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.
Apples and chocolate wafers are good crunchy textures. Not so much water.
“Water is not meant to be crunchy” laughs Woocash, shortly after he has moaned at Robert for borrowing his drinking bottle and shaking up the water. Now, he needs to let the dust and twigs and grit settle.
It’s only for a few days when we have accidentally filled up from river water. You know how that is, you imagine the tap is treated water and in fact it comes direct from the river. Assumptions can kill you. In any case, we’re not picky and we survive and mostly use it for cooking. Normally, we fill up at boreholes, which is delightfully sociable. The local children come stare at us and laugh at the strange sight. The local ladies help us out. The most embarrassing moment was today, when I got out the car and they all burst out laughing at my dirtiness.
Water from boreholes comes in different flavours and colours. At one point, we can choose between green, orange and clear water. And I am sure the iron enriched water resulted in extra energy for a few days in Emma and I.
Today however, the water is hot. Hotter than warm, hot. It’s not a big deal for us, we have some cool water, we were just topping up, but it is a problem for the villagers. They have to wait for water to cool down before they can water their crops with it or drink it, which means that they need twice as many containers. And we are near the equator, at night it is so hot that we are all having trouble sleeping. I sit upright in the tent at times just to get some circulation. Cooling down isn’t happening very much. The villagers need a pipeline or perhaps someone clever to extract the heat from the water as energy. Hmm, maybe that’s an idea.
Emma runs on by.
Number of Days: 43
Total distance run by Emma: 1848 km, 1148 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.0 km, 26.7 miles
Shade is hard to find in the dry season and essential for Emma and Mike to be able to rest properly. Eventually, over a hill we find this green tree near a village. Apparently, the people use it as a church and take care of the area, which is why the tree is flourishing despite the lack of rain. The head of the village says that we are welcome to rest under there. Which is pretty amazing. Being a sacred area I chose to respect that and cook and eat outside the space. We use it only for Emma to sleep under and for us to have a quiet moment sitting under the tree. I found it soothing and joyful sitting the tree and it still makes me smile remembering that moment.
In searching for a nice breakfast spot, Woocash discovered the Zambezi. We have to keep a watch out for crocs but this has to be one of the world’s best places for porridge.
Emma’s massage and sleeping mat all ready. Robert kept guard and chased off goats while she rested.
Number of Days: 42
Total distance run by Emma: 1791 km, 1113 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles
3am. The young man gets up in the dark and drinks water. Without a torch or shoes he sets out into the Equatorial darkness. His way is lit by stars and the moon as he carefully navigates the dusty path, wary of snakes and scorpions. He is conscious that not long ago there were lions and elephants living in this area and there are still wild dogs hunting in packs. As dawn rises, 2 hours later, he is almost half way to his destination. School. He can speed up in the light. 20 kilometres he travels each morning, without breakfast, studies all day and then makes the return journey home, arriving late afternoon, when he can finally eat.
This day, however, is unusual, he meets white people from countries he has never had the chance to be to, running on the road. Choosing to run more than the distance he runs to school everyday (well, only one of them). Traversing his country and continent. A luxury experience and education he cannot imagine.
It was my privilege to meet this young man and slowly realise what an incredible person he is. I had joined Emma running. I do this occasionally to keep her company and add variety. For me, it’s refreshing to be moving, to be in the environment. There is the gorgeous view of the Zambezi, cutting through the valley far below us, dust beneath our feet and Cleo is the only car. As sometimes happens, school children excitedly run alongside us. We are a novelty. They run close to Emma, but too close, almost tripping her and shouting and laughing. I drop back and try chatting. It works and they slow to my pace. They are wonderfully exuberant and great company. All on their way home from school. Robert hops out the car to run and translate their stories for me. As the children drop off to go to their homes, we are left with this last young man. He is the tired looking man in the middle of the photo.
The conversation takes place between the padding of our feet and haltingly.
“Is it safe to travel in the dark?” I had naively asked.
“No,” He answered, “There are many animals that will bite you.”
Eventually, discovering he has little opportunity to drink water, we offer him some.
“Would you like the container? ”
“Yes” is the quick and happy reply.
Now, he has a bottle to carry water on his journey.
He exchanges contact details with Robert and we hope that SEED will be able to do something more constructive and empowering in the future. I think he would make a good employee.
Or maybe I missed a trick and he would make a great athlete. If you have the resources behind you and wanted to help this young man I am sure we could find him again.
