I ran a lot in my first months in Argentina. Not enough to lose weight or whittle down my feeble mile time but enough to call it a routine. I ran on the treadmills once I joined El Boxing Club, a hulking concrete and metal building at the entrance to the city. Once I learned the lay of the land, it was grid to some degree, I felt comfortable roaming about and running towards the outskirts of town in different directions. The city was about 100,000 people but pretty hard to get lost as long as you knew which way was north. There were no other towns within hundreds of miles of us so it was also pretty clear when you had run too far. Outside the city limits the desolate rock and shrubbery terrain stretched for as far as the eye could see without human interruption.
When in doubt I would run towards la ria, the river-front park where all the teenagers went to dar vueltas, cruise, along El Rio Gallegos showing off their cute little cars with souped up sound systems, manual transmissions and tinted windows. A charade eerily similar to cruising around my hometown in Ohio. Rolling through the C&O parking lot bumping the newest jams, rolling down the window to exchange a greeting, bump a fist, dap someone up or just offer a nod of acknowledgement. Those under 16 cursing us for having the power to drive, the power of possibility and the power of power over others.
Running was nice, it was fun, and made me feel like I belonged, in some ways, in Rio Gallegos. Even though no one else just went out for a run it somehow made me feel normal. It gave me an identity that I felt I could uphold. I didn’t have to talk to anyone or try to understand what they were saying I could just smile at them as I passed them by. Running gave me a presence, made me feel like I was in Rio Gallegos, being seen by other people, not just in my room on my computer or watching TV. It made me a somebody, even if I never knew who that somebody was to others.
I liked putting on my blue Saucony running sneakers, my black hoody and sweat pants. I’d queue up Atmosphere on my mp3 player, tie my house key to my shoelaces, slam the white gate to our yard behind me and kick off. I would get a lot of looks. Some of them inquisitive others acknowledging and some resentful looks. I liked the looks, even the resentful ones. I liked that people cared enough to look at me and speculate what I was doing out running. Again, being in a place where I felt so much like none it was nice to know others were thinking of you, acknowledging you even if you never know what those thoughts were.
More than anything running allowed me to go places that my friends, host family and the exchange program coordinator wouldn’t have taken me. My host family was making the jump from a lower middle class life style into the upper echelons in the Rio Gallegos so steered clear of the “bad neighborhoods”, my friends, all of whom attended the ritzy private school I had been placed into, were the children of the wealthiest in the city and my exchange coordinator was quite protective. I liked being able to see the homes where the kids I played soccer with in the plazas lived, the poorer areas of the city and the dirtier outskirts of the city. I quickly became comfortable in many parts of the city than many of my classmates which helped me develop the sense of independence I had felt stripped away by my inability to speak Spanish.
My running, as helpful as it proved to be, came to an end as the cold weather moved in, winds picked up and we all hid indoors. I eventually injured my hip, or re-injured it, and had to give up all physical activity for months. Fortunately enough for me, my Spanish had begun to catch hold and by the time I injured myself I no longer needed running as an escape from my inability to communicate.