Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA – The (in)famous Ngongathon

NGONGLadies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are approaching Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, it is a beautiful morning with clear skies and temperatures of about 28 degrees and if you look through your windows, you will see the beautiful undulating, Ngong Hills, which , means ‘knuckles’ in Maasai.

This is the soothing Disneyfied sound of every Kenya Airways captain as you land in Nairobi.

It is Saturday afternoon and I am standing at the base of the rolling hills, the imposing wind turbines dot the hills and I am certainly not soothed and I am downright terrified. What I thought was a great idea, is turning to a very scary experience. Yes, folks I took up the challenge of the (in) famous Ngongathon. This involves running through 7 hills and it is approximately 14 kms. I have hiked up these hills before, but running is a totally different thing and yes, the run began from the bottom of the hill. “I should have just sucked it in, woken up early and gone for the Kiambu run,” I grumbled. “What did you say?” one the runners asked. “Nothing!” I said and sulked as I warily looked at the hills ahead and barely listened to the instructions of the organizers and I wish I did as it led to a series of unfortunate events.

So this was an invitation from the Nairobi Hash Harriers , the Urban Swaras friendly foes and it turns out this is one of their famous runs and we had our elite Swaras at the run. So it came as no surprise to see Ajaa, Loise and Wahome.

The run began. Now those elite Swaras have V Power for blood, while rest of us John Does are on cheap watered down fuel you get in the back streets of River road, because immediately we were waved off, they were gone. While I was huffing and puffing like an old unserviced car, our elite were steadily moving and making themselves the poster child for V Power complete with the marketing anecdotes V Power , helps keep engines fit and strong, or the very obvious one V Power,Extra Zip Extra Vroom. My engine was certainly not fit and strong and the elite had zipped and vroomed off and all I saw were their brightly colored running gear dotting the next hill as I struggled with the first hill.

Ngongathon is not an easy run, and the weather on the hills is unpredictable, it can easily change from clear skies to cloudy and dreary in minutes and this was one of those days.

So I steadily huffed and puffed away, and as I struggled I got my first pearl of wisdom from a fellow runner, who was equally struggling but still had the strength for some humor. “Run like you are avoiding a gunshot, you know, zig zag!” She said with a dead pan look and went ahead and tackled the hill from left to right. My miserable attempt at laughing was a painful wheeze and I followed her instructions and I conquered the first hill and all I could think of is more to go.

As I had said earlier, I had hiked this hill before and passing the places I had taken a break for snacks and enjoy the view was sheer torture. Reminiscing it made me feel more hungry, miserable and rather grouchy… and I passed it without stopping.

Now due to demonstrations taking place in Corner Baridi, that day, we were advised by the NGONG 1rangers not to run through all the 7 hills. We had to run through 5 hills, and turn back to Ngong town. So the seasoned Ngongathoners, acknowledged that this was a harder run than completing the 7 hills.   I made it to the 5th hill and on the way back the entire hill was covered in fog and that is when I wished I had paid attention to the organizers , as I took the wrong turn getting back to the beginning of the run. As far I was concerned I was going downhill and that’s what mattered, I had already paid my dues to the hills and there was no way I was running up again, until I saw livestock and homesteads…. “Hmm I don’t remember seeing any homes on the hills,” I mused. Good thing I was in company and we unanimously agreed there was no way we were going back up the hills.

So we continued running, passing homesteads and at some point quite temptingly considering going into a homestead, looking genuinely haggard and asking for a plate of food and possibly a ride back to Ngong. It turns out we had gotten ourselves in Upper Matasia, which is about 5 kms a head of where we began the race. Upper Matasia is a rural town and after seeing a clearly marked road sign with an arrow point to Dave’s Grave, I knew I was in trouble. This was country! And there is nothing as bad as dealing with a country bumpkin. Thrice I learned the hard way as I ran trying to get the right way back. One thing is certain a country bumpkin has no sense of distance. “ How far is Ngong Town?” I asked , and one good Samaritan , bless him , pointed out, “ ahh it’s just here.” This energized me to continue running. ‘Just here’ was actually several kilometers from Ngong. Next question to country bumpkin number 2, “How far are we from the main road?” To which we got an incredulous answer, “ you are on the MAIN road.” Swaras, we were on a macadam not tarmac road. But the one that made me make a final decision to live Countryville, was when I flagged down a boda boda   and asked, “ How far are we from Ngong Police Station?” and he flippantly said, “ It’ in Ngong!” I was too tired to say anything and I waved him off. Dealing with country bumpkins is hard, I even gave him a land mark and he still had no sense of distance!

