My friend and I returned to the airstrip today for our second round of incredible exercise for the week, secretly hoping the women who had been working there on Tuesday wouldn’t be there any longer. They were. We decided to walk anyway, but only one lap, and after that we would walk the village road to the grocery store. While our magic exercise car followed us, of course.
The women were excited to see us, and were much more forward today. As soon as we stepped onto the tarmac two of them approached, waving. They wanted to give us a high-five, which felt pretty awesome. But then the second one said, in good English, “Give me…” which, sadly, is the way many sentences begin around here, while she searched me for something she could take. I didn’t have anything on me except my iPhone. “Give me…” she repeated, followed by something unintelligible. But it didn’t matter. I looked her directly in the eye, still smiling, then deadpanned, “No.” It came off like the joke I wanted it to, and all the ladies from the sidelines laughed. Even the asker laughed, and moved back to her side of the tarmac as we sped on.
A few seconds later the same class clown from Tuesday approached. Everyone was already giggling at her trying to mimic our stride again. But this time she stayed with it. It was as if she really wanted to walk with us. She followed us from the middle of the strip to the end and back again, but she did have trouble keeping up, breathing pretty heavily and breaking into a jog every now and then. We tried to have as much friendly conversation with her as possible, introducing ourselves and learning that she goes by something like 7 names, one of which is apparently also Jen, and also that we have better shoes than her. She was wearing work boots and appeared to be blaming them for her inability to keep up with us.
I wasn’t willing to take photos of the ladies, much as I wanted to, because things can get awkward pretty quickly. Someone in the group may not want their photo taken after it’s too late, they might demand money, an argument could result and things could escalate… so I never tried except when we were alone with Jen. She seemed like a good sport. And when I asked if I could take her photo, she said yes like it was the most natural thing in the world and then posed for me. That was pretty cool.
Upon our return to the half-way mark, Jen announced herself as champion to her waiting group of friends, who cheered for her. She said her goodbyes to us, then another gal in the group jumped up to try her luck as we moved on. She chugged and chugged but lagged behind, just like Jen. When we teased her that we were going to win the race, she also made a comment about our superior shoes. Yes, that must be it. We have magic shoes.
My friend reminded me about the time she and her husband were out riding their mountain bikes. They’re pretty serious bikers, and their bikes are pretty serious ones. High-performance tires, smooth-switching gears, special shoes with clips, you know, the works. So one day they were out with all their fancy gear, going up a hill, when a skinny Congolese dude comes from out of nowhere and tries to race them up the hill. He’s carrying a load of something on the back of his cheap, heavy, fixed-gear Chinese bicycle, he was probably barefoot or close to it, and my friends were thinking there’s no way he could beat them up that hill. But he did.
These people are stronger than they look. Which makes a lot of sense, I mean they perform some pretty amazing physical feats all day long. Every day. Even if their last meal was two days ago. So it seemed a little odd to us that these ladies couldn’t keep up us. I suspect it’s because they’re just not used to walking quickly. Why would they need to? Unless they’re running away from trouble, walking is something they do all day long, so what’s the rush? Walking quickly is kind of a Western thing. Especially with magic shoes.