Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Nairobi to Iten

Nairobi to Iten
At the close of the last entry I made some stereotypical observations about the potential running ability of the African people who sat around us in the airport. I reflected upon this assumption. How we perceive others seems to be shaped both by how those others present themselves to us and how they are represented to us by external agents such as pictures, written reports and television coverage. Much of the coverage of Kenya in the Western media relates to the nation’s prowess in distance running, and indeed many Kenyans speak of themselves as belonging to a nation that is great at distance running. It should be no surprise then that stereotyping the Kenyans as great runners comes very naturally to one who is has only a superficial, or media-informed, relationship with the country.
Then I discovered that the man who had been sitting next to me for the last half hour was Daniel Komen, who has held the world record for 3,000m (7mins 20sec) since the mid-nineties. Komen’s 7.20 is regarded as one of, if not the most secure world records. This time the stereotyping worked.
TaD had spent hour upon hour in the airport waiting room espousing his hugely inflated opinions on training methods and athletics convictions. There he was, TaD, a coupl guys who had just about managed to do alright on a regional level in a country that does not have a particularly massive athletics following, and all along one of the greatest runners in the history of the sport was chilling out next to us. Komen, at this point merely a lean-ish guy with a moustache wearing a suit, leaned over and asked if TaD he was a runner and if he was going to Iten. After a brief bit of forced small-talk about TaD, who TaD was and where TaD was from etc, the conversation went as follows:
TaD: So, are you a runner then?
Random ‘guy’ (Daniel Komen): Yes, a little, but not so much anymore.
TaD: Really, great, so what was your best distance?
Random ‘guy’ (Daniel Komen): Three thousand.
TaD:  What was your best time?
Random ‘guy’ (Daniel Komen): 7.20
Cue much ‘awwing’ and ‘you-are-a-hero-ing’ and  laughing and photos etc. Daniel Komen, or ‘Dan’ then asked for TaD’s number. And, duly star-struck, TaD obliged and handed him his phone. That’s right Komen asked for TaD’s number.
Komen is now the head of athletics in Iten and represents the town’s athletes. I am lead to believe that his job involves speaking up for their rights and helping their cause. He may work for the IAAF, I will investigate this further.
Komen lives in Eldoret, the city we flew to after our 10 hour wait. The flight was outstanding. The fly540 plane took us via Kisumu which lies on the West bank of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria before picking up some more passengers and taking us on to Iten. Out of the small window looking out over the propellers one could see only a vast expanse of rolling green hills. We were met at the airport by the reliable ‘Theo’, a taxi driver who had been recommended to us by a couple of the other Western athletes who are also in Iten at the moment.
Consciously attempting to use cliche’s sparingly, it is hard to describe the taxi trip from Eldoret to Iten without using the word’s ‘like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’ To my Western eyes this place seems to be seriously wild. It was pitch-black and yet hundreds of people were roaming along the long tarmac road that runs from Eldoret to Iten. They came into view only when one of the many motorbiokes, taxis, or ‘matutus’ (minibus) sped past them and illuminated them with headlights. Headlights also gave us brief glimpses of the sheds and stalls that lined the road, the clouds of red dust could not disguise their bright paint. The road was largely in good condition save the occasional pot-hole or speedbump. These do not so much limit speed as force the driver to slightly change direction giving rise to all sorts of havoc. At the meeting point of a number of roads in the very centre of Eldoret there were cars driving at speed in a number of different directions. It was pointed out to us that there were no traffic lights. Cars, bikes and people everywhere. “This is rush-hour” Theo explained.
After nearly 40 hours of travelling TaD, under the comforting guidance of the reliable Theo, finally arrived at the Too Guesthouse at about 8pm. After successfully negotiating (and subsequently eating) an evening meal with his host, Ambrose, TaD settled in for an early night. In the sleeping bag, within the mosquito net, amongst the clean and colourful confines of the Too Guesthouse, TaD spent his first night on African soil.

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