musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dodging Dogs and Cows

Lauren threw down the challenge before I left.

"You're going to lose more weight," she said definitively, citing scarcity of food in the field and the fact that I had lost 10 pounds since our round-the-world-trip ended. Unfortunately for me, food in Pagak has been much more acceptable than expected and, even if there's only rice and lentils to be had, I have a tendency to just eat more rice and lentils.

But the gauntlet had been thrown... so... challenge accepted!

Task number 1: portion control.
Task number 2: run.

Running in South Sudan has always been an interesting experience for me. I came around to the benefits only a few years ago after picking up Runner's World out of utter boredom while in Iraq. I'm yet to truly instill it as an irrevocable part of my schedule. Would love to be that guy that wakes up an hour early every morning to start off the day on the right foot. I'm just not.

For most South Sudanese (notable exceptions excluded), running is something they did away from bad guys with guns during the prolonged civil war. 'Footing' (walking) is something that is only done when the Land Cruiser is broken/out of gas, and running is only for crazy people. And Khawajas. And some Kenyans. And periodically Ethiopians. But almost never South Sudanese.

So upon arrival in Pagak I was pleased to see that our compound is right next to the airstrip. 827 meters of straight, flat dirt. I asked our now-departed British/American logistics/former pilot guy how he measured such a precise distance.

"I walked it," he replied without hesitation.

Of course you did.

So the airstrip is approximately 827 meters. Which, for you math nerds, means that there and back is... you guessed it, about a mile! Do that 3 times and you've got yourself a 5k. Do that 8-9 times and you might collapse from heat exhaustion. (On a side note - why don't we all just use the metric system?)

After getting over the predictable 'you're back in South Sudan but you're used to Whole Foods' stomach bug, I was ready to hit the dirt. Unfortunately, so were the following obstacles that have made my running experience in Pagak... well... never dull:

  • packs of wild dogs that camp out on the airstrip in the morning (though thankfully just strays, not these terrifying creatures) - I now run with a big stick;
  • periodic marching and singing exercises by soldiers. I generally stop running when they start marching... it only takes one hungover soldier;
  • the drunk and/or high local who decided, during one afternoon run, to run straight at me as if playing chicken. (He won.) After dodging him (his being intoxicated made my mad moves look legendary) two more times, I quit running;
  • a herd of cows with large, awkwardly-shaped horns... none too enthusiastic about my stick;
  • Ethiopians who laugh at me when I tell them I'm like Haile Gebrselassie;
  • Nuer children who also laugh at me. Who then, often barefoot and sometimes pants-less and always snotty-nosed, escort me until they tire.
Obviously the last group is my favorite. Sometimes I wish I knew how to speak Nuer so I could hear what kind of names they're calling me. Could be anything really. Except, of course, for 'Fast White Guy'...