The main gate to our court was locked. So I had to touch it in order to open it. In these Covid-19 days, one thinks twice before touching public places. But I had no option, so I cast a glance at the security guard cubicle and opened the gate. The guard was deep asleep.
Technically, fifth June 2019, was my third time, not first. But this fifth day of June was the first day that I did it real good.
The first time was when I was in my early twenties, which is many years ago. I don’t even remember who was teaching me to ride a bike. Maybe it was Uncle Moses, our long-serving farmhand who was still with us at the time. I vaguely recall that I was able to actually balance on a bike for a few minutes and ride it. And that was it. I never got on top of a bike again for almost two decades. The next time I hopped onto a bike, I just couldn’t ride it on my own. Despite the best efforts of yet another farmhand who kept pushing me and cheering me on, I was unable to balance and ride it.
The second time was in May 2019 after I had bought Silver Oak (this is my bike’s new name, named after the Silver Oak Tree) and ferried it to the village so that I could ride it without prying eyes wondering what took this big guy so long to learn how to ride! I remember ten years ago when I was finally learning how to swim, this adorable little girl looked at me and asked with all the innocence in the world, “why didn’t you learn to swim when you were little?”
Back to Silver Oak, the morning after I arrived in the village, I decided to try and ride the bike on my own. So after my precious mama had stuffed me with a plate of sweet potatoes and arrow roots, I walked out of the house with a full belly, got on the bike and just rode it down the sixty-meter stretch to the gate and back to foyer of my parents’ house.
What! I was shocked. A big grin spread over my face as my papa looked up at me.
“I thought you didn’t know how to ride a bike!” Papa said.
“I thought so too!”
For the rest of the day, I rode and rode. I would just hop on, and ride. Man, it felt good! I could actually ride a bike!
The following day I had to leave and travel back to Nairobi.
That’s how June 5th 2019 came into play. I needed to ride for several hours in a public place, not just in our compound. If I could actually ride in a public place, then I would know that I could ride a bike properly. That I could do it real good. And there was no better place to do so than Karura Forest.
“Billy,” I had called my younger brother, “let’s go riding in Karura Forest this coming Saturday.”
And so Wednesday June 5th at 6AM, Billy knocked on my gate and we pierced through the semi-darkness as we drove to Karura Forest.
Rain had pounded the forest during the night, so there was a fair amount of mud. But not even all the mud in the world was going to stop me from riding in Karura for the first time ever. Riding in public for the first time. Nothing was going to stop this first time.
My poor bike had to carry my then 95 kilos over wet, muddy terrain. Billy was great in guiding me: he patiently taught me about two different ways to start the bike; about fixing my eyes ahead and not on the handle bars; relaxing my grip on the handle bars and not clutching them as if my life depended on it. And many more. Every time I saw pedestrians or other cyclists coming from the opposite direction towards us, I would stop the bike clumsily and pretend to be on the phone. I didn’t trust my ability to cross paths with them without bumping into them.
We muddled through it, all the way across the middle Track to the Kiambu Road gate, back to the middle track and then on to Mau Mau Trail. I would ride the bike and hand it over to Billy for a few minutes so that he could also get a ride. I marveled at his smooth and fast rides, wondering if I could ever ride like that. Its as if the two bike wheels were simply extensions of his two human legs.
On his part, Billy marveled at the power of the mountain bike’s gears and brakes. He had grown up riding the black mamba bicycle (known in the West as roadster). This bike had no gears at all and hence one had move it through sheer power and alight on sloping ground.
My bike didn’t fail me on this muddy Wednesday. This first time was muddy and bumpy but smooth all the way. Just like the Silver Oak tree that abounds in Karura, this bike has been sturdy and full of replenishment.
That day, Monday 15th June started off in the middle of the night, like all other days. After jumping out of bed, flicking on my laptop and brushing my teeth, I sank into my maroon chair and relaxed for a few seconds. I thought about the maroon chair I was sitting on. It had quite a story behind it. As did my smooth work table. I closed my eyes and thought about that story.
It was April, 2012 and I wanted to travel to Lamu Island to begin another life there.
You see, I love to throw a few T-shirts into my rucksack and hop onto a bus, train or plane. I have been doing so ever since I finished High School.
