Run, Abruni, Run

MANKESSIM, Ghana—Between bartering in a pungent, chaotic marketplace and bouncing along coastal roads in the back of a pickup truck, I have found my constant in Ghana this summer by running on a long dirt road. After all, you only need a good attitude and a pair of shoes.

My alarm goes off every morning amidst the ever-blaring radios that signal the beginning of the day for the rest of our neighborhood. Bleary-eyed and often reluctantly, a troupe of my fellow interns and I lace up our shoes at 7 a.m. for our daily run.

The hilly dirt path we take meanders through houses and fields, with cars and people growing sparser the farther we travel from the main road.

“Abruni!” one little boy yells today. “White person! How are you?”

“Mehoye!” I gasp out as I try not to slip on a patch of slick mud. “I’m fine!”

Day after day, the children sprint in a colorful flock from their doorsteps to greet us. I’ve nearly barreled over little girls as they flew from hidden paths to leap into my arms.

I’ve raced a group of boys up a winding incline. “Abruni, you’re fast!” they said in surprise when I came in a respectable second place.

By the time my friends and I reach our turn-around point in the run, we’re drenched in sweat. We’ve been running in 90 percent humidity for 20 minutes, but the view is worth it. The vast lake, dotted with fishermen and flies, rises up to our left as we crest over the last hill. To our right, the verdant landscape undulates for miles. The swaying palm trees blend into the hills, and only their rising tufts signal a break in the lush earth. The dirt road continues in a straight line between these two stunning vistas. I catch my breath. I would continue on this path for miles if I could. But the sun is rising, the threat of missing breakfast looms high, and the hills and humidity are exhausting. I lift my legs, heavy with dawn and dew, and tread my way back home.

Today we ran with a group of boys whose arms were laden with fishing gear. “I like you,” one boy said. “Can I have your shoes?” Yesterday, after discussing everything from British colonialism to basketball with a local teacher, our conversation turned to our mutual love of running. I am still a stranger in a strange land, as the saying goes, but perhaps I will eventually blend in.

For now, though, I’ve got my morning chorus of “Abruni!” to blithely remind me that I have not.