Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Epilogue - 4 years later

So that turns out to be all I had left of my Kenya blog, I had thought there was more sitting around that I never posted.  I'm disappointed in that there were some cool experiences toward the end of the trip that I didn't capture, but truthfully I was starting to get a little worn down by the end of the trip, which made writing less enjoyable.

There were a couple more interesting runs in Iten with Kemboi, including a workout at the track where a lot of the Olympic level athletes worked out.  As with a lot of the Kenyan running environment, it's fascinating in that you could find a better track at just about any American high school, and yet that's where many of the world's elite runner do their workouts.  I actually recognized it during a special they did on David Rudisha during the 2012 London Olympics, which was kind of a weird experience.  We also visited a school in Iten that's run by an old Scottish (I think?) guy that Kemboi said still coaches a lot of the elite runners around there.  To me it just underscored the point that there's nothing magical about this place that cranks out the world's best runners other than that they grow up running their whole lives, and they've got endless dirt roads at 7500 with great weather to train on.

For everything I wrote down, I'm disappointed that I didn't do a reflection post at any point in the month or two after coming back.  As I've mentioned earlier in the blog, that was right during the busyness of fall quarter and cross country.

Speaking of cross country, it's interesting to look back on my senior season in light of this summer and the training I did while I was over there.  I was consistently slower than the year before and fell apart at the end of the season even with the late start, so it's safe to say that training in Kenya didn't take my running to the next level by any means.  It reinforces the idea that formed during my time there that their training techniques and strategies have far less to do with their international success than the athletic nature of their childhood upbringings.

What still sticks with me four years later?  The relationships formed during the trip, definitely.  I think Kenya is somewhere I will continue to visit for the rest of my life.  Patrick's family is phenomenal, and I'm grateful to have the chance build meaningful relationships with them.  As I mentioned in the post about the church I visited, I'm still in touch with them in what has been a relationship that is one of the most profound expressions of what I believe the global church can be that I've ever experienced.
I think there's something valuable about being exposed to any culture significantly different from your own, in that it gives a context to reflect on your own.  There are plenty of things about American culture that I don't have reason to consider that were brought to light on this trip.  Traffic, views of government, shopping, family dynamics, public service, poverty - I had experiences that didn't match with my assumptions about these things and many more. Not sure what the real takeaway is there.  Maybe that anything that we think of as normal isn't necessarily normal?  I don't know.

I have made one return trip since, a quick visit with my dad (and meeting up with Heather and Patrick over there) at the end of 2013 for about two weeks.  While I didn't like how hectic it was to be on such a short trip, it was far more enjoyable to be traveling with someone else. It was wonderful to see all of the family again, and felt great to be able to reunite with people I already knew as opposed to just meeting new people.  I'll always be grateful for their warmth and hospitality, and the eagerness with which they accept me as family.  I look forward to heading back to visit again, and many more times in the years to come.

Well, I think that is about it.  If you're seeing this for the first time and want to see some pictures and video, Facebook is probably the best way to see all of that.  Don't hesitate to get a hold of me if you have an interest in heading over there, or if you're just interested in talking about either my experiences or about planning a trip of your own.

Slow fish in a big pond of really fast fish

CONTEXT: This is an account of my first full day in Iten (I think - hard to remember for sure at this point).

