Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
Whenever you dig into the heart of a country you will find hidden talent. Here, in Malawi, whilst Emma was running 26 miles with Mike beside her and Robert was teaching me to scrub clothes, Woocash discovered a young breakdancer in the making:
In case you can’t see the video. Here are a few happy photos of the young man dancing:
This day held one of my favourite moments of the trip and, of course, it involves children laughing. We had put up a tarpaulin to shelter from the threatening rain clouds but, as the crowds of children gathered, we shifted it to act as a privacy barrier. Emma and Mike had arrived for breakfast stressed from being screamed at by excitable children. A few of the watchers drifted off to school but the less well dressed ones stayed. I am guessing, but may be wrong, that they didn’t have enough money for a formal education. So, in order to enable the team to have some peace, I went out to the children to be their focus and had loads of fun.
The children were sweet and friendly and tolerated my lack of language skills and crazy antics. I taught them how to spin their leg under themselves, did a few yoga moves, sang songs – “heads, shoulders, knees and toes.” And several times I tried to teach them the Mexican wave (they had surrounded me in a circle and I thought it would be fun).
One girl, Margaret, spoke a few words of English and had the confidence to be the first to try things. Thank God for her. Mostly, the children laughed and giggled and looked up at me with shining eyes and smiles. Pushing in to touch me at times then running away squealing when I looked at them.
An old man came up to me and asked, “Why do you do this?”
“Because I like children.” I reply.
He smiles and says, “Thank you.”
He went on his way to the fields to work.
That thank you and smile that went with it and the sound of children laughing, will warm me for the rest of my life.
At last, I saw Mike and Emma setting off on their journey, hopefully at least a little rested, and disappearing down the road. I could stop, pack up the car, say goodbye to the little crowd and revert to being an introvert. Onwards we go to Mangochi and Lake Malawi.
A view of Lake Malawi whilst looking for a bit of privacy
Number of Days: 74
Total distance run by Emma: 3143 km, 1953 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.5 km, 26.4 miles
In Malawi, villages go on for miles before merging into the next village. As a result, we have to ask permission to camp and are directed to the Chief of the district’s house. Getting to his house involves driving up a narrow dusty path full of busy market stalls. Big car, awkward space, lots of people watching – Woocash takes on the challenge of manoeuvring Cleopatra through.
This little group of friends came to laugh and play whilst we were working out where to go
I am pleased to discover that the Chief is Muslim and his wife is Christian. Coming from a mixed religious and cultural background myself, I think they are going to be my kind of people and they are. The Chief is away for the week but his welcoming wife insists that we must stay with them.
The team with the Chief’s wife
As Robert begins setting up the fire to cook, a small crowd of children gather, maybe 20. I find them entertaining but we worry they will fall in the fire. We are constantly saying, “Move back, move back.”
The growing circle of children, there must be 50 now, around us wobbles back and forth as they push each other with excitement. Curious hands reach out to touch, poke and pinch. The naughty pincher is corrected on his behaviour and all the crowd calms down for a bit, they are a little embarrassed by their over excitement, telling each other to behave. When I pull out my camera some hands go up to cover the lens. Half of this group doesn’t want photos the other half are pushing to the front. I put it away as it’s causing more chaos.
Robert has to stay by the fire whilst I wade through the noisy crowd, that, happily, only come up to my shoulder, to fetch ingredients and tools from the car. Being a youth worker, I can’t help myself, and end up chatting with the children, giving them small jobs to keep them entertained. I make the mistake of telling them my name.
Woocash drives back down the market to fetch Emma and Mike. Returning, on his 3rd trip along the lane the stall holders are a little fed up of the giant car bumping her way through, dusting their produce.
Emma is tired and the big crowd of children fascinated by us and wanting our attention takes a lot of energy. Kindly, the Chief’s wife offers us a school room to eat in to escape the pressure and close window shutters on curious eyes.The children surround the room, banging, calling and chanting my name, “Aysha, Aysha”. Typically British, I’m embarrassed by the attention. There must be at least 100 by now. The Chief’s wife says that she doesn’t even know most of the children; they have come from miles around. She does not know how they found out we are there. She tells them off and they quieten a little. Enough so we can eat.
A nice custom across this region of Africa, is that we share food with our host, we win in this, as she brings sweet mangos for us. We talk softly and try to be as boring as possible for the children outside. The time is getting later and we pretend to go to sleep. Eventually, the children go home and I can at last cross the school yard to the toilets on my own.
Number of Days: 73
Total distance run by Emma: 3087 km, 1918 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 km, 26.3 miles
Malawi is flourishing green, although sadly all the big ancient forests have been cut down and sold. At 5.30am shops are open and people are busy.
The land of smiles is full of people smiling and waving. Food on the roadside is cheap and delicious. Ripe sweet mangos and home made doughnuts become daily treats. Insects are fluffy and the police are helpful. After a policeman checked our ID at a road block, he sent someone to fetch water for us from his house! A man we met along the way brought us sandwiches on our lunch break.
I must take up this habit of being so welcoming to strangers. It’s a pretty incredible experience to be so consistently welcomed in every culture as we travel.
However, fuel is expensive, and I am paying, so camel style we have filled Cleo up in Mozambique and she will have her next drink in Mozambique in 5 days time. I like our mini challenge to make it across a whole (very thin) country with no fuel stops.
Mike back on the bike for a bit
Cooking breakfast at the side of the road
Too many sticks suffocate the fire. And yes, that is a blow torch on the ground. That’s men for you. I like to use a single match if I can. And no, Lukasz doesn’t always look that odd.
Robert swaps in as Emma’s guard.
Many thanks to this kind family for letting us park in their garden.
Number of Days: 72
Total distance run by Emma: 3028 km, 1882 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.1 km, 26.1 miles
Living on a small island, I imagine that all border-crossing offices are back to back. Forgetting, of course that we have sometimes thousand of miles between border points but I have always been in an airplane or boat. Between Zobwe in Mozambique and Mwanza in Malawi is 6km.
The novelty of winding our way around the lush green mountain inhabited by people between the borders, delightfully surprises my brain. However, Emma, hasn’t had breakfast and there are no good places to park up and cook. I worry about her. She needs food. What are the legalities of stopping and cooking breakfast in no-mans land? 100 yards after the Malawi border we set up and wait anxiously. Emma and Mike seem to be taking a long time. I have prepared snacks and am about to take a taxi or something back to find them, when, to our relief, we see them coming through the barriers. Okay, my relief, I am the worrier in the team.
Otherwise the crossing is very easy. Having written down the exchange rate, my calculator can keep up with the swift thinking money men. At the Malawi border, we accidentally pick up a tout pretending to be an official. Fortunately, we figure this out in time. The real border guard is cross when he discovers this and stays by my side to make sure I am not hassled anymore. Clearly, they value their visitors.
At the end of that day, Emma was too tired to move and yet she had run 57 km. I was tired too but you kind of keep quiet about that when someone has run 3000km in 2 and a bit months. I think we may both have a bug. Its incredible that Emma ran a marathon.
Number of Days: 71
Total distance run by Emma: 2969 km, 1845 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.8 km, 26.0 miles