Two weeks ago, I went running for the first time in four months. I can confidently use the word “first” since I have been back to the track three more times since then. The first morning I tried to go—the day after I returned to Ghana—the track was closed for an event that day. The next day, I arrived at the main entrance to Baba Yara stadium (home of the Asante Kotoko, my local “football” team) around 6:45. As I walked in, I felt more out of place than I have since I first landed in Ghana. I had expected to be the only obruni there. I did not, however, expect to be the only non-serious athlete. All the people there were in fantastic shape and obviously training for competition, from the long-jumpers and triple-jumpers to the hurdlers and sprinters and sprint relay teams. There were even some wheelchair athletes, with very impressive upper body strength. I watched the proceedings for a few minutes, ostensibly stretching, before I saw an average runner running laps around the outer lane of the track, which gave me the confidence to start jogging. As I was running, I was passed by the T. Amidyaa track team, the huge Muslim school that we can see from the veranda of the house (and the location of the Muslim festival in a previous post). One of the only girls shouted as she went past, “Obruni, let’s go!” Since I haven’t run in four months, there’s no way I could keep up with those youthful legs.
On my way out, I had a nice chat with the men watching the front gate. They asked the usual questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Kumasi. As I was leaving, one of them asked my name, to which I responded Michelle, and then asked about my day of the week, “Monday, Tuesday..” I responded with “I’m Ama. I was born on a Saturday.” The men loved my response, calling me Ama and saying that they hoped to see me again.
And they did. I returned twice last week and again today, getting there around 6:30 each time. I plan to push it to three days a week if I can manage to get up early on Monday mornings. I’m slowly adding laps to get my endurance up, with the hopes that I will be back in decent shape by the time I move back to the US at the end of April.
Hearing a coach yell at one of his runners brings up fond memories of my years running high school track. Telling a runner that he needs to try harder sounds pretty much the same in Twi as it does in English—it’s all in the tone of voice.
Today I thought I might have finally seen someone who was running purely for exercise, not competition, when I saw a solidly-built, tall woman slowly jogging laps. But when she joined a group of about 40 runners for their exercises, I surmised that she was a shot-putter, which was born out when I saw her later carrying two of the shots (the heavy metal weight used in the shot put competition).
One of the things I appreciate most about the track is that most of the runners are too focused on their practice to take much notice of me while they sprint past me. But in a rare counter-example, as I was sitting at one end of the track stretching one day last week, someone walked past me and read off the words on the back of my shirt.
“Winter ultimate league.”
I was struck by the realization that, as a Ghanaian, of the three words he read, there’s probably only one that he really understood.