It was at that point I flagged the next boda boda hoped onto it and rode back to the starting point. By then I had done   14.3 kms, I was hungry, cold, excited that I had conquered the hills, incredulous at how narrow minded people can get. It was a worthwhile adventure. Will I do it again. HELL YEAH!!!

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-ZANZIBAR

ZNZ 1The East African coast, and I say this with confidence from Mogadishu (oh yeah, I was told I looked very ‘womanly or really feminine and grown up …., when I was wearing a niqab’, it is one of those statements you hear from men and you wonder, where on earth did you get that from… anyway A for effort!) to Maputo has in common…. Beach boys! For reference, I was given stony silence on attempting to run on the Mogadishu coast so I took a walk (http://urbanswaras.co.ke/running-tales/the-nomadic-urban-swara-somalia/) hence my experience with the said boys.

Now Zanzibar wins hands down, because of Swahili. For the clueless pure Swahili (Swahili Sanifu) to East African   women is like French, Italian or Spanish to women in the global north. There is a romanticism about every syllable, no matter how inane the topic.

So Zanj! At some point in my life , I worked in Tanzania for two years and Zanzibar was a weekend holiday destination. So a few years later guilt tripped by the baby sister ( ** You have not seen my first house post college kind of discussion***), I flew to Dar- Es-Salaam, and Easter found us in Zanzibar. So, we took a speed boat from Dar and two and a half hours later, I was in Zanzibar. I had missed Stone Town. It is a mixture of Islam, Taraab, Animism, 16th Century architecture, horrific human history (slavery), spiritualism, lots of cats (which you are not meant to bother, lest you end up having a haunted night as you pissed off some disgruntled spirit.)the ocean, narrow streets, baobab trees…. And Beach boys in their oh, so perfect Swahili.

To be honest Beach Boys can be a blooming nuisance, very enthusiastically selling you anything from cocaine to butane! If you are to enjoy your walk on the beach, sometimes , you have to grow thick skin and have a sense of humor, otherwise you’ll be upset.

Now what does this have to do with running? Everything, because, though Running is Living as we Urban Swaras say, there are times you just need inspiration to get out of bed and run. In this case my inspiration was Language.

So day one check into the hotel in Stone Town .Since it’s a lovely afternoon, I go for a run. It’s not the first time I have run in Zanzibar and there are a few rules… It is okay to get lost in Stone Town , the narrow streets have been like this since the 16th century and I was running in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only difference is that 21st Century Stone Town has satellite dishes . You have to contend   with weaving through lots of Vespas and the occasional rich girl or boy treacherously maneuvering a sports car in the oh so painful narrow streets.

ZNZ 3Anyway I digress, so I leave my hotel, and begin running in the streets of Stone Town. The beauty about running in Stone Town is that you are surrounded by Taraab music, which complement the old Zanzibar doors ( which have a rich Indian influence)that have a history back to the Oman Era , old Palaces ,with my favorites, being, Forodhani ( the first fort built by the Portuguese on the East Africa Coast then followed by Fort Jesus in Mombasa Kenya) and Beij Al Teib (House of Wonders).   Still digressing… and now really, moving on.

I was running through the streets   and expertly avoiding Vespas that were weaving through human traffic which is comprised of tourists, until I took a break and I heard , this, “ Dada, pole kwa mazoezi, mbona kukimbia vile.(Loosely translated to ‘Why are you running? ** Though it was obvious as I was in spandex*** ) Bless the poor soul, encouraged, he continued in fluent Swahili, then noted I was rather clueless though I had a silly smile as I was enjoying him talking in Swahili, so the smart bugger switched to English, in a bid to be customer friendly , “ I will show you the House of Wonders,” and I responded, “no it’s okay I have seen it.”

Nonplussed he switched back to that oh so perfect Swahili and of course I had the giddy and silly smile and he offered to run with me! And that’s when I woke up, and the only thing in my mind was Woman run! Shaking my head I continued running.

Two days later I was 56 km from Stone Town, in rural Zanzibar in Bwejuu , a bit of a private beach but the only difference the Beach Boys are a bit Bohemian, who assume simply because you have dreadlocks (which I have) is that you are equally Bohemian and you may be trying to get your Groove back (read how Stella Got Her Groove Back), or going through an Eat Pray Love moment….but oh my the Swahili is one that inspires you to run every morning.

