“I am strong!”
“I will run because I love it!”
“I can set a new personal record!”
Sitting on the field in a circle, each of us took turns making bold, positive statements. It was the ritual my high school cross-country team performed before every race. “Positive Affirmations” it’s called, and it helped us get fired up to run our best.
Christmas came and went here in the village with little fanfare, and I found myself at a low point, feeling as homesick as ever. I had set up a Christmas arrangement of sorts with care package items beneath an adorable little tree and cardboard manger scene sent from home, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted nothing more than to be home, and I began to dwell on all I was doing without this holiday season. I realized I had to do something to turn things around. Perhaps writing New Year’s Resolutions would help?
I started to do just that but felt even more discouraged as I looked over a list of things yet unaccomplished. The next day on my morning run I began thinking about the race I was training for in February – a marathon. Prior to coming to Benin, the longest run I’d ever done was about 8 or 9 miles. Am I capable of running a marathon? I wondered. Yes. I can do it. I love running, and I will persevere! I told myself. It felt good, and pretty soon I was chanting a whole slew of positive affirmations in my head.
Then a funny thing dawned on me: a marathon is 26.2 miles – Peace Corps service is 27 months. Maybe I should think of Peace Corps as a “marathon” of sorts – it’s much longer than anything like it I’ve ever done before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’m training for a marathon because I love to run and want to push myself. I’m in Peace Corps because I love to volunteer and want to push myself in that regard, too.
When I got back from my run, I had an idea. I scrapped the New Year’s Resolutions list and started writing positive affirmations instead – one to read for every day in the new year. At first they came quickly and easily, but 365 is a lot of positive phrases, and I started to run out of steam when I’d only written about 50.
Fortunately just then, the neighbor kids came by to see what I was up to. I tried to explain what I was doing. “Oh, I’ll help!” said Toussaint. “Me too!” said Florence. But I don’t think they really got it. Florence began writing all sorts of words and phrases on slips of paper and depositing them in the container I’d labeled for the purpose, and Toussaint just flipped open a magazine I had sitting out and started copying random titles from articles and advertisements. So one of these days I’m going to pull a slip of paper out that reads, “The Great Pie Crisis” and another that reads, “Do you have credit card debt?” But at least it will make me laugh!
As marathon day approaches, I’m slowly increasing my weekly long run. Recently, I made the run from my village to another about 12 miles away. When I got there I stopped at a house to see if I could get some water. “Where did you come from?” asked a woman sitting on the porch, clearly confused at seeing a random white person come running through the village.
“From —– !” I exclaimed, “I ran here!”
“No you didn’t,” she replied plainly.
“Yes, I did!”
“You mean you biked?”
“No, I ran.”
“With your bike.”
“No, with my feet!”
“Oh!” she said, finally getting it, “You must be thirsty!” So I sat down with her family for coffee and bread. After a little while, she asked again, “Did you really run all that way?”
“Yes,” I replied, laughing.
“Well,” she said, offering me another cup of coffee, “You are strong.”
Happy New Year :)