I traveled all over Kenya: to the serene Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, the ancestral home of Tom Mboya the independence icon; to the rugged Ringiti Island, a small rocky Island in Lake Victoria; to a Ugandan Island in the same lake whose name I can no longer recall; to Kaikor, deep in Turkana’s arid terrain; to Imola, where Formula 1’s San Marino Grand Prix is located; to the orderly Bonn in Germany; to the historic Italian city of Rome; to the Italian island of Sicily in Southern Italy; to the incomparable Mahe in Seychelles; to the sizzling Port Louis in Mauritius; to the inimitable Soweto in South Africa and to many other destinations around Africa and the world.
One of my travels had taken me to Lamu Island in the far north coast of Kenya. And I had fallen head over heels in love with the place.
In 2011 on New Year’s Eve, tragedy had struck Lamu when a passenger boat capsized and killed more than ten people. This, coupled with recent Al Shabaab attacks in the area, had drawn me back to Lamu Island in mid January 2012. Officially, I was there to report on the two stories for Radio France International. But I also wanted to reconnect with the Island. After working on the stories, I made a spontaneous decision as I am wont to do sometimes, that I would return to the island after a few months to settle there.
But before doing so I wanted to start an online radio station whose offices would be in Nairobi. When I started Sasafrica Productions back in 2005 while still in my twenties, the vision was to ‘unveil Africa.’ Time was ripe for an online radio station that would do exactly that. I was calling it AfricaSauti (voice of Africa). Its main reporters would be my long time friends Cathy Nanzala and Joan Aroni together with Charity Wangui and Johnson Muchiri, who I recruited through Brighter Monday. It was a very enterprising and talented team. They found the office in Ngara and even found a great deal for that maroon chair, computers tables and other office furniture. When we closed shop about a year later, that maroon swiveling chair plus one of the tables ended up in my home office.
All these memories were running in my mind when I started my dawn run at the Rhino Stretch. In order to give myself extra thrust, I imagined that I was running along the beaches of Lamu, with the waves roaring besides me. As such, the honks of Kangundo Road’s vehicles were replaced by refreshing roars of waves. This propelled me to run on in more relaxed fashion.
On a few occasions, fatigue would banish the Lamu thoughts and I would slow down to one of my ‘rest walks,’ as I panted like crazy. But that morning’s run proved to be a more relaxed one than others. That’s why when I reached Whitehouse and saw that I had run an average of 6.05, I was quite shocked. This was my best ever run outside of the Sport Club! Interestingly, two days later on Wednesday 17th June, my average time was exactly the same.
A quick note to my future wife - if you furtively me catch me in the act of dashing to the washroom with my Samsung phone all the time, it is not because I want to send a quick message to an old flame. The only reason my phone escorts me to the small room all the the time is because I enjoy reading stuff as I sit there.
Two weeks ago, my two legs carried me for thirty kilometers within Karura Forest. That was my longest walk in the forest. Today, I want my two wheel to similarly carry me through this forest. I want to cycle for at least thirty kilometers.
When my Growler purrs into Gate A parking lot, there is only one other car even although its already 7.15AM. A white car. If this was a Saturday or a Sunday, there would be an entire queue of cars idling impatiently as occupants peep out of windows, eager to dive into hours of fitness and serenity in the forest. That’s why I am now shifting my Karura days from weekends to weekdays. There are far fewer people during weekdays, which means that I get to have the trees and birds all to myself.
As has become the norm nowadays, I step out of the Growler to have my temperature taken by a Red Cross man. His red Red Cross jacket can be seen from a mile away. But his somber eyes can only be seen from up close. He turns around the temperature gadget so that I can see my temperature. 35.7. I wonder if he ever finds people whose temperatures are quite high. What happens to them? Are they told to turn around and seek treatment? Can you have high temperature without knowing that you have high temperature?
These questions ring in my mind as I drive through the gate, turn a sharp left and drive towards the parking. There is an empty spot in my preferred parking area on the right, though my lovely friend Sunshine prefers an area on the left where several trees provide a lovely shade for cars. She has a point, but old habits die hard, so I park in the empty slot on the right and proudly fish out my bike from the Growler’s belly. Since I bought new tires for the bike, I have only used it once, the previous Sunday 14th June. I feel like shouting out that my bike has new tires.
