Mihazakazaka: to run
I started running with my host uncle a few weeks ago, one or two mornings per week. Minus the fact that I'm a little out of practice, we make a pretty good team. We walk through town before running 3km on the Bypass just east of Tana, then we chat as we walk back home. We run past family-owned rice paddies and brick yards, car wash stands, and lots of morning commuters riding the bus, walking, biking, and driving.
Today as we ran, I was enjoying the view and some time for reflection. I started thinking about the idea of the Bypass, and how it is a faster, less crowded, and better quality route than RN7 (the national road which runs parallel but to the west of our house, and is the road I travel everyday whenever I'm not running). However, traveling via the Bypass means missing out on life in the communities I have grown to know and love.
My thoughts were interrupted when I realized I could see my breath every once in a while, and it wasn't quite cold enough for that. After a few seconds of confusion, I realized the cloudy vapor exiting my lungs was extra-potent car exhaust that my body simply wasn't capable of using. This lead to some reflection on air pollution and I found myself remembering the question one of my students had asked last week as we studied regions of the U.S., "Which region has the most chemical factories and textile mills?" And I had fumbled a bit as I explained about being from the Rust Belt and how that has been the traditional home to U.S. manufacturing, but in recent years, a lot of production has moved internationally.
Meanwhile back on the Bypass, I was sweating through my Nike Dri-Fit tee with a 'Made in Malaysia' tag.
And my heart was strained, not from physical exertion, but because I wondered how many people are breathing polluted air in their own communities right now, so that I can buy brand new clothes more cheaply half a world away? Not to mention why am I buying special clothes to exercise in for fun when any old t-shirt is just as suitable, and I am running past people walking long commutes to simply make a living? More and more thoughts swirled through my head as I slowed to a walk.
I don't have any answers. I may not even be asking the right questions, but I do know that I'm listening.
For me, this year has been an opportunity to experience life on the national road-- sitting in traffic, bouncing over potholes, dodging ox carts, buying snacks off the street. And I am so incredibly thankful for this time to slow down, listen to the stories around me, gain new perspectives, and dig deeper. Because for most of my life, I have had access to the metaphorical Bypass. I could choose to not really think about how my actions or decisions affected others. I could be oblivious to the heartaches and injustices the people around me experienced on a daily basis. I was able to conveniently pass by, efficiently transported to my own destination, dreams, and goals, via a smooth paved road of privilege. After almost a year of traveling on the national road, it's certainly convenient to take the Bypass, but that's not what I've been called to do. So in the months and years ahead, I want to continue listening and learning, traveling through the hard questions, instead of passing by.