Friday, March 7, 2008

Ping Pong Project =)

We have been working on building a ping pong table for the kids and we finally completed it before we left for the marathon. It was a really fun project and the kids jumped on the chance to play as soon as the finishing touches were completed. Maybe we'll fit in a tournament before we leave. Here are some pictures taken along the way...

Ping Pong!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Race morning. Alarm at 4:45. (Sidenote here: I roomed with Karicho, and one cool thing is that he closes every single day by gathering for a few minutes with his roommates to pray, and then does the same immediately after waking each morning.) So on waking on race morning, as on the other mornings in Tanzania, I got to spend a few minutes praying with a guy who just amazes me over and over with the kind of person he is. After that, the others (Em, Titus, Douglas, Waiganjo, Gititi, Eunice, and our visiting photographer Jessica) joined us for a breakfast of bananas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We left the hotel by about 5:35, only 5 minutes after our targeted departure time, but then waited a few minutes at the hotel next door for our friend Genevive from Nigeria, who, lest I forget to mention it later on, ended up getting second in the half marathon. So that put us in a bit of a squeeze on making it to the race in time for the start. We jammed on the 3-4 km walk over to the stadium and made it there just in time for me to make my traditional desperation bathroom run. And then the race started.

I don’t know what gets into people at the start of a 42 km race, but there are always a ton of people who think they are going to win it in the first 500 meters. Of course, when you are racing with a lot of East Africans, there are also always a bunch of people who start like they are running a 1500 meter race and then just go ahead and continue at that pace for 2 more hours. Titus turned out to be one of these people. He was amazing. He did this race on 5 weeks of training off of a calf muscle injury, and he finished in 2:25, good enough for 17th place. Now that time doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but that’s because I haven’t yet begun my rant about how diabolical this course was. One way of putting it is that four years ago in San Diego, I ran a 3:10 in my only other marathon. On this course I ran 3:26, and I am a much better runner (thanks in large part to Titus) now than I was then. Another way of putting it is that Karicho ran a 1:51 in the 30-km race in Nairobi (think 3 x 37-minute 10k, or on pace for a 2:37 marathon) on what was not a flat course, and he ran 3:08 here. Or still another way of putting it is that there was a freaking BRUTAL AND UNRELENTING 12.5 KM HILL that gained more than a thousand feet of elevation from kilometers 19 – 31.5, and that the temperature at the start of the race was hot enough that I was already sweating through my shirt after only a kilometer!

So, given what I just said, Titus ran amazing, and though the rest of our times didn’t look very impressive, I think we can’t be too disappointed. It would have been really easy to quit on that course with the hill as long as it was and coming where it did in the race, and believe me I thought about quitting a lot. As it was, though, we all put in great efforts. Douglas and Karicho finished before me, so I didn’t get to see their states of delirium after the race, but for my own part, after I finished, I became completely helpless for about an hour. Titus insisted on making me stay on my feet for 10 minutes or so, and for me to do this, he and Karicho had to support me because every time they let go I would lose my balance and fall into a random stranger. When Titus finally let me lay down, I ended up laying such that the sun was in my eyes, but I just wasn’t strong enough to change my position. I literally couldn't move. It was one of those times where you feel so terrible that you are convinced that there will actually be no future. Only this pain. And you wonder how in the heck you were actually running while in this condition just a few minutes before. And then you start thinking about the people you know who are still out there on the course, and you just hope they are okay... But with time the misery subsided and I was able to get up and find some more water and wait for Em to finish, and then watch her go through the same thing I had just gone through.

So… all of this before noon! Quite a morning! After we had all walked/taxied back to the hotel, Em asked Titus how he felt, and he said, in all seriousness and without meaning to boast, that he thought he was ready to do another marathon. Great, Titus, thanks. Then he started getting a kick out of how completely incapacitated everyone else was. He jokingly asked Karicho and me if we “would be in a position to do a bit of jogging”, but we took the question seriously because it was exactly the kind of question he would ask. Then at dinner, I asked Douglas how he was feeling, and at my question Titus just started to lose it laughing, doubling over in his chair and unable to control himself. Apparently Douglas had been unable to go down the stairs when they were walking to dinner, so he had to turn around and go down backwards. Then he lost it laughing again when he saw me get up from my chair after dinner and try to walk.