In total I was in Zanzibar for the entire Easter holiday, from Thursday to Monday and ran 7- 10kms every day and let’s just say I was inspired and I thank the good Lord for Swahili Sanifu and before you raise your eye brows and point fingers in self righteousness at me and say shame on you, were you able to run from Thursday to Easter Monday nonstop where you were spending your holiday? Ehe *** hands akimbo and wags finger*** be honest!

Next Nigeria(Nsukka, Oyo,Lagos,Calabar)

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-SOUTH AFRICA- JP Morgan Challenge

Joy at JP Morgan Challenge2015South  Africans  have  this colloquial  high-life term  called  Phuza Thursday, loosely translated  from Zulu meaning Alcohol, but in a sentence it denotes to Drinking Copiously and  Thursday is pretty much reserved for this.  So, after 4 days  of board meetings, I was deaf in one  ear and a bit cross eyed from the presentations  and  when Thursday came, the office was abuzz because it was  Phuza Thursday.

Appealing as it may sound to an outsider  I was not risking Phuza Thursday knowing that some of consequences , will include me singing loudly and badly at karoeke , and thank God that happened  pre YouTube years. So ahem…no  Phuza Thursday for me…. And that’s when I spied the first runner in the office, dressed completely in his running clothes, and another,  and another.  And I followed him and shamelessly asked,” is there a run today?”  To which he responded, “yes, there is  the JP Morgan’s Challenge taking place  today and we leave in 20 minutes; and you need to have registered a week  earlier.”

So this  is where  the perks of being a runner comes in. Ahem…. I  begged, nearly whined , threatened a tear or two and pulled -I am- the- visitor- card… and it worked! So armed  with a  corporate T shirt named after my male colleague , I quickly and happily changed into my running gear, just in case he changed his mind… and that’s when I found out  the run was  5.64kms. So flippantly I thought  this would be  easy. Was I in for a surprise.

Joy at JP Morgan Challenge2015 2The run. There were 13,600  runners from 120 countries. The route mapped was in one of the oldest and wealthiest suburbs in  Johannesburg, called  Illovo , it pretty much reminded me of the Patrons’  run that  was done in Muthaiga  earlier in the year. Another interesting thing about the run was  that  it was  going to be done  from 7:00pm and  the 5.64 km was  entirely  uphill. My flippant views about the run were  slowly quashed and I was rather nervous.

The one thing I love about organized runs is the anxiety and excitement leading to the run. Everyone is edgy, music is blaring loudly and the announcer keeps on reminding you why you are running (The run was for charity). The start of the run was at the bottom of the hill  and we  began  the uphill task (pun intended) at 7pm.

As we started  the run  the only thing that was going through my  head was ,  “come on mates have the decency to  have some sense of etiquette as you run!” Runners  weaving through your path is a sure way of landing on the ground. So here we were  running in the middle of  upper class suburbia in Johannesburg and in true South African fashion  they  came out of their homes, in their pajamas or jeans , tshirts and slippers, whipped out beers  from the fridge  got the   barbeque  stove  and started  to Brai ( Colloquial Afrikaans term  for barbequing meat) and cruelly  encouraged us how they loved the smell of sweat and  running as they enthusiastically chomped away  at their  barbeques! Ah Upper  Class issues! And in all honesty at the moment, as I sweated away running up the hill,  I would not mind joining them.

So 29 minutes 33 seconds later, after running through great Johannesburg suburbia and being psychologically tortured over  the smell of the tantalizing smell of  Brai,  I made it to the finish. My personal best for 5.64 kms .

Next stop Zanzibar (Stone Town and Bwejuu)

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-GHANA

Running in AccraWhoever came up with the adage Ignorance is Bliss is a genius! And trust me it has everything to do with my run in Ghana this week. Now let’s rewind 48 hours before I left for Ghana … I went hiking up the Aberdare ranges on Elephant Hill. Not only was it tough, forcing me to sleep on the way twice (don’t underestimate the strength of a 10 minute power nap), but I had to pass through two types of forests and use paths used by elephants. As adorable as they are, and I support the Hands off our Elephants campaign… passing through their routes was rough. So that was Saturday through to Sunday morning and that night I flew to Ghana.

