20 May 2014

Expats in Congo: Purposeless Walking

This post has nothing to do with Mamas or culture (nor leaving Congo - thank goodness). It's more of a Humans of Kinshasa piece. Or rather, the fortitude of expat humans in Kinshasa. Or maybe better yet, how Congo makes you do crazy things.

We live on the 42 acre campus of the American school here in Kin. There's a path that surrounds us. Some people run it. Some people walk it. And some people really walk it. 

Recently we linked to an article about the wonders of purposeless walking and its sad decline. That same weekend we had no idea purposeless walking was happening right outside our windows. 

Our friend Andrew, of teaching the Mamas how to swim fame, just walked 50 miles. In a circle. For no reason. Read on...

From Running the Wall.

Q: So Andrew, I hear you walked 50 miles (80 kilometers) this weekend. Just around our campus. I’m speechless. What the heck?

A: Well I walked 36 times around campus. I started at midnight, walked all night into the next morning, and finished at 5:00 pm the next day. 

Q: Why? What was your purpose? What's the point?

A: I didn’t have one. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

Q: No fundraising? No spiritual journey? You were just walking to walk? You didn't even go anywhere!

A: Yep. I had tried it twice before, but had to quit because of severe exhaustion. So Sara [my wife] went away for the weekend and I just decided to try it again. She didn’t think I could do it - so maybe that was part of the motivation to finish - to prove to myself and my wife that I could do it.

Q: Did you get bored? Did you listen to music? Surely you had your iPhone with you. Did you use it to entertain yourself?

A: No, I didn’t listen to music and I just used my phone to keep track of the time. My mind was fully occupied concentrating on meeting the small goals I had set throughout the day. I spent most of my time predicting where I would be at each time of day - to the minute - I really focused on the details, which distracted me from becoming overwhelmed.

Q: How did you keep track of your laps?

A: Well I had two plates, one with 36 fava/broad beans on it and the other one was empty. Each time I passed by it, I moved one bean over. I used the largest beans I could find to feel more accomplished each time I moved one.

Q: So you walked all through the night in Congo - did you see anything interesting? Any wildlife?

A: Well I discovered that all the millipedes and centipedes come out between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning. I definitely squashed a few. And did you know there’s a chicken on campus?! I saw one of those. At one point I heard something fall from a tree and I thought it was a gorilla, but it was only a cat. It was kind of funny seeing what time everyone went to bed. I’d do one lap and see lights on and then on my next go-round their lights would be off. I saw Johan on his porch working on something at 2am. And then I saw him again the next morning after he woke up - all on my same walk. I felt a little bit like a stalker.

Q: I saw you walking Saturday afternoon, but I had no idea you had been walking all night. You didn’t look tired. Did you get tired at any point?

A: I didn't get tired or bored, but there was a period of about 6 miles where I could hardly move my legs because my muscles became very tight and fatigued. I didn't think I was going to actually finish, but around mile 32 I got a second wind, and after that point I didn't look back!

Q: How does your body feel now?

A: Because I walked almost the entire distance and didn't run until the end, my calf muscles are actually not very sore. My hamstrings and quadriceps are very tired, but I am able to walk around without any trouble. I slightly bruised my heels, but that is going away quickly. The rest of my body feels great - my heart and lungs feel strong and I think my body enjoyed the challenge.
Q: Did you have any epiphanies or deep thoughts during those 17 hours? What did you learn about yourself?

A: I realized how much mental effort it takes to do an endurance sport - and that I am naturally more comfortable running for a few hours than walking for many. It was actually difficult not to run the first few hours, and I realized that I often get too excited about things, making it difficult to complete tasks once I begin because I burnout quickly. Deep stuff, huh?

Q: Adam is obsessed, OBSESSED with the fact that you did this. He kept me up last night talking about how he couldn’t believe he doesn’t know how far he can walk. Do you have any recommendations for him or others who want to try purposeless, endurance walking?

A: I would recommend that anyone interested in purposeless, endurance walking - especially in a warm area like Congo - make sure they have a plan to stay hydrated. You need to be sure to replace all the electrolytes that your body is losing along with drinking water. The other recommendation is something that I didn't do - TRAIN! I would not recommend that anyone try to walk 80 kilometers without spending a few weeks building up to it. It is much safer, and better for your health, to start with 10 or 20 kilometers, and build up from there!


My favorite part of this story is that Andrew didn't really have a purpose for walking except to just see if he could do it. He didn't advertise he was going to walk for 17 hours, he didn't solicit support, he just did it. It's funny, since he finished and word has spread of his feat, I've heard friends in our little community say, "Well if Andrew can walk for 17 hours, I can [insert task far easier than walking for 17 hours]." We're all inspired. Joke's on you, Andrew! Turns out, there was a good purpose.


  1. So intriguing. Maybe NPR will take the story up? This American Life (in the Congo)?

    1. As much as I love this story, if Ira Glass comes anywhere near here, I'm stealing the air time.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about humility lately, and how so many people toot their own horn... This is a fabulous example of being humble. The confidence in himself NOT to make an announcement of what he did makes me think this Andrew is a really good guy. I like that,

    I think I may have been a bit worried that something in the African wildlife may have eaten a few beans in the cover of darkness.

  3. Andrew's comments to me just now: "It's really funny, because if Adam hadn't come to the pool when I was there after finishing... they would have never found out about it." Followed by... "I guess I should start reading Mama Congo more often."

    1. This is true. Adam heard whimpering in the shower and just had to ask...


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