February 1, 2015

Lost in the dream and back in the game.

"Ndiwelimilambo enamagama (I have crossed famous rivers). It means that one has travelled a great distance, that one has had wide experience and gained some wisdom from it.” – Nelson Mandela

It has been a humbling week as I continue to learn and push myself. When I sat down to think about what exactly I wanted to write this week, to recap and share, I knew that there would be points worth making that fall both within, but also outside, the realm of running.

Back in the game.

After a bout of nasty stomach issues this past week, Kenya continues to leave its mark on me. Battling something like this while travelling isn’t inevitable but it’s certainly likely (occasionally simple dietary changes, such as more spices, can be the cause), prevention includes avoiding tap water. More practical travel information on Kenya.

Let’s talk about the idea of clean water and healthcare for a moment – and what happens when you catch something very serious here in Africa. In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. Clean and safe water is essential to healthy living.

My stomach issues took me out of training for only one day, with the recovery being much faster because of my access to proper medicine, food, and fluids. My recovery pales in comparison to what many of the local families would face. Over and over again I have heard stories shared about the lack of healthcare here in Kenya and Africa at large, often they don’t end well.

I’ve not read many points in articles or blogs by other runners or journalists that touch on this subject when documenting training in Iten. While I can only make a small knick on the surface with my knowledge of the topic, I find it important to note that even in a place like Iten, playing host to some of the fastest and most talented athletes on the planet, no one is immune to the ever-too-common food and water-related illnesses. It is one of the very few downsides of training in Kenya.

I strongly support the efforts by the many organizations striving to close the gap for people living in developing countries to have access to clean water. We take something like this for granted at home in a place like Canada and often we can feel so far removed from the concept of not having clean water but it is a reality here and one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Based on some short research, here is a good list of organizations doing work in this area for you to learn more and consider supporting. Learn more.

Feeling the crush of humanity.

On Friday, I had my first matatu experience, Kenya's communal taxi van service. For about 100 shillings or about $1.50, I traveled from Iten to Eldoret with two other runners to stock up on snacks and buy a few essentials. Apparently matatu's provide more than half of this East African nation's public transportation. The vehicles are generally recognizable by the haze of black exhaust fumes and dilapidated bodies. To catch one you stand on the side of the road and flag it down as it comes barreling towards you. Due to the high number of people squeezed inside, some passengers are left to ride hanging from doors and windows. At one point in our ride, we had over seventeen people crammed into our van including a mother carrying her baby, some luggage, and who knows what else. On our way to Eldoret, the driver had the music blasting, hardly stopping to cruise over the massive speed bumps. Still, this is funprobably not that safe (if you are taking this as your mode of transportation on a daily basis) but worth the experience.

Keeping your wits about you. And more on being a woman in Kenya.

After spending a few hours in Eldoret, I was ready to head back to Iten, even in the company of two male runners the constant stares began to wear on me – it’s as if all the freedom you have as an individual in North America is stripped away and you’re seen only as an object. I’ve experienced this in other countries that I’ve travelled to but the stares and occasional grabs are still unsettling wherever you are.

I’ve been reading a lot about the topic of women in African society, asking questions when I can, and spending time observing how women are regarded here. On a micro scale, the imbalance between male and female runners in basic numbers is staggering, you can’t help but wonder what exactly is going on.

As I learn more about what opportunities girls and women do not have here, I struggle to find the reasoning behind it all. This piece from UNESCO touches the heart of it. “Gender inequality manifests itself in a number of spheres. For instance, the cultural practice of son preference may contribute to denial of girls’ access to education and curtail their opportunities in life. It may lead to early marriage and the onset of childbearing. It is important to recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment are an integral part of national development, peace building and conflict-resolution. They are at the center of humanizing the world.”

I don't have a conclusion or grand point to make here (I wish I did) because the issue is so complex. I am simply opening the page for those who will read this and who believe in equality.

I've spent the past few years of my life talking and writing about women/girls in sport and empowering women in business - and now as I slowly learn more about Africa, I see that we still have miles and miles and miles to go. The finish line is far off in the distance, it still has to be built as far as I can tell, but I do believe that we'll get there.

A few websites I am a big fan of on the topic of educating and empowering girls:

I came into this trip with high hopes of traveling freely, really letting my adventurous spirit fly but there are limitations and realities that are a bit bigger than I expected as it relates to being a female solo traveller. That being said, I've loved my experience here so far, the people I have met, and all of the adventures I will have in the coming weeks. I've decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro at the end of my time in East Africa. Can't wait!

"Lost in the dream. Or just the silence of a moment." -The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream

In terms of training, I am getting stronger. 

Today I completed my 30km long run over a mega-hilly course a bit faster than I would have at home in Toronto. I'm heading into a big week supported by my pacer. When I am running, everything seems to make sense here. The sun, the dirt, the wind, and the clean air. 

It's the quiet moments when I stop to think about what I now know or what I saw that this place begins to change me as a runner and person.

Signing off for another week. Keep moving forward. Always. That is the only direction.

Typical sighting during runs around Iten. Kids yell out "How are you?! How are you?!"
A beautiful African sunrise!
Market on the way to Eldoret.
Morning run in Iten, Kenya.
Front seat view from one of Kenyan's communal taxi vans, called matatus. What a ride!
View of the incredible and great Rift Valley in Kenya.
A few of my fellow runners from HATC enjoying the scenery at Kerio View.
Kenyan girl. A portrait taken from the doorway where I went for a massage. My favourite photo from my journey so far.
Streets of Eldoret are a stark contrast to Iten.
Need fuel? Organized chaos in Eldoret. Just a glimpse at life in Kenya.
A lovely walk home from Kerio View.