So with jelly legs, I took to the streets of Accra. Ignorance case number 1) “Oh I can do this, besides I was hiking at high altitude and well Accra is at sea level.” Wrong! The run was hard work, fatigue from hiking and the fact that I had not quite rested after the flight, made my feet feel rather heavy though I did somehow manage to run 10kms on day 1.

Ignorance case number 2). The one thing most Africans love about Ghana is their Ankara Fabric and my second day target route was go to the market and get some fabric. So as usual I went to the concierge and asked, “How far is the market, I would like to run and get fabric,” and as expected the enthusiastic concierge responded, “ Ehe Ma, the kind of fabric you need is Vlisco,” and I flippantly replied, “to be honest all I need is brightly colored fabric, trust me, a Kenyan wouldn’t know the difference.” “No Ma, you need good quality Ankara,” he insisted and I grudgingly gave in. So, for those who have met me post running the most comfortable color I wear is funeral, jet black, and occasionally throw in a splash of color, and I definitely do not wear brightly colored printed frocks! So why, this overnight sense of overwhelming Pan Africanism to the point of wearing brightly colored African frocks?

For the historically hopeless, in 1952 Ghana was the first country in Africa to get independence and the birth of Pan Africanism started in this country through its founding president Kwame Nkrumah. So running in the (very clean) streets of Accra, you are exposed to a fusion of Afrocentric Modernism, so beer adverts that say Black is Not a Color but an Attitude or Black Creates the Rules is common. Of course the banner has an Ankara around it. Even the corporate adverts had visuals in Ankara, including Miss Tourism Ghana who was wearing one.

So armed with this new found sense of Pan Africanism, I felt I could add a few colored frocks to my closest and have some sense of nationalism and maybe get inspired to do something crazy as save the earth, elephants or perhaps find a solution to peace in the Middle East, as beauty pageant queens try to convince us. Besides, I just found out that Black is an attitude.

This led me to Ignorance case number 3). I started my run looking for the market that sold the famous Vlisco Ankara fabric. 4kms into my route I saw the sign Vlisco… and to be honest I wanted to shop in comfort so next to the Vlisco sign was the Woolworths and BillaBong signage. “Bingo,” I thought as I made my way to the building with these signs, assuming it was a mall. So I asked for directions to the shop and sweaty as I was ran up three floors to the store, walked in, and rather confidently asked to be served and that is when I noticed everyone was on a computer and they all incredulously looked at me as this turned out to be… wait for it, the Vlisco head office and not the store!

Quite frankly I did not blame them, I was dressed in sneakers, running gear, sweaty from the hot and humid weather and they gave me the look of there is no way that woman will wear any of our Ankara fabrics (I easily pictured a lady’s hand akimbo, sneering, {Africans are good at that},sizing me up and wagging her finger at me). So they dismissively turned back to work ,however, someone came to serve me. Now, in my defense, from the window I saw mannequins dressed in these fabric and they had the said fabric hanged in a shop display type of way and besides there was a Woolworths and Billabong shop. How on earth was I to know I was walking right into the headquarters!

Anyway, one of the staff gave me directions to where I could get their fabric, from a shop which was another 2 Kms away. So in total I did 7 Kms, a three flight staircase climb, but finally achieved my sense of Pan Africanism. So if any of you see me in a brightly colored frock, just know it was borne out of sweat and pure blissful ignorance! Next stop… South Africa, yes I know we have a story from here. But who knows what humorous experience I will have here again.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

IconicTableMountain
Coutesy of wikipedia.org

I have reached that age in life where I no longer put candles on my birthday cake and dramatically opt for a firecracker and my parents have handed me over to my aunties and grandmother to ‘talk to that modern daughter of yours’. To have discussions on, ‘it’s okay to bring anyone home, even if he’s white’ (and that was my grandmother lol)

So what has this got to with running? Well thanks to Mitch ( for the newbie Swaras, Mitch is one of our star runners and mention an Ultra marathon, particularly the Two Oceans Marathon, the verb to the sentence is Mitch as the noun is Urban Swaras), my running route in Capetown was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

As I was staying closer to the waterfront (which was one of my running routes but not as dramatic as the gardens), I was a good 15 kms away from these gardens and I had to use the highway to get there. A word of warning, running from my hotel to the gardens is not for the faint hearted and is advisable to run early in the morning over the weekend, as there is no traffic.

