“Perhaps travel…

July 18, 2013

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou


An article I wrote for PC Uganda newsletter to share with fellow PCV’s what I do @ site to preserve my sanity.


When people ask me what my religion is, I sometimes tell them that it is running. When I don’t practice this religion that I discovered three years ago, I feel pretty discontent with my life. I feel sad, withdrawn, restless, empty, and worthless, which may sound like tendencies of a person suffering from clinical depression. Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with clinical depression, these tendencies can develop in anyone even though someone who has a genetic disposition has a greater risk in developing the condition. No one is immune to clinical depression. Our body can develop conditions when we don’t take care of it; similarly our mind can develop disorders when we neglect our mental health.

Each person is responsible for figuring out the best way to take care of his/her mental health. Some people may meditate or combine meditation with yoga; others may find solace in prayer or silent reflection. Playing a team sport, or expressing oneself through creative movement or visual arts may help some others. No matter what one’s outlet is, it’s important to do something. Doing something to take care of one’s mental health is even more important when one is living outside of one’s home base.

In my mid twenties, I decided that I needed to do something so I can stay healthy in the various stages of adulthood. I had no aspirations to do one-armed push-ups like my great granddad, but I wanted to develop habits that increased my chances in staying fit and healthy in my 80’s. Around that time, I also decided that I wanted higher bone density levels into my late adulthood, so I can lower the risk of developing fractures or osteoporosis later in life. I enrolled myself in a weight training program in the Peach State (home of the Georgia Bulldawgs, Yellow Jackets, & the Eagles) I lived in before moving to the Pearl. Combining weight training, cardiovascular activities (running, aerobics), and flexibility (yoga) made me a happy camper back in Athens, Ga. When I moved to Uganda, I was concerned that the change in my physical routine would affect my mental health.

When I was in homestay in Wakiso, I tried running a few times. Not knowing what to do with unwanted attention, my runs became occasional. A sudden change in my physical routine made be anxious and unhappy during PST (Pre Service Training) and I probably would have left the country if it weren’t for my super loving host family and almost a decade long desire to do Peace Corps.

When I moved to site, I decided that I needed another reason to run in a patriarchal society. I decided that I want to run for the fellow women. In a culture where women are expected to live under the authority of their fathers and later under the control of their husbands and are defined and judged based on their role as caregivers to their children, I wanted to show that a woman can do something just for herself. Not for her partner. Not for her babies. Not for society. Just for herself.

When I started running regularly, I immediately noticed a change in my mood elevations, which isn’t surprising since running increases one’s endorphin levels that generate an overall sense of well-being and elevate one’s moods. When I run regularly, my body has practice recovering from the increased levels of adrenaline, which provides practice in recovering from the effects of physical anxiety. When I feel less anxious, I can focus on things that are important to me—giving back to those around me and acquiring skills I need to accomplish my long-term goals.

Running doesn’t just help in the mental health but it also has many benefits to the physical health. Elevating the heart rate over a long period of time can boost one’s cardiovascular health. When a person first starts running, the physical exertion forces the heart to pump more blood than it is used to pumping. This initial change in heart rate overloads the heart and the heart adapts to the change in the heart rate by pumping (more) efficiently. Once the heart pumps more blood, then more oxygen can be delivered to the muscles and more ATP can be produced in one’s body. ATP or adenosine triphosphate is a multi-functional nucleotide (fancy term for molecules that join together to make structural units) that plays a crucial role in metabolism and serves as sources of chemical energy. In addition to that, studies show running may contribute to an increase in brain cell growth in the areas associated with memory (The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer).

Running also helps in working towards one of the goals that I want to achieve before I hit my 30’s—running a marathon. A PCV volunteer, who ran two marathons, told me that once a person runs a marathon, then he/she feels like he/she can do anything. My goal for the first marathon is to finish the challenge. I don’t have a time goal even though I would be more comfortable if I can finish it in four hours. If you plan to train for a marathon and have a time goal, then you should ask the volunteer who has trained for several triathlons, or one of the many PCV’s who have completed a marathon.

If you don’t have a time goal, then you may want to follow the following training schedule (Whitsett, Dolgener & Kole’s The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer) in the table below. The distance is in miles. Before you start on this training schedule, you should be able to jog continuously for 30 minutes. The authors also experimented with training programs from 4-6 days a week and found four week programs are just as effective as those programs with more than 4 days a week of training. Figuring out your foot type and investing in a good running shoe (Asics Nimbus 11th generation works great) would reduce your chances of developing injuries.