We got up bright and early the next morning at 6:00 to head out for the morning run, and the air was still crisp as we headed out.  I think Iten is the first place I’ve been in Kenya that’s really felt cold, but overall the climate is phenomenal for running, just one more reason it is such a premium place to train.  Like the rest of Kenya, there isn’t too much variation in the season since it’s so close to the equator, but Iten is at high enough elevation that it really isn’t that hot, which makes for moderate but pleasantly warm temperatures for training much of the year (I’m sure some of the Kenyans would say it’s downright cold, but I’ve found in my time here that often pleasantly warm for me and cold for them are about the same temperature).  We went up to the main road, where runners were gathering.  This fascinated me, because for as much as I saw and asked about it I couldn’t find any evidence of a real central organization to coordinating the runs, but still people just seemed to meet and run.  I wondered if it worked kind of like our cross country house last summer when we had 10 runners in the house, so people would just kind of head out for runs together at random times, so maybe here that was happening on a larger scale. With the amount they trained here I imagined that training groups formed, formal or informal, so people would generally run with the same groups.  But even if you had never been there before and didn’t know a soul, if you headed to that junction at 6 in the morning, you were bound to find a group you could run with.  The beauty of having so many runners was that you could even choose the group that was doing the kind of run you wanted, whether going hard or doing fartlek or going for easy miles.  Kemboi, who I believe hadn’t run Monday or Tuesday, headed off with a group to do a hard 70 minute run, while Jackson and I waited for his wife to just go for an easy hour, a little shorter than I wanted but I figured I would get in a solid run one way or the other so I shouldn’t be too anal about the distance.  That proved to be prophetic. 
                While we waited for Jackson’s wife I asked why he didn’t stay with her, and he said it was a distraction for training, so he stayed at the other end of town from her, and they would see each other but stay separately so they could both concentrate on their training.  To me this was solidly over the top, going to an unhealthy level of commitment to training.  On top of that, it didn’t really make sense to me why staying with your wife would hurt your training, especially if she is seriously training too.  Anyway, she showed up and we headed down one of the roads heading out into the hills near the training center at a pretty moderate pace.  This run rivaled the beauty of any I had done yet, especially running that early when the sun was still coming up.  The sun gradually spreading its light over the fields of corn and grain still covered with dew as we ran along in silence made for a serene setting.  I’m not sure if the hills started getting tougher or if I just started tiring quickly because of the elevation, but after about half an hour I started to labor a little bit, not to the point of struggling to keep up, but to where I was working harder than I should have been for it being supposed to be an easy recovery day.  I was working pretty hard on the hills, but what I noted was that I couldn’t really recover on the down hills like I’m used to.  The result was that I kept working harder and harder, eventually falling off the pace a little bit, but Jackson was nearly as persistent as Kemboi that I should keep up.  For as much as these guys talked about making sure they took their easy days at a comfortable pace, they certainly didn’t care at all if I was running at a comfortable pace, I thought irritably. 
                I sensed that we had lost elevation on the run, and sure enough, there was a big hill as we came back up toward the main road that shifted me from struggling to keep up to gasping for air and searching for an oxygen tank.  Running at 7500 feet there is such a fine line of when you are feeling ok and when you are in trouble, and once you’re in trouble it’s just about impossible to be able to recover, short of the oxygen tank that I dreamed of in my mind.  Still Jackson cheered me on, urging me to stay close, and to his credit he did actually slow down rather than just yelling for me to keep up.  That was the combination that drove me crazy with Kemboi.  Either just run off into the distance and leave me, or actually go at a manageable pace for me if you’re going to try and drag me along, as long as you don’t just try to drag me along at a suicide pace like today is a good day to die.  We got back up to the main road, and true to form I couldn’t recover at all.  Even as we ran at a pretty slow pace along the only slightly uphill grade of the wide dirt path running next to the main highway, I still gasped for breath and struggled to keep up.  I was reaching the point where I was questioning whether I would be able to finish the run.  I was able to struggle in, setting a goal of how far I could make it, stumbling past there and setting a new goal.  By the time I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t go any more we were only a couple hundred yards away, so I flailed my way back to the junction, still I’m sure not a shade faster than 7:30 mile pace, as Jackson effortlessly glided away to finish the last quarter mile a little bit faster.  I remember looking up at one point along those last 15 mintues and noting that not only was Jackson not breathing heavily, but he wasn’t even sweating.  True, he was a 1:01 half marathoner, but even then I couldn’t believe how effortless that run appeared to be for him.  His wife struggled a little bit at points, but was clearly much stronger than I was and I didn’t doubt that she could probably out race me at just about any distance she pleased. 
                I staggered to the finish and leaned on a fence pole for support as I fought to control my breath.  The other runners that were around stretching after their runs regarded me with what I perceived to be curiosity and amusement.  Both in my build and my form, my freight train type running was pretty much the antithesis of the flowing, effortless running that the Kenyans almost uniformly displayed.  I imagine that they almost never saw someone laboring like that, that even when the Kenyans dropped off the pace they did it far more gracefully than I had stumbled in running on sheer will power and little else.  Jackson encouraged me though, as Alvin had, that I was tough enough to be a good runner, and that I just needed to come train for a couple months and I would quickly be great.  Hearing this again was fascinating to me, because I couldn’t necessarily just write it off as Kemboi’s naively optimistic outlook.  I still didn’t believe them, but there was a big part of me that really wanted to believe them, enough that I could fill my head with the dangerous thoughts that maybe they were right. 
                We headed back to Jackson’s place for tea and bread, a welcome relief and chance to relax after the grueling run.  Talking with Jackson’s wife more I found out that she had actually had several scholarship offers in the US to go run there for college, including one to the University of Alaska-Anchorage, but hadn’t been able to go because she couldn’t get a visa.  I was surprised and disappointed with the US that even someone who had a full ride scholarship lined up to go to school there wasn’t able to get a visa.  I understand the restriction of visas, at least at a very simple level, but not allowing someone who is being recruited by US schools to come just seems wrong to me.  This was also interesting to me because it shocked me to think of her as “one of those guys”, if she had run for Alaska-Anchorage.  For our cross country team they are something of an evil empire, swooping down out of the north to win the conference cross country title every year, grab one of the spots to nationals, and then choke at nationals so we don’t get any extra spots the next year out of our region, all without saying a word to anyone except Andrew Van Ness.  Personally, I also saw them as a New York Yankees type team, having basically just bought their team by going out and filling it with Kenyans rather than developing any talent themselves.  It was valuable to see it from the opposite perspective, where, as much I didn’t like how Anchorage had gone out and got a nationally ranked team overnight just because they had a bunch of money available, I was even more frustrated by the idea that the US wouldn’t let an athlete in that American schools wanted enough to offer her a free education. 
                Kemboi came back from his run, bragging about how he had been setting the pace and everyone had been trying to keep up with him and about how many people fear him here, and after we showered him and I headed into town again.  From what I understood Kemboi’s typical day basically consisted of running in the morning and then going into town to see who he could find to sit and chat with.  I was able to get in contact with Elkana Ruto, the man in the car I had met out on the road near Grandy’s farm, and we met him and Martin Kiplagat Koech, whose number I had gotten from Vincent and who happened to be Ruto’s nephew, at a favorite café of Kemboi’s.  It turned out that they knew each other, and I was starting to wonder how many runners in this town there were that Kemboi didn’t know, or at least that Kemboi would say he didn’t know.  It seemed to me that most people we met Kemboi would say they were very good friends, and I think he considered everyone he had met more than once to be a very good friend.  We met up with Kemboi’s friend Reuben and headed down to his house, which was closer to the downtown area. It was also an extremely simple, concrete two room home with no electricity, which surprised me considering that Reuben ran for Qatar.  I had it in my mind that all Qatari athletes must be filthy rich but clearly that wasn’t the case.  Reuben explained that he was renting the house and, like Kemboi, hoped to be able to build his own house where he wouldn’t have to pay anything once he had put in the initial cost of building it.  He showed me a bunch of a pictures of him running in various races and workouts, and he pointed out guys he was running with who I assumed were fast Kenyan runners, but who I didn’t recognize.  He also showed me a medal from the All-Asian games that he won, I think in the 1500 if I remember right.  From the pictures he showed me and what Kemboi’s cousin, who’s also a 1500 runner told me later, even if you’re primarily a 1500 runner, you have to run a lot of longer road races because that’s where most of the money is, and then you can run 1500 for track when you get a chance, mostly for championships.  On our way back toward town Kemboi pointed out to me where the field was that he had bought where he intended to build his house.  He insisted that when I was done with school I should come live with him and train, which I have to admit is a pretty appealing option if I do decide it’s worth fiddling around with running more after college. 
                On our way back home we stopped by the running store again and I bought a sweet t-shirt from a race in Stockholm, and also a jacket that was 650 schillings, which I just couldn’t pass up.  We stopped by another running store where the owner said they would be getting in full Kenyan national team warm-ups, which I was about ready to cut off one of my hands to get.  They didn’t have any in right then though, so I got his phone number and told him to let me know when they came.  Both the running shops were kind of funny places, because they had the look of the shop stalls you would find anywhere, but then they were full of really nice running gear from all over the world, no doubt that runners had won at international races but didn’t have use for themselves. 

Holy Redeemed Apostolic Church of Eldoret

CONTEXT:  This post is describing the church in Eldoret that I visited my last Sunday there.  I'm actually still in contact with this church via email, and was able to visit them again when I went back at the end of 2013.  They have continued to prayer for me and the church here in the US and have been a huge source of encouragement and wisdom, a beautiful picture of the possibilities of what it means to be the global church.  They remain eager for me to come back to visit again and bring others with me, as well as being adamant about coming to visit me here. If anyone would be interested in connecting with them, they would be thrilled to hear from you, I'd be glad to give you their contact info.

