10 April 2009
When you’re living and working in a different culture, you realize the importance of healthy habits that keep your mind, body, and spirit up to the task. These can range from reading, writing, prayer, playing a musical instrument, or whatever activity it may be. I write this web log partially because it feels good to write. It helps me put things in a better perspective.
Several times a week, I also like to hit the road and jog a few miles. It’s an activity I’ve always enjoyed. It’s interesting, though, doing it in broad daylight in a little village in Azerbaijan. It isn’t too common here, as many volunteers can testify. Running in public, with no particular destination in mind, can attract some odd stares and maybe even some harassment here and there. I can remember one time, when I was living in Ceyranbatan, in which my friend Charlie’s host brother saw me running by, and he looked at me curiously and asked, "Hara? (Where?)". Many volunteers avoid the varied reactions of the locals by either not running at all or heading out when people aren’t around. Some friends of mine in the rayon of İsmayıllı run at about six in the morning (It also grants them the liberty of wearing shorts.).
Thus far, in the ol’ village, that hasn’t been my style. At about five P.M., I head out the door and get my exercise in. This is partially because I tried the whole "running in the morning" thing. While it was nice to jog in the quiet with no one around, it wasn’t so nice to not be able to see where I was going. I fell hard on my left ankle the second or third time I did it, and I called it quits after that. Luckily, my ankle healed, and now I just run in the sunshine when others are out walking, drinking çay and playing backgammon, or playing volleyball (They’re really good at volleyball, by the way. I get put to shame when I step out there.). Sure, it attracts some attention, but not all of it’s bad. I get smiles and waves from the men drinking tea by the store. Women do the same while they’re walking down the road. Kids yell out, "Hi, John! How are you?!" which can be annoying, but at least it isn’t negative. I’ve even had some "followers" recently, but they generally taper off after about fifteen yards. It also appears, at least around here, that not all people find it necessarily "weird". I’ve gotten good reviews from various people. One man told me, "You know, John. I see you running a lot out there, and that’s a good thing. Folks around here, they don’t run, but you do. That’s good." Some women may also say, "John won’t get fat because he exercises" (It also, on a side note, has been good to maintain a healthy appetite. People appreciate that.).
Anyway, it’s just good to know that my strange, American ways aren’t necessarily strange to everyone. By being an English speaking foreigner in a small Azerbaijani village, I’m already pretty weird. What difference does taking a little run make?