“How’s the morning,” he offered as we passed one another.
His words were twisted and accented, though, making them sound more like, “Za asubuhi?“
I was so happy I didn’t even notice.
I’ve been running in and around Geita town for three years now. And this was the first time I’d ever passed someone else running for exercise. He was Tanzanian, probably 20 years old, and jogging slowly up the hill in our neighborhood. I was jogging down the same hill.
I replied, “Fine. How are you?”
And the moment was over.
It was some of the same kids who have taunted me in the past. I call it taunting; they probably don’t realize it’s impolite.
And the older ones tell me I’m running too slowly.
But on this day four of the young boys ran into the dirt road, laughing at me while attempting to imitate the movements of the 6′-4″ white man jogging through their neighborhood. Their impressions of me stressed my leisurely pace.
I wanted to ask if they felt it was polite to greet someone by calling out “White person!” and by laughing and mocking? But those are not the words that came out of my mouth.
“Do you want to race me to over there?” and I pointed.
A resounding (and taunting) “yes” is the last thing I heard before sprinting down the road to the next intersection, leaving the kids at least 30 meters behind. All the adults in the neighborhood laughed — not out of derision but rather out of some combination of disbelief and joy.
I didn’t look back at the boys but continued on my morning run, a grin on my face.
On my way back into town that same morning, I passed those kids’ homes again. This time they didn’t shout “Mzungu!” Nor did they laugh and insult me for the speed at which I was running. But they did join me in the red dirt again, the four having grown to at least a dozen. This time my words to them were different:
“Do you want to run together with me?”
A resounding (and not at all taunting) “Yes!”
And so we did. The boys ran the final two kilometers with me as we talked a bit about distance running and exercise. Several of them fell behind at times, but the rest of us would stop and wait for them before turning the next corner.
That was on Saturday. Two of them joined me again for the last kilometer of my Wednesday run.