Amazing Maasai Marathon

Hello Friends:

I had to kill my electricity habit. After a flash flooding made the roads impassable, the village rich guy with a car rescued and befriended me. Turns out he has solar electricity, a satellite TV, a computer adapter, and a wife who made the best goat-milk chai in all of Africa.  I thought I had struck gold until he decided he'd like to take me as his second wife, or at least mistress, both which seemed rather unappealing. So after toying with the idea of hustling for energy, I moved away from the shinning light of electricity and went back to the dark.

I just had my first shower in 3 weeks and as I stood there too long under the lukewater, I wondered how many hours were spent digging in the sand to fetch the water that I was so carelessly wasting. My shower felt good, as did the quiet, uninterrupted sleep without babies crying, and turning on the light instead of reading by headlamp. It felt good, but it didn't make me as happy as I thought it would. I think what has happened is that I have become attached to the people here. While I ate a civilized breakfast in a nice airy room complete with the local paper, I somehow missed the chaos of a meal in a house with kids, chickens and goats running around. I miss my 14 year old friend who ran away from ho me as a child-bride at age eight, and now is a foster child and fellow water-fetcher at the home where I stay. I m iss the kids who accompany me running in their tire-sandals and flip-flops and are so far ahead I can barely see them. I miss the dirty little toddlers who seem to be in endless supply, and have no toys but are self-entertained in the sand. And I miss my new best friend Jackie with whom I while the day away doing laundry in a wheelbarrow and making jokes about the neighbors. I can hardly wait to get back to them.
Life here is wild and unpredictable and after getting over the initial shock, there is something that I have fallen in love with. Their way of life is the way it always has been, and there is a satisfaction in boiling it back to the basics. Food, warmth, sleep, water, family, laughter. As far as I can tell, this is all that you need to make a happy life, and this is a lesson I had to fly all the way here to learn.

I just returned from the summit of Mt. Kenya and I have to say that the world looks good from 5000 meters. I haven't spent that much time at these kinds of altitudes, but whenever I do, I feel immediately in touch with what it means to be alive and breathing. Everything changes at altitude: can't eat, can't sleep, water doesn't boil, difficult to breathe. Despite a raging headache which I still have and insomnia in my sleeping bag, I was gratefully fine. And nothing beats that feeling you get when you reach the summit at sunrise, after hiking all night, after thinking about only your next step, after keeping your water and body from freezing, and after being so close to the stars that you actually feel as if you are in space... after doing whatever it takes to keep yourself alive and moving, you get to the top of the world just as the sky begins to turn orange, red and yellow and it is, well, the best feeling in the world.

And then you have to go back down. It was a 23km hike down from the summit (after having hiked all night) and it was like the real life scenery out of Lion King. I was invited along with some long-term residents who run a resort here, and they had a car so we were able to take an obscure route. All was fine until we got back. No car, no cell reception, no food, no plan B. So after hiking 12 hours, not having slept for 36, and eaten only corn beef (which tastes like cat food) for breakfast, we huddle in our sleeping bags and hope to be rescued. A few hours later, our hopeful ears bent to the rumble of a car and out of nowhere, an old Land Cruiser barrels up with bamboo and small trees attached to the carriage's underside. There was a run-in with elephants and tusks coming thru the windows, the driver tells us, and the road is not good.... We don't care, and tumble in the car eager for the 33km ride out of the park.


All I have to say about this experience is that this was NO road. It was essentially a crude path that a few trucks carved out of a dense jungle. In mud ditches as tall as I, this utilitarian Land Cruiser got stuck and the motley crew of guides, porters, drivers and British boys jacked up the car, dug holes in the mud, put trees (really big trees!) under the wheels, and revved a mountain of smoke to get it out. God, my brother would love this place. Then we got multiple tire punctures (they usually get two a day, the mom notationally tells me as we slide to the far end of the car when the tire is removed) and narrowly avoided getting car hi-jacked. Let me remind you this is not a safari: these are private individuals who make their lives in Kenya on their way home from a day of hiking. I did not just fall off the turnip truck, but this is crazy. All this is after three days on a mountain at altitude and no sleep. And only cat food for breakfast. I was so exasperated by the time I finally got to a bed, I threw the blanket over my head and stared at the dark.

After the lives I have seen in Africa, the concept of the Amazing Race seems a tad silly in this context. Run around with a camera crew doing random tasks and getting all upset about it, vis-a-vis digging your car out of 10 feet of mud or be stampeded by elephants. Now there is a detour option! On the Amazing Race, we were sometimes confronted with tasks that required strength and they really were tough. Now fast forward to Maasai Kenya where the ladies dig for water in the sand, lug multiple 20kg water jugs 1km up a hill, and do a few rounds of it after walking 8km to and from school and studying all day. The day Jackie delivered a baby, she hauled water up a hill twice (and consequently had a 2-hour delivery!) And to think that we struggled to do something similar -once- in a competition, it really puts things in perspective. I am coming away from this with endless admiration for the Maasai--particularly the women--and how they survive and thrive in this environment.

So my conclusion today is the following: when you are feeling down, maybe you should cut your electricity, fill up some water jugs from the swimming pool down the hill, and sit in the dark with a good friend and laugh. Maybe this would cheer you up, it has for me.

Love from afar,


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