October 10, 2008 at 10:44 am 2 comments

I apologize for the long entry.  I know you are very busy and probably don’t have time to read all this.  If you want to read about just the race, skip ahead to “Chapter 2”. 

 

CHAPTER 1: The Joys of Not Owning a Car in South Africa

 

Today marked the 3rd running event that I have participated in since coming to this country.  Like the previous two, this one proved to be just as noteworthy.  The event took place at the Faan Meintjes (don’t even try to pronounce it) Game Reserve 10 miles outside the pleasant city of Klerksdorp.  My running mate from the village, Chomi, and I had earmarked this race months back and made all arrangements to attend.  In the end, our decision to compete in this 19km event was quite fruitful, but not without a little bit of frustration, frustration, and oh yes, frustration. 

 

The event was scheduled for Saturday, 4 October at 7:00am and because neither I nor Chomi own transport of our own, we embarked on our journey Friday morning.  The original plan was to leave from our village with the 7:30am bus.  I should have known what misfortunes lay ahead when I walked out to the bus stop only to find the bus already gone.  I soon received a call from a confused, bus riding Chomi, asking me why I wasn’t on the bus too.  “Don’t worry Chomi, I am right behind you.”

 

To my surprise I found transport just preparing to leave.  They weren’t going directly to where I needed to go, but they agreed to drop me off at a spot where I would likely catch a passing bus or taxi.  I threw my large luggage into the back and climbed aboard.  Within a short distance I was standing along the road, pulling out more and more clothes from my bag to fight back the cold wind and slight drizzle that was chilling me to the bone.  Just as the drizzle started to become rain, a car approached from the left.  I crawled out from under my acacia tree shelter and gave the sign for “Pick me up! Please!” and fortunately they stopped.  I threw my things in the back and jumped in.  Within a matter of minutes I was on another taxi heading to Chomi.  I found him standing at the bus rank; he had been only waiting an hour.  Our plans had been disrupted by my procrastination in the morning, but now we were together and still not far off schedule.  After a few errands in town, we were again on the road to Klerksdorp.  We safely reached Klerksdorp and piled out of the taxi with our entire luggage.  As we stood on the street corner, we knew are troubles were not over yet.  In fact they were just beginning. 

 

Not having the slightest idea where Faan Meintjes was, let alone how to pronounce it, we decided to ask for directions at the supermarket just behind us.  The people there knew of Faan Meintjes Game Reserve and told go down the road another 2 to 3 miles.  After walking at least 3 to 4 miles, I started to doubt what our supermarket navigator had told us.  We decided to take a rest at the next stoplight and eat our lunch; it was after 12:30pm now. 

 

A woman was standing on the corner waiting for a taxi.  In mid-bite of a lemon cream I asked the woman if she knew how to get to Faan Meintjes Game Reserve.  She said she certainly did know and that a taxi would be coming along shortly to take us there!  Yipee!  Thank the Lord, I thought…finally a break from this mess.  She was right, before I could even finish my second lemon cream a taxi pulled up and we grabbed our bags and dashed onto taxi number ? of the day.  We drove down the road about 6 miles and the woman said we needed to get out.  We are here? There is no “Faan Meintjes” sign anywhere, I thought.  But I didn’t contest, we had no other choice, so we got off as she suggested.  We thanked her and the taxi sped off.  As we turned around we saw a sign that said “Klerksdorp Dam and Campground” and another sign that said “Motorcyle Rally, Tonight!” Uh oh.

 

I peered over the wall and there I saw a campground full of leather jackets, mullets (men and women), cheap beer, and mustaches (men and women) and I knew we were in the wrong place.  I decided to go ask one of the young chaps directed the incoming bikers.  When I went to greet this spiky blonde haired punk kid I knew I was not going to find much help here.  He didn’t know much English, except to tell me two things: 1. he was not from Klerksdorp, he is working for the Flamingo Rally and 2. It is 50 rand (7 dollars) a cup.  I thought to myself…you can keep your flamingos and mullets, but darn that beer would be nice right now… I thanked the kid and left, he stood their confused. 