Finally two men in suits, Pastor Shebd and the senior pastor (who didn’t look very senior), Pastor Musungu, and greeted me, which relieved me because it had occurred to me that I didn’t think I could pick Pastor Shebd out of a crowd, and I definitely don’t think I would have recognized him if he hadn’t walked up to me in the suit.  We hopped in a matatu and headed out toward the church.  I had figured that they were in town picking up a bunch of people, and I pictured them having a full church van, but apparently the two of them had come into town just to come get me.  This seemed strange to me though because the service was supposed to start at 10:00 and it was a little after that already, and here were the two pastors out picking up one random visitor.  They were very excited for me to visit, and I told them how glad I was that it had worked out, particularly since this was my last Sunday in Eldoret. 
                The church wasn’t far at all, just past the big field where I had done some of my running.  It was a couple hundred yards down a pretty rough two track, in a building made completely out of corrugated metal sheets covering a framework of rough wood poles, with two thicker wood poles serving as supports in the middle of the room.  It was a simple room with a dirt floor and small wood benches and rows of plastic chairs serving as pews.  The room was maybe 80 feet long and 30 feet wide, and for this service contained 40 or 50 people.  The service was already in full swing, and we could hear the worship music when we were still a little way off.  I instinctively headed for one of the available spaces toward the back of the church, but the pastors ushered me up to the front, where a metal frame couch sat with a table in front of it, pretty clearly where the pastors sat and they beckoned me to join them, which I did trying not to appear as reluctant as a I felt.  The worship was lively, and most people were moving with the music, dancing a little bit and clapping, definitely with more energy with people at most churches I’d been to in the US but not with what I picture as a charismatic or Pentecostal church vibe.  After a couple minutes I realized I was still just kind of observing people and what they were doing, which I tried to snap out of and really join in the worship.  I really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm with which they worshiped, and it was infectious.  We sang for about another 15 minutes, some in English and some in Swahili, with people switching back and forth with the ease and fluidity that Kenyans always show between the two.  A couple of the songs we sang were old hymns that I recognized, but all done at an up tempo beat with people clapping and dancing to the music.  I realized that if they had been going strong since 10:00 that would mean it had been about an hour of worship, after which Pastor Musuougu got up to preach.  Before he started he mentioned how exciting it was that I was there, calling me a man of God that would share a few words after the service and have a meeting with the church leadership, like my visit was something they had been planning on for weeks.  It hadn’t occurred to me that me coming to visit was really a big deal for the church, a big enough deal for them to send both of their pastors into town just to pick me up, while their service was going on no less. This really intimidated me for a couple reasons.  First, I would like to be someone who is thought of as a man of God, but hearing it from the pastor made me feel like they thought I was a missionary or pastor that had come to visit.  Second, I had no idea what they expected me to share or what this meeting would be like, but I was honored with how excited they were to see me and how big of a deal they considered it.  As intimidated as I was I absolutely didn’t want to shy away from what was happening here, thinking of Moses shrinking from the great duty that God had for him, giving excuses about how he wasn’t qualified.  Without a doubt I didn’t feel qualified for what I assumed they expected of me, but I thought to panic and avoid what was happening here would just show a lack of faith in what God was doing here.  In my mind he had his reasons for bringing me here to this church, so the best thing I could do is forge ahead trusting that he would guide me and watch the amazing ways that he works.
Like the worship, the crowd participation was more enthusiastic and energetic than I was used to during the sermon, but not with the fervor that I associate with a charismatic or Pentecostal church.  The sermon centered around the passage in Luke about the paralytic man that was lowered through the roof to Jesus’ feet by his friends who expected a miracle and a passage in Ezekiel about “standing in the gap” to pray to God for healing and provision for the groups around us that we need to “stand in the gap” for.  The whole sermon was translated into Swahili by another man standing up there, but they were far less entertaining than the pair at Elijah’s church in Kisumu.  Several times through the sermon Pastor Musuougu broke into song, and the man sitting at the keyboard up front, the only instrument used for the worship songs, would cue the beat and jump in with him as he sang.  I really liked it because it felt to me like it blurred the line between teaching and worship into just a big celebration and praise session that didn’t adhere to the more partitioned type of service I was used to in the churches I’d been to before.
                After the sermon we entered into a time of prayer and worship, with Pastor Musuougu calling people to come to the front to pray.  When I looked up, probably at least 30 people were at the front, standing and praying as the music blared through the sub-standard sound system.  We prayed and sang for probably at least another 15 or 20 minutes, after which the offering was taken in a big plastic bucket placed in the front of the church while another song was played.  There was not the usual short tithe talk given about how we needed to give back to God what he had entrusted to us, but nearly everyone came up to put something in the bucket.  I glanced into the bucket and it was almost all coins, meaning that most people were giving less than 50 schillings, which I would guess was not an insignificant amount of money for farming families from the rural areas.  They had a regular time for greeting visitors, but I was not included in that other than being mentioned as “the man of God who has come to visit us”.  Another visitor that was there stood up and shared her name and why she had come, to which everyone responded with enthusiastic applause.  After that both Pastor Musuougu and Pastor Shebd gave me lengthy intros, Pastor Musuougu talking about how I was the first white man that had come to the church and that it was important time for the church to be able to spread their ministry in new ways.  When he was saying I was the first white man to come to the church he stumbled over what word to use, the first time I have seen any hesitation about calling me a white man or mzungu.  As he hesitatingly said, “The man of God is first uh… the first” I butted in to add “Mzungu!” which got a lot of laughs from the congregation.  Pastor Shebd shared about how we had met and his conviction that God had a specific purpose for me coming to the church.  I began to worry a little bit about what their expectations of me were.  I was excited about being able to come here too, but I wouldn’t be able to come again before I left and I didn’t even know the next time I would be back in Kenya.  I hoped they didn’t have any grand plans for me contributing to the church because I was seven days away from essentially disappearing from their lives for at least a year, and maybe longer.  But those weren’t things to worry about right now, I thought.  If this is something that God is doing something special with then I will just take the next step that I can see and trust him to take care of the steps after that that I can’t see.
                By the time they actually called me up to talk I was still kind of nervous but I was actually pretty excited to be able to share with the church. I think this is the first time I’ve ever talked with an interpreter, which definitely took some getting used to, and a couple times I forgot about him and went for a couple sentences before he butted in to try and translate the gist of the whole chunk I had just said.  I’m pretty sure that just about everybody could speak English though, because the murmurs of approval and amens that I got always came immediately when I hesitated rather than after things had been translated.  I reiterated what Pastor Shebd had said about how we had met in a matatu coming back from Nangili, and also how my plan until the last day or two was to be gone this weekend to Nakuru, so I felt pretty strongly that God was doing something with this relationship and that both I and them needed to be prayerful and watchful for where God was taking this.  I also shared with them about my hesitance to be called a “man of God”, how I’m just a student from the US that’s visiting Kenya, but that God can still do amazing things with anyone who’s willing to follow him, regardless whether we feel we are qualified or strong enough for what he is calling us to, that we should all consider ourselves to be men and women of God.  I mentioned Acts 1, where the early church shared everything together as people had need, saying that in this day and age it is right for the Church to be connected globally and join together to serve and honor God.   I felt really encouraged about how it had gone, I hadn’t stumbled over myself too much and the things to say had just come to me.  Despite my own reservations and hesitations about getting up to talk, I felt that God had still used me to say exactly what he had for that group to hear.  We sang another song to close, then they called me back up to say a prayer to end the service. 
                The whole church gradually emptied out into the yard outside, with everyone greeting each other, not unlike the milling around that happens after a typical American church service.  Over the course of the service I think a crowd of kids had gathered at the doorway where they could see me sitting, but I had only noticed them periodically until now, as they came to see the mzungu.  They exhibited that peculiar and amusing behavior to me where they definitely wanted to investigate me and crowded around to get a good look at me, but would shrink back or even run away if I turned my attention to them.  Eventually as I did more milling around shaking hands with people I was able to shake hands with a couple of them, and after that it seemed to me that the rest didn’t want to be left out so they came over to shake my hand too.  When I was hanging around with some of the guys from the church later in the afternoon we laughed a little bit about how they reacted, and the general reactions I had got since I’d been here, but they shared that for many of these kids I might be the first white person they had ever seen.  I had wondered about that before but it had seemed unlikely to me because, while they weren’t a lot of white people around Eldoret, I still figured there were enough that kids could see them from time to time.  But for kids growing up, I imagine they don’t really go into town, that they’re worlds pretty much revolve around their farm and school.  When I thought about it in terms of the chances that farm kids out in rural Montana had ever seen a black person, it seemed more plausible. 