Meanwhile, Emma has continued battling with her pain to run a phenomenal distance.
Number of Days: 41
Total distance run by Emma: 1734 km, 1078 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 km, 26.3 miles
Distance run today: 51.73 km, 32.14 miles
If you have enjoyed reading this, please consider making a donation to The SEED Project, a highly cost-effective charity, praised for its innovative and long term sustainable work. Or you can make a donation to our fundraising page:
Brenda’s Best Baobab is a gentle giant of a tree. Wider than several people and disappearing into the sky, surrounded by a deck for tables, the Baobab stands quietly.
Upon crossing into Zambia we soon come across small shops catching attention with their delicious smells and fresh shiny fruit and vegetables. As predicted there are several banks in … but not one of them is working. “Maybe tomorrow” the locals tell me helpfully but tomorrow we’ll be miles away. I silently mourn the unattainable healthy fruit and vegetables available and decide, for the sake of team morale, not to mention that having cleared our stocks of food before crossing the border, we may be a little short for the next 5 days.
Unexpectedly, the Sesheke town rolls on and it is clear that we will not find a camping spot by nightfall, which is how we have found ourselves at Brenda’s Best Baobab, an immaculate looking campsite. But, with only 5 kwacha, we are hoping for Brenda’s generosity. Her encouraging staff usher me to her rich green lawn outside her house, where I stand scruffy, dirty and awkward.
Brenda herself is very friendly and happy to offer us free accommodation as a donation to the success of our journey. Her belief in us is yet another reason I hope we raise more money. I would show you a photo of this lady who is both the kind of person you don’t mess with and successfully puts you at your ease. However, when she got up in the early morning to say goodbye she said she was underdressed and did not want any photos going up. A friend of hers had had a photo taken when she was nursing a baby and it ended up on the internet, with the mother, someone who is normally well dressed, feeling extremely embarrassed.
Brenda kindly lets us use her kitchen and unimpressed by our dirty pots allows us to scrub the soot off the bottom of them. I also get to cook over a gas stove, I love cooking over a wood fire but a little variety and the easy cleanliness of gas makes for a nice change.
Emma is keen to get to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and have her very well earned 2 day break. She wants to start early whilst it is still dark but Brenda tells a story of a friend walking home at night from work, who was killed by an elephant. Emma agrees to wait until dawn.
What others have to say about Brenda’s and contact details:
Before we enter the “risk of lions” area, we come across several villages on a Saturday. We are an unusual event and an opportunity for a new experience, food, medicine and fun.
In case you can’t download the video it is very brief and shows two lovely moments that day. One when 3 adults came over to find out what we were doing when cooking lunch and then showed their support for Emma by chanting “Go, Emma, Go!” The other was when two young people, barefoot, rushed to join Emma jogging on the road. They were there for a while.
However, there are also many people begging in this area. This group of children were polite and good-natured whilst asking if we had anything we could give them. They were pleased with tins of tomatoes and delighted with the pack of cards. What inspired the young woman to place the cards just there in the photo? There are no mirrors to check out her styling or magazines in shops to stimulate her imagination? More importantly, what are her opportunities for her creativity?
I would have liked to have got to know these children better, understood the roots of their poverty and most importantly to have found real solutions. On the return journey, I looked for them but travelling ten times faster we missed them in the blur of African landscape. Travelling more slowly gave greater rewards.
A lady comes over to ask for medicine for a friend, the nearest clinic is a day’s walk away. We have a friendly chat and I give her a few paracetemol and rehydration sachets. This isn’t the answer. I am no doctor. I hope it did no harm.
Other moments are not so positive. A blind adult approaches with his hand on the head of a 4 yr old. It’s an uncomfortable sight and I consider whether the child is being exploited, as a passerby it is impossible to know. In some communities, disabled people find it particularly difficult to make a living. Money isn’t the answer. Not in terms of a fulfilling life, only for survival. But who am I to judge in this moment?
In the afternoon, a crowd has collected around a bar beside the road and a drunk teenager moves towards Emma with his arms out. He doesn’t touch her, he’s simply being playful, pretending to grab the back of the car as we pass, until he gets yelled at by an adult. Frequently, dogs start barking, heading towards Emma. As long as there are adults present they keep control but these are two of the reasons Mike keeps close to Emma at all times.
