I run – well, more like slide – my way down a steep vine-covered slope. I snuck through an old gate on an abandoned property on one of Nairobi’s most exclusive streets, and now I’m in a forest that seems to just go on forever. Only a 20-minute run, but with one turn, I’m at a small river at the bottom of a deep forest gully. The scratches, the slips, the spots where my two hands are needed to assist my two feet. 25-minutes, door-to-door, and a forest explored? There is always more, a river that could be crossed, one more bend to be rounded. In a place like Nairobi, so unfamiliar, there are what feels like infinite forest valleys, hidden roads, and more to explore.
I run. The headlights are blinding as I weave my way through suburban Abidjan. I run in darkness as one must do when you only have a layover, a run with only a loose sense of a destination. A neighborhood I know I mispronounce, a half-working phone as my only beacon, as I wind through side roads, skirting highways, towards the hope of an unknown in central Abidjan. I’ve given up, the city seems closed, quiet, empty for the night. I am sufficiently lost, but one more corner I turn – and a woman yells at my sweat-soaked self. I’m intrigued, so I follow, down a dark alley. My senses are bombarded as I enter a thriving outdoor barbecue market, nestled in a courtyard hidden from the world.
I run through the sand, oceanfront lanes of what was a jewel of a vacation town far up Liberia’s western coast. I get stopped, interrogated for not having my passport with me, threatened with a cramped dark jail cell in a small-town immigration office. The only resident of the cell is an ancient motorbike. I laugh off the officer’s threat and run, stumbling through a riverside Chinese-built fish processing center – shiny, new, unused. My knee shouts with pain from a 20km beach run the week before, but I push to get back to camp in time for the afternoon waves.
I run barefoot up the rocky path, racing the setting sun as I circle my way to Capetown’s panorama. The feeling I get at the peak of Lion’s Head can be blamed for my lack of breath, not the elevation climbed. From every direction, my shoeless imagination stretches. This is a city built for runners.
I run in my flip flops, curving past the neighborhood hustlers down the steep hill. Through the newly built beach bar, past the game of soccer in the sand, and into the maze of the smooth black rocks. The water hits my bare feet as a wave takes away the path I’ve made. The UN headquarters is the goal, and after crossing that, the beach opens up, the smooth black stones cease, and it’s just me, the waves, the packed sand – my happy place in Monrovia.
And I continue to run.