                The after church socializing turned out to be pretty awkward because no one really approached me to talk to me and I wasn’t sure who to talk to, so mostly I just stood there with my hands in my pockets smiling.  I talked with one lady and asked her a little about the church, but she happened to be one of the other guests, so I couldn’t ask the general questions about the church that I wanted to.  I found this much different from my church back home, where if a visitor came they would probably be greeted and gently interrogated by at least half the church, or at least all the old ladies (for those of you from church reading this, I’ll let you decided for yourself whether you fit into the old lady category or not.  I’m not naming names, except for Michael Lawlor, he’s pretty much the founder of the old lady club).  After a couple minutes Pastor Musuougu ushered me over to the mud house next to the church, which I found out was his house, for the meeting with the church leadership.  The house had two rooms and a roof made of corrugated metal.  It didn’t have any electricity, and so it had that weird feeling of being pretty dark despite it being the middle of a sunny day.  Pastor Musuougu called in the church leaders, which I was surprised to find included about 15 people, which seemed like a lot for a church of only about 50, but if I think about if a similar type of meeting was called in my church back home, which has less than 50 regular attenders, I can think right off of over ten people that would be there for sure.  Also, I came to find out later in the afternoon that this Sunday was pretty sparse because it was the first Sunday of the month, so many people were back at their farms, and church attendance would be much higher for the rest of the month, usually making the building pretty crowded. 
                I was nervous as the meeting started because it was another place where I was afraid unrealistic expectations for me would surface.  But by this point I was really excited about what was happening here, and I felt really comfortable with this group of people, despite meeting all of them except for Pastor Shebd just this morning.  I felt that God was working here, and I was grateful to be alone for the ride and excited to see what he would do next.  Pastor Musuougu opened the meeting by going around and introducing everyone, most of whom were either elders, pastors, or leaders of some ministry or branch of the church.  Several looked pretty bored, but I had found that that was just how some of these people looked a lot of the time because they were pretty reserved.  I still wondered whether attendance had been voluntary or if Pastor Musuougu had drug some of the people in.  He gave a general word of welcome to me in a pretty somber tone and mostly reiterated how excited they were to have me there and the possibilities of what my relationship with the church could lead to.  He asked several other people to speak, including the youth leader and pastor of evangelism, as well as Pastor Shebd, who all generally expressed gratitude and excitement at my visit and hope that I would return again and bring more people with me, and also implored me not to forget about them when I headed home.  Here for the first time I felt my fears were beginning to be realized.  When my turn came to talk I tried to mainly assure them that I absolutely would not forget about them and would tell my church at home about what I had seen and experienced here, but also tried to caution against expectations of me returning or bringing other people.  I explained that it would be at least 10 months before I would return and I couldn’t think of anyone else I knew who would be coming in that time.  The one encouraging thing I was able to say was that I was pretty sure the rest of my family would be coming in about a year’s time, but I wondered if they were on a tight schedule if they would be willing to make a stop at a little church in Eldoret that they had never heard of or been affiliated with other than through me.  But, as I told them, I believed God had special purpose for this meeting, so I trusted that whatever he had planned we just needed to be prayerful and ready to follow where he was leading us.  I reiterated to them that I personally didn’t have any pastoral or theological training, I was just guy who God happened to be using in this situation.  The response of the evangelism pastor (I wish I could remember his name, his face still fresh in my mind) was that my time here in Kenya was training in its own way.  In what I had seen and done in Kenya I had experience with me that you couldn’t get at any seminary in the US, and I found that message to be pretty profound.  It fit really well with my deep conviction that I had a completely unique set of talents and experiences and background from anyone else in the world, and I needed to find where I could serve God in the unique way he had designed me for with all the peculiarities and distinctive characteristics that made me uniquely effective for the job.  To me that’s one of the most exciting things about believing in there being a God.  Anything that is strange or out of the ordinary about me, or if the set of desires and experiences and talents that I have don’t match up in my own mind, rather than finding it to be an unfortunate situation I get kind of excited to go search for where that unique blend of desires and experiences and talents are more useful to serving the Kingdom of Heaven than if I had the talents and experiences and perspectives that I wish I had.  We ended the meeting by exchanging contact information to be sure we would be able to stay in contact, and I tried to secure confirmation that they were familiar and competent with email, which Paster Musuougu said they were but didn’t completely convince me.  The other matter was that I told them I definitely wanted to take some pictures of the place to be able to take back to my church, to which they readily agreed.  After some discussion it was decided that the best thing would be for me to go home and get the camera now, considering that everyone was there and I didn’t have that far to go to get home. 
                The pastors and a couple others walked me out to the road and put me in a matatu, leaving me to travel home by myself only after repeated assurances from me that I wouldn’t have any problem getting home or finding the church again.  When I got home I grabbed the camera and some food, but before I headed back I called Jack, who had called about five times during the service and meeting.  I felt bad about hanging him out to dry like that, but we had had a plan and he hadn’t followed it, and as flaky as he seemed to me I had mostly ran out of patience to be willing to wait around for him to show up places whenever he felt like.  I called him now though, and he told me to wait for him at the gate, which I kind of dreaded because I figured there was a decent chance I could stand at the gate for an hour or two with no sign of him.  I went to the gate, and didn’t wait around for very long before heading down toward Kipkaren.  I figured the whole way down there would be no way for me to miss him if he was coming to the gate, and from farther down the road I could both get some good pictures giving people at least a little bit of an idea of where I usually ran and also be able to see him coming from farther off.  I went down to the point where the road starts to drop toward the river, which actually gave a pretty good view out over the river and up the other side into Kipkaren.  I snapped a couple pictures and waited for Jack, quickly running out of patience.  I called him again and told him that I had to leave so I was going, to which he seemed to pretty much ignore what I was saying and just kept repeating that he would meet me at the gate, which just frustrated me all the more.  I wasn’t going to keep everyone waiting at the church because I was waiting around for some goofball that I couldn’t even seem to communicate anything with.  It was as if he thought that if he just said the way he thought things should be enough times, eventually I would agree.  Just as I was turning to go and told him not to bother coming down, he proclaimed that he was at the bridge, to which I coldly retorted that he wasn’t at the bridge or I would be able to see him.  Just then though, I saw him running down the road on the other side of the river, waving his arms.  I motioned him to come on up, still extremely frustrated.  Sure enough, when he got up to me he was much happier to see me than I was to see him, and I asked him where he had been that morning in a less than pleasant voice.  He replied, with some righteous indignation, that he had taken a matatu from the national station (the gas station next to the estate where Roger lives) to Pipeline just as I had said and had called me over and over when he got there but I stopped answering my phone, which was true, I turned it to silent when we headed into the service.  I replied without any remorse that we had waited for him for a long time at the National station and that if he would have gotten there on time we wouldn’t have had any problems.  He struck me as the kind of guy that it was foolish to assume would make it anywhere on time or would follow whatever plan had been laid out. 
                Pastor Shebd was waiting for us when we arrived at the matatu stop and, after introducing himself to Jack, walked us back down to the church.  Some people had left, but most still seemed to be hanging around.  I asked if they were just staying for taking pictures, but Pastor Shebd said it was pretty normal for a large part of the congregation to hang around for most of the afternoon.  I began snapping pictures, first of the leadership team in Pastor Musuougu’s house and then of the whole congregation outside.  We took some pictures inside the building, but I don’t know enough about photography to take good pictures in a dimly lit room like that so many of the pictures turned out either too dark or blurry as I messed with the camera settings to try and figure out how to get some decent pictures.  In the end I think I won out by the “strength in numbers” strategy, that out of about 50 pictures, maybe five or six were really good portrayals of the church and the congregation, but I figured that was enough.  The main thing to me was for people back home to be able to see the faces and see the building so they knew at least on some level who they were praying for, rather than just praying for a random church in Eldoret that I happened to visit.  I wondered if we really would be able to establish a special relationship between this church and the ones I went to back home, because it didn’t seem very feasible to me but then again as far as I was concerned we were already outside of what was feasible, so that wasn’t a major concern.   Just as many of us started up the road to catch matatus for home, the rain that had been threatening all afternoon finally unleashed itself and we scurried back to the cover of the church.  I really didn’t mind because, especially compared to many of the others, I didn’t have far to go and I didn’t have anything to get done the rest of the day except an evening shakeout, but with the rain pouring down it was looking easier and easier to just forget about that.  I really like hanging out with these people also, I didn’t feel like I had to put on a happy face or had to accommodate them, they just struck me as really genuine people who were extremely loving and welcoming.  I had the chance to talk with the pastors more as we waited out the rain, as well as a young man named Silas, who said Pastor Musuougu and Pastor Shebd had been important mentors for him and had really helped him get his spiritual life back on track.  For the first while we had been waiting out the rain Silas had just been sleeping where he sat, and Pastor Shebd explained to me he had come straight from an all night shift at Raiply, the same factory where Pastor Shebd works.  The rain continued to come down pretty hard for probably about an hour, so when it let up some we headed out, ready to head home.  I was a little bit reluctant to leave, knowing that I probably wouldn’t come back here again before I left.  This was the kind of thing like Iten that I was disappointed to not find until my last week here.  Why couldn’t I have found this place in my first week or two in Eldoret so I could have come back a couple of times?