Okay, I think that’s all for the marathon. The next day was 12 hours of stiff, sore legs in shuttles and matatus again, but the smiling faces in the lighted windows at Tumaini lifted our tired spirits.

The coaches and Claire and Lara (who founded and manage Hope Runs) really want to make it possible for the kids here to do another marathon to reward them for all the hard work they did in vain for this one (see post of two days ago for the story), so they have decided to try to arrange for them to race in the Mombasa International Marathon on 18 May. We really really really hope this works out for them!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mt Kili Marathon Part 2

… Continuing from yesterday…

A sleepy two-hour trip landed us in Nairobi, where we grabbed some tea for breakfast and then boarded a shuttle that would take us across the Kenya-Tanzania border and ultimately to Kilimanjaro. Frustrating story at the border: visas for American citizens traveling into Tanzania already cost a steep $100. We didn’t have American money with us, so we pulled out 7000 Kenyan schillings, figuring that since the exchange rate was hovering around 68 ksh to the dollar, we would be covered. The guy at the window told us we needed to pay him 8000 ksh, so we asked him what exchange rate they were using to calculate that. When we asked that question, he wouldn’t answer, but just became angry and started raising his voice at us and telling us that if we wanted to argue we should just go back across into Kenya and get US money. I don’t like to be suspicious of people, but I think there is a decent chance that the guy pocketed 1000 ksh out of that deal.

Southern Kenya and northern Tanzania were a lot different from Nyeri topographically. The hills are much more gentle – just barely steep enough to make for a brutal marathon. Also, this region is at lower elevation (~3000 ft instead of ~6000), so it is a lot hotter and a lot drier. We never saw a drop of water during our time in Tanzania save for about 5 minutes of light rain one afternoon. Other than that and the tap, not a puddle, not a creek, nothing. It looks like a much less hospitable place to live than central Kenya. Just the same, we did see a lot of people – mostly either nomadic Masai dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry and herding their animals or else tiny villages with mud huts.

So, we rolled into Moshi with stiff legs at around 3:00 in the afternoon, 12 hours after departing from Nyeri, and after some delicious Indian food from the Indian-Italian restaurant (yeah, weird combo, eh?) across the road, slept hard.

The next day, Saturday, we awoke and looked out the window to find out why the race we were about to do was called the Kilimanjaro Marathon. Moshi literally sits at the foot of the mountain. It is really amazing – it looms over the town, its top 16,000 feet above the streets where we would be running.

Around mid-morning went to register for the marathon, and this scene was of course a zoo. We were comforted to find that there were going to be quite a few other wazungu racing, which meant that we wouldn’t be the last finishers. We also got several requests from random kids to pay for them to register for the 5K fun run. We said yes to a couple of them, and then the floodgates opened, and we ended up registering 26 kids for the race. At about 80 cents a piece, this seemed like a great use of money. We hope that they actually raced. Also, as usual, one kid got screwed because another kid claimed his race number. This was a bummer, but there just wasn’t much we could do.

Okay, that’s a lot of boring details. Stay posted to hear about the actual race tomorrow…

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mt Kili Marathon Part One

We know we have been MIA on the blog scene over the past couple of months so in our last days here we hope to play a lil catch up. To start things off...I'll fill you in on our Tanzanian marathon adventure:

We walked (or rather staggered) through the gate into Tumaini last night around 11p.m. and were welcomed by lighted windows filled with smiling faces and waving hands. The kids all crowded around their windows in their dorm rooms to wave and shout down questions about our trip. After an exhausting 11-hour bus ride including a sketchy trek through nairobi at 9pm at night - this was the best welcome ever! It felt really good to be home...

