As Machambas

The Machambas of Chokwe 

Machamba means farm in Portuguese. I can’t remember how I came to explore them first, on foot or by bicycle, but it changed my entire Peace Corps experience in Mozambique. Chokwe escaped the danger of land mines because it is a center of agriculture in fertile southern Mozambique. This meant the land was safe to explore.

During Mozambique’s war for independence from Portugal and subsequent 15 year civil war approximately 171,000 land mines were planted throughout the country leaving Mozambique one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The war ended in 1992 and Halo Trust entered the country in 1993 to began the dangerous, tedious, and courageous work to clear the country of land mines.  On 9/15/15,  Mozambique was declared officially landline free years ahead of schedule.

I remember crossing the bridge over the canal for the first time. Before me the lush green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. The dusty trails visible by their contrasting caramel brown color weave through the fields with no end in sight. I spent hours exploring the land. It was my sanctuary particularly on the days when nothing seemed to make much sense linguistically, professionally, and personally.

After time I grew to know the fields and where the trails led to, but still I was convinced I would find new paths to follow which kept me coming back. My presence there was confusing for a long time to those who worked in the fields until eventually I became a familiar face. A smile and good morning in the local language Shangana usually made people brighten, some would even stop to talk usually to find out where I was going.

The machambas are now the view from the front of my new home in Chokwe. I have asked Orlando inquire about buying the unsettled piece of land across from our house to ensure that I will always have a view of the machambas. Our house is a short walk from the bridge that takes me over the canal and into the maze of dirt paths through the agricultural fields. It was a perfect choice for our home in Chokwe where Orlando’s family still lives.

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A view of our house (the one on the right) from the fields

My first solo walk in the fields since arriving in Mozambique made me feel that safe familiar feeling I felt many years ago. I breathed deeply the fragrant aromas a blend of fruit trees, passing animals, mostly cows and goats, vegetation, a smattering of floral scents, and fresh air. I smiled as I set our along the canal remembering my almost daily walks or bike rides on this same trail.

On an overcast day the clouds hang low in the sky adding a smoky mystique to the land below, but the contrast of the women’s brightly colored capulanas worn on their heads, around their waists or to hold a baby snug to their backs is like a splash of watercolors on a grey canvas. On a clear day the sun hangs high overhead like a ball of fire suspended in a sea of turquoise. The heat is oppressive and there is no shade cover when you are in the machambas making the already backbreaking work seem heroic.

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I wonder what the Mozambicans think of me leisurely walking or biking through the fields. I try not to think about that too much as I enjoy the fresh air, wide open space, and peacefulness around me. It’s where I do my best thinking. I often slip into a meditative state waking to find I have gone further or longer than planned. I like the quiet and I use the opportunity to listen to my breath, my thoughts, and the universe’s messages for me. My time in the machambas brings clarity to deep pondering questions.

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It is the Machambas that endeared me, mind, body, and soul to this dusty often harsh crossroads town in southern Mozambique. The sunsets and sunrises over them are amongst the most brilliant scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each day brings new beauty from the sky. The machambas served as a trusty friend, reliable counselor, and a calming respite whenever I needed them. I feel as though I have returned home every time I reunite with my beloved machambas.

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Plattsburgh Half Marathon

Last week was downright gloomy; from the tragic events at the Boston Marathon to the strange weather all week. My son was on school vacation and that automatically changes the flow of our lives. I did not work out at all from Monday through Friday. Instead of tracking my food in Spark People like I usually do I resorted to pen and paper and did not bother to count calories. My weight was all over the place thanks to some water retention, lack of attention to my food intake and no exercise.  I had so many other things going on sometimes something has to give and unfortunately it was my diet and exercise. Needless to say by Friday I felt pretty badly about myself. I had a long drive to upstate New York where I was going to visit one of my best friends and also to run a half marathon on Sunday, April 21st. I spent much of the drive listening to podcasts from Heather at Half Size Me. Heather has a very inspiring story as do the people she interviews. It was just what I needed to bounce back and stop the negative self-talk.

I haven’t set too many running or fitness goals this year other than to run a race each month. So far I’m doing great with that goal. I ran one race in January, two in February, one in March and now one in April. I have nothing planned for May so I need to figure that out soon. I have a half marathon planned for the beginning of June. I am contemplating a full marathon sometime in the fall, but I’m not sure which one yet. I really want to do the Chicago Marathon, but darned if it doesn’t always fall on my weekend to work.

Anyway back to my most recent half marathon. I signed up for the Plattsburgh Half Marathon a few months ago. Plattsburgh is located near the Adirondack Mountains on the western shores of Lake Champlain and is not far from the Canadian border. My Peace Corps site mate lives there so I’m happy to find any reason to visit the area. Due to other obligations for my husband and son it was decided that I would go alone on this trip. Much as I would miss my guys I haven’t had much alone time in the last 6.5 years so I relished the thought of spending quality time with my friend.

Since I enjoyed a taper week of absolutely no structured exercise I decided to go for a short run on Saturday morning. It was a sunny day though quite breezy and cool. Midmorning I threw on my running shoes and hit the road. My friend lives in a rather rural area. I ran past quaint barns, a log house and lots of open fields. It was a beautiful run. The first half was a steady downhill with the wind at my back. I ran one of my fastest miles ever. Of course the return was not so easy, all uphill and against the wind! Still it felt great to get out there, stretch my legs and remember why I love running so much.

