Day 347: Families and a Long Run

by claire a. williams,

Today was the beginning of week 4 of marathon training here at Tumaini Children's Center in Kenya. With it came our first long run at 8 miles long. To run the 12.8 kilometer equivalent, we did our trusty loop twice, and then did three laps around the maize field at the primary school. This particular 5.5 km loop, what the kids refer to as "running the big road" has become our mainstay, and it's never without entertainment. Today, one of our eight year olds got hit by a slow moving bicycle, Lara stepped on a chicken's foot, and one girl ran into her grandfather. The first time such a relative sighting occured on one of our runs, I was taken aback, as it interfered with my puritan view of what an orphan was in the first place.

But, like adjusting to the fact that the red dirt of Africa actually never comes off the kids' hands completely and thus stains every page of every book I give them to read for five minutes, I have come around. As in, I now understand the complexities and gray areas in being an orphan in a small community of large extended families.

I understood this even moreso at the end of our long run today. When the older kids completed the whole 12.8 km, everyone was on a psychological high of sorts, given that most individuals had never run that length before. As any marathoner knows, the weekly breaking of psychological barriers in one's "long run" is the crux of training for a marathon in the first place. Thus, we were happy everyone responded in just the endorphin-filled way all the "How To Coach Marathons for Blondes" books claimed they should. One such psychological high briefly blinded one of our champion runners, James (not the malarial one of Day 344) who spent one happy hour post-run before realizing his injury and coming downstairs to visit Dr. Lara in sick bay, read: our apartment.

The particular problem is a recurring one for this 18 year old, in that a piece of his bone seems to be sticking out right below his knee every time he goes for a long run. Dr. Lara soon astutely determined, though, that the "bone" was actually "cartilage." This term was confusing to James until he realized that he knew cartilage well, in that it is the thing that always looks like bone but is easier to cut when butchering goats. Dr. Lara, the vegetarian, readily agreed.

As James sat on our couch with the frozen bag of tomatoes on his knee, he then began to talk about his family, and about how many of them may or may not live within 20 kilometers of our very living room at Tumaini, why he doesn't know, and how he has only heard "stories" that suggest his mother, siblings, and/or other extended family might still be somewhere very, very near. Not coming to call, though. When he went on a school outing one time two years ago, James said, he took a round-about way the teacher didn't see to see if he could find his mother at the house he grew up at. He couldn't.

To those of us with parents, particularly parents who offer to write business plans and do the taxes involved with getting Hope Runs: Partnering with Children to Outpace Poverty to become a legitimate non-profit, it's all a bit sobering to hear stories like this on an hourly basis. But that's life with AIDS orphans, as Lara says: 90% of the time it's the most fun you'll ever have in your life, and the other 10% of the time it's so depressing you want to stick your head in the sand. Which is, incidentally, red here.

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