Home Again

I'm finally getting over trivial things like jet lag and a touch of a stomach bug that waylaid me the last week I was in Iten, so life is returning to Paul-normal, which is not necessarily what most people count as normal. As my sweetie puts it, the closest we get to normal around here is the setting on the dryer.

One advantage of getting caught up on sleep is being able to start putting my whole Kenya experience into perspective. At least for me, that wasn't something that I could do while I was there. I was so busy trying to learn so much that the mental energy required to sort the ideas and experiences and sensations exceeded my capacity then. 

Now, though, I have that chance.

The biggest surprise to me was that I didn't particularly like Iten. That likely counts as heresy to the running community which considers the town to be the 'runner's Mecca.' Typing 'Iten', 'running', and 'Mecca' into google or bing with bring you a slew of results like this, or this, or this. Yet, the truth is that while runners come here to train, especially North American and European runners, the great Kenyan come overwhelmingly from Nandi County and many of them train in places like Kaspabet, Eldoret, and (for marathoners) Kapng'etuny. Iten has a different flavor than the other Kenyan towns I visited and I have to assume it's because there are so many (relatively speaking) white people there.

It was not evident at the cottage that I stayed - Felix and his wife Lucy were wonderful. When I had a day where I didn't venture out, focusing on writing, Felix made it a point to check in with me and make sure I was okay. The difference was out on the roads. I got used to the children's cries of "Mzungu!" (white man!) early in my adventure. In Iten, though, the next two phrases, almost as regular as the sunset, were "How are you?" and "Give me money?" In the three weeks prior to getting to Iten, the demand for money happened exactly twice, both times from drunk men. It disconcerting, made more so when an eleven or twelve year old girl followed up with "Give me sweets?" Coming from an American background, offering little girls sweets is the sort of behaviour that triggers a response from the parents and police.

Still, the running was good when it wasn't raining - I seemed to have brought the wet stuff with me even though it was technically the dry season. The people in town had a little trouble grasping the fact that I wasn't there to train or to paraglide, the other big tourist draw for a town sitting on a 5,000 foot escarpment, but were generally really nice as befits a former sleepy farming town.

Eldoret, in contrast, bustles. It's a manufacturing center with grain processing plants, major textile mills, and a pipeline manufacturer. It also has the second oldest university in Kenya, Moi University. It's a blue-collar city and the fastest growing in Kenya. I ran nearly every day there, and walked every evening. For the most part, the people of Eldoret gave me a nod, said "hello" or some variant, and we went our separate ways. 

Of the two, I preferred Eldoret, though I would take either over Nairobi.

The other realization, now that I'm home, is how much I appreciated the company of Justin Lagat and Winny, his wife. Their kindness and trust exemplified the best of the Kenyans. Few people would allow nearly a total stranger to stay in their home for two weeks, much less take him to the homes that they grew up in and take him to visit the people important in their lives. Justin and Winny did that.

Justin understood my goal is to eventually write a book, an honest one, about a Kenyan girl who wants desperately to go to school, and helped me find the experiences and details that would make the book authentic. More though, I got to see how the Kenyan families interact. Even when I asked awkward questions, Justin and Winny answered with grace.

When I decided to truncate the trip due to things breaking at home (literally, in the case of the main sewer line), Justin was the second person I told, my wife being forever first. He was upset, and worried that he had somehow disappointed me. He couldn't have been more incorrect. He and his family were easily the best part of my trip.

Now I'll start figuring out when I can go back. It won't be for research this time, or to see baboons and elephants, or the stark rise of the Rift escarpment, or even a random dozen world recordholders.

Friends are all the reason you need for some things.