All posts for the month February, 2016

Races. #17: Deloittes Pretoria Marathon

Published February 28, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

I ran the half marathon yesterday at the Deloittes Pretoria Marathon. The course was lovely, had a couple gnarly hills, but totally worth it. It ran through a lot of residential areas, but like nice residential. Then we climbed some hills up and up until we overlooked Pretoria, the Union Buildings, and there was even a band playing the bagpipes to add a little something extra to the already beautiful moment.

The field before the start.

Deloittes offered 4 distances at this race- 5, 10, 21, and 42 kilometer options. In total, 10,300 runners pitched up.

Runners toeing at the start line!

Casual band playing bag pipes

Pretoria Boys High School Band

I like half marathons because they’re kind of an ideal distance. It’s long enough to be slightly challenging but it’s mostly just for fun. State of flow!

Ok, now let me digress into something a little more serious. I really dislike the lack of eco-consciousness that exists in the running culture. On a race course there will be a water station every 3ish kilometers and subsequently those areas become littered with plastic water sachets. The race organizers place plentiful recycle bins strategically to help runners have a place to throw their trash but sadly, most runners just toss their rubbish wherever.

Do you ever have moments in nature where you get misty-eyed because everything is so beautiful? I get those frequently and I love them. Yesterday I experience extremes ranging from gratitude for the beauty, and utter shame of the human condition of carelessness. Here we were, running through gorgeous scenery, but every time I look down I see trash created and left by runners. The race organizers hire a crew to come clean after the event but the reality is that some trash does get overlooked and we’re slowly but surely destroying our natural environment by not discarding garbage into a bin. Plastic doesn’t readily decompose in nature and can take well over 20 years to break down!

These bins exist all throughout the course…

I won’t lie, once or twice I’ve caught myself throwing my empty sachet to the ground, but I have committed myself to never allowing that to happen again. Now I shop for my running shorts in the men’s sportswear department specifically because men’s shorts tend to have larger pockets. When I’m running I carry all my trash with me until I find a proper bin to throw it in. Runners have got to start being more aware of the impact we are having on the environment and not allowing laziness to dictate actions.

…yet trash always ends up here….this makes me really sad 😦

Many runners have been hasgtagging #runclean to promote eco-conscious athleticism, and the #runclean campaign has gone viral. Strides are being made toward bringing awareness to this issue as many runners are unhappy with the state these events leave the ground in. I encourage you to think about your impact on the litter that exists in your realms of life and how you can influence it.

All in all, it was a good race with friends. I met some cool people along the way. Shared some ciders at the end. And I’m sad to say that I think next weekend will be my last race in South Africa! Wild. 


National Condom Week!

Published February 21, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

 This last week I worked a 2-day campaign at the tertiary colleges of the Sekhukhune district (CS Barlow and Dr CN Phatudi campuses). The campaign was organized by First Things First, a school-based project that emphasizes campus health and health education. Over 2 days I had one-on-one sexual health and wellness counseling with 71 college students, and the event overall reached over 500 students! What a success! 

Common issues found among the students are lack of condom usage and thus a high prevalence of HIV and STIs. 

Developmental work isn’t as simple as just saying ‘use condoms’. No, it must reach a level deeper than that. 

There’s a reason why a person chooses not to use a condom. Some may generalize it as stubbornness, but I see much more complexity in the situation and therefore opportunity for development and capacity building to happen. Ignorance about proper condom usage is a very superficial problem. What’s more likely is that the person doesn’t have confidence in condom negotiation, or is in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists, and there may even be cultural barriers to accessing free condoms without facing berating and judgement. 

These are heavy, intricate issues. And they are real. And I try my best to combat them everyday with the people I counsel. 

And I don’t want to make it seem like these problems only exist in South Africa; it’s everywhere. But I think the prevalence is higher here because of certain cultural drivers of HIV like the pressure for women to be submissive and obedient to men. One woman I spoke with wanted an HIV test because she suspects (knows) her husband is cheating on her. She doesn’t feel comfortable talking about using condoms with him for fear of getting a physically or verbally abusive response. 

I struggle with having to tip toe around cultural norms because I don’t want to offend anyone, while at the same time I must encourage self-advocacy and ownership over your own body.

With each and every person I encounter, I strive to deliver quality service because they deserve 100% from me. It most definitely gets exhausting, but it’s thoroughly fulfilling work and at the end of each day I pack up my tents feeling that I made a positive impact. 

