I fancy myself a runner of sorts. That is, I try to put in about 15 miles a week. While I haven’t broken any records, I have kept in pretty decent shape. I especially enjoy running in the early morning just as the sun is rising.
I am amazed at the number of people exercising outdoors in Dakar. This is a very young country – i.e., a majority of the population is between the ages of 15-45. It seems that everywhere you look, young people are buzzing about the capital city.
They can be seen exercising on the beach in packs of 30 or more. Mind you, this is not Venus Beach of California, but on these sandy shores you’ll find Senegal’s “young lions” bench pressing used car tire rims instead of 45 pound metal plates. And there are scores of them bending, stretching, power walking, trampolining, and jogging all over the place.
I call them “young lions” because the Lion is, like the American Bald Eagle is to the United States, one of the two symbols of Senegal. The second symbol of this country is the Baobab Tree (or Ngouye –pronounced “gee-we” – in Wolof). The tree, like the people, is long lasting, strong, and immensely resourceful. Some of Africa’s Baobab Trees were around during the time of Christ. These trees do not have their first bloom until they are 25 years old. From rope to soap, every part of the Baobab Tree is used! And the Baobab juice – that’s right, there is even a drink made from the pulp of the tree – is simply delicious.
My sleep pattern has finally adjusted to the time zone change and I was able to take my 6 a.m. run. My running path takes me past several Baobabs, off and on the red dirt, and weaving in and out of the throng of people who seem to be perpetually on the move – even at 6:30. Heading back to the hotel, I finally get an opening to lengthen my stride and quicken my pace as the crowd thins. Best yet I am going downhill and there is a nice cross breeze to ease this savanna heat. I am entering that illusive runner’s high when I hear “Bon Jour.” I turn to see the smiling face of, you guessed it, a young lion moving up from behind me and matching me stride for stride. I looked into his youthful face, noted his even breath, sweatless body, and simply nodded my head as he started to pass me up.
Fine! I am cool with being passed by someone half my age (ok, more than half). But when I looked at his feet and saw that he was running in flip-flops (shower shoes), loose leg pants, and a pull over shirt, well, that’s another matter. That’s when my 180 Nike running shoes, MTA running shorts, Champion Double Dry running shirt had to go to work.
In Senegal, I have tasted Baobab juice and ran with young lions.
In Photos: Upper right, Tim with paintings of the Baobab tree. Bottom right, is a Boabab tree.