At an altitude of almost 3,000 ft and under the equatorial sun, I'm not exactly churning out record-breaking times when I go running here. Running in the Mara is, needless to say, quite different from running in the States. Technically, I don’t run inside the Mara, I run just outside the border, through the Maasai community that neighbors our camp.
The landscape is a far cry from my typical suburban route—rolling hills of savannah, dotted with acacia trees and wildebeest, spread out to the south. To the east and north are mountains, and to the west are manyattas (Maasai homes—see photos), which are mostly made of dried cow manure. The view allows me to see rain coming from miles away, as opposed to at home, where dense trees and buildings make any jog a guessing game weather-wise. The river that forms the border of the park separates me from any carnivores, buffalo, or elephants that might present a threat (or at least that’s what I tell myself, although I haven’t seen anything more than a gazelle so far).
After I cross the river from camp, I make my way through a few bushes and out into open fields, all of which have been grazed down to mostly dirt by the Maasai’s livestock. I follow a cow path onto the road and turn west, making my way up the hill into the Maasai community, all the while avoiding piles of poop and mud puddles. Sometimes cars with tourists will pass me, and I love seeing the confused look on their faces at seeing this random white girl running in the middle of a Maasai community.
As I approach the first cluster of manyatas, I’m usually spotted by a child or two, who shriek to their friends that I’m arriving. Within seconds, kids pop out from every corner and gather at the road ahead, grinning and waving and shouting things in Maa (the Maasai language) that I cannot understand, but presume to be something along the lines of, “Crazy, crazy white lady, why are you in such a hurry?” Usually the kids will join me for a few hundred yards, running by my side, peppering me with questions that I can’t answer. Sometimes the crowd gets so thick—yesterday I had about twenty kids and two dogs with me—that the kids trip over each other and fall. Despite my rudimentary Swahili warnings of “pole, pole!” (“slowly, slowly!”), this inevitably cracks them up and they waste no time in catching up to the group. The kids range in ages from two to about fifteen, both boys and girls. They laugh hysterically as they weave in and out of my path, and love high-fiving me.
Most of the time, the children will run with me for a few minutes and then stop before they stray too far from home. Occasionally, though, I’ll acquire boys walking home from school. These boys are typically on the older side—between nine and fourteen, I’m guessing—and will often run with me for a mile or two. Given that they are wearing sweaters and carrying backpacks, this never fails to impress me. I have to admit: although I enjoy the attention of the younger children, it can be exhausting trying to make sure I don’t run anyone over (harder than it sounds), so I much prefer the older kids. They’ll stop walking when they see me, and as I reach them, they’ll casually say hello and fall into step right next to me, matching me stride for stride. They will run silently next to me until we pass their manyattas, at which point they will wave goodbye and abruptly veer off. I find these kids very comforting, because instead of being my spectators, they are my companions—they’re not in it for me, they’re in it for the run. When they leave, I shout, “Very good! Goodbye friend!” after them, and they grin as we go our separate ways.