Training in the Midst of Summer Days
Sitting on the steps of the Chemistry Building with rain hitting the windows and the sound of thunder travelling through the glass, I find myself impatiently checking the weather app; even though by now I don’t quite trust it anymore. After surfing through three weather websites, I open my Instagram. Scrolling down on my Hijabi Runner site, I realize that many of my posts are weather related. What have I become? Why do I talk about the weather so much? Wow, this really caught up on me.
Around five years ago when I first arrived at a Hogwarts-looking boarding school that was commonly called “St. Gorgeous”, I was completely overwhelmed and suffered a major culture shock. To me, everyone talked way, like WAY too fast. The constant smiling, small talk, and pretty much everything else were alien to me. But I was particularly awkward or simply dead quiet when it came to weather-related talk. In the beginning, I heard sentences like, “it is so nice out.” As the school year went by and the wind from the beach blew away hats and mini skirts and a cold breeze made the walk to afternoon activities extra hard, this turned to “it is so windy outside. I am so pale. OMG, I need to go to the Bahamas.” In my head, I had only one thought the whole time, “ OBVIOUSLY it is nice out. The sun is out. What do I say to that?” As newcomer, I felt that I couldn’t speak my mind, so I simply wondered even more: “ Why are we even talking about the weather? Everyone is pretty much talking about the same thing. Do they even know that they are doing that? How does everyone else response?” I soon learned to reply back with sentences like, “Yeah, it is so cold out. It is crazy.” Even when the weather didn’t concern me one single bit, I would say things like “Omg, I feel you. I can’t wait for winter to be over.” or, “It is so nice out, I can’t wait to hang out in quad during my free block.” Even though I was spending most of my free blocks at the basement of the library with Mrs. Bickford working on my essays, readings and grammar, I simply wanted to be over with the conversation.
Five years later, I not only talk about the weather as often as my friends from boarding school did then, but I also notice the weather more than anything else at the beginning, middle, and end of each run. Perhaps the weather is on my mind not just because of the location of the sun or mood of the sky, but because of the memories it evokes. The sweat, heat, and unpaved roads of trail constantly bring back memories from the days before boarding school, my last visit to my country, and the last time I wore Chadari; the blue dress worn by most women in my hometown. Chadari is known as Burqa in the west. Regardless of the word used to refer to Chadari, it carries a world of unpleasant memories
The last time I wore Chadari was on home leave in the summer after having been in the United States for two years. The Chadari was handed to me, as I was getting ready to leave the house. Since I was well aware of the security situation in my hometown, I quietly took it without asking any further questions. Right there, in the middle of a hot July day, I put my hand over my eyebrows and covered my eyes… The thought of wearing Chadari was not pretty, it never has been. As I stood there, contemplating life and how we, women, in that part of the earth have no option but to wear it, my cousin pinched me.
Many women who have to wear Chadari might agree with me: Experiencing the outside world through a Chadari is like looking at everything through jail bars. The only way to see anything is to squint through the many small holes at eye-level where the air comes in and goes out. After my two years of freedom, the thought of all of a sudden having to look at the world through a Chadari scared me and I refused to go out. But, as my cousin assured me that it would only take 20 minutes to get used to it, I wore the Chadari and started to walk around the house. I felt weak. I was suffocating and in need of more oxygen. Words lined up on top of my tongue to be shouted out but instead I took a deep breath and left the house. My vision began to blur, sweat made its way down my spine. I lifted the front of my Chadari to get more air in. I felt dizzy… I fainted right there in the middle of the Bazaar. I woke up with a slap by my cousin on my cheek. I was covered in cold water, and devastated by the thought of fainting in the middle of a mall. Before I completely knew it, my feet dragged me to the closest Riksha to take me home. That was the last time I wore a Chadari, or went out during rush hour.
To this day, during any run I can feel the sweat dropping from my forehead and my back. My breath still gets heavier and I fight for more oxygen. But, when I run, I choose what to wear, how far to run, how fast to run, how long to run, and where to run to. With every turn of the trail course, I have a choice to make. It is just me who makes that decision and runs the trail. I get to make my own choices and that is why running is liberating. With every run, every hot and sweaty day, I remember my hometown, my mother who has to wear the Chadari, and the number of women who faint in that bazaar on a daily basis. Those memories become my motivation to run a bit harder, or to be a extra nice to myself. That’s how weather became the caption to so many of my photos.