I’ve mentioned this before, but Albanians in my community find it SO strange that I run around outside and get really tired for fun. People–my neighbors, the shop owners I frequent, my students, small children whom I’ve never met before–get pretty worked up about my exercise routines. “I saw you running yesterday! WHY WERE YOU RUNNING?” “You’re going to run?! But it just rained, there are puddles everywhere!” “Where are you going? I have a car, I can take you, you don’t need to run.”
Exercise is widely embraced in America because we’re all a) fat and b) taught to admire athleticism. But in Albania, if you are fat, you either stay that way or adopt what I call the “Albanian Woman Diet” which is coffee, cigarettes, coffee, coffee, and no dinner. That really does not sound appealing to me, so to help myself stay fit–and sane–coupled with the fact that I’m training for the Istanbul Marathon this fall, I choose to embrace the chaos and ready myself for a new adventure each time I slip on my beat-up Nike Frees.
Here’s some of the weird stuff that happens to me while I’m running:
- Staring. Of course. This happens no matter what I’m doing or what I’m wearing, but it increases about 500% when I’m in workout gear with my headphones in and jogging at a 10-minute mile pace. I usually just ignore everyone who stops and ogles at me, wondering what I’ve just stolen or who I am attempting to flee.
- Cars slow down and ask me if I need a ride. I just smile and say no, thank you. Maybe one day when I am on the lam or running from a serial killer I’ll take up the offer.
- Neighborhood kid fan club. At least, I like to think that they’re a fan club of sorts. Maybe they’re just mocking me. I run at about the same time every day, and there are always little kids out playing soccer or fetching water and they love sprinting as fast as they can ahead of me, getting tired, and as soon as I pass them, doing it all over again. Some of them even know my name and shout it at me as I run by, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, Because Albania.
- Being forced to stop as cows, goats, and sheep cross the road. This is common practice for both pedestrians and vehicles here. I slow to a halt, my blood pumping, as a shepherd family stares dully back at me while the pack of animals ambles across the street. They don’t respond to me when I say hello, probably because they think I am insane.
- Getting hit in the butt with a soccer ball. On my first run ever in Kavajë, a less friendly group of boys sent a soccer ball sailing straight into my left glute. I immediately stopped, turned around, and yelled, “ç’ar keni?!” (what’s your deal?!) The look of dread on their faces upon realizing I could speak Albanian was hilarious. To this day, whenever I run by, they stop their game and let me pass.
- I find beautiful places and meet kind people. On days when I’m feeling extra adventurous, I run out to the villages surrounding Kavajë. I’ve made some incredible discoveries that have helped me appreciate the region I live in, and run into some friendly villagers as well. Really, running here isn’t much different than anything else I do. It’s strange and awkward but every once in a while, I have an experience that really opens my eyes.