Sunday, April 13, 2014

Day 9: Seven Miles in Heaven

Day 9 - April 12, 2014

I slept like a rock.  When I awoke the first time, it was dark outside.  I wondered what time it must have been and lay there for just a few minutes before my alarm went off, letting me know that I had slept the entire night through.  I felt rather rested, and stayed in bed lazily praying my daily Rosary before turning to my phone and checking quickly on what had been new in America while I slept.  Finally I got to getting up and around.  By the time I did, the sun had started to shed some light onto the mountain and it was light enough to navigate out of the room without fear of tripping.  


I made myself just a bit of toast with Nutella this morning, because I had plans to go for my first run since getting here (and my first run in Africa I'm pretty sure, since I didn't run in Bots, unless you wanna count running to catch a taxi or to get to the airport on time on the last day of my previous African adventure).  While sitting on the veranda as the sun over the mountain just to our southeast, I read morning prayer while eating my breakfast, perused the GPS map of the surrounding area to somewhat familiarize myself with the area's roads, and was ready to head out.  I put on my bright green running socks that Ali bought for me just before leaving (super comfy), created a Nickel Creek playlist on my phone, and set it up to play while my phone kept track of my run.  


It started out pleasantly enough, briefly jogging down the road the house was on and up another that previously I had only looked upon while walking to work.  After that, I kind of just turned here and there where the path took, staying closer to the mountain and completely off the main road.  


I wish my words could do it justice, but the scenery was beautiful.  I was glad that I was running and couldn't easily stop to take pictures, as I enjoyed just taking it all in uninterruptedly.  As Nickel Creek provided a largely instrumental and (even when lyrics accomanied their guitar, fiddle, and mandolin) delicate and perfectly fitting musical score, I ran up the imperfectly paved roads, with colors scattered and cascading about every which direction.  Beautiful shades of brown and green from the pine, flat-leaved, and banana trees that arose on either side, with branches draped here and there.  On the trees were flowers of bright red, coral, crimson, pink, yellow, fuschia, purple (and yes, three different shades of red, I wasn't being redundant).  Lower to the ground the houses that flanked the road stood, many simple concrete or white clay with silver and rust-colored rooves, needlessly standing guard over the crops being tended in the deep brown soil in each of their yards...nothing could or would possibly disturb this scene, would it? (The exception of a white uzungu running by).  Many of the houses, even if simple, had their own simple yet spacious patios on which one could safely sit and regard the land nearby or the valley below as the storm clouds would inevitably roll in, saturate the earth, and roll out.  On the road ahead, older olive green pollen covered much of the uneven gray street, coral flowers from the overhanging trees above were strewn in a way that was almost intentionally welcoming , surely blown down, though gently enough, by the previous rain shower.  It was a scene that was so breathtaking that I almost didn't realize that the uphill climb was literally taking my breath away...I was not in shape for an uphill, high-elevation run.


Soon the road turned away from the mountain and the obviously more expensive houses toward the top of the path, and provided me a break from the more challenging part of the path.  However, the scenery was just as fascinating, as the rainbow of colors continued to scatter and dance around.  My brief downhill break on the west-heading portion of Lupa Road complete, I turned back up the road we took toward the clinic, the majority of the climb behind me this time.  Rather than cutting through on the unpaved road closer to the main road we usually took, I continued on the paved path that remained a bit higher up.  On my right were two houses  painted bleached white and covered with the typical metal roofings.  However, these roofings had been painted a pastel green and purple, and somehow the combination of the contrasting white walls and the underlying shiny tin roof created a pastel that was soft yet brighter than any such shade I had quite seen before.  I continued on my run, marveling at this amazing treat that I was getting to enjoy all on my own...well, with Nickel Creek accompanying of course.


Then, I turned down Hospital Road and ran down towards the Cathedral.  I had passed a few locals already on my path, but here crowds of people were standing or walking about.  I cautiously dodged back and forth avoiding the different groups walking up or down the hill, but I certainly could not avoid their obvious stares of interest, disbelief, or humor at the sight of this uzungu running by nonchalantly. I was just glad I wasn't running uphill at the time, or they really would have laughed at me as I huffed and puffed.  I finally managed to make it past Kissa pharmacy, the hospital, and the Cathedral, and took just a quick turn onto the main road.  Wanting to avoid as much hustle and bustle as possible, I turned back up toward the mountain as soon as the opportunity presented itself, made my way back up to the road I had been on before turning down the hill, and retraced my steps back toward the house, with the path the same but brand new as the new perspective of going back toward the house provided views of the homes and land that I hadn't seen on my way out.  


