As I’ve mentioned in past entries, I often turn to jogging for all my therapeutic needs. Handily, it also accomplishes my exercise needs. So here’s an account of my thought progression during my first run back in the Mara:
Minute 1: So happy to be back on my feet on my old stomping grounds. Feeling light and energetic and ready to take on the world(!). (Sigh. This won’t last.)
Minute 6: The endorphins must be starting to kick in, because I’m having one of those isn’t-nature-so-amazing moments—a common feeling here in the Mara. I’m struck by the unparalleled blue and wide expanse of the Kenyan sky, the spectacular view of the hills rolling in the distance, and the serenity of the afternoon.
Minute 8: Moment over. Cue running, screaming, and waving children. At first I feel the warmth of familiarity, of a reunion with old friends…the same feeling I got when I saw Morpheus, my favorite hyena. But I’m quickly brought out of my genial haze as I get a swift elbow to the thigh. An overzealous kid is insisting on running six inches in front of me and is swinging his elbows like there’s no tomorrow. Well-intentioned, my young friend, but please excuse me as I gently shove you aside.
Minute 25: My mind wanders to random topics as I try to preoccupy myself during the long middle stretch…the Red Sox are 5 games up, that’s lovely (an ocean away, I still care)…Murphy should be having a new litter of cubs soon…I wonder what my most-loved one is up to right now...hopefully missing me….
Minute 33: I approach a group of older kids walking home from school. One by one, they fall into step with me, saying hello and then silently joining the trek. Now we are four, now nine, now fourteen. I smile, saving my biggest grin for the lone girl, knowing that she has faced many hardships to stay in school this long, and will surely face countless more if she is to finish secondary school against all odds.
Minute 36: “What is your name?” my companions want to know. “Leslie” is particularly difficult for Kenyans to say, and I am reminded of my journey to the Mara on a lorry from Nairobi a few days ago. While waiting for the driver to return from errands, a parking enforcement officer sidles up to my open window.
“You can’t park here.”
“Sorry, it’s not my lorry. You’ll have to talk to the driver. He’ll be back soon.”
“You have to pay a fine.” I wonder if this is because my white skin makes me look like an easy target for cash. Or maybe we’re just actually parked illegally. Probably both. I decide to use my charm as a young American woman to my advantage and offer an innocent smile and a Kiswahili apology. This seems to do the trick for the moment and we ease into small talk. He asks my name, and when I tell him, he makes me repeat it. He tries to write it down, and it takes him three tries of listening to me spell it for him before he gets it right.
“That’s too hard,” he says. “You need a Maasai name. I think it should be Naisenya.”
“Naisenya? That’s pretty, I like it. I think I’ll keep it.” He writes it down for me so I can get it right. He wanders off, having forgotten all about our parking ticket.
So I hesitate when the school children ask my name. I contemplate which is worse: giving my real name, which they’ll have trouble pronouncing, or giving my new Maasai name, and sounding completely crazy. I decide to go for it:
“Naisenya.” They dissolve into giggles—it’s a common Maasai name, but they can see I’m no Maasai. This disconnect pleases them to no end. I’m glad I went with that one.
Minute 48: Want to die. Cursed altitude, cursed equatorial heat, cursed unblinking sun, cursed Kenya! I’m too out of shape for this. What was I thinking, running this far my first time?!? That was an error. Maybe I shouldn’t have come running at all. Maybe I shouldn’t have come back to Kenya at all. Cursed heat.
Minute 59: The end is in sight, and with it, the endorphins are flowing freely again. I happily reach camp, reveling once more in my surroundings. My moments of self-pitying drama have passed and I decide that I am, without a doubt, happy to be back at Fisi Camp.
At least until the next time I try to run.