Running in Accra

On Saturday I took part in a 10k fun run organised by the Accra German-Swiss International School who were celebrating their 50th birthday. There was quite a small field taking part in the 5 and 10 kilometer runs and I got a little nervous when I saw some people at the start with a printed copy of the map, was I supposed to know the route! With such small numbers I was surprised to find the police stopping the traffic as we passed over the main highway at Ring Road Central. It was just after 7am and already Accra’s traffic was building along with the noise, smells and reeking fumes of cars that probably aren’t particularly road worthy. Accra doesn’t exactly have payments, unless you count some rather hazardous and sporadic sections that sometimes dot the roadside, usually full of rocks and holes.  So it was really more of an obstacle type experience on and off the dirt or paved sections that line the roadside. In many places dirty open drains also follow alongside, adding to the generally unappealing ambiance.
 I tried to keep an eye on a person in front to avoid getting lost, although most junctions were manned by policemen or volunteers handing out water. By the time the 5k runners branched off I was pretty much running alone, not seeing much more than one person off in the distance. As I ran through the poorer area of Nima I was faced with a group of youths taking up the entire road, a daunting prospect in any city. They laughed and shouted the odd thing in my direction but they let me pass without any hassle. Soon I was running past what looked like a scrap yard but was actually are area for mechanical repairs. Piles and piles of rusting parts were heaped at the side of the road and a man was working on sanding down the shell of an old trotro which looked like it had seen better days. (A trotro is an old local mini bus).
As the time approached 8am the heat became more and more intense and each time I thought it might result in some walking I would round a corner to a little breeze of reprieve and manage to continue my shuffle forward. Of course I got lots of stares, some car drivers even slowed down for a closer look. They must wonder why on earth people run. As I passed the street vendors, laden down with goods piled on their heads I felt a pang of guilt. Some days these people can’t afford to eat and some have walked many miles to the best junction for selling their wares and here I was, running, just for fun.
The truth is an hour of ‘fun’ exercise it was not, it was insanely hot, smelly, noisy and dirty. However, the thing about Ghana is that so much of day to day life goes on at the roadside and it’s always fascinating to watch. On a normal day I see it whiz by from inside my air conditioned cocoon. So to be running amongst it, around it, at a slower pace, is really very interesting. It’s certainly something I would like to experience again, although perhaps not every weekend!
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