he'd gone back, on the bike, to get for me), and just hung out, being there.

Around 10 kilometers in, a guy in front of me pulled a blue t-shirt on over his lime-green-race-issued tank top and walked off the course.

And a few kilometers later, we saw another guy walking. "You can totally catch up to him," Theo said. "Not gonna be last," my inner voice cheered.

He ran for a bit when we caught up to him (Theo, far too nice for my own good, kept encouraging him to keep going. My inner voice: Idiot! We can beat him!). But eventually he also dropped out.

And so for the next 8 kilometers or so, I ran a few feet in front of the sag wagon, with ever supportive, but brutally honest Senegalese people cheering me on. "You're last but it's okay!"

So I kept going. And when I started to flag, Kari and Rick, my new roommates, appeared out of the blue with oranges.

Finally, with only a few kilometers left, I saw another man straggling. But I was starting to hurt too, and twice I almost caught up to him, only to have to start walking because of cramps (in my left ankle, of all places).

But, and here's where I admit that I was lying in the opening to this post, with less than a kilometer left, I caught up to him. We ran together for a little bit but somehow I found a final kick and I totally smoked him.

But I'm still claiming my title. Last for 20 km out of 21 is close enough.

(P.S. I have the best friends. Julia was there at the start, including buying a last minute bottle of cold water, after the start was delayed more than half an hour. And Naw was waiting at the finish line to cheer me on as well. Yet more people to add to the long list of people who have been incredibly generous with their time and support in my various attempts at athleticism. Thank you!)

(Also P.P.S. After rumors that the entire Reuters bureau, a fun bunch of guys, were going to run the race, only one showed up. We warmed up together, but he soon took off in front of me, and ran a fantastic first half-marathon. He finished in 1:59! Pretty impressive, no?)

Dead man walking

Here's what I was going to write, half an hour ago.

"Y'all, I'm NERVOUS.

For real, butterflies in my stomach, frenetic nervous energy, when will this be OVER already NERVOUS.

Last night, I was talking to two friends about all the various voodoo and alchemy I have planned for this afternoon. The important things, like what snacks I was packing for mile 8 and what breakfast I had planned.

And I played it off like I was only acting this way because I'm so undertrained, that since I couldn't count on fitness to carry me across 13 miles, I'd have to count on gummy worms.

But y'all know: I'm neurotic.

So don't tell me that pretzels are not the difference between utter failure (hot sun=sweat=dehydration=cramps) and a triumphant finish line photo (pretzels=salt=balanced electrolytes), unless it's because you're telling me that because in fact potato chips are the answer.

Oh god. Potato chips ARE the answer.

I'm doomed.

And if Senegal were just a NORMAL country, with a normal race-time start, I'd be done by now, instead of sitting around my house wondering how Theo is going to manage to keep cold my sports drink and if he'll ever manage to find me, considering the race route appears to be a squiggly line on plain white paper.

And also why they are making me wear a lime green singlet? Are they kidding? Does everyone else know that it doesn't matter, and I'll be the only fool in chartreuse?"

Except I wasn't going to write that because I was feeling just a *tiny bit* ridiculous, and lots of people I know in Dakar read this blog, and they might not realize yet just how ridiculous I am.

So instead, I trolled around on the internet, reading my favorite running blogs, and I came across this post.

And... I dunno. Somehow it just reminded me why I started all of this, way back when, and how glad I am that I did.

It's not going to undo the weeks of skipped runs, but well... I'll still be out there running today.

That's all. And that's enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Doom Deferred

After months of (not-)training in preparation for tomorrow's half-marathon, my (entirely self-imposed) sentence has been commuted for another week.

Thursday was the Grand Magal, one of Senegal's biggest holidays. It commemorates the return from exile of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the founder of Senegal's most powerful Sufi Islam brotherhood, and what feels like ALL of the country heads out to Touba, the brotherhood's holy city, to celebrate in a feast and frenzy of hospitality and chanting.

All of which meant that, this weekend, things still aren't quite back to normal, so the Powers That Be decided to wait a week for the marathon.

Although I'm pleased to have an extra week of (not-)training, I'm starting to get worried about the temperature factor. It's getting hot, y'all, and the 4 pm race start isn't going to do much to help me out.

Eh, I'll survive. Probably.