On Friday I wrapped up National Condom Week by doing a group exercise on proper condom usage for male and female condoms with 150 learners at a local high school. These are always full of laughs and fun, but the retention of the skill is there because they all demonstrated pretty accurately!  

The clock’s ticking and before I know it it’ll be time to leave! What a weird thing! 



Races. #16: BMW Modern Autohaus Marathon

Published February 21, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

Yesterday I ran another marathon~ 42 kilometers or 26.2 miles. I ran it just for fun, and a lot of Peace Corps volunteers were there running other distance, and my host mom and sister came too! 

  My host mom has been coming to races with me and running 5k’s and working her way up to 10k’s now! So proud! After some coaxing my host sister decided she would do a little training to prepare for her first 5k- which she completed yesterday!! I believe any person can achieve remarkable things if they can push themselves beyond their perceived limits. I enjoy seeing this being done in the physical context, and find great joy in helping people discover their own physical ability. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have positively influenced my host family with running. 

My iPhone has a nike+ running app that I wanted to test out. I used it on my iPhone about 3 years ago, and I like the idea of having a log to track my runs. First I tested out the app on a treadmill. I ran 5k in 27:17 according to the treadmill. I had to keep running until about 29:30 for the app to log 5k. The app wasn’t recording distance properly; I thought, ok, maybe the app just isn’t accurate for treadmills but for sure running on the road would be more precise because the app is tracking distance via gps, versus treadmill running which uses an accelerometer through the app on the phone. So I took my iPhone out on the marathon course with me and kept it in my waist pack while running. Once I hit the 10k mark at 57 minutes I looked at my phone to check the accuracy of the app- it said I had only run just over 4 miles!?! Hence, the nike+ running app is horribly inaccurate not only on the treadmill but with road running as well. In the past I’ve used Map My Run and from what I remember it seemed to work pretty well, so maybe I’ll switch back to that because Nike is terrible. 

  The course itself was pretty flat with no major hills and on all tarred road. It was hot as balls, as the African summer is in it’s prime. Some aid stations ran out of water (rookie mistake) which forced runners to walk for a substantial amount of time. I also struggled with my asthma most of the race. I have a respiratory disease and it can be limiting at times. I have trouble finding a balance between my ambition and the reality of sickened lungs. I tend to set lofty goals for myself ignoring the limitations I know I have. Asthma causes me to struggle breathing just doing regular-ass things. Then I try running a marathon and get angry when I’m slowed to a walk because I can’t breathe. When I was young I used to be really self conscious about it. I was embarrassed having to carry my inhaler with me especially when running in gym class, always trying to control my breathing. Over the years I’ve learned techniques to avoid asthma attacks, but they can still happen of I’m not careful. But I love to run. I always have. As a kid my favorite recess activity was racing the boys across the blacktop. I’ve always loved running. So I still try my best to push through and manage my inner dialogue that flip flops through positive and negative cycles. There are moments where I curse the gods for damning me with a weakened respiratory system. Then I have to remind myself that despite my frustration and limitations, I still cover a distance that less than 1% of the world population will ever do. Running a marathon is absolutely crazy, and each of those 26 miles presents its own challenges I must overcome to get to the finish line. 

Some days are good; some days are not so good. I overcame the adversity, ran when I could, walked when I couldn’t breathe, and met some cool people along the way. I strolled through the finish line with a big smile on my face as I heard my friends cheering my name. One thought that kept me pushing through to the end was knowing afterwards I would go to my friend’s house and leap into her pool while simultaneously guzzling champagne. 🙂 

  I am constantly being humbled by my physical limitations, and at the same time motivated to keep pushing the limits to find out how far I can go. Asthma won’t stop me from running. 


Races: #15: Bronkhorstspruit. And the Buddhist Temple.

Published February 15, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

I’ve been wanting to visit Nan Hua, the largest Buddhist Temple in Africa, for the longest time. They offer meditation retreats and lunch with the monks and it all just sounded so intriguing. It’s in a town called Bronkhorstspruit- only around 250 km from my house so it would be feasible to get there by public transport.

Then I heard there would be a race in Bronkhorstspruit (10k) this past weekend, so I decided this is my opportunity.

After work on Friday I went to the taxi rank and after nearly 7 hours of public transport, I arrived in Bronkhorstspruit. It was a short 2 km walk to the hostel (called the Sink Shack) a friend told me about, and luckily they had a bed in a dorm room available for me! This place had walls of shiny tin and a maze of hallways and made me feel like I was in a fun house at EDC. I’m not complaining. They had a huge bar/restaurant area with indoor/outdoor seating, and live music! As much as I wanted to chill there enjoying the music all night, I knew I had an early morning and wanted to feel rested for the race, so I hit the sack pretty early. Conveniently, the Sink Shack is located directly across the street from the high school where the race would be hosted (could this be any more perfect?). So I woke around 5am and walked over to the starting area.