Finally posting the last of my blog posts

Believe it or not I still have a couple of posts that I never got posted up here, which is unfortunate in that they capture some of my most memorable experiences over my last couple of weeks there.  I wish I could have finished this blog as a more comprehensive account, but frankly I already have far more content up here than I could have anticipated when I decided it would be good to have a blog about the trip. So without further ado, the rest of my now almost four year old posts...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcome to the distance running capital of the world

CONTEXT:   This post is from the beginning of my time with Kemboi in Iten, near the end of my time in Eldoret. Hopefully I'll be able to get up a few more details about my time in Iten, but I think this post captures quite a bit of what I was hoping to share about that experience.

         The last couple of eventful days started with heading to the mountain village of Iten on Tuesday afternoon.  This only happened after a considerable amount of fretting and worrying on the part of some family members, who were reluctant to let me venture off without direct supervision from the family.  I understood their concern, as I was in the country for the first time and leaving with a man that, from their perspective, might as well be a complete stranger, and that they felt responsible to my biological family for if anything should happen to me over here.  But to me the opportunity that Kemboi offered to go to Iten was such a unique opportunity that I thought I probably wouldn’t ever forgive myself for passing it up.  Only a handful of Americans  have ever trained there and I would wager no one at as low a level of athletic accomplishment as me.  I would be surrounded by Kenya’s elite running community and have the opportunity to train and hang out with them, watch what they do, and maybe even to form more really cool relationships.  It was also an opportunity that I thought might never exist again if I stop running competitively at the end of college, which is fairly likely I might add.  Also I thought that going to Mombasa or the Massai Mara would be more stressful than anything because it would be such a hassle to train in such places, and the cross country season was becoming far more important in my mind than it had been at the beginning of the summer, maybe because Kemboi had been able to fan the faint dream that I might be able to run after college.  Of course there was the danger that Kemboi was a less wholesome character than he appeared to be or that something tragic would happen in Iten and I would have no one close that I could count on, but neither of those struck me as significant concerns.  As far as Kemboi, while I can’t say I knew him well, it wasn’t like I had met him on the street yesterday, and there was no indication from all the time I had spent with him in the last couple of weeks, including probably at least half a dozen trips to his little house in Eldoret, that anything he had told me about himself was fabricated or that he had any intention other than to take me to train.  To add to that he had been cleared by Mama Patrick, who had apparently grilled him a little bit on the phone before giving her blessing on the trip.  I proceeded with the reckless mindset that had been building in my mind through the summer that if I wanted to do anything dangerous or that others thought wasn’t a good idea, this might be my best shot, while I’m traveling on my own and am young and have no one dependent on me that I would worry about if something happened to me.
Kemboi swung by the house with his stuff as I was finishing packing and we hopped on a motorcycle to head across town to the stage for the shuttles to Iten and other villages outside Eldoret.  I hadn’t realized how close Iten was, less than 50 kilometers from Eldoret.  The ride up was nice, similar to the ride from Kisumu to Eldoret except maybe more populated.  There were many rolling fields, mostly of corn, but also buildings and huts lining the road for a good portion of the journey.  Kemboi told me that all along here lived a lot of strong runners.  As we approached town one of the first things we saw was the sign for the high altitude training center, which I had been told about by Roger and Mr. Mburu the day before.  We stopped before reaching the main part of town and got out at a row of store fronts.  We stashed our bags with the local MPesa agent (basically a banker for mobile phone money transfers, which are far more common in Kenya than the US) and to another of the cement partitions where people we packed all the way to the door and overflowing outside.  Inside, a pretty standard house TV, maybe 35” or so, was showing the coverage of the IAAF World Track and Field Championships that are happening in Daegu, South Korea.  For the last week on the news they have been doing athlete profiles and coverage leading up to the championships, and the main sports story every night during the championships has been how the Kenyan athletes fared, a far cry from the US where even a casual running nerd such as myself usually only heard the results of such events from the hard core running nerds (yes, I’m talking about you Will Harrison and Gavin Brand).  The occasion for the hoots and hollers that could be heard and the packed past capacity crowd was the men’s 800 meter final, which was led wire-to-wire by Kenya’s world record holder, David Rudisha, much to the delight of the crowd.  We arrived just in time to see the replays of the race, with Rudisha powering away from the field on the home stretch.  Things emptied out after the race enough for us to squeeze into the back, where we waited to watch the women’s 3000m steeplechase final.  The steeplechase is an event that Kenyans have dominated for years and take great pride in, so the race was watched with great interest and growing concern as a Russian lady took control of the race.  The funny thing about watching track distance events with a crowd that is really into it is that the race unfolds more slowly than athletic events usually do.  There’s no instant touchdown or goal to erupt into cheers over, only the gradual wearing down of athletes and slowly growing gaps between runners.  The result, if the race plays out the way this one did, is that instead there is just a buzz of nervous murmuring and muffled cheers that grows as something slowly develops, in this case the Russian lady gradually pulling away from two Kenyans, one of whom was the pre-race favorite, who were then overtaken in the last lap by another lady, leaving Kenya with only a bronze, a disappointing result by their standards.  I had never watched track in such a setting, and it was fascinating to me to see a crowd that into a race halfway around the world.   Anywhere I had been if people cared about the track event enough to be screaming at the TV they were probably there in person.  The other fascinating aspect of this viewing group that Kemboi pointed out to me is that probably at least 75% of the crowd are elite athletes themselves, and they’re watching people they may have seen out training or even trained with or raced against.
Most people headed out after the steeplechase, as the 800 and the steeplechase were the only events of the day that people here really cared about.  A handful of them hung around in groups in the gravel parking lot talking, many of them wearing technical running shirts, running shoes, or even full matching track suits that even faintly reminded me of my “be ready to run at all times” fashion theme that dominated my wardrobe choices for much of my childhood and earned the distinction from a college age guy I knew maintained included “rain proof, bullet proof, fire proof, girl proof pants”, though I must admit that these guys could pull off the look a lot better, maybe because they could probably pull off a 14 minute 5k at the drop of a hat if they felt like it.  A lot of them looked over at me curiously, but with a different curiosity than in other parts of Kenya.  There enough international athletes that came to train here that outsiders aren’t so uncommon as to draw a lot of attention, but because all the people here are such high level athletes I imagine a new comer can be treated with a certain amount of curiosity as to how they measure up with the rest of the group, maybe a little bit like we always size up freshmen when they first arrive for workouts every year. There was none of the worn out, ragged foot wear that I’d seen many other places.  Some were wearing running shoes, something I hadn’t seen worn at all here other than while running, some wore sandals, but Kemboi was the only one I saw wearing dress shoes.  Even as we were standing out in the parking lot runners trickled out of the side streets a couple at a time, heading off down the dirt side roads for their evening runs, almost all wearing full track suits.  