Kenya takes running very seriously. In particular, this part of Kenya is home to the world-famous, marathon runners. International coaches and agents come here to scout for the globe’s best long-distance talent, and athletes from around the world come to train at high altitude with these elite athletes.
Obviously, I am neither an elite athlete nor a Kenyan runner. Every day, I am passed by real runners, who whiz effortlessly by me on their gazillionth mile as I slog slowly along.
Despite my regular running, I have never had the slightest desire to participate in a race. This seems to surprise to those who view me as an over-achiever, but the idea of devoting more hours to running seems both agonizing and impossible to fit into my schedule. Moreover, I prefer to run alone. And, unless a really good book is involved, I do not have the least desire to run further. None of this makes me want to sign up for a race.
I do not love running, but what I do love is an adventure.
This weekend, Eldoret hosted the Kass Marathon, with 5km, 12km, and 42km races from Kapsabet into the center of downtown (a center that is reached by a steep uphill incline, I might add.) As my friends and colleagues began to discuss competing last week, I began to contemplate signing up for my very first race.
After all, if one is going to run in an actual race, why not sign up at the last minute for a race that is:
1) Held at high altitude
2) Taking place in hot Equatorial sun
3) Being almost exclusively run by the world’s very best runners?
How could this not be an adventure?
I signed up for the Sunday race on Friday, along with a great group of runners from the AMPATH consortium. Here is our “before” photo before heading to the race start in our shuttle:
As it happened, we missed the official start of the race. How this happened, we are not sure. Either we were told the wrong starting time (possible), they changed the starting time (possible), or they just had a bunch of people gathered at the starting line and decided, why not go ahead and start? (possible) So, we headed out alone! After all, we had no expectations whatsoever of record-breaking times.
This ended up being great fun. Spectators lined the entire race route, with crowds and crowds cheering at the final uphill kilometer. A race is also serious business here, it seems, with relatively few people signing up “just for fun”, but we actually had a great time – as evidenced by these photos. (Note that phone camera selfies taken while running are not known for their high quality, but it was well worth running with my phone!)
Even better, I ended up running most of the race in the same manner that happens with my daily runs – surrounded by bare-footed children effortlessly keeping pace with me for kilometer after kilometer! A friend who was watching from the sidelines said I looked like the Pied Piper as I ran into town. These are my kind of Kenyan runners!
The girls ran with us all the way until the finish line, in dresses and with one of them carrying her sandals the whole way. We triumphantly reached the finish line, where our exciting prize was a much-needed bottle of water.
Truly, a great adventure day in Eldoret. I’m so glad I did it.
My nephew sent me this adorable picture of me and “all of my kids in the Kenya.” Love him!
Yes, it’s World Diabetes Day. It turns out that even I can actually figure out what day it is when they send a marching band and a big banner down the center of town. (In contrast to, say, my confusion on Monday through Wednesday!)
Diabetes is a chronic disease damaging the bodies of 371 million people around the world. This is not just a disease of rich and overweight countries; 4 out of 5 people with diabetes live in low- or middle-income countries. (We think that a malnourished childhood can mess up your metabolism in long-term ways.)
AMPATH has actually been incredibly innovative in testing for and managing diabetes in poor and rural places like Kenya using mobile phones and special diabetes clinics. My kudos go to my friend, colleague and long-time housemate, Sonak Pastakia, who dreamed up this effort and cares for over 2,500 patients with diabetes in Kenya (and still stores boxes and boxes of diabetes testing supplies in our kitchen!)
Little Milcah folds herself in half, her auntie tells me. She shouldn’t be able to rest like this, but the two-year-old is fast asleep with her head lying on her feet. Her limp body is completely folded over as she lies across her auntie’s lap.
It might look cute for a moment – or for yoga devotees – but Milcah resting with her chest on her knees makes me look for what else is wrong with her body. And there are problems to be found. Not only does Milcah have HIV, but she has too much fluid in the passages of her brain, building up pressure that compresses the brain tissue. Her spinal column was not formed all the way, and Milcah has no strength in her legs. She will probably never walk.
To add to this sad story, Milcah’s mother died just two days ago. Her mother had been very sick for several months, in and out of the hospital with tuberculosis. She was wasting away from her HIV and her TB, and she could not care for Milcah.
Every day in Kenya, I see women who stand in the gap for children. Every day, I see women nurturing children who are not their biological children.
“My sister was so, so sick,” explains the tall, broad-shouldered aunt sitting in front of me in a dress of brown and cream-colored lace, with Milcah in her lap in a yoga pose and a white, frothy dress. “She was so sick, and so I took them into my home and I took care of them. And I will care for the girl.”
And I believe this auntie will. She understands the little girl’s medicines for HIV and for seizures. She expresses interest in physical therapy and getting her to a neurosurgeon. She is loving and kind in her interactions with her niece, and I watch them make each other smile. This is an auntie undaunted, an auntie who will take care. This is an auntie committed to carrying this child for the journey ahead.
Throughout my clinic day, these women who stand in the gap bring in their children. Grandmothers raising half-a-dozen grandchildren. Aunties who take care of the children of their sisters and brothers. Even neighbors who are making sure that children get their medicines every day or have enough food to eat.
They are not perfect, these caregivers. We do see things go wrong, especially when there is not enough money and not enough food and too many children.
But every single day, I see these everyday heroes doing so much that is right: Opening the doors of their homes and hearts and taking in children without hesitation.
When I stop and consider the generosity of these women — instead of just checking the box on yet another clinic form to indicate that this is an auntie or a grandmother bringing a child in for care, supervising a child’s medicines – I am blessed by this. I am amazed at these everyday examples of radical hospitality, of helping in the midst of brokenness, of women standing in the gap for children.