Yesterday morning, I woke up the way I do most mornings: surrounded by mosquito netting, head pounding, and entangled in sheets. However, the difference was that I was waking up in a fancy hotel in Zanzibar instead of in my tent in Mingkaman. My mosquito netting was luxuriously hanging over my bed for decoration instead of strung up on bamboo poles for protection against malaria. My head was pounding from the bottle of champagne (and margaritas, poor choice Caser) the night before instead of general dehydration and constant-random-sickness. And my sheets were made of 400 thread count Egyptian cotton instead of scratchy bright purple material fraying at the edges.
It took a couple of moments after I opened my eyes to blink away the sleepiness and realize where I was. Gone were the dark green plastic walls of my safari tent, the musty smells of mud and stagnant water, and the sounds of village life. In their place were deliciously high ceilings, scents of vanilla incense and sounds of the ocean. There was no reason to get out of bed. No staff to manage, no fires to put out, no crises to solve. I flopped back down on the bed and stretched out in a star position, grinning widely as I fell back asleep.
When I finally got out of bed, I decided to go for a run. It has been about two weeks now since I’ve done any exercise and the break has been necessary… but I wanted to release my brain and celebrate my first day of R&R. I wasn’t burdened by the need to go for a run as I sometimes am in South Sudan – I was excited by the opportunity to explore a place that wasn’t steeped in suffering.
I practically danced around the hotel room as I put on my gear and set my watch. My toes wiggled with anticipation and my quads twitched at the possibility of being put to use again. I decided to take a path along with water so that I couldn’t get lost, rather than try to find my way through the winding streets and markets of Stone Town. I ran past men wearing taqiyahs* leaning against taxi cabs, who shouted things like “you’re an angel!” and “hello lady, where you from?” I made a mental note to wear my ugliest, baggiest running clothes next time and pumped my legs a little faster down the street.
I ran past football fields made of sand where teenage boys were engaged in serious battle. I weaved my way around groups of schoolgirls clutching their books and giggling beneath their brilliant blue headscarves. Everything smelled fresh – salty, but fresh – and I almost gave myself a stitch from inhaling so deeply. It was like the air was infused with coffee vapours – I actually felt like I was getting buzzed from the run. I looked down at my Suunto watch and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was running a full 2 km/hr faster than my best effort in Mingkaman. After an hour of exploring, I was ready to head back to the hotel and continue my day of self-indulgent, guilt-free pampering. (If there is one benefit to living in a tent, it is that you really, really appreciate it when you get out!)
I’m now writing this post from a hammock on the beach, listening to the waves crash at high tide and feeling the champagne bubbles go straight to my brain. It is absolute heaven on earth. For the next week, I will be chilling out at a resort at the north end of the island… and loving every second of it. Our bungalow is spitting distance from the beach bar and about ten feet from the water’s edge…Tomorrow morning, I will wake up at some unplanned hour to run barefoot along the beach and see where my feet take me.
I’m not sure how I got this lucky, but I’m too deliriously happy to question it. South Sudan is a lifetime away…. And for right now, that is just fine with me.
Iridescent turquoise water at my doorstep? Check. Amazing company? Check. Endless miles of beach to run on? Check. Six foot plus Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor with a disarming smile, French accent, and scruffy beard that screams I’ve-been-saving-babies-in-the-Congo-so-don’t-have-time-to-shave? Working on it :) **
And before I get even more inappropriate, I must get back to my book. It’s 4pm and that means it is fresh fruit and cookie time.
Happy trails! (And if you haven’t seen my recent post on the 20 similarities between aid workers and long distance runners, please have a peek! It is now my most popular post ever in four years so perhaps it will ring true and give you a laugh).
*Knitted skull caps worn by Muslims in some countries.
**NB: This description may or may not be based on a real MSF person I bumped into at the Juba airport briefly a few weeks ago… Dear Mr Baby-saving-MSF doctor who works in Yida, feel free to come save some babies in Mingkaman. Just saying.