Kemboi introduced me to a bunch of people there and I tried to remember names so I could look them up later to see which ones are legit and which ones are super legit, but I pretty quickly lost track as I met more and more people.  For all I knew any one of them could be a 2:04 marathoner, all of them certainly looked fast enough for it to be believable.  One of the people I met was Kemboi’s cousin and we headed up to his house up on the hill above the shopping center, which looked similar to Kemboi’s in Eldoret except that it didn’t have any electricity.  I found out later that none of the houses in that whole section of town have electricity, and that one of the principal decision you make if you’re getting a house there is whether you want a house with electricity or not.  I was both enamored with this and surprised by it, because it broke down my stereotype of Kenyan runners being rich because of prize money from Europe and the US as well as sponsorships and endorsements, but just like with other professional sports (and I would imagine is the case with pretty much every professional sport), there were guys here who were not necessarily struggling, but I think it would be accurate to say were living race to race, and weren’t living in fancy houses or driving nice cars; they were living in one room houses with no electricity.  Still in comparison to the rest of the society the runners are undoubtedly much better off as a group, I think mostly because their pay checks are coming mostly from developed countries with higher cost of living, so the amount of money they’re making goes a long way in Kenya, where you can apparently rent one of those one room, no electricity houses in Iten for about 1000 schillings a month, about $11. Especially in that context though it strikes me as a pretty stressful way to live economically speaking, because if you really are living from race to race, what happens if you tank in a major race you were counting on a big pay check from?  Worse, what happens if you have a major injury and out for a couple months?  All these concerns are all the more heightened for guys who started running professionally right out of high school, and consequently running pretty much is their trade, so they don’t have all that much to fall back on, at least from my perspective.  True, many of them earn enough to be able to buy farm land or invest which gives them some security, and guys that are sponsored by a company can count on a more consistent stream of income, but it still strikes me as a very fragile world, economically speaking.  On the other hand, even in that quick snapshot, without really having much of an idea of what life was really like here, it struck me as something of a dream come true.  Here was a group of guys (and ladies) that did nothing but hang out and train together, with everything in their life revolving around their running.  For a walk on college athlete that is accustomed to balancing running, school, and work, this was almost utopian.  I didn’t mind the lack of running water or electricity; in fact, to me that kind of added to whole vibe of it, living with the bare essentials in a simple room, with nothing more than what you need to train at the highest level.  I was enamored enough with the overall feel of it that it suddenly seemed a lot more feasible to picture myself coming back here to rent a house for next to nothing next summer to train with some of the best runners in the world and give running a shot, which I consider a pretty strong statement because the fact of the matter is a runner with my times has absolutely no business putting other plans on hold to chase a dream of being able to run at this high of a level.
From there we headed up to see the High Altitude Training Center, which was at the top of the hill coming down into town.  I was eager to see it after what I had heard from Uncle Roger and Mr. Mburu, and I must say the facility as a whole was much smaller than I had pictured.  It was very nice, and had a resort feel to it, not unlike where I had camped with Roger in Kaptagat.  There was a motel-looking row of rooms for visiting athletes to stay, a pool, a study/relax/sit in super comfy chairs building with an all glass upstairs that had a pretty nice view out over the fields.  The main building contained a very nice weight room, a sauna, and I think some other rooms for massages and therapy and yoga and positive visualization and finding your inner self and all that good stuff.  When we peaked into the weight room there were some athletes doing a circuit workout, something the gym was well configured for, under the instruction of a European coach, I believe British by his accent.  There was a mix of athletes doing the circuit and I noted that over half of the group of 10-12 were Kenyan, because I’d heard that Kenyans didn’t do any weights at all.  This facility in general though seemed to be built more for foreign athletes to come and train and in reality it was clear that it wasn’t designed to come anywhere close to providing access for the probably 1000+ athletes in Iten, so I’m going to go ahead and say that at least in my mind there’s nothing here to challenge the idea that Kenyans generally don’t do much/any weight work or pool work.  Kemboi said that he would come to the gym once or twice a week when he was in Iten, but for the time that we’ve been there he hasn’t so much as mentioned going to the gym other than that time.  Kemboi said to stay there was 4000 schillings per night, which included meals, and which Kemboi and his friends found outrageously expensive, which is justified considering you can find a place for 1000 schillings for a month if you know who to talk to (which is the real trick isn’t it?), but by American standards 4000 schillings is only about $45, which is not bad at all for a place that nice, especially considering that meals are included if you are comparing that to any hotel in the US.  It still struck me as pretty impractical if you planned on staying to train, because at that rate it adds up if you’re staying for a while, and that would $1350 a month and that’s even more expensive when you consider how much more it is than the other available options.  The other thing I don’t like about it is that it seems to me that the foreign athletes that stay there are almost completely insulated from the actual town.  The training center itself is on the very south end of town as you’re coming in anyway, and it appears to be designed so you really don’t have to leave other than for training if you don’t want to.  I guess maybe that’s what some people are looking for, but it blows my mind that you would travel that far to such a different place and wouldn’t want to have a little more exposure to the actual culture, especially considering that is the culture of the heart of the most dominant long distance country in the world.
We headed from there down through the actual town, which really is quite small.  Kemboi said he thought about 5000 people lived in Iten, and judging from the size of the main town area that seems pretty reasonable to me.  There’s just the one main road, the highway, going straight through town, with shops and stall all along the road and couple side streets heading up the hills containing more shops and buildings.  The whole “main drag” is maybe only half a mile, and it ends pretty much at the edge of the mountain top that Iten is perched on before the road plunges down into the huge valley to the east (note: I could be mixed up on my geography here, but I think Iten is along the rim on the edge of the Rift Valley.  It’s possible that even Iten is actually in the Rift Valley and that the valley you look down on from the edge of town is just a sub-valley, but it’s a pretty darn big valley you’re looking down on either way.  Hopefully when I get back I’ll hit up google maps and get this nailed down).  The view from there is absolutely breath taking, and I’m afraid the pictures I took just don’t do it justice.  There is an immediate plunge down at least 1000 feet to a massive plateau that must be over a mile across, then another plunge to the valley floor, which is far enough down that it’s a barely visible on a semi-cloudy day like this one.  Apparently on a really clear day you can see the valley floor much clearer, as well as see much farther along the valley to the north and south.  Kemboi’s friend Matthew, who had been wandering around with us, and I climbed a big rock that was off to the side of the view point at the turn out in the road.  Over that way there appeared to me a little bit more a nature walk area along the rim, and a restaurant area there where you could relax and sip on a coke as you took in the awesome view.  On our way back I noticed that above the road there were some houses and restaurants, and at that moment building a house with that phenomenal view over the valley in the same town as the best runners on Earth sounded like a dream too good to be true.  