” … giving money does not change anything. Instead, people most often use it to buy temporary things, which too often is alcohol or drugs. Better than giving money, she said, is identifying goals. When a villager sets a goal, he or she can assess what is needed to achieve it. One goal at a time, the village discovers that they are not excluded from financial opportunity. Then, in knowing that financial opportunity is something accessible, they find something to strive for. This changes a destructive cycle of dropping out into a productive one of self-reliance. In this way, they can find independence. Instead of depending on federal or foreign aid, they can depend on themselves while maintaining the traditional foods, products, and practices that they identify with. With this financial independence comes sustainability and peace of mind.”
If you want to help make sustainable improvements in people’s lives please consider donating to the SEED Project or our fundraising page, which was the reason for doing this run and writing this blog (I hope you are enjoying it).
No of days: 28
Total distance run by Emma: 1193 km, 741 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles
Up to now our life has been fairly peaceful but that is about to change. Generally, Emma, Mike and I wake up at dawn. Emma and Mike set off for 10 miles and I poke a disgruntled Woocash out of bed. He’s pretty sure he didn’t sign up for this, he thought he was going to be doing mechanics not rising early in the morning and being a general skivvy. We pack up the tents then bump our way ahead to cook breakfast for Emma’s mid morning break. There, Emma, stretches, has a massage from Mike, eats and can rest a little. They set off on another 10 miles, we go ahead and find a shady tree (harder than you’d imagine) and cook lunch. Emma has a longer break to get past the heat of the day. Then at about 3pm, she’s off on her final 10 miles and we go ahead, ideally, find a quiet secluded spot, put up the tent and prepare dinner. Emma stops along her route for water and stretching and we head off occasionally for food and water.
On 18th September we cross the boundary fence that cuts across thousands of kilometres from the west side of the country to the east. Breaking the country in half.
The boundary fence is ostensibly there to prevent foot and mouth outbreaks in the North of Namibia from spreading to the South. But it is much more than that.
The area we have just passed through consisted of desert and then largely commercial white owned farms. In the North, the land is, mostly, black communal farms. The fence prevents free passage of people, goods, and wild animals along their migratory routes. And, apparently, tourists regularly have their fresh meat confiscated. That’s not a problem for us; we don’t have the luxury of a fridge.
For the team, the difference comes in the number of people. Everywhere.
After we cross, I stop at a village shop to ask for bread. It’s the first village shop we have entered. Until now we used supermarkets in towns. The women in the shop are lovely and friendly. They laugh that I am so dirty and one of them comments that, “sometimes its nice to be dirty”. I agree. Elizabeth, who runs the shop, has no bread but says that she is going to Rundu later that morning and will get us some! I am surprised by her helpfulness (not something I’m used to in my culture). If you are ever on the road from Grootfontein to Rundu her shop is just north of Mururani, please pop in and say hello from me.
In the afternoon, we have gone ahead to look for a camping spot as usual but the village Katjinakatji keeps going and going. Every few yards, there is another group of houses. There are no quiet side roads. We are well past the distance Emma wanted to run and eventually, I tell Woocash we have to stop at a point that seems a little quieter. There are three teenagers, I ask them if we can camp there, outside their homes. As teenagers are, they are a little playful. One of them tries to convince me that it is his village. Having tested me out, they tell us we are welcome to camp and head off to play football.
Then the younger children come asking for sweets and money. Not knowing if they have access to a dentist (or toothpaste), we give out crisps. Kids are always hungry. In the UK, a sure way to increase numbers at a youth club night was to advertise free food.
We entertain them with the camera and some playing cards (which they are really happy with).
We don’t speak a common language. Fortunately, Elizabeth turns up with bread and explains to the children what we are doing.
We teach them to cheer Emma, “Go, Emma, Go”. They are fascinated by everything we have and do and try to help as much as they can. At one point, they have a discussion amongst themselves. One of the little girls runs off and comes back with a machete, as they think we need it! I let them, one at a time, up the ladder to look in the roof tent.
Mike warns us over the radio that Emma is really tired. She is attracting a lot of curiosity. Having explained this to the children, they cheer her in and then soon leave us to rest.
I’m impressed by how considerate they are. Night comes in and adults pass by in the dark. The cheekiest little girl comes back with her mother and we attempt conversation. The mother smiles and says, “it is good” that we are there.
Total Distance Run by Emma: 809 km / 503 Miles