3 Days and 20 Hours Earlier - We jump onto the matatu at 3am Friday morning with two kids, two coaches, a manager and one talented and beautiful videographer. YUP, just TWO freakin kids. Let me just say that our plans for the marathon got royally douched on. it was a real big fat bummer! the manager was not able (after jumping through many hoops) to get border passes for the kids, SO that meant that out of the 20+ kids that trained with us for four months on many grueling long runs, we were only able to get two of them passes into Tanzania. You can imagine our heart break and discouragement. Plus, ALL of the girls were not able to come so I was extra bummed out! poop on a stinkin cracker! Thankfully, the kids had a more balanced and mature perspective on the whole disaster [side note - i realized that unfortunately that was probably due to the fact that they are more used to things not working out and being let down...which totally sucks that we were contributing to that theme in their life...that was probably killing me the most]. They were obviously discouraged but handled the news with incredible grace and understanding.

The whole thing was hanging by a thread but we decided to not pull the plug completely and continue on as planned with the two kids that were able to get passes. Most of this was because both were Form Four leavers (graduated high schoolers - ie. last chance for this opportunity) and one was James Karicho (a faithful, committed, and freakin fast runner who basically acts as captain and has been putting his whole heart into training for the marathon).

With that in mind, we decided to go for it and boarded the early morning matatu with heavy hearts, tense pre-marathon nerves, and tired eyelids.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Goodbye! Fine.

The time has come for me to leave Kenya. It's ahead of my scheduled April departure, since I'm now needed back in the States for my sister's upcoming wedding. Because of the suddenness, I haven't had time yet to really appreciate what leaving means, and as I've begun saying goodbyes to those students who will be at school tomorrow when I leave, I'm awash with emotion. During the six months out of the last year (however non-consecutively) that I've spent living with the kids here, my average attitude towards them was probably some mixture of exasperation and bewilderment. The endless knocks on the door, the sly maneuvering to wheedle any variety of things from us, the interminable and insufferable church services... I suppose that complaining about such things internally has masked the more gradual and quieter growth of what, I notice with surprise, can only be called love! I never thought I'd struggle to fight back tears when saying goodnight to an 8-year-old, or that a poorly-spelled note slipped under the door, insisting that "sualy we will miss you very much," could drop me into a similar tailspin.

I guess the last few weeks here have been too busy for me to notice such things--a recording project I started with some of the songwriters here has blossomed into something greater than expected, and accordingly ate up most of my waking moments--but that topic deserves its own post (I'll supply it when I'm back in Terra Ignomino). Then there were the two final events of our House Competitions (you know, the ones between Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris), which had to be bumped up to accommodate my early absence--this weekend's grand finale was an awesome headache of uncoordinated mayhem! Finally, as we're nearing Marathon Day (less than a week away), we've been hitting the dirt and loading up on running mileage. Yesterday morning's long run was 26km, with about 2300 feet of elevation gain. On Friday, as many of the race-ready kids as we can fit into a van will be heading to Moshi, Tanzania for the Kilimanjaro marathon. Since I'll be back in California on that day, I'll be running the Napa Valley race instead--which will be an easy, downhill, cakewalk of a marathon in comparison.

I did have a strange moment on Saturday, when we took all of Tumaini to the nearby Ruring'u stadium. It has the distinction of being the place where many of the Kenyan refugees in this region are camping out. It also has a track (which is why we wanted to be there). Thirdly, it is close to Huruma, Tumaini's sister orphanage. When we went to Huruma for lunch in the middle of our track and field competitions, and as I watched some of the younger Tumaini kids greet with wide-eyed astonishment a swing-set and a slide for the first time, I was struck by the dream-like sensation that these were my kids encountering something new. And when little Faith and Gladys tentatively started playing (in that wordless though infinitely nuanced fashion children have) with some of the Hurumans, I felt my breath catch as I waited to see if they would get along and play nice. Perhaps most unsettling to my young, all-too-bachelor self was the sense of responsibility I experienced in it all. If Faith had fallen off the slide, or if Gladys had sucker-punched a Huruman (which she might very well have done), I know I would have been involved in an instant. Does this mean I will be a good parent? No. But maybe it means I won't be a horrible one!