Kemboi talked me into heading down off the road and grab one of the leaves of the plants that were growing there, which turned out to be similar to poison ivy, something that got a good laugh out of Kemboi and his friends.  I laughed along with them and gave them a hard time about picking on the white guy who didn’t know any better, but I was happy to be considered close enough to be kidded around with rather than someone who had to be treated with that kind of distant politeness that I’ve seen a lot of times (and treat other people like a lot) when you’ve just met them.  We stopped at a hut along the road to get some porridge poured into mugs.  They exclaimed that if I drank porridge regularly I would be “very strong”.  They explained it was a pretty standard part of their diet, usually as a mid-afternoon tide-over that would get you through the evening jog until dinner at 8 or 9.  It was thick enough to just about be a meal in itself, and we ate it with mandazi, the fluffy bread pieces that can be bought at just about any café.  The other guy that was with us (besides Matthew) was Kemboi’s cousin (whose name I don’t remember), and I found that I could get much more concise and direct answers to my questions about training than I had ever been able to get from Kemboi, but still with the some of the same amusing mannerisms.  As we sat talking about how strong I would become because of eating/drinking porridge and training in Iten, he laid out the standard eating pattern of the day.  Like Kemboi, he wouldn’t have anything before morning training, then bread and tea when he returned from the morning training session.  Lunch would be around 1 or 2, and from what I experienced that wasn’t a particularly heavy meal, usually rice or ugali or chapatis with some type of meat, or something along those lines.  Porridge was taken around 4, and then dinner wouldn’t be until late, and he emphasized that dinner was almost always ugali, and yet again reiterated how strong you become when you always eat ugali.  He struck me as sharing Kemboi’s simplistic view of running success, that if you just followed the program and ate lots of ugali and porridge, and didn’t let anything distract you, you would quickly become a “champion”.  I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the Kenyan diet, as far as facilitating training (and also with tasting good), and I don’t think I would discount it from being a factor in the success of Kenyan running, but I’m skeptical that it’s a deciding factor because, while Kenyans in general eat far healthier than Americans, among elite runners I imagine they must watch their diet much closer, so I see that more as a difference between Kenya and America, rather than being between Kenyan runners and American runners.
We headed back through town, with Kemboi stopping to chat with people all along the way.  I found stopping to talk with people exciting, but also slightly intimidating because here there was a very real possibility that you would run into someone who had ran a 2:05 marathon.  Another time when we were walking through town Kemboi pointed out the London Marathon women’s defending champion across the street, and another guy we stopped to talk to who he said had run 2:04, and while I don’t follow the international marathon scene close enough to confirm either of these, there certainly wasn’t any reason that those couldn’t have been true; this is the place where those kind of people train.  I met one of Kemboi’s friends who runs for Qatar, something I found a surprising number of the athletes here do.  Apparently they’re granted Qatari citizenship and some pretty cushy compensation for throwing on a Qatar jersey to run at the All-Asia games and the World Championships.  Bahrain does the same thing, although I don’t think nearly as much.  It seemed to me that these guys would be looked down upon for selling out on Kenya to make a few bucks running for a country  they probably wouldn’t set foot in, other than competitions, but, at least hanging out with Kemboi, these guys were treated just as part of the group, no different from the rest of the athletes.  I was alarmed over the next couple days at the number of shirts and track suits with the Qatar flag and colors on them.
On our way back up we swung by a couple running shops, which were funny to me to see since you just don’t have those kind of stores over there, and I would guess those were two of the only running stores in the country, and maybe even in East Africa for that matter.  The reason the stores were able to operate here is because there’s so many runners, and many of them are traveling to Europe fairly often so there is the opportunity to get gear from there.  From what I understood the shop owners basically bought the gear off of runners that they had gotten at races abroad but didn’t want, or specifically had people bring back things from Europe when they went.  This method of supplying was evident in the random clothing the was available.  Shirts, jackets, shoes, tights, and pants hung from the ceiling and the walls, with rarely two of the same shirt anywhere and clearly no set inventory.  I was stoked, because it was a chance to get some pretty exotic stuff for cheap, but it turned out most of the gear was just generic nike or adidas gear, still nice, but nothing terribly special.  What was terribly special was in the second store we went to where the shop owner mentioned that he would have some Kenyan national team warmups coming in in the next couple of days.  He wanted 7000 schillings, which was outrageously expensive by Kenyan standards, but this was something that was in high demand.  Even for that much, I would still be getting it for cheaper than I would in the US, and that’s disregarding the fact that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get it in the US, regardless of price.  If I could get my hands on one of those, I thought, that would be coolest thing I brought home of everything.
The darkness was quickly gathering as we headed back up toward the training center, where we met Kemboi’s friend that we would be staying with along the road.  We headed down one of the dirt side roads near the training center, and up a dirt path to a clearing where a long short building was separated into four houses, one of which was Jackson’s, the guy we had met.  It was little more than the one room house that Kemboi had in Elodret, with perhaps a slightly bigger main room and a small, closet size area that served as the kitchen. The only furniture in the house was a bed in one corner with a mosquito net, and a rack to store dishes and a few cooking ingredients in the kitchen, which was also littered with pots and pans.  We headed out to go get food, and while we were out, Jackson and Kemboi decided to buy the small stove from one of the ladies roasting corn along the road, which we all chuckled about on our way back.  They left the coals burning and everything, and Jackson just carried it back to house and started cooking immediately.  True to form, we had some ugali and cabbage for dinner, then I hit the sack pretty quickly because I figured it would be an early morning for training and I would need all the rest I could get.  As I was dozing off Jackson and I talked about getting a visa to head to the US, something he clearly really wanted to do.  I think I’ve probably had at least 30 people on this trip ask me if I can get them to the US, which in some cases is kind of funny and exasperating when it’s someone I’ve just met, but when I think about it it’s understandable.  If I’m the first American they’ve met, or one of the only ones it makes sense that they would see if I could get them to the US.  It’s interesting being around all the runners, because they want to go to the US too, but for more specific reasons than just the people on the street who just see it as a place of opportunity.  I know there’s a lot more to the process of issuing visas, but from a running perspective it seemed pretty selfish to me to hold Kenyan runners out of the US, I imagined for the reason of allowing American runners to win the prize money and be able to run professionally here.  I don’t think that’s the actual reasoning, but whatever the reason the result is that as far as I’m concerned the level of competition in American racing is curbed because the strongest runners in the world have such a difficult time getting permission to come here.
I wasn’t sure what the plan was for sleeping arrangements, since there was only one not very large bed and the cement floor looked less than inviting.  It turned out that I shared the bed with Kemboi and I think Jackson went to sleep next door.  It was chilly enough that night for me to be bothered when Kemboi started hogging the blankets.  The bed wasn’t all that comfortable to start with, and less so sharing it with a blanket hog has no problem sprawling out his legs, so I think it’s safe to say I’ve had better nights of sleep than that one.

