I live with a lifelong athlete named Bethany. Bethany's from Boston. Bethany is one of those tiny, superfit, soccer types. She runs every day down the dusty roads of Kisumu with Kurt. Kurt's from Chicago. Bethany and Kurt are preparing for a half marathon.
I'm not preparing for a half marathon. Marathons, half-marathons, pseudo-marathons... are dumb. The Greek guy who ran the Battle of Marathon died. Hint taken. But in the name of anthropology I decided to join in a few runs. Bethany and Kurt know I'm not in it for the love of the run, so they encourage me with lines like, "Come on Champ! You can do it! Go get 'em Tiger"
Kurt sometimes looks over his shoulder and says,"You're doing great! Really, you're doing great!"
When people repeat things, you know they're lying.
Sometimes, mid-run, I try to extract myself from the situation and imagine how we look to our Kenyan neighbors. Bethany, Kurt and I are three mizungus jogging over open sewage, between boda bodas and piki pikis and past grazing cattle. We're a comedy in slow motion. As if to underscore the point, several small children decided to join our run last week. When they imitated us - hands cupped in puppy paws, hunched posture, slow pace- it made me realize that running slowly "for fun" is a distinctly Western invention. Kenyans run because they're going somewhere. And they don't get winded. In the Kisumu half marathon, several of the fastest runners don't wear shoes.
Into this society comes me, a chubby midwesterner who has never run on anything but an elliptical in her parent's basement...