Kenyans Run Fast

13 Aug

I know what you’re thinking – yes Ben, obviously Kenyans run fast. But I have confirmed this truism with a sample size of one. Yes, it’s true – I went for a run on Saturday with one of my co-workers, Simon!

We departed at 6am to beat traffic, minimizing pollution intake.  The area I live in is beautiful in the morning, and the temperature was perfect for running (55-60 degrees).  It is the coldest time of Nairobi’s year. I ran in shorts and a t-shirt while my running companion wore sweatpants, a jacket, and a winter hat! As an aside, I must mention I’ve been having a lot of fun kidding Nairobians about the weather – wearing winter coats in 60-degree weather isn’t something we do in Ohio!

The run was a humbling experience. When Simon set into his pace, I felt like we were doing a sprint workout! He informed me that this pace was “moderate” to him. I kept with this pace (which, to put things in perspective, is faster than my 5K race pace) for half of the run, but during the second half I fell apart – had to stop 3 times for minute walk breaks. I had pains in my chest (maybe from the polluted air) and a stitch in my side during the last half of the run. I’m going to continue running with Simon in the mornings and hopefully I’ll improve my stamina. On days other than Saturday & Sunday, he runs at 5am to avoid traffic. I won’t wake up every morning for this, but I’ll keep at it. I’ll be on the Kenyan Olympic Marathon Team in due time.

On Thursday and Friday, the Maono manager, Daisy, did not make an appearance – she’ll be in on Monday. I’ve been joking around with my co-workers entertaining the idea that maybe Daisy doesn’t exist, and they are playing a cruel joke on me!

I kept busy throughout the end of the work week. I accompanied Betty (one of my co-workers) on a Maono weekly meeting to a few borrowers in Mukuru, a slum on the edge of Nairobi’s industrial area. To get to one of the meeting places, we had to navigate through narrow, muddy pathways in between shacks. I witnessed a young’un walking with spread legs using the dried-up mud on the sides for traction. I followed suit!

Here’s a picture of me with the Maono borrowers that we met with.

And a picture of a business using a loan from Maono (hairdresser with full service haircuts, styling, manicures, pedicures, etc.).

Usually, children in the slums say “How are you?” to me. Almost every child knows how to say this greeting and the reply, “Fine.” Now that I answer their greeting with the Swahili reply “sawa sawa”, many get excited and follow me chanting “How are YOU?, how are YOU?” Fun stuff. But today something different happened. A kid called me Chinese! I wish I would’ve had the quick reflex to reply “Ni Hao!”

Back at the office, I spent time working on installing Quickbooks accounting software on the office computer and working on converting posterboard presentation materials to Powerpoint files. I spent a long time talking to Quickbooks support people to correct an error that prevented the Loan Manager from loading up. In the end, want to know what the problem was? Maono’s version of Internet Explorer is too new! Only Version 8 works with Quickbooks, not Version 9.

After my run Saturday morning, I tagged along on another visit. We headed out to a church on Mombasa Road to meet with ex-prisoners. Seven in number, they have organized a “village bank” to build up savings and encourage development of their businesses. The group has formed a strong sense of community, which is really important when it comes to ex-prisoners transitioning from prison life back to real life. Only some of the men are actually criminals – a few were falsely accused, and with Kenya’s broken judiciary system, if you don’t have money you are vulnerable to prison time if convicted. Maono approved of the efforts of these ex-prisoners and wanted to help fund loans.

It rained all day but the rain had let up a bit after the meeting reached a conclusion. We looked for a matatu to take into town, but they were all full and traffic was literally stopped. On Mombasa Rd coming into Nairobi, it seems to always be at a standstill, since there are several roundabout intersections up ahead in which traffic directors allow each of the 4 converging directions to go one after one.

So, we decided to walk most of the way home. This was no small task – I mapped it out and it was 6-7 miles. We walked on this winding road –

that offered great views of the city through Railways Golf Course –

The walk allowed time for me to express my feelings of what I liked & disliked about my first week, including Maono’s operations as they relate to religion. I won’t go into details, but we both came out of the discussion feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and now understand each other’s logic better.

A truck on Ngong Road proved that some people can’t handle driving in the rain. The view from the back and front –

Hard to believe I’ve been in Kenya for 12 days already. I can tell that my time here will fly by.

Tomorrow, I am attending a church service at Muvano, the church that started the Maono Initiative. I hope to find a host family!

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7 Responses to “Kenyans Run Fast”

  1. John A August 16, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    Run Ben Run.

    • Ben August 16, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Don Wallingford August 16, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    Ben, it looks like life in Kenya is not for the soft — you will be in great shape when you come home — assuming eating croc agrees with you. I’m interested in the “spiritual talking” you’ve experienced and wonder how it fits into the mission of microfinance. It seems like there’s so much work to do and yet a rather relaxed approach. I’m sure there’s a reason for this and am curious how it all fits together. I’ll keep reading! — Don in Atlanta

    • Ben August 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

      Don, a goal in coming to Kenya that I haven’t mentioned publicly is that I want to be able to beat my Dad in a 5K when I get back! I’m making progress. In regards to food, thankfully, I have an iron stomach and haven’t had any trouble digesting food, even food from the slums. Part of Maono’s mission is to change the thought process of the poor and foster confidence. Spiritual thinking can help achieve this. The Kenyan business culture is quite relaxed so far, but hard work is being done to provide financial access to the poor here. But we’ll both learn more about this as my time here continues! Thanks for following my blog. – Ben

  3. Dave Fisher August 17, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Ben, Granted your dad beat you at Kelly’s Island, but that was a 10K and you were probably not in shape. I know your dad runs 20 something and if I am not mistaken you ran cross in HS, so I am pretty sure you could break 20 minutes in a 5K. My goal is to get back to less than a minute behind him. I also think Kenya is a higher altitude than Ohio. That means Thinner air. I know that will affect you greatly even if there was no polution. After running there, you will definitely find that you run faster here.

  4. Claire Everhart August 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Yay Ben! Keep running!:)

    • Ben August 29, 2011 at 9:04 am #

      Claire – Thanks for the encouragement. I’m at the point where I can run at a good pace without thinking I’m going to die of lack of oxygen or muscle cramping!

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