So armed with this information I went to the concierge and with the confidence of the gods I said I wanted to run to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. With an incredulous then cheeky look, he said, “ Eish Maam, that is far neh… You have to pass through the highway, the N2 and then get to the M3.” “I am aware of the route and that is why I am running this early,” I politely responded and he continued, “ okay Maam, it is a beautiful garden, perfect for proposals and weddings,” and he proceeded to look at my hands and then there was that awkward moment, “ ehhh wena , why are you not married Maam, we have strong South Afriken men who can survive with modern women like you.” At this point as I was patiently waiting for directions to my running route I did not know whether to laugh or cry though I had a good answer to why I was single that was brewing in mind and that is, ‘I am socially inept and I prefer Giraffes’. Finally I got the running route after a few match making promises began the run.

As I had mentioned, it is not for the faint hearted, as you have to pass through the highway, so running very early in the morning is advisable as there is no traffic. Words cannot describe the feeling I got when I reached the gardens and i leisurely ran through them. By the time I noticed what time it was it was after 9:00am and running back was not advisable so I took a taxi. Besides I had run more than 15 kms to and around the gardens. It is one place I highly recommend for any Swara who wants to run in CapeTown.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone and in typical modern woman fashion, I will be hiking that morning in Mt Kenya area, then come down for a brunch, then dutifully go for an ear pinching sit down with the aunties of being too much of a modern woman lol.

Next stop- Ghana

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Arizona 2Allow me a moment of   village excitement. I was in the US (… and I have this toothy smile as I say this) !!!! and in typical I believe very African fashion, every time I mentioned that I was going to the US, I was asked to come with something or visit one’s relative or I was introduced to someone who will ‘take care of you when you are away from home’. So why is it that I never get such treatment when I go to other countries, what are they chopped liver??!!

And another interesting thing happened. I got new running shoes. Like any woman, I love shoes, but mention shoes to men, they have a look of trying to get to the nearest emergency exist. I guess that’s how I look when you start discussing soccer with me. But something shifts when you talk about running shoes. This is the only time women and men can actually have a conversation about shoes without looking pained. You talk about type, style even color! So with a puffed chest, mine are white Gel Cumulus 15.

So armed with my list of things to bring back home, numbers and email addresses I had to follow up with my proposed guardians, I went to the US. 22 hours later and suffering genuine jetlag (a 12 hour difference does not even begin to compare to our African 1 or 2 hour difference), I checked in and first thing in the morning went for a run. So I was staying in Scottsdale Arizona and since this is perfect hiking and running country thanks to the mountains and near tropical weather, I had already charted my running routes while in Nairobi.

You remember village excitement? Well , since I had new running shoes, I felt like a Toyota Vitz with new shock absorbers   that could survive the Rhino Charge http://www.rhinocharge.co.ke/. And boy I ran fast, truly not feeling the road as my objective was to try and get to the base of the many hills that dot Scottsdale just before the sun rose.

Arizona, being a desert state, meant that the air was quite dry and the landscape was dotted with huge cacti and limited shade. So even though the sun had not risen and it was about 6:30 am, the dry air got to me and it became a bit of a struggle. So much for the Rhino Charge effect and I had to slow down and just enjoy the run, so 7kms later I was at the base of the hills and I waited for the sun to rise and what was going through my mind was that… it’s already 7:30am, what time does it actually rise in this part of the world. Yes more village excitement and assuming every country is equatorial ! But it was worth the wait, a hilly and desert sun rise is one you don’t see everyday unless you live in Scottsdale. The return run was leisurely as I soaked in the town in natural light.

… and yes I dutifully came with the assigned gifts from the US and I made sure I met my guardians. Next stop- CapeTown South Africa

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-NIGERIA

Jos - NigeriaAh Nigeria… In the five years I have been traveling to this country one thing is constant. It never disappoints with the manic chaos and melodrama. Mention Nigeria and one feels an overwhelming sense of emotional overdose. It has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, despite this the melodrama is infused within individuals. So your average Nigerian has two Masters or Doctorates, he is very spiritual and goes to church or the mosque, will drive the latest car in the market, conscientiously follows his cultural leaders (Obas-Kings), plus will swear in the belief and existence of witchcraft! That is a lot and I ALWAYS have a stupefied look when I converse with my Nigerian colleagues! And yes there is never a dull moment in this country, it is your cinema and you will have the proverbial popcorn in hand to watch drama unfold. And you thought the Kardashians were interesting?!

