(Remembering my girls)
Last night we went to see a beautiful movie – A Town of Runners. It was set in Ethiopia, in a small town called Bekoji. There was only a dirt road from the town so it has stayed small. The story is told by a boy who works in his grandmother’s small shop. The one thing that is not small about the town is the number of successful runners that have come from here. When the movie was completed in 2011, there had been eight olympic gold medal winners, ten world records and thirty-two world championships won by people from Bekoji. Not small at all.
(The path to our dreams is not always straight)
The movie is about two friends Hawii and Alemi. Hawii loved winning races and was happiest when she was first and Alemi was second…. She was fourteen when she said this and her honesty was touching, she loved when her friend did well, but there was only one winner and Hawii wanted to win.
Then there was the coach. The man who trained those successful athletics was called coach throughout the movie so I had to look up his name, Sentayehu Eshetu. He trains the children in this town and continues to train them until an athletics club from a big town picks them for their team. That’s the dream, to get chosen, just like the young Irish boys wanting to be picked for their favourite English football club. He smiles a lot, he is very respectful and the runners love him. He is on their side. He also has rules. At one point he has them pulling weeds and clearing grass from their running track – a red clay circle in a field with a shed for coach’s office. There is sadness in the movie also when the dream becomes difficult for Hawii.
(Water… we complain about rain but we need the water)
This movie shifted my outdated perceptions of Ethiopia. My memories of Live Aid in the eighties and the images of famine had drawn a detached, far away, not-my-world, picture that I held as true. Watching A Town of Runners I felt a connection to these girls, to their hard-working parents, their grandparents, to their coach. When they were clearing the weeds from the track I was remembering my weeds. When Hawii’s grandmother was worried about Hawii, I was remembering being worried about my children. When Alemi’s father was harvesting a vegetable crop, I recognised it as broad beans and was remembering my time in the wilderness. When a hen scratched in the red clay, I remembered my girls – the hens.
Movies can do that, shift your perceptions. Mairead.