I initiate the running app, jump on the bike and start cycling away. The breeze whips my cheeks and I smile. I love these early riding moments when legs are still full of energy, before I have to force them towards a target. When I hit the Middle Track, it feels as if some invisible wings have attached themselves to my bike’s wheels and that the trees are actually cheering me on. I spot a Ugandan Greenheart that I have grown fond of and smile at it. I am not particularly sure why I like that specific tree, but it tugs at my heart.
Because the bike bridge over Karura river is flooded, I use the footpath bridge to cross over to the other side. Since my energy is still abundant, I cycle for half the distance up the steep trail. For the remaining half, I push my bike uphill. Pants slowly begin to emerge from my chest.
I have covered eight and a half kilometers, my running app informs me. That means I still have at least 22 kilometers to go. I sigh deeply and fold the sleeves of my dark blue windbreaker jacket. They are about two inches longer than my hands so they keep spilling over into my palm.
After five minutes, the uphill climb ends and I hop back to my bike. The saddle feels nice and firm beneath me. But the trousers am wearing today are rather baggy, which makes them unsuitable for biking. My usual biking pants were too dirty, so I had yanked them off earlier that morning after nearly ten minutes of internal debate.
I am now at Muhugu Trail. It is named after the muhugu tree, whose English name is Silver Oak. This section of the trail is rather rough, with roots competing with little gullies to crisscross the trail. Am enjoying rising from my saddle every time the wheels hurtle towards a particularly large root. A few months ago, I couldn’t do this. But now its a breeze.
I hear a rattling sound behind me and before I can register where its coming from, a cyclist fully attired in a helmet, black jersey and black cycling shorts flashes past me, as if am immobile. Man! This is disheartening! I think jokingly with a grin. But in reality, am inspired. After all, I have only been cycling for about a year. So with consistency, I will get there.
About two hours later, I romp back to The Growler, my beloved Subaru Forrester, and smile proudly as it pats me on the back. I had cycled for 32 kilometers, my longest ever.
Christine was at her kibanda in Kangemi, preparing to start cooking the chapatis that paid her rent. Her beefy fist pounded into the wheat flour dough. Then her strong fingers dug into the dough, twisted it, rolled it and squeezed it.
When I closed the main gate and matched out into the cold 4.50AM night, I wasn’t thinking that this could be the day when my running will pass a milestone. I just knew that I would run well. On Wednesday I had run alone in the rain for six kilometers before I finally saw another jogger. Running along Kangundo Road in the rain had been rather tricky since the parts of the footpath were flooded. Drainage on this road is much better than other roads, so there it must have been clogged somewhere. At the end of the run, I registered a speed of 6.48 minutes per kilometer, my worst in weeks. But then, I had been running in the rain. Mostly alone. I had the footpaths all to myself and that was a lot of fun.
Two days later on Friday, there I was, running on Rhino road with the usual slower pace. I was however practicing landing mid sole as opposed to landing on the heels. A runner’s footstrike can contribute to a faster overall speed and reduce injury. I had watched James Dunne analyzing Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two hour marathon and it was evident that the Greatest of All Time was landing mid-sole. So that’s what I was practicing now, and I was seeing good results. Coach Nate of The Run Experience had further expounded why a mid-sole footstrike was best for longer distance running.
When I hit Moi Drive, I noticed something interesting. I felt that I was moving faster even though my body was a lot more relaxed. I wasn’t straining like I usually did. The same applied on Usain the Usain Stretch adjacent to Kayole Spine Road. I just kept going. That massively heavy panting was gone. I was just springing alone, missing the rain that had pounded my back two days earlier but loving the dry ground. When I landed at Kangundo road, the running cruise now seemed to be in auto gear. I only stopped briefly at the mandazi junction then continued cruising along. At Kangaru Road in Komarock, it was as if my almost tattered Nike shoes had springs in them.
Was I finally experiencing the Flow? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's world-famous investigations of "optimal experience" have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. In essence, they just flow as they engage in whatever endeavor they have immersed themselves into.
When I arrived back at Whitehouse just after 6.10AM, my running app proudly informed me that I had run at an average speed of 6.07 minutes per kilometer. My fastest ever speed outside the Sports Club running track. I smiled proudly as I waved to the security guard at our Court’s main gate.
Will I make it? Will I beat my record of 6:18 minutes per kilometer, which I set on Monday May 25? These questions were racing through my mind as I raced along Rhino Stretch, Tena Estate’s longest road.