Returning to the front of the house, I looked down at my watch and saw that my trip had taken me about 20 seemed like there was no way such beauty could be packed into such a short amount of time.  I decided to take another lap or two, and ran just to the end of our road before starting back up again.  At the end of this road, which one couldn't see from in front of our house as vegetation blocked it's view from those who hadn't ventured down to the corner, stood two new houses of bleached white color and pastel roofings similar to those I had seen minutes earlier.  These were perched just up the hill a bit, overlooking the valley below, and on the bleached white fence surrounding the property were some moderately elaborate designs to provide further regality.  I stood for a moment admiring them, and then turned back and began my second lap.


As I did, I passed a couple of women and a boy, probably about age 9 or so.  Maybe a minute after I passed them, suddenly the boy was at my side running right along with me.  We ran together for a bit, and when I turned uphill, he kept right along with me!  I wondered if he was supposed to be doing such a thing, as did he, I think, since after a minute or two he turned back to check on his mother a ways back.  This young kiddo, running in tattered and dirty khakis, long-sleeves, uphill, in orange flip-flops, was not only keeping, but setting, the pace for me.  He took it in pretty easy stride as I tried not to look winded.  Another glance back down the hill, and a turn to the east on my part, and he reached the limit of what he was comfortable doing without fear of being in trouble.  I continued on my own, happy to have had his company for a moment.  I took in the scenery from before on my second go-round, and this time just turned around when I reached Hospital Road rather than going through the throngs of people and running at all on the main road.  Maybe ten minutes later, on my path back, I passed my running mate again, and he yelled and waved excitedly.  "Smoothie Song" by Nickel Creek provided the perfect background for this portion of the run.


When I reached the point on my path near Hillview Hotel (just a bit north and uphill from our road, I turned up a cross street away from the mountain.  As "What's Going On" hit it's musical peak, I reached the peak of the road, which quickly descended toward town at the perfect time, revealing the city and valley below with dark yet sunlight-highlighted clouds hanging above in the distance.  In a moment, I was flying down the hill, reached about 10 meters from the main road, and turned around, waving to a couple of nuns I saw on the side of the road.  My choice to have Nickel Creek as my musical accompaniment was PERFECT, as it seemed the best parts of each song hit at the top of each subsequent hill, with fiddle and mandolin intertwining and complimenting each other as perfectly as the music did the scenery around.  


Reaching the house again, I modified my last trip out to make it a bit shorter, as lap 2 had taken a bit longer than the first.  I decided to go back up that hill I had just seen one last time and break my vow to not take any pictures...since my run would be about over anyway once I got to the view of the valley, I figured it would be okay to stop and try to capture some of this beauty to share (especially with Ali).  


As I reached that point again, I stopped and paused my run, took my phone out of it's protective covering (a small plastic ziptop bag) and took a few pictures of the amazing surroundings.  A couple pics in, I heard a man yelling a ways off.  A few more pictures, and suddenly he was standing just on the other side of the road beyond the fence to the south.  He was talking to me, and though I couldn't quite understand what he was saying.  I heard the word "picture" and he didn't look exquisitely happy, so I figured he perhaps didn't want me taking pictures for some reason.  I obliged with a "Sorry, pole-pole (sorry-sorry)" and brought my camera down.  I snuck a few more pictures discreetly as he walked away and then a few not so discreetly once he was out of sight.  


On my way home, I stopped briefly along the way to take a few more pictures of all the different flowers I could find, then no so briefly once I reached our gate.  I walked down our road to take a couple shots of the white/pastel homes at the corner, and a panoramic of them and the valley below.  Then I walked home, into the gate, and decided to get a few pics of some of the flowers and plants in the garden and yard around the house.  I walked in, 7 miles done, and sat on the breezy veranda to cool off. God had given me an amazing gift this morning.


Then, it was time for a hot shower, and it was a welcome, wonderful one at that.


