Running Relatively Blind

Ellie Van Gorden - Senegal


October 11, 2018

Running relatively blind has its pros and cons. On one hand, the colors at
dusk blend together and create a beautiful orange glow all around you; but
on the other hand, you can’t quite distinguish where the puddles of water
turn into mud.

I had yet to consider how I was going to go running without glasses or
contacts. Devout eyeglass wearers must think I’m crazy to not just wear
them anyways, but please allow me to explain. Wearing glasses was enjoyable
for about two weeks in the 8th grade. I liked how they shaped my face and
made me look older, but the negatives soon began to outweigh the positives.
I found myself touching my face…a lot. Adjusting them back into place soon
became more of a nervous habit than a necessary action. I really didn’t
need them all the time at that point anyways (this is no longer the case).
Coming here, I realized that it wasn’t necessary to bring an 8-month supply
of contacts, and it put me at a higher risk of infection anyways. Glasses
it was.

After leaving home exactly one month ago and finally feeling situated in my
new family…I decided to go for a run. I began to change into my modest
running outfit: multi-color leggings (shorts on top of course), my
trail-running shoes, short socks and my Overland Park Teen Council shirt (I
felt the need to pay homage to my homeland). Take notes, kids— this is
fashion. I was listening to some music to get all pumped up, and I then
went to leave my room…this is when I realized I was still wearing my
glasses. Oh heck, what am I supposed to do? Run wItHoUt being able to see?

I guess my malaria medication is truly beginning to get to my head because
I honestly believed that I was making a logical decision to go on roads
I’ve yet to master sans prescription.

I grabbed my Sunflower Outdoor Shop water bottle, and made my way outside.
I mentally prepared myself for the stares, glares, and everything in
between. I was doing it. I was OUTSIDE. On my own. Look at me go. I felt so
free and with nature…and then I looked down at my legs. Red-clay stains had
already begun to re-dye my pale, hairy legs after less than a minute. Oops.
Too late now!

I made my way down towards the train tracks, and I saw a blob of people
sitting on the corner. I couldn’t tell if they were looking at me until I
was turning. They said “Salaamalaikum” and I screeched to a halt. “Oooh a
conversation that I can stumble through! I don’t mind if I do”. They were
using Frolof (French mixed with Wolof), as I like to call it. I could
barely understand them, but I just pointed to my house and explained that I
am living there for the next 7 months…They were very interested in whether
I was in good health there…? Don’t know exactly what that was about, but I
just replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, I’m very happy there,
and I am excited to be in Thiès as well. I have to go run now”. I think I
saw them smile, and I took that as my cue to continue on down the street.

I wasn’t quite sure at this point which direction I should go for the best
run, so I waited until I saw another jogger, and proceeded to follow him.
We went right towards the military base; the trees were beginning to create
some shade, but then we came upon a main road, and the sun came back with
all its vengeance. I ran past a mob of kids playing in the alley; they all
laughed and were telling me to stop, but I just shook it off and trudged
on. I began to faintly recognize where I was. I abandoned my unofficial
running partner, and took a left down towards the Artisanal Village and
market.

With every step I felt more comfortable. I also realized that without my
glasses, I couldn’t truly see if people were staring or not (even though
they most definitely were). I felt invincible. Neat.

I no longer cared that I was covered in mud.

Heat stroke who?

I wanted to keep on running, but realized that I should head home before
the sun went down. I retraced my steps, and on the way home I passed by the
same group of kids who had whistled and laughed before…only this time, they
were silent. So either I looked like I was dying and they were concerned,
OR they realized that I was just trying to get a good run in, and they
should probably get used to seeing the colorfully-clothed, white girl pass
by every now and then. Progress!

The most interesting part of this experience for me was the diminished
sense of sight. It created a heightened awareness to the sounds and smells
around me. The shadows of the palm trees scintillated the setting sun
above, and I could faintly smell the fattaya being sold down the street.
The creaking of the railroad tracks was slightly unsettling. The calls of
the goats and sheep let me know that I was approaching a pasture. The
crunch of the trash beneath my feet hinted that I was nearing the market. I
was no longer running my 2 mile loop through suburban Kansas City. I was
running in Diakhao, my neighborhood in Thies. All of these observations,
yet none of them required perfect vision.

This made me question how I interpret everyday situations. From now on I
will attempt to use all senses to interpret my surroundings, and maybe this
way it will help me piece together more of this grand puzzle that I’m
currently living in.

I think I’ll try it out again sometime soon…but first I should really wash
my clothes.

Ellie Van Gorden