The comments in response to my post Running Barefoot, Dehydrated, and Naked, Or Not made me think about ways I try to mask my abundance and the subsequent lie I am tempted to believe that this somehow makes the economic difference between myself and many Djiboutians less true.

I’m not the only one to struggle with fully feeling my wealth in the form of running shoes and iPhones and water bottles while running past homeless people and children begging for coins. There are feelings of guilt, moments of coldhearted turning away, kilometers of only feeling sweaty and strong. There’s always the burning of excess calories while some around never have excess calories.

But the options I think of: don’t run, workout inside, join a club, they don’t solve the problem. In fact, they blind me to it, they help me pretend the disparity doesn’t exist. (Nothing wrong with working out inside – I do it often. Weights, yoga, the desire for a little a/c or a movie while sweating, napping children…are totally legitimate.)

Not running does nothing for the people in my neighborhood who don’t have enough to eat or quality housing or access to education. Joining a club doesn’t help them either, though it contributes to the local economy and introduces me to new relationships with guards and staff and other women who exercise. On the other hand, maybe that money could be better used. On the other hand, maybe the money I spend on coffee could be better used. On the other hand and the other hand and the other hand…Exercising inside doesn’t help them either, but it helps me pretend they aren’t there, it helps me avoid their eyes and their names and their realities.

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I’m not going to say that when I run, I run for Djibouti. Running for a cause is a post for another day (and I have a friend who brings running for a cause to a whole new level, you need to hear about her – that’s you Emily…). I don’t run for Djiboutians. I run for me. I run for the freedom and the strength and the outdoor wind in my face, even the sand in my teeth. I run because it takes me away from the daily grind. I run to get time by myself, to get lost in music or an audiobook or my breathing.

I don’t run for Djibouti. Even when I pinned Djibouti to my back in the Fargo Marathon, I wasn’t running for Djibouti. I love Djibouti and thought it would be fun to hear people try to pronounce it when I ran by.

But, when I run in Djibouti, I’m engaged in Djibouti. I’m entering the dust and heat and sunrises of it. I’m passing the donkey carts with loads of grass and sticks, jumping over cat carcasses. Smelling rotisserie chickens and fresh baguettes. I’m waving at women weaving baskets and humming along with the call to prayer. I pound my fist on taxis when they drive too close and explore side streets that lead to the ocean in the middle of town. I’m greeting shopkeepers and promising fruit stand guys that I’ll come by later for their delish-looking mangoes. I know when construction starts a few blocks over and when a new family set up a shack in the empty lot on the corner.

So I don’t run for Djibouti, I run in Djibouti. Instead of hiding my abundance from Djiboutians (though I do that sometimes), when I run, I am learning to engage with them.

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And I don’t feel the disparity in those moments. I don’t know, maybe they do, but I have had men selling bananas tell me the only reason they went out to watch the half marathon was because they thought I would be running in it, felt they knew me, and wanted to cheer. In the space of that brief exchange, there wasn’t room for economic differences. There was smiling and words and a person-connection.

This idea of ‘relationship’ doesn’t solve issues of poverty, I’m not pretending that. But at least running in the streets makes me aware and forces me to think, relate, respond. I’m still working on how to live with my plenty with integrity, how to be generous without feeling pressured, how to live with gratitude without guilt, how to live with my eyes wide open and my heart tenderly malleable.

This issue is a marathon issue, probably even an ultra. I have a long ways to go.

In what ways do you feel compelled to mask your abundance? Do you find it helpful or harmful?