I nudged myself to run a little bit faster, feeling that my pace was too slow. It must be all that tumbukiza meat that I ate yesterday. I thought with a frown as my feet continued tapping the hard tarmac. The previous day on May 31st, I had visited my big brother Hannington at his maisonette in Kitengela for a Post-Birthday meal. Donning big brown shorts and a while golf shirt, he had cooked for me Tumbukiza, the only meal under God’s heaven that he can cook well. Tumbukiza is Swahili for ‘immerse into.’ As the name suggests, this beef delicacy entails boiling the beef and immersing into it whatever you want to. For my brother, this always means tomatoes, garlic, onions, green pepper and potatoes.
A few meters before the Moi Drive roundabout, I slowed to a walk, counted to 20 then started hurtling along Moi Drive, eager to hit a sub-10 minute speed by the time I reached the second electricity pole after the Kifaru Primary School junction.
9 minutes, 43 seconds. Yes!! I high-fived the cold air when MapmyWalk app informed me that I had covered that distance in less than ten minutes. This is a great start! I thought with a smile. This was just the third or fourth time that I had covered this distance in a sub-10 speed.
After counting to twenty again, I fled from my walk and resumed my run. There were two ladies in front of me. In less than half a minute, my feet hurled me in front of them, and just behind another lady whose braids were dancing left-right with every step she took. Her pace was just like mine, so I switched gears a notch higher. In less than a minute, my feet spattered abreast her, then ahead. Let’s just say that I was cruising like Lewis Hamilton, the six-time world champion. A quick glance behind me and I crossed the road, turned right and started racing towards the last bump before Umoja 2 matatu terminus. I overtook two other ladies and caught whiffs of their conversation. It was in Kikuyu, so I couldn’t understand a word.
One week earlier, on Monday 25th, I had overtaken these same ladies. One is short and plump. She is the more talkative one. The taller one can also be described as plump but her height makes her appear slimmer than her friend. I love their dedication not just to running but doing so together. I still prefer to run alone, where my pants are just as private as my thoughts.
On that Monday 25th, I had hurtled down Usain stretch with the strides of a cheetah. I can usually tell how first am running by glancing at my shadow. If my pace is slow, then the shadow will appear to be barely moving. That Monday 25th, my shadow was soaring like an eagle’s shadow. There was a guy in front of me with a red cap, almost like my red Honda cap. He was taller, with long strides almost twice the size of mine. But at that spot directly opposite the Administration Police station, I overtook him.
When I finally made it back to Whitehouse along Outering Road and stopped, I wasn’t surprised when MapmyWalk informed me that I had averaged a speed of 6:18 minutes per kilometer. This was a new personal best, outside Jaffery Sports Club where running around a 440 metre track is a lot easier.
A few days after this personal best, I came across a YouTube video about Abby Levene, a young American lady from Boulder Colorado. In the video, she had just run 18 kilometers at an average speed of 4:25 minutes per kilometer. Hmmm… Interesting. That girl is fast! Even faster than Yves, my Cameroonian friend who regularly averages speeds of 4:30 minutes per kilometer, but always for 10-kilometer runs, not double that distance like Abby.
In my defense, both Abbie and Yves are younger and lighter than me.
On Wednesday May 27, I was determined to break my personal best time record from two days earlier. But I was aware of the zigzag nature of running time. Improvement doesn’t come in a straight line. Still, I knew that if I could just slash 30 seconds from Monday’s overall time of 1:12:40, I would smile all the way to a new record.
Well, that didn’t happen. My overall time was 1:13:16, which means that the average time was 06:20 minutes per kilometer. I shook my head in disappointment as I approached our Court’s main gate and waved at that security guard who never smiles.
Friday the 29th arrived with the usual deep silence of nighttime. When I woke up just a few minutes after 2AM, I smiled in the darkness. I love at this hour because it affords me a couple of hours to do some writing before my run. Back in High School, I read a book by Emmanuel Eni, a Nigeria Writer who claimed that 2AM is the most evil hour of the night. I think it’s the most peaceful hour. In addition, I believe that all time emanates from God’s bosom.
