Exploring Kunya, Week 3-5

7 07 2012

A few weeks ago, Kelly and I decided to go on a run. We went in the direction of a house we knew, and kept going on that path, which led us through a field. It may seem strange to travel across other people’s property, but our translator Tina told us before that as long as you stay on the path, don’t tread on the crops, and say hello if you pass them, then it’s okay. After a rocky downhill, we came across a wide path and passed a few people, followed by donkeys carrying jerry cans full of water. Soon enough, the bushes cleared up and we came to the shore of Lake Victoria. A lot of women were by the water, doing laundry, filling up jerry cans, and chatting while a few donkeys grazed behind them. At this point, we turned back to go home, but on our way back, we were challenged to a race by a little boy, maybe 8 years old. Neither of us had the energy to sprint, so after about 200 yards, I found him waiting for me by a tree with a shout of “I won!”

I went jogging by myself a second time, but I soon learned that everyone is on the road in the late afternoons, coming home from work or school. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that amzungu is reason enough to stare, and a running mzungu is almost an obligation to stare. One man even stopped me to ask, with deep concern, “Why do you run?” Because of all this attention, I felt like the appropriate response was to greet everyone (Note: a running mzungu trying to speak Luo is outright hilarious). If you’ve ever tried holding a conversation while running, you’ll understand that by the end of my run, I had some very unpleasant side stitches.

I’ve since taken a habit of going on runs in the mornings before breakfast, and going on exploratory walks some afternoons. My morning runs require fewer greetings, although my antics evoke laughter and thumbs-up signs. The kids walking to primary school in the morning have gotten used to seeing me running, so now they join me. I start with maybe three or four fellow joggers, and each time we pass another group of kids, we sweep them up. By the time we reach the primary school, I’ve acquired a full-blown track team of up to 30 students.

My exploratory walks involve much more talking. I’ve met some kids who love having their picture taken, sometimes making faces and then bursting into laughter. One group of kids started teaching me Luo words by pointing to various objects and body parts and telling me the name. There were a few I knew, like oduma (maize) and lweti (hand), but sadly, I can’t remember most of the new words and phrases. As I left them, they asked me to “Ringo” (Run) and started laughing. I think word of the running mzungu has reached them.

As well as meeting new people, often my walks or runs involve running into people we’ve already met through home visits, the dispensary, or somewhere else. We started five weeks ago as very visible strangers in a small community, so there’s something special about hearing a familiar face greet you by name, grab your hand, and ask you when you’re going to visit them – especially amid all the shouts of “Mzungu!”

Even when there aren’t many people around, Kenya also has some of the most interesting and colorful birds I’ve ever seen, plenty to keep a bird watcher entertained for days. I accidentally discovered an interesting bird that reminds me of a roadrunner-meerkat hybrid. This bird is gray, and it sits on the ground, almost invisible, until disturbed. When you walk by one, it’ll suddenly spring up, on ridiculously long, stilt-like legs, and start running off. And then, almost one-by-one, the other roadrunner-meerkats suddenly spring up from their various spots and shoot off on their spindly legs. It’s quite a comedic sight.

And even beyond the wildlife and the people, Kunya’s position near the lake and the mountains makes its everyday scenery breathtaking. One morning, I glanced over at the sunrise, and witnessed the grapefruit-colored sun peeked over a cloud, sending divine pink rays onto the lake below, with the mountains filling the background. And one of the most memorable moments occurred on my way back to the compound for dinner as the sun was setting. I just happened to look back, and was stunned by the most intense sunset I’ve ever seen. The sun was bright orange, and from where I was standing, the orange light spread across the valley and reflected off the lake below. I tried to take a picture, but it was much more spectacular in the moment, so I’ll leave it to your imagination rather than post the picture (nothing to do with the fact that the image uploader is not working).

Saira

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