In one way or another, it's thoughts like these that come into my head now that I'm about to leave. I'm already missing the dusty red of the walk to town, the brilliant gleam of the high-angle equatorial sun on the plants in the shamba in the mornings, and the exhilaration of cresting a tortuous hill on a long run and being greeted by the overpowering sight of Mt Kenya's majestic cone and its three glacier-covered peaks. But the withdrawal pains will come most strongly with memories of faces--from Rhoda's crazed hilarity to Mary's doe-eyed wonderment to Grace's far-seeing thoughtfulness to Stacy's always-ready half-smile... and yes, even Edwin's post-Christmas-cow-killing grin! The only question is, how long can I stay away?

Right now, there's no answer to that question, and life has a way of leading us down all kinds of different paths. But I know that, sooner or later, I'll end up here in Nyeri again. I hope it won't be too long--but even if it is, I know that the relationships I've gained--brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins--will still be here. But for the time being, this is my last entry from Kenya. I hope you've enjoyed my third of the blog as much as I've enjoyed writing it--and I hope Michael and Emilee keep the stories coming until they leave in a few weeks. I know that I for one will be looking eagerly for them as soon as I conclude my long two days of travel!

As they say in Swahili, Karibu Tena!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Time Trials?

It's been a shameful while since we've written, but the kids have been keeping us busy. We're now in the last few weeks of training before our marathon in Tanzania, and so running has taken its toll! For my part, I've also been working with several of the kids to produce and record some songs they have written, before I leave Kenya at the end of this month (making the trip home for my sister's wedding)!

Between the running and the music, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to film a short video, set to music by Mary (a student here at Tumaini). The subject of the video is 'time trials'--the 7k or 10k timed runs that Coach Titus has us do every few weeks to get a feel for how the kids are improving.

On this particular day, as you will see, the time trials were not universally understood and respected, whether by the kids or by nature itself--but that doesn't stop everyone from having a good time.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think of this glimpse into our daily afternoon routine. (Apologies for YouTube, whose compression ruins the audio and whose watermark obscures some subtitles).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Still Alive, Computers Working, Despite Grudges

Apologies are no doubt owed for this relatively long radio silence. It has been due, thankfully, to our own busyness here and not because any of Kenya's troubles have reached us at Nyeri. It is deeply saddening to read the news of what is going on in other parts of the country, and hear accounts of the pain firsthand (there are over 100 refugees living not 3 kilometers away in a local sports field). At the same time, we are grateful that we have been able to continue our work mostly unaffected, and that the kids haven't been subject to anything outside of what's on the TV.

In truth, life has been good here the last few weeks since I returned to Kenya, with our biggest hardships comprised of woes like finding the grocery store less than fully stocked, and slightly higher gas prices.

The computer classes at Tumaini have likewise continued, and I have the good fortune to be even at this moment looking at a blackboard with the remnants of what appears to be a lecture on "Computer Security". The chalk on the board haphazardly forms a list, ostensibly of the various facets of "Computer Security". They are (strictly mirroring punctuation and emphasis):
  • Environmental Threats
  • Clumsiness
  • Stabilizers
  • Terrorists Attacks
  • grudges

Hmm. Apparently, 'Environmental Threats' are the most ominous bad guys in the world of computer security. And I can see that; maybe it's not obvious that computers should be kept out of the rain. But what are 'Stabilizers'? And why do they threaten my PC? "No! Don't bring that Stabilizer in here!"

The best, though, is clearly 'grudges'. You never know when your computer's security might be compromised by a grudge. And multiple grudges working in concert? Forget it, your RAM is hosed.

You might also be glad to know that from what I've overheard, the classes on word processing are just as helpful to the student.