Week Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Total
1 3 4 3 5 15
2 3 4 3 6 16
3 3 4 3 7 17
4 3 5 3 8 19
5 3 5 3 10 21
6 4 5 4 11 24
7 4 6 4 12 26
8 4 6 4 14 28
9 4 7 4 16 31
10 5 8 5 16 34
11 5 8 5 16 34
12 5 8 5 18 36
13 5 8 5 18 36
14 5 8 5 9 27
15 3 5 3 8 19
16 3 3 Walk 3 marathon 35.2

Taking care of one’s mental health requires work. It takes dedication and discipline to follow mental and physical exercises. Following a discipline makes one emotionally and physically strong. If one takes small measures now to take care of one’s mental and physical health, then one can enjoy short-term and long-term benefits.

On a personal note, four years ago I couldn’t imagine running a 5K and found the possibility daunting. Last year I ran my first 10K. My granddad once told me that the only person who can stop you from doing what you want is yourself. The possibilities of what one can do are endless. The first step is to get up and do something. Let us stay true to the PC motto: Life is calling. How far are you willing to go?

I wish you the very best in taking care of your mental health while you strive to make a difference in people’s lives. Age Quod Agis. Do well whatever you do. May the force be with you (Yoda, Jedi Master).


August 31, 2010

Running is my religion. I find it mentally and physically challenging. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. When I pay attention to my breathing to keep track of my heart rate, I focus. I feel happy. I feel fit.

The most important reason why I continue to run in Africa is for the women. When I run, they see another woman running. Well, an odd one but nevertheless a woman. They see another woman doing something she wants to do. No coercion. No obligation. Just doing something for herself.

They see me train four days a week. Run my short, medium & long runs. They see me wave. They smile when I acknowledge them. Even if they don’t remember me years from now, I won’t be offended as long as they remember that a woman can run for miles because she wants and that women are as much entitled as men to do something just for themselves. Not for their children. Their families. Just for themselves. At least one thing.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether I want to return to an America that bleeds religious intolerance. Sure, we also struggle with other forms of intolerance. Religious intolerance is of particular concern to me since it violates one of our fundamental rights. When I read about fellow Americans protesting against their fellow (Muslim) Americans’ right to exercise religion, it saddens me.

People justify their actions because they believe Islam is not a peaceful religion. Islam, Christianity & Judaism evolved in the the same region of the world. Islam is no more peaceful or violent than Christianity or Judaism.

All of these religions teach the Golden Rule:

What is hateful to you
do not do to your
fellow man
That is the entire Law
All the rest is commentary

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Islam)

I’ve interacted, lived with and visited people of all three faiths. I’ve met compassionate and conscientious practitioners and rigid and fanatic members of these practices. I think we should be cautious before we judge an entire religion/culture based on what some people practice.

Extremists exist in every religion. Every school of thought. Every practice.

Religion or any moral code should make one a better person. One of the purposes of religion is to make the “Me/ego” smaller than the conscience so the person can eventually connect with Ultimate Reality.

When one uses religion (or any other symbolic thought) to regard a person or a group of people as less of an individual, or less worthy of basic rights, then the spirit of extremism is born. Religious practitioners are not the only extremists. Scientists can be extremists too. Governments. Parents. Media. The list is endless.

The spirit of extremism can sprout in anyone. No one is immune to it. One has to be conscious of an extreme thought which may transform into an extreme action.

I’m not saying when violent extremists attack one’s home base, then one should sit back, pray and hope for the best. I believe in defending one’s home. I also think we should look back at our world history and see the political roles all three religions have played. The resentment and animosity towards Islam is not something new. It goes back a long way. Attacking an entire religion based on the actions of these loud extremists alienates and cuts dialogue that one can have with moderate Muslims. This dialogue should not just happen in a governmental level but also among the smallest unit of a society: an individual.

As we protest against followers of a religion, are we being true to the Bill of Rights?

“J. Larry Brown to Join World Learning, Expand SIT Programs in Oman

BRATTLEBORO, VT (August 4, 2010) — World Learning is delighted to announce that prominent educator Dr. J. Larry Brown has accepted a position as the new director of the World Learning Center in Oman. Brown most recently served as Peace Corps country director in Uganda, and the executive director of Harvard University’s Center on Hunger and Poverty.”

More information @ http://www.worldlearning.org/19695.htm