Our small team from Chetek arrived in Uganda late Friday night and given that the Hopeland YWAM campus is located about 80km from Kampala, we didn't get to bed until nearly 2 a.m. Saturday morning. After 27 hours of flight and lay-over time, we were pretty much done-in. While I am a early-morning runner by habit and inclination, I didn't roll out of bed until 9 a.m. that day and by that time the sun was already high over this equatorial country. If I was going to get my run in, then, it would mean waiting until early evening before I did so.
|The source of the Nile|
Around 6 p.m. that evening while the sun was sinking in the western sky, I set off on my first run in Africa. Hopeland is a beautiful campus located about 20km outside of Jinja Town, whose claim to fame is that it is the headwaters of the Nile and, more recently, the adopted home of Katie Davis author of the bestselling book, Kisses from Katie. But other than the main highway, all of the roads that connect Hopeland with the rest of that area are hard red, dirt ones that probably turn into red gumbo during the rainy season. Fortunately for me the rains are late and so the road is firm.
On the day we left for Africa – Wednesday – I had gone out for my usual early morning run dressed in tights, long sleeve shirt, winter hat and gloves. The snow banks were high after the big snow that fell the week before. Now 72 hours later I have stepped into August-like heat with zero opportunity to acclimatize. Donning shorts and a cut-off running shirt I'm already hot before I leave the campus.
|Hopeland's main gate|
I head out the main gate and head north mentally reminding myself to run on the right hand side of the road given that Uganda was colonized by the British and so oncoming traffic will be opposite of how it is in the States. It's early evening and everyone seems to be going somewhere – workers walking home from the sugarcane fields that literally surround us or students coming home from school. The air is thick and so I'm running at a slow pace but I am the only white guy out there causing every head to turn as I maneuver around pedestrians and, at one point, a small caravan of cows being driven home. A big truck comes barreling down the road stirring up a large cloud of red dust that settles on me like a mauve mist.
I “good evening” most people I pass and they return the compliment watching this strange “muzungo” (white person) make his slow but steady way to Kakira, the small village about 2km away from Hopeland. The bodas, Uganda's infamous taxis, scream by me carrying their passengers home. When I hit the outskirts of Kakira I take a water break, walk a bit and then head back. No sense overdoing it on my first day here. When I finally made it back to Central House, our home for the 10 days we stayed in Uganda, the cold shower (the only temperature our shower provided) felt refreshingly good. I had to scrub really hard to get the red dirt off my lower calves and ankles that clung to me tenaciously.
Over the next week or so I logged four more runs and all of them in the early morning. Whenever we would leave the campus for a ministry appointment I would pay attention to the unmarked roads so that by the third day I had a sense where a few of them led. I would leave before sunrise but due to our nearness to the equator within minutes I was no longer running in the dark. Every morning, even if it was only 6:30 a.m., it felt like it was 80 degrees out already so that those first few runs I did a fair amount of walking as well. One day, upon my return, for the first time since I was a kid I threw up, whether it was from the heat or a reaction to the anti-malaria pill I would take before my run. But by the following Saturday, I set out on a pace I figured I could sustain, headed east toward the highway and then hugging the far left of the shoulder (I got buzzed by a banana truck one morning) I set out for the main entrance to the Kakira Sugarworks that lay about 5km away. As usual I was “good-morning-ing” most people I passed and getting the stares I was growing accustomed to. When I reached the road that led to the Sugarworks I had the sense it would emerge somewhere around Kakira and the road I had run on the Saturday before. I was a little nervous when I reached the gate but the guards very good-naturedly raised the bar for me and pointed me in the general direction. My hunch proved correct, I eventually found the lane that connected the Sugarworks with the village and soon found myself running there. I got a little turned around but then I saw a landmark I had noticed the day before on an early morning walk to Kakira – a dumpster that the day before had contained a cow contently grazing in it. Once I saw this, I knew I had gone one street to the west too far, corrected my course and then I was back on track, heading south toward the sugarcane fields and Hopeland that lay beyond them. It was a solid albeit slow run but my best one in Africa. If given another week perhaps I could have fully acclimated to the muggy, equatorial temperature but each morning upon my return to Central House I knew a nice, cold shower would greet me. It was something worth coming home to. If I ever get back that way – and I hope that I shall – my plan is to run to the top of the hills that stand above Hopeland where a government school is located, catch my breath and then run all the way down again. Now that will be a work-out to crow about.
I'm back now, back to running tights and long shirts, March being a month of transition. But my Asics have been permanently stained terra cotta as have my socks, a tangible reminder of my runs in the red dirt of Uganda.