The 10k course was all tarred road and ran around the neighborhoods of Bronkhorstspruit and the temple, ending at the high school where we started. I placed 7th for women which wasn’t good enough for any prize money but whatevs. I had fun so that’s what counts! After watching the prize givings I showered up and headed to Nan Hua.

The temple is huge, with many buildings for different things…a meditation hall, prayer, a dining hall, a guest house.

There were long corridors and staircases everywhere. It made me feel like I was in some Asian variation of the Labrynth LOL

Meals are eaten in silence, with and without the monks. Everything is vegetarian, served buffet style, and donation-based. While eating we’re encouraged to contemplate how our food got onto our plates, considering all the people and steps involved and showing gratitude for each one. Also thinking of food as nourishment or medicine for the body and believing in its healing properties. We also think about greediness- a trait we want to avoid- and when given the opportunity to serve oneself in a buffet, practicing self-control, only taking as much as one needs and not more.

Through the years I’ve developed my own unique set of spiritual beliefs that don’t ascribe to a particular religion, but I do believe in the power of meditation and the formidableness of inner peace. As a person who’s very energetic and restless, I try to use yoga and meditation to quiet myself down for some soul check-in time, and I find it very helpful. I saw this weekend as an opportunity to practice meditation in preparation for the Vipassana course I’ll be taking in a couple months. It can be challenging to sit still, in silence, and focus on myself; but this weekend I forced myself to do so and left the temple feeling so light and clear.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. The race felt good, the temple was fulfilling, and I managed to be home just in time for Sunday family dinner with the host fam! I brought home some pink and white cupcakes for our Valentine’s Day dessert! ❤




Hostess With The Mostess

Published February 12, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

Working hard. Playing hard. It’s always a fun time at Koko’s house. 

This week I hosted 3 newbies from the cohort that just arrived in country. They shadowed me at work and around my community while I introduced them to the projects I have going on and tried to give them a feel for what their service will look like as CHOP volunteers. (Community HIV Outreach Project).

We went to my main org through which we did some HIV counseling & testing outreach work in my village. While I handled the HCT portion, the ladies assisted with blood pressure testing and condom demonstrations. It was good exposure for them to be out in the community interacting with people, practicing Sepedi while learning techniques for teaching about HIV and sexual health.

And of course we had to have a little fun here and there!  

When I first arrived in SA two years ago, I shadowed a Peace Corps volunteer named Gilbert and it was a wonderful experience. It really helped me get an understanding of what my time here could be like, and I remember standing in awe of Gilbert and the positive impact he had. His org loved him, his community loved him, and I knew I wanted to strive for that kind of success.

Two years later, as I’m having these three ladies with me all week, I have the feeling the roles have been swapped. Now I’m finishing my service and looking back on the work I’ve done and I’m thinking Wow, goddamn, that was wild.

It’s hard to be objective when you’re so subjective. As I was caught in the middle of the whirlwind roller coaster of Peace Corps service, I struggled to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. And now, clarity is coming and the view is fantastic.


Dang, am I really almost done??

Born To Run

Published February 3, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

“I never really discussed this with anyone because it sounds pretentious, but I started running ultras to become a better person. I thought if you could run one hundred miles, you’d be in this Zen state. You’d be the f**king Buddha, bringing peace and a smile to the world. It didn’t work in my case- I’m the same old punk-ass as before -but there’s always that hope that it will turn you into the person you want to be, a better, more peaceful person. When I’m out on a long run, the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn’t going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It’s just me and the movement and the motion. That’s what I love-just being a barbarian, running through the woods.” 

Born To Run. By Christopher McDougall 

One of the most accurate descriptions of the reasoning behind the love of running that I’ve ever found. 

It’s not for fitness, health, a medal or glory. Those are superficial benefits. Distance running, for me, strikes a chord much much deeper. There’s something about the movement that calls my name. 

I fall into a flow state. I straddle a line that falls perfectly between ability and challenge. I become immersed in the task at hand; engulfed by a single-minded channeling of every drop of energy, thought and soul. It feels good to commit myself to a goal and to achieve what I set out to do. The physical act of running is just the medium being used. 

Peace Corps Goal #4: Personal growth & development