When I first moved to the compound, I had to adjust to the presence of many strange and new elements. Yes, it took a few weeks to get used to seeing black uniform-clad guards peering through my window on their nightly perimeter checks; opening my closet and seeing a flak jacket and blue helmet hanging next to my floor-length dresses and oversized shirts; hearing the sound of low-flying helicopters at dusk; dealing with the more-than-occasional whiff of stale urine and feces in the air; and feeling fine dust coat the inside of my mouth, ears and eyes during a run. However, this past week, I’ve begun to notice how much I’ve had to adapt to the things that are missing from this place, rather than the things that are additional.
I’m not talking about the obvious things, like the lack of food choices in our compound supermarket (learning to love chick peas and canned corn), the virtual absence of greenery and wildlife (save for the creepy crawlers that slide their way into my apartment), or the lack of any kind of ‘street life’ (people watching here is seriously lame compared to NYC). No, I’m referring to the things that I didn’t even realize I was missing until I saw them for the first time in weeks….
The other day I was out on one of my runs around the compound, and I saw something that caused my legs to stop moving and my heart to stand still. Running towards me from behind one of the shipping container blocks was a group of about four or five young kids, giggling, playfully pushing each other, and charging full steam ahead. I actually felt like the wind had been knocked out of me because I realized this was the first time I had seen children in over a month. Sure, I had seen the occasional kid traveling inside a bus through the tinted windows of my armoured vehicle when riding in between UN compounds … but here in front of me was a group of children just being children. No barbed wire, concrete walls, or armour separated us. It really surprised me how affected I was by watching this simple scene – one that would be entirely ordinary back home. But I was incredibly moved… to the point that I stopped physically moving.
As I watched the kids chase each other back and forth, arms and legs flailing, tongues hanging out, gasps of laughter escaping in between shortened breaths, I was reminded that freedom really is a state of mind. Goodness knows what these kids have faced already and what challenges lie ahead for them living in Afghanistan. But all the same, they were running and playing with pure abandon like they were they happiest kids in the world (and who is to say they weren’t!).
It made me a bit sad to think that I had gone so long solely in the company of adults, but at the same time I fed off of the kids’ energy and channeled it into my run. Instead of thinking about technique, heart rate, breathing, cadence, stride length (I could go on), I just spent the next hour finding my ‘kid run’. Running because it feels good, not necessarily because it is proper technique, efficient running style, or even pleasant to watch. Just running for the sake of feeling the breeze against my face and the earth moving underneath my feet. (Do any of you remember the Friends’ episode when Rachael discovers Phoebe’s crazy running style? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s now in the urban dictionary as a ‘phoebe run’: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Phoebe%20Run).
Kids have a great way of reminding us that sometimes we should live more in the moment. It doesn’t always pay off to be the adult ALL the time: thinking, planning, analyzing, and generally taking the logical route… Sometimes it is much better to just let loose and look like an idiot. Running or otherwise.
Anyway, I’ve reached the six-week mark and I’m definitely ready to go on leave. A few things have switched around in my plans… Instead of a 105 km race in Portugal, I’m actually off to the Gobi desert in China for another 250 km RacingThePlanet event!!! 250 km trumps 105 any day in my book!! I’m BEYOND excited. Will write more about that later this week, along with the fabulous local NGO I’m fundraising for called Women for Afghan Women (check out my fundraising page if you have a minute – I would be so grateful!!! http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/stephanie-case-2/utmb)
Stay tuned. Kompound Kilometers over 600 now…