I often run in the evenings along a dirt road that goes out to a neighboring village. It’s my time to think and be alone. Running has always been my outlet and a way to keep me sane when life gets crazy.
Last night, as I ran out of my compound and onto the road, I bumped into my host dad who was walking our cow with his 10-year-old grandson, Tonto. Tonto is a spirited little boy who loves playing with my soccer ball on the compound. As I greeted them and ran by, Tonto turned around and started running next to me. I laughed and figured he’d run with me for 100 meters or so and then turn around. To my surprise, he stayed by my side, kept up a swift pace, and seemed determined to keep going.
After 10 minutes, I looked down at his dingy flip flops and asked if he was tired. Barely panting, he looked like he could go for miles and miles. He kept up the pace, and finally after 20 minutes out, I asked if he wanted to turn around. He finally admitted that he was exhausted and was ready to head back. He told me that he had gone to school in the morning and had been in the fields for hours harvesting peanuts until he bumped into me on the road. After another 5 minutes or so of running, he needed to walk. Looking at the shoes he was wearing, I didn't blame him!
As the sun dropped towards the horizon, we walked along the dirt road in the middle of nowhere talking about our lives. He explained that both of his parents had died, which is why he is living on my compound with his grandparents. Such a hardworking boy, he goes to school during the week, works as a mechanic on the side, repairing bikes and motorcycles, and he also raises pigeons! The more I got to know him, the more impressed I was by this 10-year-old!
As we passed our family’s field, we saw a cow in the distance that had broken into the peanut fields and was eating the crops. Tonto and I started running after the cow trying to scare it out of the fields. We laughed about it afterwards and he felt energized enough to run the final stretch home.
This was his first time running for sport. By the end, he said he was completely exhausted and would sleep well that night. I showed him some stretches after our run, and he bragged to his uncles that he had run for 40 minutes. This boy has got drive and likes to get outside his comfort zone. I think I may have found a new running buddy!
Although I had been looking forward to some time to myself on that run, the high I got from sparking a passion for running in someone else was even better. Tonto has a natural running ability, and it was so much fun to get to know him better.
Something I’ve been struggling with after having to move away from Nafadji so late in my service is that I worry that my relationships in Saraya will never get to the level that my relationships in Nafadji were at. They’re progressing little by little though, and I am starting to feel close to my new host family. Now I know Tonto a little better, and I hope we can go running again soon!