Now that that long diatribe about running and flowers and such is over, let's discuss showering without a shower curtain.  You see, in our house, beautiful as it is, for some reason the bathtub/shower has no shower curtain.  Consider then, how difficult it must be to take a shower in such a manner without making a huge mess.  One can employ such strategies as:

1) Only turning enough pressure on to create a soft stream to reach the occupier of the shower

2) Aiming the showerhead just off to the side where the wall adjoining the tub is, preventing a huge mess

3) Keeping the elbow that is on the outside-facing side of the shower firmly and straightly at one's side, as an elbow that reaches toward the shoulder, head, or neck becomes a conduit for a steady stream out of the shower and certain failure

Now, even taking these strategies, one must consider the following.  Take, if you will, the example of a one philosopher Alton Brown, who discusses most ingeniously in his work, "I'm Just Here for the Food" how to properly season food.  Salt, he states, will cover a much wider surface area and will distribute more evenly if sprinkled from farther from the food than just inches away.  This concept is rather useful in cooking, but also demonstrates, by analogy, how someone who is SIX FEET FOUR INCHES TALL would find it nearly impossible to not "sprinkle" water outside the small surface area of the bathtub/shower.


I just wanted you to appreciate the fact that I've gotten pretty good at taking showers here without turning our bathroom into Lake Malawi...and hopefully now you do, so we can proceed....Good!


After the shower I set to documenting my run for the day before I forgot all of its wonder and wonderful details.  And now I sit here, having watched the clouds roll by moving from there perch on the mountains this morning down over the city.  The rain is off and on here, and it's a lazy day...even reports of the government tearing down illegaly constructed businesses downtown and using tear gas against demonstrators can't really bother me from here...I'll just stay north of the main road for the foreseeable future, it's prettier up here anyway.  I just finished up some "fried bread" or "fat cakes" (much like pancakes, but thicker and not quite as sweet) with honey and nutella, accompanied by some nice strong Tanzania's beatiful here, the windows and doors are open, the rain is falling gently but steadily and certainly not lightly, and the breezy, cool air is all around...what the rest of the day and weekend hold remains to be seen, but I'm happy having had my seven miles in heaven...the most beautiful run of my life.


The afternoon proceeded as one would expect on a day where clouds dominated the sky and rain fell constantly, with the only variant in its presence being its intensity: slowly and lazily.  We all sat around the house doing nothing or next to it.  Personally, I journaled until I was caught up, transferred some pictures over to the laptop to make room for more on my phone's camera, and then made some lunch at 2 PM.  Peanut butter and nutella on toast makes for quite the rainy day afternoon snack.  This was essentially like a peanut butter cup toast.  Yum.  


After I downed my food, there wasn't much left for me to even conjure up on my agenda for the day, so I finally was able to crack back into Jesus of Nazareth and made just a bit of progress.  While I was reading, Liane and Jason called us and asked Carmelle and I if we wanted to come over for a visiting scholar dinner of pizza and a movie...YES!  When asked if I had a pizza preference, I responded "Yes, I prefer it!"


Evening plans settled, I continued to read.  Just a few minutes later Amelia came in and asked if we wanted to go with her to feed her horses....and like that we were doing a whole two things in the same day!  How accomplished!  The three of us scrunched into the truck and headed down past the part of town we knew and into the valley.  Turning here and there and everywhich way, I knew I couldn't retrace my steps if I were required to later.  In any case, soon we were at the land where the horses were kept, an old Baptist Church turned into a home owned by an Australian living in Tanzania.  


We meandered down a small grassy hill to an open area in which the horses were kept.  Soon I saw four beautiful animals strolling through toward their owner, whom they recognized and were excitedly expecting a yummy treat.  Three brown horses and one grey, Amelia told about how she and her brother Josh spent 3.5 months riding them across Namibia and and Zambia and into Tanzania a few years back when they had moved.  It was pretty exciting to hear about some fo the stories that came along with a nearly transcontinental trip through desert and bush with four horses and two humans at the reins.  She also told us about how her grey horse used to be an endurance racer but had his career ended by minor injury.  He suddenly reminded me of Suz's buddy Blue! I knew he had looked familiar.


