The lack of sidewalks and other amenities in Ghana changes jogging into a video game. I constantly have to become Mario to jump over pipes or open drains, duck rapidly to avoid running into ‘Back to the Bible 2011’ signs, and maneuver through obstacles including roasted plantain stands, coconut carts constantly obstructing the pavement, and roads so uneven you’d think they were paved by an alcoholic. The street is a fight for survival against arrogant trotro drivers who think they ‘rule the road’ and overpriced taxi drivers begging for you to stop running and pay for a lift back home – I stop for no one.
Actually – that's a lie. I stop for everyone. As soon as Ghanaians notices a foreigner like me running down the street, constantly hear yells of, “Obruni,” and loud hisses desperately trying to get my attention. It would be rude to continue running, so I drawback to say hello. Usually this ‘hello’ results in fifteen or more minute conversations – due to their kindness and intrigue. We start talking, and after I say that I’m from the United States, excited Ghanaians ask me if I am, “friends with Obama,” and I can’t help but smile. One overly infatuated guy even showed me his underwear with Obama’s face on it… amusing, yet slightly creepy. I also make a habit of wearing Manchester United jerseys (my favorite football club). People notice my attire and start cheering me on, high-fiving me, or even start booing as I run past them. It’s a great feeling to be in a nation of football lovers.
As if to top it off, I finish each jog with a coconut, freshly butchered off the street. It’s perfectly refreshing and serves as positive reinforcement of running. My current tally is 53 coconuts in 40 days; by the time I return home I’ll require a five-step program to end the madness.
Due to the friendly nature of Ghanaians and my coconut addiction, each 30 minute jog ends up taking me roughly two hours. It’s a riveting experience; no two jogs are similar' and every day I meet new people and learn more about the friendliness of the African culture. I see jogging as a way of ‘building bridges’ between people – Ghanaians have a stereotype that foreigners are usually lazy, and are genuinely shocked to see an American exercising. I’m helping alter that generalization. And besides – I’ll do anything that gives me an excuse to ‘suffer through’ another coconut.