I blame the temperate unpredictable humid weather, or maybe it is the high levels of pepe (Pepper) they put in their food, which turns you into a first class dragon, as you will belch fire in seconds, though to them it is mild! But despite this, I always look forward to going to this country. So this time I went to five states Lagos, Abuja, Jos, Benue and Benin. So in Lagos, I was staying in Ikeja not far from the airport, and yes, there were walk ways available for running, which made it pleasant. There is a running community in Lagos, so the occasional runner joined me. Next was Abuja, I have been to this state before and the one thing I like about it, is that it is not busy and yes it is a leafy green clean city (The perks of being an Administrative Capital). Then I went inland to Benue State. This country is big and the only way to get to Benue was fly to Jos, spend the day and drive 7 hours to Benue State. So in my usual fashion, I checked in and started running. Jos is a vibrant state and running in the market area early in the morning is a sight to behold. It reminded me of when we normally run through Kangemi during the Flora Café run.

I did my usual 10 km run and the following day began my long drive to Benue State and that’s when I got the terrible news. There was a suicide bomb attack in Jos, pretty much the street I was running in, and over 30 people died. I was numb with shock and sadness. Part of the joy of being a runner is that you can use the excuse of running and be a tourist and chart running routes in places you wanted to see in the city. The attack felt a bit personal, as I had been on those streets, admired the vibrancy and life that was snuffed out by the callous attack.

Benin - NigeriaI never had the opportunity to run in Benue State, however, I did run in Benin. Benin State has the oldest kingdom in West Africa and is home to the famous bronze statues that are synonymous with West Africa. Allow me a nerdy moment. The famed West African bronze statues are created using the Lost Wax method, a technique not used anywhere in the world. What happens is that they use wax as the cast for creating the intricate bronze statues. It is called ‘Lost Wax’, because once the bronze is put in the wax cast, it is melted away to produce the statues. Another thing is that it is done in only one street, the same one since the bronze artisans started this craft centuries ago. Benin city is dotted with bronze statues highlighting various aspects of the old kingdom, and the same street has a museum highlighting this old Kingdom. So you can imagine what route I chose to run.

You remember the unpredictable temperate humid weather I mentioned? Well, it caught up with me as I was running in Benin City. I associate a stormy, uniform grey sky with rain. But in Benin, the whole day was grey and warm and since it had not rained yet, I assumed it would be a dry run. Then the gods had a mickey moment as 5kms in my run through the historical street, it poured!   I laughed, sucked it in and finished my run. Swaras, as much as we enjoy street running, let’s be safe and my heart goes out to the families who lost their lives in Jos.

Next stop and with all my Luo pride. Adhi AMERKA! ( Ah-thi , Ah-merr-kah! Nasal pronunciation). In English- I am going to America. I must admit I have always wanted to say this. LOL.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-RWANDA& ETHIOPIA

kigaliWith absolute  lack of imagination, it was  truly a tale of two cities . Unlike Charles Dickson’s version, which, focuses on the major themes of duality, revolution, and resurrection , mine focuses  on two cities with similar topography and every runners nightmare (Kigali and Addis Ababa)

It was one of  those days, where  I had a 12 hour stopover in Nairobi before gallivanting between  two countries and yes I ran  in both.

Lets  start with  Kigali. Swaras, be wary of a country that brands itself as a Country of a 1000 Hills. Because   that’s  what I had to  go through every time I ran and my mantra  was, this is not about speed but  just finishing the run. So dutifully I  did my usual 10kms until one day  it rained! And  what went through my mind is Karma was, a b&^%c ! Well, let’s start from the fact that a few months ago Raoul had invited us for a run, and well, it rained that morning and I shamefacedly sent him a text message (yes.. I was one of the many…you know yourselves) saying I could not make it and manically tucked myself deeper in bed.

kigali 1So what’s special about this rainy experience? It came with all the melodrama that you’d visualize if  you read William Shakespeare’s  Tempest (oh yeah I read LOL…). 1) Since I was street running, trees were sparse 2) The sky turned dark in minutes, not your typical Nairobi weather, where you can  point out “it’s going to rain!”.3) Then it became windy, really windy… and I was still running. The few sturdy trees were bending in the wind, shopkeepers were closing their windows and giving me an either sympathetic or incredulous look. At this point the run  was slowed to a crawl and  it poured, with all its accompaniments, thunder and lightning. I was  3 kms  away from my hotel and the only thing I could think  of was, thank God  this is a brand new country, because the drainage systems  worked and I was not going to wade through water!

