My name is Tracy and I have been a runner for the greater part of my life in southern California. I run any place that personal or business trips take me. Over one year ago my travels took me to Egypt.
A group of local Egyptian horse fanatics got together to ride somewhat competitively through 40 kilometers of the vast Sahara desert. I was invited to manage the technical aspects of this event. The return date to go back home was set for 10 days later. The 10-day trip actually ended 67 days later. I spent much of my time exploring and running through the deserts of Egypt.
It is through running that I always find a sustainable measure of peace in my life. This peace was magnified by a factor of at least 10 as I experienced the magnificence of the South Sinai desert and an area known as Saqqara. I knew then that this initial trip was just going to be a warm up exercise. Two months later I moved to Egypt. Ever since then I have had the opportunity to expand my lungs and my consciousness while trekking thru the deserts of lower Egypt (the Nile flows from south to north therefore the southern part of Egypt is considered upper and the northern part is lower).
Things are much different here for me as a runner. I live in a village on the outskirts of Cairo. Rush hour traffic running consists of dodging herds of cows, sheep, goats and gamoosa (water buffalo). The only competition I have for changing lanes is the donkey drawn carts filled with berseem (clover feed for the livestock), veggies and fruit or fresh milk being taken to the factories for packaging. Sounds like a cakewalk, but actually I give right of way to these beasts that are sacred to the economic well being of these families... not to mention that in most cases they outweigh me by should we say at least a factor of 15.
When living in California I had the freedom to run in almost any type of clothing, weather being the deciding factor. Here it is different. I start my gearing up by the usual shorts and T-shirt with sleeves that cover my shoulders. I follow that by long pants, and a fanny pack for my cell phone and for special alabaster rocks or shells I find. These clothes remain on me as I start my run. My route usually takes me over homemade dirt speed bumps, next to noisy water pumps that seem to have been constructed during the time of the pharaohs and finally through a mango grove that leads me to the base of the desert. It is when I get behind the dunes where I am not to be seen by most that I usually take my long pants off until I am again within eyes reach of the locals. As a woman in particular, I do not resent this imposition, as I have chosen to be residing amongst these people and I am very respectful of the traditions and cultural differences that exist. I have always preferred to run alone adding further reason to be vigilant about respecting the ways of my neighbors. I must admit though that there are some days when it is so darn hot that I put my long pants on as close to home as possible and I have never been hassled. As a matter of fact I have never been hassled at all by these people. I make a game with the children that are trying to outrun me (and sometimes do) and I get many smiles and greetings as I approach the village.
I think that these people think that I am a bit magnoon, meaning crazy in Arabic. They work so hard all day that the thought of adding exercise is neither comprehensible nor necessary.
I never seem to get lost when running because I have these wonderful landmarks that do not move. They are called pyramids. The Giza pyramids in the distance and the Saqqara and Dashur pyramids straight away make it unnecessary to keep my eyes peeled for street names and traffic lights that would normally flag my turns.
I have trained for and run a marathon but my body has a strong preference for the 10K and half marathon. Since the desert has a way of transforming my mind and body as I move through my runs, I seem to lose all track of time and distance. I do not get hung up on mileage as I have in the past because I allow this time to be used as almost a meditation first and exercise second. It is usually the sound of the call to prayer that pulls me back to reality.
I feel an overwhelming sense of reverence for the ground that I tread upon. While I am always the lone runner navigating the dunes, I am never alone. I am in the midst of footprints left by camels, horses, balady dogs and Bedouins that have ventured before me. Occasionally the pounding of hoofs becomes a sudden alarm behind me until I realize that it is one of the local horseback riders using the desert as their training grounds too. There is plenty of room for all of us to use the space to kick it out. One of the greatest pleasures I have when reaching the peak of a dune, all sweaty and out of breath, is feeling the wind absorb the sweat off of my body and whip thru my hair. Ahhhh, can we stop now!
There are organized running groups in Cairo, the Hash House Harriers, otherwise known as the Cairo Hash, consists mostly of expatriates who love to have fun. I plan to join up with them one of these days. In the meantime, I must admit that I am enjoying the solitude in discovering the space inside and outside of me as I peruse my immediate surroundings.
I am an entrepreneur at heart however and I am currently creating tour opportunities for those that wish to explore Egypt in any combination of running shoes, walking shoes, camel back or horse back.
Aleikum salaam wa rahmat allah wa barakatu (upon you be peace and the mercy of God and his blessing).
Run The Planet would like to thank Tracy Karbus from Egypt for taking part in the Planeteer Spotlight.