My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Of Races and Refugee Camps

This year has turned out to be a year of races for me and I will probably end up taking part in over half a dozen marathons, duathlons and triathlons during the year. Such competitive events are quite popular in Singapore and last week I participated in the first ever midnight marathon in Singapore.

Any such sporting event begins with the distribution of goodie bags, typically a week before the race day. The organizers set up camps and dole out to each participant a twice counted ration of one t-shirt, a race bib, and some promotional materials. These camps and the whole ritual resemble ones at a refugee rehabilitation center except that refugees are not given promotional items.

Just before the race was about to begin, runners dressed in all sorts of war fatigues were doing extreme stretches, some were probably even stretching their finger nails. Many had a series of small water bottles in their waist belt like a machine gun magazine. Some wore t-shirts proclaiming that they were “Powered by Jesus”. Once the starting honk was pronounced, we all set off with steely military determination in our eyes, only difference with armies on the march being that our goal was to merely come back to the same point where we started after losing a few liters of sweat, more like a heard of wildebeests.

During the run, we got a first hand experience of global warming and our rather expensive and supposedly technologically advanced dry-fit wears decided to go against its promises. The volunteers along the route did their best to keep us motivated with claps and shouts such as “You can do it”, clichés repeated so much in human history that they have lost all their motivational appeal. All the same, it’s a tough and commendable job for these volunteers since they had to stand all night and cheer even the slowest person. A few drunken bystanders got their kick by giving us high fives and lying to us, "it is going to be all downhill soon". As for the runners, many were keeping themselves motivated with shouts like, Come on Baby!!! There was a general feeling of camaraderie across all runners who were all eager to help one another in case of need.

After 5 hours of running, as I crossed the finishing line, there was a repeat of the refugee camp feeling. Volunteers were doling out bananas, water and isotonic drinks to runners who were in a wretched shape by now. The difference with a typical refugee camp lay in the smell, tiger balm instead of the stench so common in refugee camps.

No comments: