Something special happened today that I’m not quite able to define. I was about fifteen minutes into a forty minute run this morning when a Rwandan man in his late 50s (15 to 20 years my senior) started to pass me by. For some reason unbeknownst to me I started to try to keep up with him. You have to know this is completely counter to my general workout style. I like to train in complete solitude. I’ve gotten to the point where I just run and literally don’t look at people because I want to somehow feel like I’m alone, which is hard in a society where people are always out walking. It’s especially tough to do this when people stare at you and feel free to fall in next to you and try to keep up or pass you. This happens both when running and when biking. The middle-aged man on the single-speed bike carrying a 10 gallon jug of milk might pass me by when I’m climbing a hill; even the young kids walking to school will sometimes sprint ahead of me over short distances. It is not only solitude I hope for while training; it’s also freedom from the stress of even just friendly and unspoken competition with a workout buddy – another reason I train alone.
So it was very out of character for me to start following this man while running today. I think a few different things were going through my mind. I was aware that I wasn’t trying to race with him. I also knew I wanted to show deference to his age so I consciously stayed a couple steps behind him and to the right. But the hardest for me to define was this feeling that I wanted to “follow” him. We made eye contact; he knew I was trying to keep up as we started to ascend a hill; he would glance at me and stay at a pace that I could manage but with a struggle. He wasn’t trying to “best” me. He was trying to train me, to encourage me, to challenge me. And it was playful…as we crested the hill, he quickly pulled away, but then waited and as we came to an intersection, he indicated that he was going one direction while I was going the other. We smiled and gave each other a high five and went on our way.
The significance of this experience may be a function of the role we play here at Karisimbi Partners, as advisors who get paid to provide valuable insight, lead organizations, define strategies, and implement plans. It may just be a function of working in a developing country under the premise of being “here to help.” It may be a function of my own flawed character and lack of respect for “the other.” Regardless of the reason, those five minutes I got to spend this morning following the lead of a Rwandan man clearly my senior, my teacher and my better was incredibly life giving and something I will cherish and look for more opportunities to experience.