On Friday 29th when my eyes flicked open and my feet hit the warm tiles of my bedroom, my legs felt fine and happy. There wasn’t a creaking muscle anywhere in them. My legs are signaling that I will have a good run. I thought happily, as I gulped the customary tumbler of water from the blue tumbler that Aunt Millie gave me a couple of years ago.
I didn’t write at all because my mind was hooked to the economic empowerment concept that I was preparing for Mlilo Women Group. At 4.31AM, I slammed shut the laptop and started getting ready for my run. I slipped into my navy blue track suit pants, navy blue long-sleeved running top, happy cotton socks and Nike sneakers. Then I sank into the African armchair by the door and meditated briefly. At 4.57AM, I walked out of the door.
I ran. And ran. And ran. Along the Rhino Stretch; along Moi Drive and along Usain Stretch. At the first matatu stop along Kangundo Road, I stopped running and started sprinting. At Mama Stop (I named it as such so that mama’s stunning smile can keep me going when I reach there), I sprinted on. And on, until the Mandazi junction where a group of women normally sell tea, mandazi, chapati and fried eggs. I never see them these days because I always pass there before they arrive.
At this mandazi junction, I slowed down for a walk. After counting to twenty and stealing a few more seconds, I resumed sprinting. There is a guy in front of me - shorter and a lot lighter - who was running at a very fast pace. But I overtook him and sped on. Pace your run. These three words flashed in my mind so I slowed down and started walking after a few seconds. My heavy breathing could probably be heard from ten meters away. That short guy overtook me with a grunt, probably telling himself that he was having the last laugh. At this juncture, my run became tedious.
Maybe I should just slow to a walk for the rest of the time and live to fight another day. I told myself. I was now running rather slowly along Kangaru Road in Komarock. Even K-Mall on my right seemed to be urging me to give up the run. My body felt off.
Nope. Keep going. These words tumbled wearily into my mind. Just keep going. So I kept going, dragging my feet along and wishing that they could cooperate more. I slowed to a walk and threw up my hands, almost in surrender. I turned left into Malewa Road 2 and started the gentle descent. Whenever I am on this descent, I usually start running after about ten meters. But this time, I walked on for ten more meters. At this stage, I was sure that my average speed would be dismal. Just try and keep it sub-7! I told myself, not eager to have the blot of a 7-minute plus average speed on my record.
The sight of Kenol Fuel Station almost one kilometer later was a relief. At least I could walk a bit now. On the way back along Malewa Road 2, my energy was draining faster than a leaking water pipe. Just stop. So I stopped. Try your best and keep running, since this is the longest descent in this run. So I resumed running. Faster, faster. Oh boy, am so tired. My body is on a go slow. When I stumbled back into Kangaru Road, I slowed to a really slow walk. My breathing was so heavy I could feel my chest creaking.
When I resumed my run a few meters into Kangaru Road, something interesting happened. Although a heavy load was still weighing down my shoulders, I could feel that there was a new spring in my steps. It’s as if a force in the ground was pushing up my feet every time they slammed into it. This left me with a relaxed, faster pace that wasn’t labored. Still, I was certain that this would end up being one of my slowest speeds. But alas, nature had a surprise for me. At White House less than forty minutes later, MapMyWalk announced that I had averaged a speed of 06:23 minutes per kilometer. Wow! I thought things would be much worse. Evidently, my slow runs were slowly becoming faster than my previous fastest runs. Alhamdulillah.
Then came today, the 1st of June 2020. Madaraka Day, Kenya’s independence day. It’s also the day that my maternal grandmother Nashibe went to be with the Lord.
When I woke up earlier today at 3.30AM, I was doubtful if I was going to run faster than the 6:18 of one week earlier. Not only had I not done exercises of any kind for the entire weekend, I had also eaten a lot, because Saturday was my birthday. Then Sunday brought with it that post-birthday tumbukiza beef. Earlier on that Sunday, I had reveled in the angelic presence of my one-and-a-half year old nephew Juvi and three-year old niece Sultannah. God, I adore them. They are my brother Mpasua’s kids. Their mama fixed a delicious breakfast of fried arrow roots and smokies. I devoured it with gusto, as Juvi and Sultannah chatted with me. Juvi in his half-baby, half-human language, Sultannah in her impeccable English.