As the rain continued to fall, and we stepped over wet grass and mud, I was rather thankful to have worn my waterproof shoes, or "gum boots" as Amelia called her similar but taller footwear.  The horses cobbled up their oats, some faster than others.  The quicker of the four had to be shushed away by Amelia when they went looking to steal seconds from their friends.  Once they had finished up, Amelia cleaned out their hooves, fetched some water for them from up the hill, and they were set for the day.  It was a quick trip out there, but I was happy to have seen the horses, and given the rain, wasn't too heartbroken about the brevity.


We returned to the house about 5, and were due at Jason and Liane's at about 6:30.  While the others planned to lay low for the time being, I couldn't help but thinking that I kept hearing vuvuzelas in the distance down below.  I was certain there was a soccer match going on at the stadium across the main road.  Drumbeats nearly confirmed my suspicion.  


Either way, I was looking for an excuse to go out and do something if only for a bit, so I told everyone I was going to go down to Mbeya hotel to see if the expats were watching any soccer matches.  I walked back down the hill in my "gum shoes" to see what I could discover about these soccer matches (see what I did there??? eh? gumshoe? discover???).  I walked onto the patio at the hotel and found almost none were there.  The rain covered patio was rather dull looking.  


From the patio, I heard even louder noises coming from the stadium and so ventured my way across the main road, took a quick left turn, and was suddenly in a different world.  Such a contrast between the areas north and south of the main roads.  Once again i was in an area with dirt, now mud, roads, little run-down looking shops, and a market for vegetables.  Across from them was the crude construction of Sokoine Stadium surrounded by little shops as well.  Intermittently the yelling and cheers got louder, which I assume meant a goal or a stellar play.  I couldn't see much into the stadium even though the road I was on was a higher elevation.  I followed the road as it curved, passing another large group of men huddled around a TV watching soccer, and reaching the lone ticket booth.  Though it was closed, the chalkboard sign had written in sloppy letters the matches for the weekend.  One today, and one tomorrow.  After being approached by a woman from the stadium asking if I wanted a ticket, I told her tomorrow, asked what time the match was, and headed back up towards Mbeya hotel, noting now that the crowd of men huddled around the TV now huddled under their umbrellas as rain began to fall again.


On my way back, I decided to go into the bar at Mbeya and watch whatever soccer was on with whoever happened to be there.  I sat down on a stool, ordered a Serengeti, and watched the Sunderland-Everton match for the remainder of its first half.  Soon after I arrived, one of the quiter expats with a shaved head and and older face joined me and the four Mbeyans watching.  I had no dog in the fight, so when I noticed the American goalie playing for Sunderland, I quietly decided to pull for them.  Though I spoke no Swahili, the language of sports is universal, where oohs, ahs, ohs, frustrated grunts, and ecstatic screams all mean the same thing to everyone.  In this language, I soon discovered I was pulling for the "wrong team" and joined the group in their allegiance for the last few minutes.  As the half ended tied at nil, I finished my drink and headed up to the house, as it was just about 6.


After a quick pit stop at the house, it was time to make the trek to Jason and Liane's place, which was up the hill a ways along our path to clinic.  About 3 minutes into the walk, Jason approached in his car going back up the hill after picking up the pizza for dinner from Metro, a place just across from the stadium whose exterior I just explored.  He offered a ride, which was gratefully accepted.  Soon we were at their house, driving through the gate opened by a guard and parking next to their beautiful garden of maize, flowers, carrots, spinach, etc.  It was a really pretty place.  


Liane greeted us and in a few minutes we were sitting down enjoying a dinner of pizza, spinach cheese dip, and beer.  It was most genrous, most delicious, and most awesome of them to extend such an invitation.  We sat and talked about the clinic, some of their travels, potential plans for the rest of the weekend and travel, and the like.  Once dinner was over, we perused their collection of many, many downloaded movies and decided to watch "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."  I had low expectations, as for some reason I remembered hearing that it was slow and boring, but I loved it!  Ben Stiller could never be boring even if the role required it, and the movie made me laugh out loud at least a few times.  It was a great opportunity to relax and enjoy a bit of suspended reality.  


Once the movie was over, it was time to head out, and Jason graciously made a trip back down the hill to the house to prevent another walk in the rain.  On arriving home, things were pretty low-key and quite.  We chatted just a bit, and I sent a couple messages back home as I hadn't had the chance to video chat.  Then it was time for a shower, journaling and a little evening prayer to bookend the day properly.

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