Ethno Anthro

This morning I found out Laban flew to Nairobi yesterday morning, which explains why no one has seen him for a few days. It’s kind of bewildering that our main man, the gentleman who is supposed to be coordinating work, and organising construction for the up-coming Marathon is constantly disappearing without giving Michael a heads up, or even his wife. Part of me wants to attribute it to culture and then calm myself down by repeating the phrase ‘cultural relativism’ as a sort of mantra, where practices that may seem odd and out of control are just from another culture and are difficult for someone to understand who is outside the box. I think that’s what it means. I take it with a grain of salt though. When I ask the mother and the ladies about his disappearances we all laugh together at how frustrating it is.

Unconsciously, my degree in anthropology has been put to good use. I haven’t done much writing in the sense of jotting down what I notice, or every day’s events. It’s bad for ethnography if you’re not writing anything, but it’s better for the experience and assimilation side of things. If, every night, I wrote down what I was doing, with who, how I felt, what happened, etc etc..I would probably spend the days telling myself to write this or that at night, then the social aspect of being here, and its flow would be broken, and I wouldn’t really be paying attention to my friends, or what’s going on. Imagine lugging a new friend around who was constantly taking notes of what you said or did, and all you wanted to do was hang out. Now that I really think about it, the first two weeks I observed and learned, and helped Michael with communication. I took on a sort of mediating role between the project-Michael and the locals-Laban and Juliana. Things were moving frustratingly slow, and some of it had to do with ‘Kenyan time’. Most people don’t have watches, so time is more like time of day, morning-ish, after lunch-ish, evening-ish. The only people who ‘keep-time’ are soldiers, runners, and business people working in the cities. Also, the month of December marked the beginning of the holidays. At the beginning of the month boys who are ready to undertake their rite of passage to man-hood go into the bush to live alone and off the land for a month. Then there is Christmas, New Years, then the boys come out of the bush, and everyone celebrates. It’s a five week party basically. Once the specialized workers were ready, and communication was smoothed out, things have started to roll. Anthropology helped Michael and I navigate around these things, and I was able to understand what Michael was encountering as obstruction after obstruction.

I slept really well last night. The night before I woke up to clanging and banging and sounds coming from inside the house, like someone was walking around digging through things. I thought for sure that someone had gotten in, and was robbing us. I stayed up for 45min ready to bounce out of bed and fend off an attacker with a calabash that was given to me as a gift. I was imagining the robber going from room to room, looking the mzungus and the expensive things. My room is all locked up from the inside, so I thought I could hear him quietly pushing on the door, testing it. Michael’s room isn’t locked up from the inside, because the children’s clothes are in is room, so he can’t lock it. Poor Michael, I thought. He’s probably getting hacked up to pieces. At one point I fell back asleep, and dreamt the police came, and during my testimony report thing I said ‘I only heard them’, which I actually said in my sleep, which woke me up. Turns out the noises were Juliana walking around to feed the baby. So last night I slept way better. No imaginary robbers. No hacked up Michaels. I’m having really vivid dreams that I remember. It could be the malaria pills, or it could be the change in regular, solid sleeping patterns. Either way the only time I’m tired is after a tough workout, or at night before bed. Glorious.

The dry season has pretty much settled in. It hasn’t rained for about two weeks now, and the dust on the roads is getting bad. We never run on the main roads now, when cars or motorcycles go by the dust makes it tough to breathe and see, it gets in your nose, down your throat and on your teeth. Blah. So we stick to the side and back roads. Because of no rain, the roads are also getting really hard, like concrete hard, so I have to work on massaging and stretching a lot more. The legs take a pounding. The lawn at the house where I’m staying is starting to turn yellow, and I think there are one or two types of trees that lose their leaves, but that’s about the only change I’ve seen so far.

The group that I train with has been split up now, the mid-d guys are now doing workouts on different days than us-the distance guys. The group has 1500-3000-5000-10000 and road racers 10-1/2-full. Every once in a while a new face comes or I’ll chat with one of the guys and times start getting dropped like celebrity names. One of the guys running with us now ran a flat 7:31 3000m then got injured, so he’s working back. Still fast as heck. There’s a marathoner running with us now that’s spent a few years in Texas, so he speaks a lot like a white person. He’s run 2:12 and a couple thons in the ballpark of 2:14. Cool guy. It’s cheaper for him to be living here and training for a couple months, get back into good shape, then fly back to Texas and win a couple instead of constantly living in Texas where the cost of living is higher.