So I made peace with fact that  I will be  wet and  I struggled the last  3kms,yes,  uphill, against the wind to my hotel. So wet as a sewer rat, I get to  the hotel and bless the  concierge, as he asked, “ So  what do  you think  of our weather?” A few unmentionables went through my mind but with a sweet smile  and a firm nod, I said, “oh certainly not like  Nairobi”!

Next city was Addis Ababa, despite the similar topography the cherry on top is that, it is the 5th highest city in the world. The air is thinner than Nairobi and running there feels like you just ate 3 plates of  lasagna  with lots of wine and you feel like you put an extra 10kgs.  It’s amazing, how high altitude can do to your system when running.  So after a long day, I got back to my hotel, which, happens to have a very good gym, looked at the street with longing and  started running.

The sign was in the wall, or rather air but I dismissed it. The hazy pink color  in the sky was not the sunset but smog,  coming from traffic  and dust (there is a lot of construction  in Addis).  I dismissed it as  it was not as bad as the worst marathon in the world held this  donkey in addis ababayear in China. Then I  had to battle with manic blue donkeys, that only belched  volleys of  jet black smoke, and, these donkeys are taxis that  are  reminiscent of  communist era. Since my Amharic is as good as my Russian (pun intended), I did not  quite understand the taxi drivers  manic salutations as ordering me out of  the road or waving me down for their services. 5 km in the run I gave up and  went back to the hotel  and in true fashion the  chatty concierge  said,  “ good  run eh?!”. Here I was panting and already tired thanks to the high altitude  and all I could do  was shake my head and  he went on , “  You from Kenya eh?” “ Ethiopians better than Kenyan runners!” Well, I’ll say… I rolled my tired eyes and asked for  directions  to the gym.

The gym did  not disappoint, it had one  international  timeless constant,  the speakers were loudly blaring  Boom boom boom by Venga Boys. Whoever decided that this song was the national song for all gyms, cross boundaries is beyond me . Running in those  two countries was  hard, next stop is Nigeria.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-BOTSWANA

botswana - run
Kgale X Country And Trail series race

So, it’s official the universal uniform for runners is  spandex,  and the brighter the color the better  and it is that uniform that creates some sense of familial bonding regardless of race, color or nationality . And  it is  in this spirit , that , after I landed in Gaborone, checked in my hotel and  changed into my running gear and started running in the streets. 2 kms into my run, I saw a large group of people  running in spandex and I took a chance.

So, I joined them.

In the interest of my personal security, one of the reasons I was comfortable with, was that they were running not far from my hotel and bearing in mind  my hotel is one of the tallest buildings in the city, well, I knew there was NO way I would get lost as my landmark could be seen from a 10km radius. So the running  party I gate crashed turned out to be the Gabarone  Striders and I was  able to run a total of 10 kms with them and they invited me to a 21kms race, which, in my naiveté, I thought was their normal weekend runs like we have with the Swaras and wasn’t I in for a surprise.

So club day turned to race day  because I noticed product banners, huge Scania trucks , who happened to be sponsors and a podium. And the first thing that went through my head was I am way over my head. This was the Kgale X Country And Trail Series . Please note I had woken up at 6 am , left the hotel at 6:30am and ran 7kms to the beginning of the race,  and at that point I  quickly realized that I was not going to do 21kms, as I would have to run a another 7kms back to the hotel. So I chose the 10 kms route. So in total…I ran 24 kms!

So Botswana was a series of firsts for me.  As much as I have been running for ten years, I have never run in a competitive race and I have never done Zumba  and I did both in one morning! The latter is not so bad  after all, it was good fun  dancing as we warmed up.

The hilarity of waiting for a race to begin is you connect with fellow runners and curious by standers. One in particular piqued my interest when she talked to me that morning, all dressed up in garish make up and a cut out top  with the sign in bold TWERK IT OUT and of all colors,  magenta ( For the male readers, who cannot tell the difference between white, off white, brilliant white and ivory white… Magenta is a bright bordering neon colored pink).  Well, she would have as well danced the anaconda in front of me and I would have patiently listened to what she had to say to me afterwards,  because as , far I was concerned it was morning and my graph was minus zero and I had just run 7kms to join my fellow runners. On hind sight you need such kind of characters otherwise this world would be boring!

