Sometimes life’s biggest disappointments are tomorrow’s opportunities dressed up in wolves’s clothing. Last week I officially changed my marathon event from 26.2 to 13.1 and with a heavy heart (not to mention legs) tried to begin a modified training schedule. After only three days of consecutive running, my foot ached again and the thought of “getting in enough mileage” stressed me out completely. I took my training chart off the fridge and put it in my file cabinet because every time I looked at it I felt sad. For now, I am shelving my second marathon dream.
After lifting the black veil of mourning, I saw that there was a lot of good to be had from this unexpected change of events. First, running has returned to be an activity that clears my mind and replenishes my energy levels, rather than something that feels like an obligation. Secondly, I have some time and energy to devote to something else.
For the last few days, this thing has been writing stories from my year in Senegal. Word by word, I am building stories. Story by story, I am building chapters. Chapter by chapter, I am writing a book.
I am grateful for the time and energy that has been made available to me and for the wisdom of my best friend, Emily, who pointed out it’d be a good idea to focus them on something I want even more than the marathon.
As a thank you gift, I offer an (unedited) bit of the latest story. It’s what I see as I walk into Yayeme, a small village in Senegal, for the first time.
I walk down the sandy road and gradually the fields give way to hay fences. Stems of tall dried grass woven together and held up between twine-bound sticks outline the periphery of a yard. Peering through breaks in the fence, I see three huts; painted white cement walls holding up palm leaf roofs.
One hundred feet from me, a shirtless woman is sitting on a mat in the shade of a mango tree. Like the gumdrop trees of my Candyland childhood, the branches above her are dotted with sweet orange fruits.
In one arm, she breastfeeds a baby wrapped in yellow and black print fabric. Her other hand is inside a calabash, a dried gourd the size of a beach ball, where she picks out stones from the rice she will prepare for dinner. Behind the cover of the fence, I stare at her face, searching for signs of her age; she doesn’t look any older than I.
A small toddler seated next to her bangs his hands on an overturned calabash like a bongo drum. Two boys, around age six, are doodling in the sand with sticks. The larger of the two draws his stick up like a weapon, and jabs it as the other, who returns in kind. Over the sounds of clashing wood swords, the mother shouts a few stern words and they go back to tracing in the sand.
From the direction I am walking towards comes a underfed brown horse pulling a tall, thin man on a hauling cart. The rickety metals wheels bang against the wood platform and the driver shouts hello as they trot by. I can count the horses’ protruding ribs. The mother and children look up to watch the traffic and see me.
“Toubab! Toubab! Toubab!” the boys shout.
I have been spotted.