Akin to the way your eyes adjust when you walk indoors after exploring freshly fallen, blindingly-white snow, my mind begins to make sense of my surroundings.
I begin to feel my saggy matress supporting my body, I sense a soft glow of light coming from what must be a window, and I hear a child yelling directly through that window. Meeeehhh-eh-eh! Although my dreams had wistfully carried me back to the US, I realize that I have woken up in Malawi, in the same bed that I have woken up in for the past year and a half. I realize that the child yelling is not a child at all, but the malevolent goat that always seems to be crashing into my gate, eating my tenderly planted vegetables and bleating at the top of its ugly goat lungs. Reality sinks in. I glance at my watch, but it’s too dark to see anything in my cramped, poorly-lit bedroom. I figure it must be around 5:45, according to the amount of light sneaking in. I force myself to get up, rising slowly.
Fifteen minutes later, I walk out of my door wearing long yoga pants, running shorts, a tie-dyed t-shirt that I made in highschool, and running shoes. The same ‘progressive’ outfit that I wear every time I run. The one stinks to high hell and has sweat stains that are more offensive than Donald Trump. I pass the three men who have been building a new house for my neighbor and wave. “Wawa, wawa,” I mumble, still sleepy. Piles of bricks are scattered around the new house’s foundation, encroaching upon the path connecting my house to the main road. When I finally maneuver through the minefield of bricks and reach the wider dirt road, I begin to run.
I first pass the primary school, which is eerily silent now but which will be erupting with energy in a few hours. It’s comprised of about eight brick buildings and has a full sized soccer field next to it. (Which could be more accurately described as a rectangle of uneven dirt.) I tread carefully as to not twist an ankle in one of its many holes.
Next, I pass a handful of amayis chatting unobtrusively and plodding along at a glacial pace. I wonder where they are going this early in the morning and how far they will walk. Their weight shifts momentously from hip to hip as their bodies waddle from side to side.
The sun has certainly risen, but it remains soft and merciful. It gently reaches down and touches the few farmers that have begun to prepare their fields. The sun’s rays meet with a smokey layer of fog that snakes its way through the farmers’ fields, slithering between leftover tobacco plants and dried corn stalks. Their convergence creates a soft, purpley-blue light and reminds me why it’s worth getting up so early.
I continue on, passing the multitude of houses that line the road. Children squat in circles around small bush fires that they’ve started. They warm their hands while gaping at me. Many of them shout my name or give me the thumbs up as I pass by. Some cower nervously behind their mothers’ legs. Thankfully, they’re still a bit subdued in their sleepy states.
This interest in my behavoir is not limited to just children. I am stared at, pointed at, waved to and greeted by all ages. The farther away from my village I run, the more intense the reactions become. I witness mothers seeing me and then promptly grabbing their friends or children and pointing in my direction. It’s as if they’ve spotted a moose in their own backyard. Come look, quick! The children drop their chores and run to the road. Everyone in the village turns to see, stunned into silence. (The best reaction I have witnessed so far, however, came from an adorable 80-something year old agogo. When she saw me coming, her face broke out into a huge, genuinely happy smile as she pumped both of her fists in the air to cheer me on. I felt like an Olympic runner.)
I keep running, heading back towards my house now. On the right, I pass the local watering hole teeming with life. Women, children and many variously shaped buckets and basins surround the borehole. Babies are strapped to their mothers’ backs in colorful fabrics that contrast the bleak, brown landscape.
I survey the land around me and indeed, it is bleak. In between each small village or clustering of homes is brown, dessicated farmland. The carefully sculpted rows where maize will be planted have been baked by the sun. The soil is dusty and barren of life. Tall spiky trees dot the landscape, but they are sparse.
As I near my house, I sense a change in energy as the village is now waking up. The roosters have apparently fulfilled their work, evidenced by children playing games in their front yards, mothers starting fires, and goats exiting their pens. Bike taxis begin to pass me more frequently and the road becomes littered with people commuting to the trading center. I dodge a poorly driven an oxcart manned by a group of young boys. I maneuver around a bicycle carrying three bundles of straw.
The calm feeling that blanketed the village a mere thirty minutes ago is now gone. The fog has dissipated and the colorful sunrise has been muted. I arrive back to my house, mourning the end of a peaceful morning. I start a fire, put on a pot of water, and wait for my bath water to heat.
This is Eunice who joined me on a run the other week and ran two shoeless miles while carrying her blanket! A true sport.