The  next interesting conversation was with a chatty  Cathy of a seven year old who quickly categorized her  father  and I as old , because we were 35 and 34 years old respectively and the fact the father could not do squats!

Anyway, race time. The 21 kms runners started  then we followed. The routes  were well marked and it was 32 degrees and we  ran in scrubland and  smack in the middle of the Kgela hills, so it was a bit of a hike, the run had a few water  and fruit stops, which, came in handy in the heat.  Though slightly windy, we were  competing in almost desert climate(Read the Kalahari…). There were   a number of older runners and there was one in particular I was not able to keep up with. All I could see was a messy flop of  white hair ,  and he was  quite fast and all I could think of was our patron and his capacity to endure long races.

RUN medal in bostwanaThe terrain was  quite easy to run through, but because of the heat it had its challenges,  but the fact that I was able to race competitively and come up 7th  in the womens’ category at a speed of 1hr 15 minutes, I must say, I was happy with my performance, though it was longer than my usual running speed which is always under an hour when I do the same distance.

So  yes I went through the baptism of fire in competitive running and I will not shy away  when the opportunity comes and I actually missed the Urban Swaras, because what went through my mind was that after such a run, we would be having breakfast regaling each other with the horrors we went through when running  and before the year is over, I will definitely run with the club.

Next stop Rwanda

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-SOUTH AFRICA

sandtonEh!! Tho yaye! ( Loosely translated to Oh… My word !).At this point allow me to go native.  Asking for directions in Africa is a palaver , regardless of  region. I will give a tale of two cities in South Africa.

1)      I am not a technorati, I  stuck to my $10 practical  thief proof phone for 5 years, until I actually got an Iphone two months ago as a gift, which, I must say I just charge and continue using my trusted  development phone .

2)      That goes to say stuff like google maps is  an  exciting new technology, which, I honestly never use, but stick to asking directions

So those who have run with me may have noticed the following, when  Jael or Susan sends us a Google Map link for directions. 1)- ME: “Oh it’s not necessary, we can get there, I know the landmarks!”, MY FELLOW RUNNERS: “ I will transfer this to my smartphone as a back up.”….. and they are always right, because somehow I still get lost!

So this caught up with me. My trusted finger-in-mouth-then-wave-in-wind- GPS not only got me hilariously lost physically but also in translation.

I got to Sandton, in Johannesburg South Africa last week on  Thursday , so, immediately after checking in I went straight to the gym as it was dark. Right after my meetings the following day, I planned a 10 km run in the financial district and  I had a targeted  destination and yes, I went straight to the concierge for directions.

sandton 1He holds  my hand  and  directs me “ Maam, you see that tree with purple flowers…”,  “Oh boy, it’s going to be one of those…”, I think and sigh. So let’s start with the fact that this time of the year the Jacaranda tree and its family is blooming all over Sub Sahara Africa. So yes, I did see a tree with purple flowers, and this is Johannesburg, the city with the fastest  growing man made forest  . So yes, I did see a tree, but also lots of purple trees!

After the ‘poignant’ directions, I started  running and  I must admit the beauty of the jacaranda was that the floor  was a carpet of purple and of course with hint of jasmine  flowers from the side walk, made it worth getting lost, because I DID get lost  and found myself  outside Sandton. The  return trip made my run a total of 12 kms.

So two days later I went to Maphikeng 400kms North West from Sandton and  after checking in, I  planned  my running route and…I am  either  a sucker for punishment or too rigid to learn, because as you guessed it, I asked for directions. Which, led  to this  conversation, “Maam,  pass the  two robots and the  two circles and you will get to the right path.” So my first  reaction was , “this country has ROBOTS,” and I asked , “what robots?” the impatient concierge said, “Maam, the  red orange and green on the road!” Right… the robots were  traffic lights and the circles were roundabouts.

The good thing  is that thanks to getting lost again in the morning,  while I was running, I was able to run again later in the afternoon, so that  day I was able to  do a total of 15kms. Other than these  hilarious experiences, I was able to run everyday, plus it was also hilarious to run  in a financial district where you see a bank  and stock exchange advertisement , to running in a town where the normal advert was  sheep for  sale!

Anyway next stop Botswana and boy do I have an  adventure for you guys.

… and yes… i  will  make use of the IPhone LOL