The weather in Plattsburgh was crazy on Saturday. It went from sunny and breezy to cloudy and really windy to snow by the night time. Yet my weather app was still showing temps in the 30s-40s and sun for Sunday.

The race was on Sunday at 8 a.m. so as I was getting ready that morning I popped on the race’s Facebook page and was thrilled to see the weather update was indeed calling for a sunny, wind free day. I got ready and headed over to the starting area. Normally I take a photo with my son, but since he wasn’t with me I asked someone to take one of me. I don’t save my bibs so this is my remembrance.

Before running the Plattsburgh Half Marathon
Before running the Plattsburgh Half Marathon

I did my best to represent Boston. There were lots of runners on the course with their Boston paraphernalia on as well as spectators. In the minutes before the race began there was a moment of silence dedicated to those that were injured or lost their lives at the Boston Marathon. It was a somber moment. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Truthfully I didn’t think anything would happen that day in Plattsburgh, but it seems like lately nowhere is safe. I was particularly concerned about my friend and her family coming to the finish line. I don’t ever want to feel responsible for putting others into danger. I tried to convince her to stay home.

As always with races I set goals. The ultimate goal is to finish and have fun doing the race. Then there are those personal goals that have to do with time and speed. I’ve been running strong in the last couple of months. My speed has improved and I’ve noticed my endurance growing stronger. I think this is in part due to strength training, stretching and yoga. However, given how I was feeling about myself throughout the week the only personal goal reasonable was to try to beat my last half marathon time even if only by a second.

My last half marathon was the Lake Placid North Elba Half Marathon back in September. I ran it in 2:10:12. I just reread my post on this race and remembered how proud I was of my accomplishment.

I did something a little different at the start of the Plattsburgh Half. Instead of relegating myself to the back of the pack I lined up in the back of the 9 minute mile pace group. The race started and off we went. The beginning of the course had us running on a bike trail along Lake Champlain. The views were gorgeous. We ran through the city and eventually through residential neighborhoods. There were spectators out cheering for us which is always wonderful. I especially loved the children at mile 6 who were handing out water on their front lawn. Running a half or full marathon is a fantastic way to see a new place. In the last few miles of the race we ran over a bridge and through an area with gorgeous old homes and then back down near the lake. The weather could not have been more perfect, sunny, cool, but no wind.

As much as I enjoyed the scenery throughout the race I had a lot going on in my head. Running is my time to sort through things, feelings, emotions, stress, etc. I have a friend who is going through an exceptionally trying battle with cancer. I want to show her that I’m fighting for her. I want to be there as a support. I want her to know that I love her and I know she will beat this. Already I’m in awe of how she is triumphing over this hurdle. She has an infectious positive attitude. Her strength and courage are unmatched by anyone I know. I thought about her the most as I ran this race. For so many years I told myself I couldn’t…couldn’t lose weight, couldn’t excel in any sort of sport, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t. I was full of negativity and self-degradation. I loathed running for most of my life. The thought of doing it for enjoyment was ridiculous.

Running, ironically, has breathed new life into me. It has become my saving grace when I need to process “life” so to speak. It is my “me time.” It refreshes me, revives me and makes me feel strong. Though I have made peace with the treadmill I seek the freshness of running outdoors. I love the warmth of the sun on my arms and face. I even love the cool crisp air of a winter run. If I don’t run for a few days I actually miss it and crave it. Running has also made me somewhat competitive against myself. When I first started running I was weary of these PRs I heard other runners talk about. Oh great if I improve my time during this race then I have to keep improving it, I thought. That’s a lot of pressure. Yes and it’s also really exciting and motivating.

While running Plattsburgh I pushed myself. My breathing was not easy as it sometimes becomes during a run. It was always just a little bit labored, not uncomfortable, but I was aware that I was working hard. I don’t wear my Garmin to race and there were no time clocks along the route. I really had no idea how I was doing time wise.

I kept thinking about my friend. If she could fight this fight that her body is making her fight then I could push my body too. We are strong, stronger than we give ourselves credit for both in sickness and in health. I was running this race for my friend. Someday she will run with me. Every time I wanted to slow down or back off I thought about how my friend cannot slow down her fight so instead I picked up the pace.

I smiled every step of the way as I ran. I was so proud to be running out of support for Boston and silently out of support for my friend whether she knew it or not. This race supports Team Fox which donates all proceeds to Parkinson’s Research and I was especially proud to be a part of the race for that reason as well. The friend I was visiting has a close relative suffering from Parkinson’s.

As I entered the U.S. Oval of the old air force base  for the last lap of the race I felt a surge of energy fill me and I started running as fast as I could. Then I saw the friend I was visiting. Darn her for coming out despite my pleas not to, but at the same time I was really overjoyed to see her. Then I spotted the time clock which from a distance almost certainly read 2:08. Oh my goodness that was much better than I expected. I started sprinting and as I got closer I realized that the 8 was actually a 3. 2:03?! No way. NO WAY! No that must be wrong. Seriously!

Yes seriously 2:03:52 was my official finish time. I beat my last half marathon time by over 6 minutes. I teared up as the race volunteer placed the medal over my head.

Plattsburgh Half Marathon Finisher
Plattsburgh Half Marathon Finisher

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” -Oprah Winfrey