Sunday, 28 November 2010

Winter Wonderland

When I awoke at 8am this morning, this is the view that greeted me.

Beautiful! ...Well that is unless you had planned on making a 6 hour journey to the other end of the country sometime today. I knew it was bad news when they scheduled the Irish Intercounty cross country championships for Derry, and I knew that after spending the past two months close to the equator that the Irish weather was going to be a bit of a shock to the system, but I never though that it would be snow that would prevent me from making it to the championships this time around. I have missed these championships with injury or illness for 5 of the last 6 years now, and feeling in great form all week I was looking forward to toeing the line this year. Most of all I was excited to see how easy the race would feel after last weekend's slog. Ah well, somethings just can't be helped. There will be other years I guess. For now I'll just have to get used to running around in the snow and hope that it clears enough for me to get out of Wexford sometime soon. I love the place, but I hate being stuck anywhere.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Ethiopia by Picture

To give you a better idea about my experiences in Addis and my stay at Running Across Borders, here are some photos, with a brief description, from my two weeks in the Ethiopian capital. More can be viewed on my flickR account.

7am in Meskel square.   There are lots of guys playing football on what used to form the old stadium.  And lots of smog in the background.

The old steps of the stadium are used as a training ground for emerging athletes and keep-fit enthusiasts.  Doing a 40 minute run over and back the tiers in that pollution felt a lot harder than it should have.

The new stadium is just down the road and currently undergoing some renovations.

And it's not just in Meskel that they play football.  Like all Africans, they're football crazy and play just about anywhere, and not always with a proper ball.  Premier League games are regularly shown on Ethiopian TV (even though they only have 2 stations), and live viewing of the New York marathon was interrupted to show Liverpool v Chelsea.  That would never have happened in Kenya!

As the Running Across Borders camp is right on the edge of the city, beautiful views of the countryside such as these are only minutes away.

But life in the countryside is hard work.  This guy is harvesting his crops by hand. Or at least he was until he spotted us with the camera.

The crops then need to be carried home, by hand or by donkey.

And then there's the water to collect.

Even quarrying, to meet the huge demand for stone for the new roads being built right through this area, is done by hand.

The children are incredibly photogenic and don't mind posing to have their picture taken...

...though that's not to say they won't ask for money.  When this group started begging, we gave them a doughnut to share between them.  They seemed happy enough.

This is Arsama.  She fell in love with my sunglasses...


...but they do look better on her than they do on me!

That's me with some of the lads at Running Across Borders, though some of them are more interested in watching the football than looking at the camera.

At the camp time between training is spent playing cards, scrabble and draughts...

...and some more draughts.  I thought the guys how to play pairs - that card game where you turn over two cards and if you get a matching pair you get to keep them and take another turn - something which I later regretted.  These guys have photographic memory, and are really competitive.  I still won my fair share of games though.  What can I say?  I'm a little bit competitive myself.

As in Kenya, Toyato Hiace vans are the main form of public transport (only they're blue and white rather than white and yellow), and the private taxis are almost all Lada cars...

... and for the areas where the taxis don't run there are bajaj...

...and horse-drawn 'carriage'.

It's not unusual to see somebody climbing into a taxi with some chickens, a sack of corn, or, in this case, a live sheep being brought home to slaughter.

Addis even has its own Unicorn! Well white horse at least.

The city of Addis from Mount Entoto.

And another beautiful sunset.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Farewell Africa...for now

-->Yesterday morning we were up at the crack of dawn to take our place with 35,000 others on the startline of the Great Ethiopian Run.  In it's 10th year of running, this is the biggest 10km in Africa.  The elite race boasts the likes of Haile Gebreselassie, Gebregziabeher Gebremariam, and Sileshi Sihinas it's past winners.

Unfortunately, though I'm not quite good enough to be among the elites who start in Addis stadium, and must instead make my way to the mass startline in Meskel Square.  Having pushed my way close to the head of the field, I'm still concerned of what might happen once the gun goes, and many of those in front of me look far from serious runners.  Even in Ethiopian there are fat people, and I'm not sure there should be that many of them in front of me on a 10km start line.  The sun is belting down on me, as we stand there in anticipation for almost 30 minutes (as predicted nothing in Africa starts on time), I wonder how long I can cope with my individually tailored race teeshirt (the sleeves have been shortened to allow for some air circulation and the collar has been removed to prevent me from chocking). I try to remain calm.  Myself and Jacob (the one reason that I don't return home speaking complete broken English) who is standing beside me on the startline have been training together for the past week and decide to run together until a couple of kilometres out when it will be every man for himself.

