There’s a little 5K loop that Jenni showed me from the Daraja gate that I have been running in the mornings. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have been leading the girls in some 6AM yoga, then heading out around 6:20 with Jenni. We run along the downhill Daraja fence, then turn up along the fence on the right side and run up the hill. I dodge acacia trees that threaten to stick their 3-inch long thorns through even my running shoes, and jump over cracks in the ground. About halfway up the hill, anywhere from two to seven little kids will run out of their mud-and-stick house yelling, “HOW ARE YOU! HOW ARE YOU!” and laughing hysterically when I respond, “I’m fine, how are you?” And I think there are a couple of hares that live about three-quarters of the way up the hill, because every time I pass a certain rock, they dash across the trail in front of me and under the Daraja fence.
When I reach the top of the hill, Mt. Kenya stands clearly in front of me, purple in color and softly blending in with the morning sky (much unlike the harsh peaks of the Himalayas). They call Mt. Kenya the “shy lady” here, because you will only be lucky enough to catch an unobstructed glimpse of the mountain early in the morning. Somehow, we time it perfectly so that the sun is just rising over the northern slopes of the mountain as we rise over the top of the hill. Below the sunrise, gently rolling land offers itself to my running feet, speckled with flat-topped Kenyan trees and unassuming Masai houses.
We take off into the bush, off-trail for a short segment. I lift my knees high to avoid burs or acacia thorns in my shoes and enjoy this stretch of adventure. Eventually, we cross one track road and join with another, which we follow back around to the bottom of the Daraja campus. Along the way, we greet everyone we pass with a handshake and a minute of Swahili smalltalk. “Habari za asabuhi?” (What’s the news of the morning?) “Unatoka wapi?” (Where are you from?) “Unaenda wapi?” (Where are you going?) Then, we continue on. We pass Masai men wearing sarong-style skirts and carrying staffs, and many uniformed children on their way to school. Finally, we round the bottom corner of Daraja and pick up the pace until we touch the Daraja gate.
One day last week, I decided to run to the top of an adjacent hill instead of doing the normal 5K loop. Rainclouds advanced quickly from the horizon, but I figured that could only make it more fun, and just tried to stick near the trees in case of lightning. The hill provided less of a challenge than I expected, and I soon sat on a flat rock sticking diagonally out of the ground on top of the hill. The landscape spilled out on all sides, from the dark rainclouds to the east, to the herds of sheep and goats on the plains directly under the hill, to the distant rock formations appearing out of the bush to the west. It felt incredible, and crazy, and freeing, to be sitting on a rock on top of a hill overlooking the plains of KENYA.
As I started my descent back to Daraja, I greeted two girls walking home from the Ol Girigiri primary school who looked to be about twelve. They giggled as we spoke in swahinglish, and when I started to run again, they joined me on either side, running in woolen maroon sweaters, green cotton dresses that went past their knees, and plastic sandals. We talked a little bit, but mostly just smiled and kept running. By the time I reached the start of the Daraja fence, I felt like the Pied Piper, leading a group of six or seven little boys and girls all running behind me and laughing. Huge raindrops then started to fall from the sky, and in pairs, all of my little friends peeled off, saying goodbye and running towards their homes. I picked up the pace to run back to Daraja and all the way into the kitchen, soaking wet and smiling widely.