There’s definitely a pattern to the runners here: they hate getting passed by a mzungu. Even in workouts it’s obvious. If I start catching and gaining on someone, they’ll either kick, to keep me from passing and struggle for the rest of the work, completely fall apart when I go by them, or drop out of the workout completely. In races it’s usually a straight up DNF. Better to claim injury than lose to a white guy. I’ve come close to top half in both of my races, kinda, but a lot of people drop out behind Michael and I, so it never looks that respectable. They’re tough, but they’re not invincible.




How long did it take to adjust to the altitude?

I was able to run easy jogs right away without too much discomfort. When I started running with my new friends on longer jogs 60min and up, we would be going maybe 4:00-4:30, easy enough but it was the hills that really knocked me. My heart rate would shoot right up. Once at the top and even running down, my HR wouldn’t really settle, so if we hit another hill (there’s always another hill) I’d be toast, then I’d start working, and the easy jog wouldn’t really be easy anymore. Now, four weeks later, on long runs and easy runs, I’m able to recover well. I think handling the easy runs coincided with once I started working out, which was within the first week. I threw in a bunch of strides with the guys. Now, at four weeks, workouts are run properly and I recover on easy runs. I’d say I adjusted after 1.5 weeks.

What is the diet like and do you think this is an optimal diet for running? (as opposed to a western diet).

One huge difference is I’m barely eating any meat. Maybe once a week if I’m lucky, lots of vegetables. For breakfast we have tea called chi. It’s mostly milk, then I’ll have peanut butter on toast if there’s any and if not then left over Ugali from the night before. Ugali is kind of like a baked corn meal. I once had a corn muffin in New York, it was disgusting and I couldn’t finish it but ugali has the same texture, but its way better. At lunch it’s a choice of cabbage, beans, rice, potatoes, or a type of kale, sometimes with ugali. And then supper is sort of the same selection. We’ve had fish twice, chicken once and matumbo once with ugali. In between meals we snack sometimes on mendazi, fried dough like doughnuts with chi, or fruit, like mangos or sweet bananas. One thing I’ve notice is I’ve become super sensitive to what I eat. If I eat too much of something, like rice or beans, I get bloated and can’t sleep (then can’t rest, then run tired). The Ugali is a good filler because it’s pretty light and doesn’t leave you feeling heavy or bloated. The guys here are really careful about what they eat and when; they’ll stay away from oily chipati bread (even meat) if they have a race or hard work-out the next day and stick with Ugali. The rice, bread, and occasional plain spaghetti is actually meant for special occasions, and most people think mzungus only eat rice, but ugali is really the staple food. I’d say it’s a good diet. I wish I had more meat sometimes, but I know if I did, I’d probably feel heavy the following day. I think the amount of running affects the digestive system, it’s the center right, so it matters more and more what you are eating as you run more and more. We’ve been without peanut butter for three days. I can’t say I feel too affected, I just wish I had some.

How hard and how long do they run for? (say training for 10k) In terms of their usual workouts in comparison to stuff we do back home..

Back home a typical training week is filled with three big workouts. They tend to have four. And they’re done back to back, so Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday. Friday is sometimes switched to Saturday, depending. Every Monday is always hillwork. It doesn’t seem to matter what season it is. It’s for ‘building the muscles’. The type, duration, intensity, speed and length depends on what distance you are training for, what season you are in and where in the season you are, but there’s always hillwork. Tuesday is Fartlek, which can sometimes be track work, but the basic rule is to be working for anywhere from 40-60min (including recovery). Again, it depends on what they want out of the workout. Wednesday is the longrun, Thursday is track work, which is just like our track work. Intervals, recovery, pain. Then Friday, sometimes Saturday, is usually 60min at ‘moderate pace’. It’s basically a progressive tempo. But this sucker is tough, because its super hilly here, and with the altitude you can really work. Long runs usually finish with a little up-tempo. All afternoon runs are easy. Always. Most 6am morning runs are at a shuffling pace, unless we are beating the heat and doing a workout early. One thing I’ve noticed is the training is flexible, and all these guys are at different levels. So some may be running faster than me, but I’m doing way more mileage. All in all, the workouts are very similar, basically the same, but the habits, life-style and other runs they do between the workouts are very different from what we do.