Running in Barbados

I’m running. My shoulders are hot with the sun, and the road is busy and the pavement is uneven and I don’t know where I’m going.

I’m running slowly, quite gently.  My toes are blistered for some inexplicable reason. My feet probably swelled on the flight, and I haven’t had enough water, and we walked to a fish fry last night through the hot dark night in the wrong shoes. Jessica wanted to show me a house for sale on the water, and I just couldn’t bear to walk another 200 metres.

I’m running in Barbados, the miracle of a 5 hour cramped flight on a rickety plane from Toronto, being decanted here on the swirl of turquoise sea. Jessica has been doing workshops here with local women, and her partner is here with their tiny twins, and I’ve joined them for a few days. A few bonus vacation days sliced right out of the middle of an incredibly busy time.

I’m running after a 12 hour sleep, because my body and mind have been tuckered out from an intense work season, and I need to find my soul. My body is slow, and my feet hurt, and I’m hot, and I needed to use my inhaler this morning. Getting up and out of the air bnb place — not fancy (“it’s like we’re rich students,” says J), but right on the white sand aqua sea beach — was an effort. It would be easy to sit in the sand and let the lassitude take over.

I’m running because it’s one of the ways I explore a new place, and it makes me feel grateful in every cell. Grateful for my body that works, even if it’s more of an effort than ever before and I woke with a sore knee.  Plus the blisters. Grateful for a life where I have enough privilege, time, resources, support to take a few days off without much fanfare. (Trying to ignore the emails that are reminding me of what’s not done). Grateful for a life where I get to put my self into so many new corners of the world, find them.

I’m running because it’s the only way I would see these streets with just the tiniest hint of how someone who lives here might. Narrow sidewalks, having to veer constantly into the traffic when someone has pushed the boundaries of their property right to the edge of the road. The heat of midday, where a man is sleeping in a bus shelter, his fancy running shoes on the ground beside him.

I’m running never more than 100m from the ocean on this road, but I only see it in tiny glimpses, the wall of hotels and big houses sealing off the view. Down one idyllic lane, I see the ocean gesturing…. and a man is efficiently peeing against a wall. I notice the proliferation of Canadian banks, and global fast food places, and the number of places that have the same style signage as the place we’re staying. One local sign maker, I guess.

I’m running, looking for the boardwalk I was told was down here, and I see it behind a KFC. I’ve been running five km already, and I was planning on 7 — and I finally find true paradise, wide big waves, finally out of the traffic, my water bottle empty, my body aching with the heat. At the end of the boardwalk, I know I’m courting sunstroke, so I walk up a few steps to the pool deck of a fancy hotel and ask a server if I can please have some water. She brings an iced pitcher.  I express my gratitude, conscious of the privilege of looking like a white tourist, knowing that the guy selling bracelets on the beach can’t truck up here, wild-eyed and sweaty, and be greeted with ice water and encouragement.

I’m running, the last kilometre or so, counting up the places I’ve been lucky enough to run. All over Canada and the US, in the desert and in cool ominous mountains. Iceland, Norway, Prague, Rome, the Philippines, Uganda. Cornered by wild dogs in the ancient plains of Bagan in Myanmar. The incredible panorama of the ocean in Capetown where I had to beg a stranger for sunblock, the long dirt road in the Pantanal in Brazil where caimans — a kind of alligator — crowded close to the edge of the road, looking at me. The uneven streets of Kigali, Rwanda, where I tripped and hurt my knee. Getting lost my first day in Auckland, befuddled with jet lag. Laos, Vietnam, Germany. All of the places, windy and hot and frozen and drizzly, all new, trotted through on foot, absorbed and felt and explored. Every one of those runs suffused with recognition of how lucky I am to have the life I do.

]I’m running, not fast, and there is a lot of aching. I’m 52, and I’ve slowed down. I ate way too much last night at the fish fry and my blood was thick with the sweetness of a couple of rum and cokes. But when I stop, and get on the bus filled with locals to head back, apologizing for my sweatiness, bare shoulders, I feel I found something I can’t find bobbing in that glorious ocean, sitting on the beach.

Back at the place we are staying, I play with Ivan, one of the twins. He rolled completely over by himself for the first time this morning. He’s frustrated, wanting more from his body than his body is delivering right now.  We eat beans and rice and salted fish, and dip in the ocean.  Later there will be ice cream.

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