When I stepped out of the house this morning at 4.48AM, I thought of those two little angels. Their innocent laughter reverberated in my mind as my feet smashed into Rhino stretch. I think that their divine touch yesterday, plus my grandma’s celestial cheers, pushed me to a new record today. An average speed of 06:15 minutes per kilometer. The third kilometer was run in 05:46 minutes per kilometer, my fastest ever kilometer outside of Jaffery Sports Club. What a run!
As Abbie, that fast American runner said in the YouTube video, “I run because I love it and its fun.” It sure was fun.
Am looking forward to run with you one of these fine days. At Karura Forest. Or somewhere in the Great Rift Valley. Who knows, we might bump into Eliud Kipchoge, the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) marathoner.
I am feeling sickish. Its the 1.23 AM Sunday. 17th May. I have just woken up and my body doesn’t feel quite right. Will I be able to run today? Will my feet be able to slam into the ground for the 11,400 steps it usually takes me to run for 11.5 kilometers? My thighs feel tense. I feel something slithering through them. A tangible form of weariness. But I also feel something deeper. An assurance that not only will I be able to run, I will also run real good. I know in my guts that the sickish feeling buffeting my body is not really the advent of malaria or a cold, the two most common illnesses in my life. I conclude that the sickish feeling must be stemming from the 24 kilometers of cycling on Saturday, with my sister Gish. So I make up my mind that in a few hour’s time, at 5AM, I will step out of the house, walk for half a kilometre, then start running at the Kamuti butchery junction.
I write for an hour and a half then I refine a project concept for Environmental Africa Trust. The concept is about a project known as Chughano, Taita for storytelling. The idea is to use storytelling to tackle the Human-Elephant Conflict that is widespread in Lower Sagalla. I enjoy refining this concept. A few days earlier, I submitted it to a development partner for funding. But now am refining it into a template concept that can be customised for other similar projects in future. 4.34AM. It’s time to get ready for my morning run.
4.58AM. I step out of the house so that I can be at the main Court gate by 5AM. Every minute counts.
“Yá mune Kemboi!” I greet one of my favorite security guards. The other one is Max. They are both jolly people, so we always exchange smiles and laughter. One day I will employ one of them.
“Poa sana Jónte!” he usually uses the sheng version of my middle name John. I need to buy him breakfast soon, I tell myself as I start walking briskly. The breeze is cool and refreshing as it massages my cheeks. Deep silence is alive. The only sound in my ears is that of my footsteps. I almost stop walking so that I can just listen to the sweet silence that inhabits the pre-dawn hour. Only the sound of my feet can be heard.
When my feet splatter to the Kamuti butchery junction, I fish out my phone, scroll to the MapmyWalk running app and press start. It is game time.
About four months earlier when I resumed my pre-dawn runs, I would jog at a slow pace for less than a hundred meters and pant heavily as if I had just finished a marathon behind Eliud Kipchoge, the Greatest of All Time. But not these days. My legs are slowly becoming poetry in motion.
I break into a steady but slow pace, especially since now I know much more about pacing, which entails starting your runs with a slower pace to warm up your body and conserve energy. Pacing ensures that you don’t burn out too quickly.
Even lovemaking requires pacing, but that’s a story for another day.
I run at a slightly faster pace on rhino stretch. I am feeling good as I pass the second junction on the road. I step up my pace slightly when I approach the corner in which I am going to slow my run into a brief walk. At the final 150 meter stretch within Tena estate, I burst into a half-sprint that deposits me to the Moi Drive roundabout. Now a sweat is trickling down my face, which is a good sign that calories are being roasted.
Those two ladies that I always meet on Moi Drive are running towards me. I have just slowed to a walk to catch my breath but when I see them, I break into a run. I don’t want them to catch me walking and imagine that I am already tired. We steal glances at each other with one of them. She kind of looks like my friend Regala. A bigger version of Regala, who is quite petite. I speed past the Kifaru primary school junction and stop thirty meters ahead to catch my breath again. My app informs me that ten minutes and twelve seconds have elapsed. Not bad. Not bad at all. Previously, I used to arrive here at the thirteen-minute mark.
