Still, I needed to sweat, to extend, to feel my body move. I had played sports since childhood—many things I could sacrifice to live in South America for a year, but this was not one.
Why not jog, I thought. Certainly I would attract attention here, running along sidewalks full of women bent beneath the weight of babies, roosters, kindling, sugar and flour; people dedicated to avoiding a single superfluous step. But in this I was experienced. I had run through Tunis while entire busloads of Arabs reached out the windows to pound the sides of the bus and hoot at me. I had jogged through a zoo in Shanghai, where a hundred Chinese turned their backs on the pandas in order to stare at the white-skinned, brown-bearded animal loping by.
I woke up early and hit the road, maintaining an easy stride out of respect for the altitude. I ran alongside the traffic, swallowing the fumes of automobiles with no pollution-control devices, trying not to stumble over sidewalks buckled by the knuckles of tree roots, blinking away the sting of the dry-season dust roiled up by passing buses and trucks. I came to an intersection, glanced each way and stepped onto the road. A horn blasted, a bumper brushed past my thigh. Stop signs were nonexistent, traffic lights rare. Drivers simply hit their horns just before each intersection and crossed by intimidation or the grace of God. Fools who jogged—let them hit the brakes.
I searched for quieter streets, shaded lanes where the people with a little money lived. The dogs lived there, too. Every few houses, just when my mind was beginning to lose itself in the motion, a German shepherd or Doberman pinscher—keepers of the status quo, guardians of the gap—would hurl itself at a fence, barking ferociously, its muzzle protruding between the bars, its teeth gnashing, unable in its fury to distinguish between a trotting have and a thieving have-not. My breath hitched, my legs trembled, my feet leapt into the gutter. The activity designed to prevent my having a heart attack at 66 was bringing one on at 33.
Human beings are adaptive miracles. I threw in my lot with the mad dogs, the autos and buses, doubled my wits at intersections and continued my jogs. An awareness began to set in about the people I was running past, more unsettling than the intensity of the starers in Tunis or Shanghai. There were no starers. Nowhere should I have felt myself more an object of curiosity; nowhere had I stirred less. No one looked at me, waved at me, honked at me, hooted at me. Invisibly I weaved my way through them, a spirit among the dispirited. Did the extremes of poverty take curiosity from a man, too?
Here and there I passed a few children kicking around a soccer ball, but far fewer than I had expected. Mostly they played marbles or killed time. Why didn't destitution drive them to the courts, the fields, the boxing rings? Why didn't it ferment athletes as it did back home?
I concluded, at first, that poverty was simply a heavier and blunter instrument here than on the playgrounds of Harlem or West Philly—it bludgeoned desire instead of whetting it. Then I found myself stopping to chat with the children on the streets. Who were their heroes? I asked them. Who did they want to be like when they grew up?
"Rambo," they said.