I’ve never really been a runner. I did track in high school, but mostly to stay in shape for my favorite sports through the off-season (volleyball and basketball…how I miss you!). I ran sprints and hurdles, focused on high jump and long jump, as my long legs had to be good for something other than tripping over things. I could run a mile or two. But High School is close to ten years ago now.
After college I didn’t do much to stay en forma. Andrés and I kept a pretty active life, but my amount of explicit exercise definitely dropped. Some yoga here, some hiking there, but very little cardio. This was most apparent when my school had a 5K fundraiser. I struggled to even finish and ended up walking most of the way. I tried not to let it bother me too much, but, truly, I was dejected. Since then, I’ve been trying to gain back a little more confidence and muscle, mostly to just feel better. Peace Corps seemed like a great time to build some new workout habits, especially with all the free time it seemed we were going to have.
Then I became a TEFL volunteer – abundant free time isn’t really a thing. And when I do make time to run, there are the piropos.
In Nicaragua, the culture of machismo is still very much alive. While equality between the sexes remains an important issue in the United States, it has been fascinating learning about that dynamic here in country. In some ways, they’re ahead of us; they’ve had a woman president, and many government leaders are women. However, the road to equality for the Nicaraguan woman is still long and arduous.
An especially jarring aspect of the machista culture I’ve personally experienced is piropos, or cat-calls. I’ve been cat-called before in life, and it’s always kind of bothered me, but I did not know that moving to a machista culture would mean that I would be receiving these uncomfortable, occasionally vulgar, de-humanizing, hyper-sexualized remarks thrown my way on almost a daily basis. It was one of the topics most talked about during our training among the female volunteers, and one that many of us will continue to struggle with and sort through during our service.
I will admit, it is a little better for me as a married volunteer. When I walk around with Andrew, the piropos are fewer and less vulgar. But when I’m by myself, I’m fair game to any male who would like to holler at me. Even if they see me regularly walking with Andrew at other times, when I’m alone, I’m fresh meat.
Exercising in any form has always been just for me. I feel better, more alive, when I’ve done something active. I love exploring, biking, swimming, snowboarding…you name it! I don’t exercise to keep a certain figure. I’ve never really worried or cared about what others think in regards to my exercise routines or habits. I’ve been lucky in that realm of life and self-esteem, too.
Until I tried running in Nicaragua.
Running is definitely the most vulnerable form of exercise I’ve experienced. Perhaps it comes from knowing that I used to be able to run more, and now I can’t. I’m recognizing and feeling that my body is no longer in it’s teenage-I-can-do-anything-I-want mode. I have to work a bit harder now. The uncomfortable feelings are infinitely increased by the men who stare, holler, pssst, and piropo me while I run.
Don’t misunderstand me: my site is perfectly safe and where and when I run there is absolutely no danger to me. But I feel unsafe and uncomfortable when men say very inappropriate and vulgar things in my direction. I don’t take it as a compliment. I physically feel dirty, exposed, and angry. I’ve never been one to flip people off, or respond to verbal comments with physical force, but I must admit it crosses my mind every time a piropo comes my way.
It’s enough to make me give up on running.
But I refuse. In fact, just last weekend, Andrew and I went to the neighboring department of Jinotega to run a 10K – the longest race of our lives thus far! It was a tough and beautiful run, through the high mountains of Nicaragua.
Even though we ran though the rural countryside, the gente sat outside in their plastic chairs to watch the runners, foreign and domestic. It isn’t every day that a 10K/Half Marathon is hosted in a place like Jinotega. We were the entertainment for the campesinos that morning.
Before I started the race I decided that this run would be different. I recognized I can’t change the way they are thinking about me. I can, though, make the choice to care a little less about what others think. If hearing piropos makes me feel awful, then finding a way not to hear them, to help myself ignore them, would be important. Some good music on my iPod helped me tune them out and turn my focus in.
With music in my ears, the wind on my face, and a beautiful sun rising over the mountains, how could I not enjoy the run? Regardless of how sweaty and gross, out of breath or tired I was (because let’s be real – those were mountains we were running up and down), that run was for me, all one hour and twenty-five minutes of it.
As it’s 4:15 on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I think I’ll grab my iPod and hit the cobblestones again. In whatever form you exercise may the thoughts of others not inhibit your joy and sense of accomplishment.
We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:
+ In what ways do you care about what people think?
+ How can we live more authentic lives?
Read/join the discussion here.