Then I break into a fast-paced run that takes me all the way to the Umoja 2 matatu terminus. It’s the first time that I have ever run from Kifaru junction up to here without slowing to a walk. This fast pace never leaves my side and becomes even faster at Kangundo Road. Here, I am literally sprinting. Poetry in motion. Less than forty minutes later, this poetry brings me back to Whitehouse where I normally stop my running app and take a one-minute stroll back home. 6.24 minutes per kilometer! Yes! This is a personal record. I have never ever run this fast outside the Sports Club. I break into a wide smile and use the back of my hand to wipe the sweat that has just poured from my forehead into my right eye.
My Cameroonian friend Yves ran for 4.44 mins per kilomter the other day, for a similar distance. But I am using that to inspire myelf, not to deflate my spirits. A time will come when that 4.44 will be my slow speed.
The group discussion was getting intense, like a sprint hurtling to the finish line. On my right was a lanky participant from Eastern Europe. He had a serious face but friendly presence. On my left was a bespectacled young man from Sri Lanka, decked in a tucked-in checked shirt. To his left was my new friend Harshini, also from Sri Lanka. She had a warm smile and a bubbly spirit. She was wearing a loose floral dress that enhanced her easy-going nature.
Then there was me, a young man in his twenties sitting at the pinnacle of youth leadership at the United Nations Environment Programme. I was donning an ankara top that I had bought in Mauritius a few months earlier. My afro hair was sitting proudly on my head, hiding the fact that for half the time, my mind was with Puja. I had met her two days earlier during the official opening of the 2005 Tunza International Youth Conference that was being held from 4 - 10 October in Bangalore. She was in charge of street children dancers who entertained the hundreds of youth delegates at the opening ceremony.
After the event, I pushed my way through the crowd of fellow youth until I came face to face with her just outside the entrance of the large hall.
“Congratulations on the amazing dance!” I was all smile, speaking in a warm, cordial tone as if we were long lost friends reuniting.
It was friendship at first sight. I was loving Bangalore, the capital of India's southern Karnataka State.
Two days earlier when we landed in Bangalore, I was wide eyed with excitement.It was my first time in India and I was itching to see the entire place, as if it was a small town and not an entire sub-continent. The land of Mahatma Gandhi. The man who told us to be the change we wanted to see. The land of spicy food. We were accorded VIP treatment at the airport since we were the UN team. Together with us was Eric Falt, the then Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information. Also on our contingent was Theo Oben, the Head of UNEP’s Children and Youth Unit. The jovial Joyce Sang, His colleague in that Unit, was also with us.
As the luxury van ferrying us from the airport sped into the streets of Bangalore, I became a little boy again, as I always do whenever I travel to a new place. My eyes remained glued outside as I devoured all the brand new sights before me. An elderly man jogging. A couple laughing as they pointed at something behind them. Mannequins standing guard outside boutiques.
All these sights flashed through my mind once again as a fellow youth from Kenya gave a presentation in the group discussions. She was wearing a white T-shirt whose front bore the inscription - Women AIDS Run. I loved her shoulder-length dreadlocks and made a mental note to ask her how long it had taken her to grow them.
My mind came back fully to the conference hall when Luis Betanzos raised his hand and began speaking in that Spanish accented English that Anglophones love.
I had met Juan when I traveled to Lima, Peru a few months earlier, for the Global Environment Outlook for Youth, Latin America meeting. He had a quiet presence that cajoled you to listen to what he was saying. Most of the time, he would be speaking about Latin America’s youth and environment, two of his passions. He was working in UNEP’s Latin America office.
A few minutes later, we had to conclude the group discussion and troop to a larger discussion that was being held in the main hall. I made sure that I sat in the last row so that I could sneak out if I got bored. Luckily, that prospect disappeared because there was a young lady at the front giving a powerful presentation.
The earnest look on her face was complemented by her equally earnest pink jacket. She said that she was from South Korea and was studying environmental science at university. She was speaking about the need to work hand in hand with volunteers. I liked that, because when I turned 21 a few years earlier, I had joined Kenya Voluntary Development Association as a volunteer and risen through the ranks to become its Chairman, the youngest ever in its history.
Seated on the wooden floor a few feet away from the South Korean lady, was a young Indian lady. All through the presentation, her eyes remained animated, almost as if she was ‘in spirit.’ There was a massive green tree at the front of her white top. Also seated on the floor, a few feet away from the young Indian lady was a young Mexican lady who looked very familiar although I couldn’t place where I had seen her.
As I walked out of the conference hall one hour later, I was still asking myself where exactly I had seen that young Mexican lady.