What It’s All About

Honestly, from a training perspective, I did a lot of things wrong. Race day found me with an empty stomach, less than 2 hours of sleep, and for once in this country, cold, stiff muscles! But that’s a funny story.

Check-in for the marathon was 4 AM at the edge of Parakou (only in Benin…). We got our numbers and t-shirts and were loaded into the back of military vehicles to be trucked thirteen miles in the dark to some middle-of-nowhere village where the race would start. The event was designed so that the marathoners would arrive back in Parakou just as the half-marathoners were starting there, and we’d all finish at the same place. It’s not often cold in Benin, but speeding down the highway in the back of an open-air vehicle in the wee hours of the morning, I learned that sometimes, it is down right freezing here! And it’s not like I thought to bring a blanket.

So we arrived at the starting point with goose bumps and chattering teeth, and at 6 AM, the race began. Even though it was still pitch black, we already had enthusiastic cheering squads. Every time we passed a little village or cluster of huts, people were lining the road, ready to sing, dance, and even play drums for us as we ran by!

I made it to Parakou around 8:30, still feeling kind of fresh, but the second half of the course was very hilly. Fortunately, with race organizers handing out bananas and bissap (a tasty purple juice) and throwing cold water at us, I was able to keep going. The event was so well organized I almost forgot I was in Benin! Then I passed a Fulani herdsman trotting about thirty sheep and goats down the highway — yep, still in Africa.

Finally, after a lengthy four hours and forty-nine minutes, I crossed that finish line, where someone grabbed my number, threw a medal around my neck, and gave me a hearty shove in the direction of water. I was among the last, but it didn’t matter. I joined other Peace Corps Volunteers in the recovery area, where we congratulated one another with sweaty hugs and talk of how much guilt-free indulgent eating we could do the rest of the day.

Almost forty Peace Corps Volunteers participated in one of the races that day – a sizeable representation for a country with (I think) fewer than two hundred volunteers total. Peace Corps service doesn’t necessarily make someone athletic, but it does teach you how to tackle tough things with a spirit of camaraderie and adventure. After the race, one of my friends cheerfully admitted that her training regiment, “probably should have involved some running!” Well, yes, that would have been a good idea. But she participated (and finished) anyways. Because honestly, it wasn’t about the running. I mean, part of it was. But the part of it that was about running was different for all of us – to get in good shape, to relieve stress, to cross “run a marathon” off the bucket list… The other part of it, the part we all shared, was about setting a non work-related goal and empowering one another to get there.

With a crowd of a thirty plus volunteers all staying the weekend at the Parakou workstation (with beds for only nine or so), most of us ended up sleeping on the floor that night. It’s not how one would generally choose to sleep the day after running a marathon, but when I woke in the middle of the night (because a book fell on my head when I rolled over and bumped the book shelf) and saw every square inch of floor and couch space filled with a soundly sleeping PCV, it didn’t feel like it should be any other way. We come from all over the U.S. and a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, but at the end of the day we’re all coming from the same place really – from our shared humanity. There’s some quote, and I don’t know who said it (but I’ll look it up and update this post when I have more than three minutes of internet time left…) that essentially states that peace is the mutual understanding that what we have in common is far greater than what separates us. And that of course is what this is all about.

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18 Responses to What It’s All About

  1. Joyce and Dick Hane says:

    Dear Heidi,

    Yes, Heidi, your Grandma is finally learning to use the I-pad. So now you will get a note now and then.

    We are so anxious to see you in person. You continue to amaze us.

    We have had a nice and fun winter in Az but now must face reality of Mn and a late spring consisting of yet snow and cold weather.

    We have enjoyed your letters both arriving on the same day and yet so interesting. You are certainly a good writer with so many interesting things to tell.
    We want you to know how much we love you and can hardly wait to see you.

    Love, Grandma and Grandpa

  2. Diane Moody says:

    Hi Heidi,
    After reading the information on the bulletin board at Peace about your mission trip, I wanted to share with you that since the beginning of this year I have been tutoring a man from Togo to learn English. The tutoring program is through IOCP. It is a very rewarding experience. We do use French-English word and visual dictionaries to help with our lessons! I’ll try to get some French resources for you!
    Diane Moody

    • Heidi says:

      That’s really neat! Students here in Benin really like to practice their English with me – many of them are hoping to travel to or work in English-speaking countries in Africa and abroad

      • Diane says:

        Hi Heidi!
        Thanks for sharing your stories. You are truly an inspiration! This Fall I’m continuing to tutor the same student that you met this past summer. He is doing so well!

        Hope the French-English Dictionaries arrived!

        Blessings to you,

  3. Karen Torghele says:

    Heidi – Didn’t I hear that it was 118 degrees there last week?! How can you move, much less run when it is so hot?! That is quite amazing to me. And yes, you should be able to eat whatever you want after burning all those calories. Love, Karen

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, it was in fact 118 degrees in the middle of the day once last week. I felt quite indignant about the whole thing and showed my thermostat to the neighbor kids, who were unimpressed. But, oh, I don’t run in this heat. I mostly lie on a mat on the floor these days. February was not this hot. March is madness.

  4. Marcel Chaine says:

    Way to go girl! When you get back to the States I’ll get you an application for the Adirondack 90 mile canoe race- another bucket list thing for you. I’ll volunteer Noelle to be your bow person and I’ll gladly be your support team.

  5. Marty Siegel says:

    You’re living a life that sets an example for everyone else; as said in Ephesians…be an imitator of God. And you certainly rise to that admonition. Can’t wait to read your biography some day!

    Yours in Christ,

  6. mary zejdlik says:

    “Oh young grasshopper, you are so full of wisdom!” Makes me wonder if you’ve eaten those yet??? (grasshoppers) You have discovered things about yourself that people my age and of course older, never come to acknowledge. What an accomplishment and the ability to share your experience with all of us. What’s next? Nobel Peace Prize? Writing a book? You have a gift that has been discovered. You amaze me and I look forward to growing in wisdom with you. Sincerely, Mary Z P.S. I think your mom is still counting the days until she can put her arms around you, but she too, is coping well.

    • Heidi says:

      Ha! Oh I have not eaten any grasshoppers yet, though there are several about as big as mice that live in my kitchen.

  7. Holly Anderson says:

    So proud of you, Heidi. You are the toughest cookie out there. And always cheerful and fun to be around!

    We miss you so much. But we are inspired by you and try to be mindful of our many blessings each day when we read your words.

    Love you, Mom

  8. Heidles!!!

    Seriously, this accomplishment just amazes me—training for and running a marathon under the conditions you’ve had to face is, in the words of a country song, “Something to be proud of; [Something] you can hang your hat on.”

    I’m so excited to visit you at the end of the summer and see how you’ve had to grow to adapt and thrive where—you’re one of very few people I know who can grow to adapt and thrive anywhere. Soooo impressive!!

    I’ll phone you this week. In the meantime, sending lots of love and proud, supportive thoughts!

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