Each time my foot pushes into the ground, propelling me further down the road, my breath comes a little bit quicker, heavier, wilder. Afterwards, I wonder how it is that I managed to bounce around the potholes, fly down the hills and trod back up them; I’m not a runner so finding my pace takes time.
When I imagined myself in the Peace Corps, I pictured an integrated me, hungry after working all day in the field with local farmers, wiping sweat from my forehead as I rubbed my clothes clean watching as other women did the same, teaching a class how to improve their crop yield with biodynamic farming. This image, one of hard work and success, ignored a necessary step: figuring out how to fit in.
This morning as I washed my clothes, rubbing, squeezing, and ringing them till the stains were gone and they smelled like lemon scented Breeze laundry detergent, I thought about how much quicker it would end with a washing machine. I would have time to decorate the host family tree I was drawing, more time to write this blog post, more time to take a nap.
And then I realized this was my new normal, a weekly ritual I needed to learn and accomplish if I didn’t want to walk around smelling like sweat, Old Spice, and earth. So I started to sing, songs from Sound of Music, from my childhood, from my new church. My three year-old host brother first told me to stop singing, then joined in when he recognized a song. I heard my seventeen year-old host brother singing ova yaad* as he did his own washing. Maybe it would take me double the time to wash and rinse my clothes clean, but at least I wasn’t the only one singing.
Rounding the last bend, I realized how important it was for me to jump out of bed early, and run pon di road** before the sun grew hot enough to swell my fingers to swollen sausages and brand my skin with a lobster red heat rash that made my host family worry. That early, I felt as if I were gliding down the mountain, though I had to channel Thomas the Tank Engine as I chugged back, willing myself up by thinking how much higher my butt would be after these workouts.
Training for a half-marathon is a lot like learning how to integrate; I have my highs, my lows, but I just keep going, and somehow, I find my rhythm. It doesn’t happen in one day, and it doesn’t look like the picture I visualized before flying in, but in moments when the breeze cools the sweat on my back, when I don’t have to ask “Wah ye say?”*** after spending an evening in Patwaa, when singing about my favorite things marks my rhythm as I scrub, I grin. Maybe I’m not doing so bad after all.
**on the road
***What did you say?