 

I told Chomi we had run into problem number ? of the day and that we were now 6 miles outside of town in the wrong direction.  Unless he liked biker chicks, we were in trouble.  He didn’t like biker chicks and neither do I; we were in trouble. 

 

After many failing attempts to catch a ride back to town, finally transport came that took us back to the same location where I had once tried to enjoy a delicious lunch of lemon creams.  Once we got back to the four-way we noticed a Faan Meintjes sign that pointed us to the left.  How convenient. Once again we started the walk, this time in the correct direction.  After another 3 miles we arrived at a large gas station and a T-intersection.  As we came stumbling into the gas station I sought out someone to help us. 

 

Do you know Faan Meintjes? Yes. 

Do you know how to get there? Yes, go down this road. 

How far is it? 17 km (10 miles)

Is there any transport going there? No 

Damn!

 

Two successful yes’s and a resounding “NO” and I knew we were defeated again.  We walked out to the side of the road, laid down our bags for the ? time of the day and put up a thumb.  With each passing car that refused to stop, Chomi’s face sunk lower and I wondered if he was just reflecting the way I looked.  I tried to cheer him up and stay positive, but I think he heard the hollowness in my enthusiasm. 

 

After just over an hour, a truck with two Afrikaaner men pulled over and I greeted them with a “Hoe gan det?  Goed, dankie. Faan Meintjes?” They said sure and we jumped in the back.  After driving a distance that could never be walked by two weary travelers, we stopped at the entrance to Faan Meintjes Game Reserve.  We jumped out and I asked the two men how much money for their trouble? They responded by asking me where I was from? Apparently my Afrikaans language skills are not very good.  They guessed right away I was from the States.  And because I was, they decided that they would do us a special favor and not charge us for the service.  Some days, to be an American in South Africa, has its upsides. 

 

Chomi and I, now with a bit more spring in our step because we had finally reached our destination walked to the entrance.  We bought a campsite, walked to the camping area, selected a location, pitched tent, made bologna and bread sandwiches and were sleeping by 8:00pm.  We slept like babies. 

 

CHAPTER 2: Becoming Primordial Man in a 19km Cross Country Race

 

At 6:00am, after sleeping a solid 10hours on solid ground (I told you we were tired) we climbed out from our tent to the sound of terrible music blaring over loudspeakers; yes, we must be near the race start line.  Just on the other side of the grove of trees from our campsite, Chomi and I found a grassy field filled with cars and runners of all shapes, sexes, and color.  As we walked to the registration tent, we passed a group of old men in their short running shorts and head bands and I smiled because I knew that in time, someday I would be just like them.  We passed young men decked out in full racing attire wearing faces that looked too serious for the event, and I smiled because I knew that there was a time when I had been just like them. We passed women with large poofy hair and sun visors that looked far too manicured to be running and I smiled, because…because…well, wouldn’t you? Ha!  Yes, this was a fun run and surprisingly, not a lot different from what I remembered about fun runs in the United States.  After 30 minutes, Chomi and I stood on the race line, registered, warmed up, stripped down, and anxious to put our training to the test. 

 

The entire run was held in the Game Reserve on dirt/gravel roads.  We had been warned to mind the animals in the park, such as rhinoceros, giraffe, impala and so on.  The large amounts of runners could shock the animals and cause them to drop dead at the sight of so many runners.  I wasn’t too convinced though that if I came across a rhino, his life would be the one in danger.  When the list of animals to watch out for was read off and lion, cheetah, leopard, or any other animal that enjoys eating meat was not mentioned, I gave a sigh of relief. 

