March 19, 2015

Naqoura Race


It's the season to be running in Lebanon. Last weekend, Elite Running Club organized the third annual Naqoura Race, a 10 kilometer run, in the most southern part of Lebanon. So southern, as a matter of fact, that as a foreigner you cannot get there without permission of the army. Maybe they’re afraid you end up in Israel.
I am not a runner, but the housekeeper is (Aregu Sisay Abate), and since she had to run, I decided to drive her. I will not say “no” to a trip to the south. Some 500 runners thought the same thing.
Unifil soldiers organize the security
 I love the very southern part of Lebanon, because, due to conflict and occupation, this region is rather undeveloped compared to other regions of the country. You can actually see the sea as you drive by the coast line; the view is not blocked by high rise and heavy industries. Beach operators have not claimed the entire coastline, and you can go in bikini to the public beach.  
Aregu on her way to first place
One time, some years ago, I had a party in Naqoura, the last town before the border with Israel. And it was very stormy that night, there was no electricity, and road signs were absent. I came from Beirut, and I drove and I drove and I drove, and I had no clue where I was exactly. No towns in sight, nothing. And as I turn around this cliff, suddenly this entire town lights up right in front of me. And I remember this moment of instant confusion; “they have electricity here?” And “that’s a pretty big town.” I thought I was driving right into Israel.  Turns out it was the UNIFIL Headquarters.
Happy Aregu, happy trainer
Slowly but surely, the runners’ culture is growing in Lebanon. Although still a sport most popular by the relatively affluent in town, bit by bit it is gaining ground, to be hopefully embraced by all, because it is a sport that is healthy, does not pollute the environment (unless you have to drive to races), doesn’t cost much and could be, potentially, done anywhere.
I have said it before; the runners’ world in Lebanon is quite unusual in the sense that race, gender or religion doesn’t seem to be of any importance. And running, it seems, is quite beneficial to your social life as well!  
Aregu's club waiting for the prize ceremony
'Aside from the benefits coming from the more obvious physical aspects of running, the social elements should not be overlooked. By training for a race of some sort, or simply taking up running as a hobby, you have already joined a “community” – perhaps without knowing. (. . . ) By maintaining friendships within your own local “running community,” you’ll quickly expand your social circle in the process'. (Source)
Not one, but two cups!
In case you wonder, Aregu Sisay won, in 39 minutes and something.  All this promotion, by the way, is done by a non-runner. I do not run. I was never into running, but I see so many people run, many of them my age and much older, that it slowly starts to rub on to me. Maybe I should.
And what impressed Aregu the most on this trip? The fact that oranges grow on trees. She had never seen that before. Neither had I, until I came to Lebanon.

1 comment:

Tanya Dernaika said...

Lovely story. Made me want to run and eat oranges at the same time. Congrats to Aregu the champion.