Now, to finally post the rest of my blog entries

I believe I have now officially failed to ever get back to recounting the exhaustive details of the remainder of my trip.  However, there are still a number of posts that I wrote about the more significant things that happened in my last few weeks in Kenya that I've put off putting up with the misplaced notion that I might get back to filling in the gap in the mean time.  For the rest of the posts I will began them with a note as to the context of where and when the post is from.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The epic rains and little kids that can’t be trusted

NOTE: This is the break off of the blogs I wrote while in Kenya to, unfortunately the finishing up of telling the story that I'm not getting to until December. These accounts will be more brief, partly because I want to make sure to get through everything so I don't avoid another long lag before finishing the whole thing. I have a couple other blog entries of my interactions with the church in Eldoret and the runners in Iten that I have detailed accounts of, but now that there's no urgency of immediately retaining information, I'll go back to accounting things in chronological order.


    I had hoped to go for a run out on the roads around the farm in the morning before we left, but was dissuaded by Heather and Patrick, who said we were going to be trying to get out of there pretty early and I could just run back at Grandy's farm in the afternoon. The problem with getting out of there was that Heather and Patrick were the only ones with the sense of urgency, and trying to keep any sort of time schedule in Kenya is like swimming upstream against a really strong, relaxing, laid back current that it feels so comfortable to just flow with. The hazard of coming for ten days the way Heather and Patrick were doing is that everyone and their crazy aunt wants you to not only come visit but to stay for a while, without much regard for the fact that you're trying to make a whirlwind trip around half the country to see as many people as you possibly can. Eddie and Neville's mother (Patrick's aunt) was certainly no exception, but was nevertheless extremely grateful for the visit. Staying for breakfast though, meant we didn't get out of there until late morning. We piled back into the station wagon, notably minus the clucking chickens in the back with Junior and I. On our way back to Grandy's farm we stopped at a store to pick up a few things and I got out to stretch my legs. I was aware of a group of children curiously and cautiously gathering to examine me, some of which fled when I turned to talked to them. I was starting to feel pretty good with my Swahili, but still had trouble saying very much to them, but still got enough across that they at least had enough of an idea of what I was trying to say (or at least what they thought I was trying to say) to correct me on a couple of things and tell me what I should have said, all the while in various states of somewhat hidden to uncontrollable giggling. I noticed a couple of adults watching, amused by the mzungu's attempt to talk with the kids. I enjoyed it though; I was able to get enough across to feel that I was making some progress, and the kids giggling fell on the right side of that fine line I'd found between when I didn't mind being an object of entertainment and when I was frustrated and humiliated to have a crowd of people laughing at me.

    We got back to Grandy's farm and I got ready to head out for my run, but was informed that it would start raining soon and that I should wait until after the rains. I brushed this off, partly because I had already seen the Kenyan unwillingness to do much of anything in bad weather and partly because I was already annoyed that I hadn't gotten to run that morning, and I knew if I left it to all the non-athletes around me to completely dictate my schedule, they would tell me to not run at all. The rain started coming down just a couple minutes into the run though, so I opted to head back. I got back just as the rain got really heavy, and it proceeded to pour down torrentially for the next half hour. I came to find during my time at the farm that the rain comes with amazing regularity, raining hard for about an hour some time between 2:00 and 4:00. It was regular enough that it was pretty much planned into the work day that you would just come in when the rains started and sit down and relax. I was frustrated by how much of a hassle getting my run in was turning out to be, but this was the hazard of working on other people's schedules, and particularly non-athlete schedules. It's one of those times where you realize how much your life revolves around something once you're around people whose lives don't revolve around that and who don't see what you're doing as all that important. To keep with your training plan becomes something like an obsession, a daily compulsion that you stick to religiously as other people tell you that you shouldn't be running so much or taking so much time with it. But I digress.

    Once the rains stopped I headed out for a run, not heeding many of the warning and cautions that it was too close to dark and that I should just wait and run tomorrow. You already told me to not run earlier, you're finding out that telling me to not run at all doesn't work, I thought with some sort of misplaced righteous indignation. They had told me to take a left and head out to the main road, but the main road was only a couple hundred yards away, and I think maybe they genuinely expected I would just run to the main road and back and be okay with that. I decided to explore down another side road, which had more houses than I expected and I drew a huge crowd of screaming children. I knew I was an oddity but I didn't realize at the time that I was probably the first white person that these kids had ever seen. I was excited to run with these kids because, as much as I loved the kids I ran with down in Nairobi, this was the area where anyone of the kids I was running with just might be a future Olympian or world record holder. The funny thing here was that some of the adults yelled and waved just about like the kids. Maybe I was the first white person they had ever seen either, certainly if they had never left their farm, which from what I understand isn't completely unrealistic. The kids enthusiastically led me down through some of the corn fields and along some cow paths through the pastures, which were absolutely fantastic to run on and offered some great views of the surrounding countryside. I can only imagine how off beat of a sight it was for the occasional shepherd or farm hand we saw in the pastures and fields to see a mzungu followed by a crowd of giggling children come romping through the field. All the paths were super muddy from the rain, which just added to the care-free, fun spirit of the run. By the time the path we were following opened out of the fields onto the train tracks there were only about three kids still running with me. They ran with me along the track until we hit a major road and then stopped and said they couldn't run any farther. They spoke enough English for me to tell them I was going to run another 15 minutes then come back and asked if they would wait for me and then run back with me. They said they would and I believed they would wait since I imagined I was the most strange and exotic thing to come stumbling past their home in quite some time. I headed up the road, which led me through a small village and across a main paved road. I got quite a few hoots and hollers, and was in such a good mood from the beauty of the run that I smiled and waved and usually shot a couple words of Swahili their way, which they usually got a kick out of. When I came back to the train tracks where I had left the kids, they were nowhere to be found. I kicked myself now for not being more careful about where I was going. Up to this point I had done a pretty good job of making sure I tracked carefully which turns I had taken and made sure I knew how to get back. To think I had let my guard down because I felt like I could just follow a bunch of 7-year-olds around and count on them to get me back safely really left me pretty annoyed at my carelessness. I headed back along the tracks, and up a road from there. There was a group of kids we had passed on the way out who seemed even more excited to see me the second time than the first time, but try as I might to struggle through some Swahili to ask them which way I should go, they were as unhelpful as they were enthusiastic. I felt like I knew the general direction I needed to go, but I knew there was a long ways between me and Grandy's farm, and the light was close enough to fading that I knew I didn't have time for some rambling adventure. I headed back through the fields and along the paths in what I believed to be roughly the right direction. I realized that Grandy's farm is big enough and she is well enough know in the community that someone might be able to point me in the right direction, so I asked for directions from a couple of older farmer-looking guys standing around along a fence-line in one of the fields. They recognized the name, but basically just confirmed the general direction that I was already heading. At one point I ended up taking a wrong route on one of the paths through a corn field and ended up at somebody's hut, where they calmly but firmly told me I was trespassing and helpfully pointed me down to the path through the field I was looking for. My worry grew the more I ran, and my mind began racing through the scenarios of what I should do if it got dark and I was still stuck out on the roads. This was probably the most dangerous position I'd been in the whole trip. Just as the worries were mounting though, I popped out onto a road I recognized, not far from Grandy's, and a wave of relief and exultation washed over me. Just a couple hundred yards from Grandy's I actually ran into Uncle David, who I had only met once but who also lived out on the farm. He was talking with a couple people who I shook hands with and introduced myself to, and he took me over to a couple other houses to introduce me to people there. Walking back to the farm he told me about how if I really wanted to experience Kenyan culture, I needed to really go out and see people, not just sit at home. This guy sounded like he was a lot more in tune with the kind of thing I wanted to do than the rest of the family that seemed more worried with keeping me safe.

    When I got home I got some scolding about being out too late and that the area I had gone to wasn't that safe, but I hoped I had made my point a little bit of how important it was to me to get my running in and how I didn't care as much about their ideas of keeping me safe as they did. Maybe I was little bit arrogant, but I felt I had been here long enough to understand what their standards for my safety were and to understand that my own standards were much lower than theirs. All in all I chalked it up as another fantastic experience, if not one I was pretty lucky to make it out of alright.