It's been kind of a long time since I've posted here, huh.

It's not for lack of stories.

There was the time my guardian/super thought I was a... woman of ill repute? And tried to take advantage of my services?

See, I moved last month, but my new roommates didn't arrive until the first of this month.

Which was fine, though it did mean that I was a single girl, living on my own in a big fancy apartment. And, well, you KNOW what white girls are like (have you seen the movies?) Plus, several of my friends came to visit. One of them was Theo, of course, but the other two also happened to be guys. And they came separately, and hung out with me ALL ALONE, with the DOOR CLOSED. Honestly, who could blame the guy for thinking we were UP TO NO GOOD.

So the night before my new roommates moved in (they had dropped by some stuff earlier that afternoon), the guardian knocked on my door.

He had always seemed very friendly and helpful. He helped me when I was moving my stuff in and explained where the trash went and stuff. Plus, he only speaks Wolof, and was very good at managing to explain things in words I understand, and also at deciphering meaning from the words I managed to string together.

Overall, I was of the opinion: Zal, generally good guy.

So when he knocked and told me he had something he wanted to talk to me about, I figured it was something house related. As he continued talking, I began to suspect it was something else, but I didn't really understand the words he was using (remember: all Wolof) and I didn't want to jump to conclusions.

At some point, he gestured inside, and I thought he was talking about my armoire that had been delivered earlier that day. He seemed to indicate that it would be easier to explain if I let him in.

It did in fact become a lot clearer at that point.

He stepped inside, closed the door behind him, LOCKED IT, and started walking to my bedroom.

Yeah. Baaxul. (Bad.)

I quickly chased him back out and, properly chastened, he backtracked quickly and told me he wasn't going to do anything, and (and this was the one phrase he knew in French): I respect you a lot.

Wonder if he knows what that means?

In any case, he apologized the next day, and Theo gave him a stern talking to. Anyway, I'm much more respectable now, given that I have two roommates. Of course, they are living in sin, but he doesn't have to know that.

And I keep the door locked.


In perhaps less dramatic news, my candle quest continues.

After the mixed success of my Hannukah menorah, I decided to go for broke and make Shabbat candlesticks.

A few months ago, Theo bought me candles. I'd taken him to a Shabbat dinner at a friends house, where I explained that it was our Sabbath, and that every Friday, among other things, we should light candles.

He was all, "But you never do."

"Right. Well, no, not here. But I used to. And in my family when I was growing up, we had Shabbat dinner every Friday night."

To which he not unreasonably responded, "so why don't you do it here? We have candles in Senegal."

Theo, in general, is pro-religion. Also he's seen that when I do manage to celebrate holidays here or participate in some Jewish community, it makes me happy.

So every Friday (when he's not reminding me to call my grandmother) he asks me if I've lit candles and said the kiddush. And one day, he came over with two boxes of candles, saying that if I had them in the house, maybe I'd remember to light them.

But the only candle-holders I had were empty bottles of beer, and somehow, that didn't seem right.

I decided to get something made. This time I decided to skip the flammable materials, and try for something, you know, inflammable. HA! Ba dum bum! (Okay, that was cheap. What can I say. Look at that S-Car Go!)

One of the crafts I enjoy here is when people make things out of found objects or scavenged trash. They can get pretty creative, and not too long ago, I bought myself this:

In this case, they've taken useful things (a teapot for attaya, fanta cans) and turned them into something whole-ly useless (a model of a traditional instrument). But you know... It's pretty.

So when I bought it, I asked the man to make me a pair of candlesticks out of tin cans. He told me to come back in two weeks. I was very excited and telling lots of people about my soon-to-arrive treasure.

I won't swear I knew exactly what I had in mind, but, well...

It wasn't this:

They put cans in a box. I could that. And y'all know. I'm no artist.

The worst part was that I hated them so much, I was embarrassed to bargain. I just wanted to walk away, but somehow I found myself paying far too much to bring these... treasures home.

I was hoping that when I got them into my apartment, I'd be more inspired, but... Not so much.

And they looked even worse when I put the candles on them.

So I took the only solace possible: I complained to lots of people. It helped.

But when I complained to Theo, he said, "I had this idea."

And two days later, he showed up at my house with this:

Isn't it great? He made it out of copper pipes.

Who knew? Date a plumber, and there are all sorts of perks.