 

The gun was fired and we dashed off up the hill.  As expected, all runners of color, shape, sex and size ran off at a pace that was absurdly fast.  I even found a group of three young girls ahead of me that had no shoes.  I remind you, we were running on stones that could puncture the tires of any small sedan and these girls had no shoes.  I was impressed to say the least, but not surprised anymore.  Chomi and I soon began to pass all those types of runners who seemed to realize that they were running a 19km race, not a 1.9km race.  As we moved up throughout the pack I noticed that Chomi was laboring on the hills; his pace was decreasing.  I tried to pull him along for the first 5km with encouraging words, stopping and waiting occasionally to coax him.  After a few more attempts, I realized that any coaxing I did was not going to get him to go faster.  I then made the decision to go on alone…and then the race started. 

 

I opened up my stride, and it felt good.  I cut through the wind like an aero-dynamic machine and passed a slug of runners in just a few kilometers.  The path opened up and I looked out over the dry, brown African grass.  I could see six men in front of me, strung out at a distance of up to 500 meters.  Manageable.  With 13km to go, very manageable.  Just then I noticed a herd of springbok and gemsbok dashing across the veld in perfect synchrony at top speed.  It was at that moment that all things before me changed and time warped.  I was no longer Adam from the USA in 2008, but primordial man hunting my prey.  I had evolved as a masterpiece of muscle, organs and tissue designed for endurance and stealth.  I was now the predator and runner 1 – 6 were my prey. 

 

Now that I had morphed into my new element, I moved forward, my feet hardly noticing the stones beneath me or the hills that tried to tempt my body to quit.  After just one kilometer in my new form, I ate my first meal.  I imagined him as the small, weak sickly animal that always gets taken down first by the pack of hunters.  Within no time he was defeated, never putting up a fight.  Unlike most predators, I didn’t stop after my first kill, I moved forward for another.  Within another kilometer I had meal number two and this one went down as easy as the first one.  I thought to myself how easy it was.  Those first two hadn’t even posed a threat; they didn’t even put up a fight!  I hadn’t suffered a bit in overtaking them so of course I moved forward again, eyes set on number 3. 

 

Unlike the first two, the remaining gave me a hell of a trouble.  Kilometer after kilometer went passed with no meal.  Up hills and into the wind aided me, but downhills aided them.  Fortunately, my opportunity came just around the 15km mark.  The course took us down a hill into the bush.  But just as quickly as we descended into the valley we soon turned back into the hill.  The course wound back and forth and I knew I had my opportunity.  Number 3 could not see me approaching from behind; each glance over his shoulder was blocked by the thorny acacia bushes.  The opportunity was there.  I pushed.

 

Just as we crested the hill we were side by side, but I soon realized that this one was a fighter.  I had to break him.  I took my pace to high gear and sailed down the hill, always searching for the shortest route from point to point.  I never allowed him to get a step on me.  For 1 km we ran at a blistering pace, his breathing and thundering steps just behind me.  We clocked a flat 3:00 minute kilometer (4:45 min/mile).  However, in my primordial self I never felt fear; I was the alpha male.  It soon proved true. 

 

We turned up hill and into the wind again and soon I only heard my own breathing and soft light foot steps on the earth.  Number 3 was gone.  Three remained, but there was little distance left for me to catch them.  I hadn’t closed the gap on 1 – 3 over the last 10kilometers.  With one more downhill and wind at my back I again assumed my hunting pace.  I dashed through the bush, just missing acacia tree and rut in the road, every footstep perfectly placed.  I flew through the bush searching and searching but could see no sign of life.  With just 1 kilometer to go, I came to the largest and final hill of the race and there he was, number 4.  He was walking up the hill, completely exhausted, and I felt renewed strength.  He was defeated.  An easy kill.  I flew up the hill, each step springing me forward toward my goal.  At the top of the hill I overtook him in one bound and sailed down the hill to the finish line, finishing in third place, 1hour 7 minutes and 4 seconds (1:07.04).  My last 5 kilometers timed in 16:45minutes.   As I crossed through the finish line and into the crowd, I was no longer a self-possessed primordial hunter out for blood, but peace maker Adam again.  Chomi later crossed the finish line looking and feeling strong in 1:12.00.   

