To add insult to injury, I discovered that he had a large bald circle at the center of his head, meaning that he wasn’t a young guy. I decided to pedal as if my life depended on it. My bike creaked in protest, but I didn’t care, I needed to overtake this guy. When I was within a few meters, I noticed that he had Ethiopian features, which meant that the honor of my country Kenya depended on me overtaking him. Ethiopia is Kenya’s great rival in athletics.
I still had traumatizing memories of Kenenisa Bekele defeating Kenyans and winning gold medals in the 2004 Olympics and 2008 Olympics. This cycling-running duel may just be in Karura Forest and not in an Olympic arena, but there is now way I was going to allow Ethiopia to triumph.
Forget that fact that I was on a bicycle and he was on his two legs; what mattered to me was that I needed to be in front of him, not behind him. And so after slamming my feet into the pedals of my bike, I overtook, glanced at him and said with a smile, “good morning.” He replied the greeting, not the smile. I cycled even faster, eager to leave him in the dust. Then I saw someone jogging slowly ahead and knew instantly that it was Philip (officially known as Dr. Philip Osano), my longtime friend.
“Filipo!” I shouted as I drew level to him.
“David!” he shouted back, “great to see you man! So you come this early too?”
“I sure do,” I said and noticed with disappointment that the Ethiopian man had just overtaken us.
“Today am doing a slow run” Philip said, “I haven’t run for three weeks.”
“How many kilometers will you do?”
“I will cycle for thirty kilometers,” I said, just for the record. Men and their egos! For us, life is mostly a competition. I noticed however that, his run of fourteen kilometers was more than my usual run of 12 kilometers. But I run three times between Monday and Friday, I consoled myself.
Philip is one of the most brilliant and passionate environmentalists that I have ever met. I first met him in 2003 (or was it 2004?) when I had just joined UNEP. I had been appointed as the Regional Coordinator of the Africa Environment Outlook for Youth Project while Philip had just finished his studies at Egerton University and was already quite active on the youth environmental scene. Thanks to our shared passion of making this world a greener place, plus our mutual simplicity, we became instant friends. He went on to undertake his masters in Cape Town, then his PhD in Canada. He now works at the Stockholm Environment Institute, Africa as the Acting Director.
After agreeing to meet in two weeks’ time, I bid Philip farewell and sped on. I had to catch up with that Ethiopian and avenge Kenenisa Bekele’s Olympic victories. Not only did I catch up with him and leave him far behind (as was expected since I was cycling), I went on on cover 30 kilometers, my highest ever distance on two wheels. On this morning, the words of Bwak the Bantu poet rung so true, 'victory can rise from the ashes of defeat.'