My alarm goes off. Its 6.15 am. “Damn”, I think, as I slowly roll over and switch the incessant beeping off. Its still dark outside the flimsy dust-ridden curtains.
I’m in Tanzania on a work assignment. And for the last week, I’ve been in its rural western part, near the border with neighbouring Burundi. But even though I’m here for work, I still have to get in some exercise.
My colleagues tell me that I need to be packed up and ready to go by 8 am. We’ve then a full day of village visits and office meetings. If I want to get a run in, I have to do it in the morning before we start our day’s work. The problem is, its still dark outside and there’s no streetlights to speak of. So when dawn finally comes half an hour later, I’m out the door like a shot.
The great thing about running in rural areas is that there’s no tarmac around, so I get to run on bare soil. The other good thing is that there’s often only one road to speak of that goes in and out of the town. That means I can run out half an hour and then back, without any fear of getting lost.
Sunrise brings its wonderful reds as it slowly lights up the African sky. Palms and acacia trees form dashing silhouettes against this colourful background.
As soon as there’s any light, villagers come out in mass. Like me, they were waiting for that smudge of sun before venturing outside. Women appear carrying assorted goods on their heads, sugar cane trunks, jerry cans full of water, bunches of bananas, and bundles of wood all balanced expertly on their craniums. (I tried to take a photo of them, but they all refused, some shrinking backwards in horror. I smiled, thanked them, and ran on).
Whilst the women walk, most men have bicycles. But they are not excused from transporting goods. I see them pushing and hauling loads strapped to their bikes, their single speed gears unable to cope with the hills I run up and down.
As the clock approaches 7am, motorbikes, cars, and trucks arrive. The road is dirt soil, and their passing throws up clouds of dust that chock both me and the locals.
After 30 minutes running, I turn around and run back the way I came. By now the kids are out on the road and making their way to school in town. Tanzania kids are quite subdued compared to other nationalities. In Kenya, I would have been shouted at and had various requests for sweets or money. Instead, most of the kids this morning just stare at me silently as I jog past them. The braver ones use the English they’ve been taught in class. “Good Morning Madam”, they say. “How are you today?” I wave and answer them with equally polite words.
I get back to the hotel just in time to wash, eat, and pack before my 8 am deadline. My colleagues think I’m strange to want to do “exercises” in the morning. But not only does it give me energy to face all the scheduled meetings, but it’s also a great way to see the country and meet a few locals as they start their own day in their own particular way.