 

It wasn’t much after I had resumed my ordinary self that a verbal dispute arose, it was runner number 4.  He contested that he had beaten me…the “whitey”.  It was impossible that I beat him; he never saw me.  Everyone else around disagreed with him saying that:

1. I had in fact been running today

2. I had been contesting in the 19km event, and

3. I had crossed the finish line before him. 

He wasn’t easily convinced. 

 

I asked him to show me his finishing time on his watch (1:07.22) and mine (1:07.04), but there must be some mistake! I cheated! He demanded to know where I came from (referencing “where” as to my position in the race).  The announcer leaned over my shoulder and said, “He comes from America.” Ha! I gave a slight chuckle, not out of the humor of the incident, but the complete absurdity in it all.  How could this man be so sure he was correct, when the world around him disagreed?  I soon came up with two possible answers. 

 

1. I had passed him so fast at the top of that last hill that in fact he hadn’t seen me.  Perhaps he had felt a slight breeze off his left shoulder and a flash of red, but certainly he hadn’t actually “seen” me, the whitey pass him.  Or

 

2. He had finished in 4th place and thus had lost out on the prize money and this displeased him greatly. 

 

I had gone into the race not knowing that prize money was  given.  I had discovered this afterwards during the argument about who actually had gotten third place.  I told the race officials that in fact I work for the US Peace Corps and cannot take prize money anyway, unless it is as a donation to my school.  This pleased them; they said I was third place and that I would get the prize money. 

 

When the awards were finished and all emotions had cooled down, the officials called me over.  They gave me three envelopes, totaling 200 rand; 50 rand for third place and an additional 150 rand for my school.  With many thanks of appreciation from my side, they wanted to thank me by inviting me to the bar.  They served me up two Klipdrifts (a bottled brandy and coke) and then took me over to the braai (grill) for some steak.  Have I mentioned that sometimes being an American in South Africa has its benefits? Ha! After having a wonderful time getting to know them, talking about running in South Africa, and great vacation spots to take my family, my ride gave the sign that it was time to go.  Before I could go, the officials called me over again and said that I had won something in the prize drawing.  There was a prize drawing? Apparently I had won a small camping light!

 

What a great day it turned out to be.  Despite all the stress and frustration of the previous day, Saturday turned out to be flawless, better than I could have imagined.  I felt strong for all 19km, had gotten in touch with my roots as a primordial man, won R200 for my school, and best of all, made many great new friends.  Those friends include: Robin Stocken and his wife Janet (the race officials), Franz and Piet (the bartenders who kindly kept a bottle of Klipdrift in my hand), Jacques (who kindly gave Chomi and I a free ride back), Charlie (who showed me how much he admired anyone who does Peace Corps) and Dion (who treated me nothing less than a friend) and everyone else (who helped to make me feel a little bit closer to home today).  Thanks everyone! 

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Entry filed under: Running.

From Runner to Shepherd KIDS, SCIENCE, COMPUTERS, CHESS…WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MOM  |  October 21, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    What a wonderful story. I can’t wait to read this to dad tonight, after he’s put in a day as a planter and harvester and not a hunter out for his prey.

    I’m off to work and to check on scheduling our shots for our trip to South Africa.

    LOVE,
    MOM

    PS You should bind these blogs into a journal or at the very least, a story for the Calmar paper or Decorah. 🙂 They are so descriptive, and I enjoy them after I know you are back at home and writing them.

  • 2. Faith Wilson  |  October 27, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Thanks again, Adam. This is a wonderful story. Your running exploits just keep getting better and better since Sabi. Ben’s MOM in Kent. PS. Did I tell you that I met some people who knew you in Iowa? They visited our church and said they knew a young man in the Peace Corps that might know Ben Wilson. Ha! We knew you too!! Hugs

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Just in case you were wondering…

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps

Here are some famous blogs to check out from three of my good Peace Corps buddies!

A.J. KUMAR ajinsa.blogspot.com JOEY CARDELLA http://njebe.blogspot.com SARAH HORNS http://hornzyinafrica.blogspot.com

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