The gun goes.  We don't move.  I push through some people in front of me.  Nobody seems to be in any hurry to go anywhere.  Everybody is in a carnival mood.  I feel trapped.  I've been looking forward to this for months.  My legs are fired up to race (must be all those carbs), but they can't get a clear run at it.  It seems like I'm going to have to push and shove my way through this one.  That's that last I see of Jacob until after the finishing line.  Having a habit of going off too fast in races of this distance, there shouldn't be too much concern this time.  But I know I'm waisting too much energy.  The people in front have decided to get into the spirit of things and run along shoulder to shoulder.  My spirit is racing.  I barge through.  I spot a slight gap on the left hand side of the field close to the footpath and choose to take that, though I know that there's a right hand turn soon.  I pass a few hundred people.  I thought that we were only about 20 people back from the front at the start but there are still thousands stretched out in front of us.  While I was struggling to get going on the startline it seems that thousands of people on either side of the wide line stormed through.  I reach 1km in about 5 and a half minutes.  This is going to be hell!

After 2km in something over 11 minutes I remove the teeshirt.  Sod the decency, this is croptop weather!  At what must be 3km I run straight into two 'civilians' stupidly choosing a 35,000 person stamped as a suitable point to cross the road.  I'm not sure if the escape uninjured, but I battle on.  I haven't seen the 4km marker yet and my watch is approaching 25mins.  There's a marker ahead.  To my relief it's the 5km marker.  Crossing the halfway point has never felt so much like finishing a race before.  The revised finishing time of 50 minutes is still possible.  There are still hundreds of people obstructing the way though.  And people in front who shouldn't be.  I pass people who are walking and haven't even worked up a sweat yet.  I wonder if they started at a later point.  No time to ponder though, still plenty of obstructions to pass.  After 6km I see a sign for a shower.  That's a huge relief.  A splattering of water is exactly what I need at this point.  More obstructions though - half a dozen people have stopped to make the most of it.  I barge through.  Not far after the drinks station at 7km I pass a guy with a walking stick - surely he can't have gotten here quicker than me?  Can he?  I battle on.  I pass 8km and I'm still in one piece.  Just 2.2km to go.  My mind has obviously gone dead - how can a 10km race be 10.2km.  What am I thinking?  I battle on.  The 9m mark.  I up the pace.  Finally there is free running room.  And a downhill stretch.  Time to make up time.  I break into a canter.  What's this?  Meskel square?  The finishing line?  I'm closer than I think.  Time for one last effort.  I cross the line.    I'm relieved.  I swear 'never again'.  Jacob crosses soon after and we congratulate each other.  A guy with a mike grabs me and asks some silly questions.  I mention something about it being the hardest think I have ever done.  Someone else wants to interview me.  I pick up my finishers medallion and free water.  I take a sip.  My mood changes.  I feel like I haven't raced at all.  I want to do it all over again...

It was with some disappointment that I packed my bags to leave Addis this morning - I guess the thought of 26 hours in transit isn't really appealing to me too much - but a good long warm shower, and some food with something other than carbohydrates won't go a miss.  After saying goodbye to all the guys at the camp I got a lift to the airport in the camp bus.  I didn't really pay too much attention to the driver's surprise when I told him where I was from, and it was only when himself and his assistant (yes it took two of them to get me to the airport), started saying that they preferred Thai jeans to Chinese ones that I realised they had miss understood me.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that I wasn't actually from the South-East Asian manufacturing superpower, but rather I was from the small bankrupt island on the edge of Europe.

And so that draws to an end my African adventure...well at least for now (I plan to visit Morocco and South Africa later in my travels).  It's time now to return to the British Isles, catch up with family and friends, and most importantly get the passport renewed.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

This is Ethiopia

Before I came to Ethiopia, all that I knew about the place was that it bordered Kenya, had a famine about 20 years ago, and produced a multitude of the world's top distance runners. For those of you, who like me have little knowledge of the place, I've done a little research (in other words I've got a few bits from Wikipedia), and what follows should give you a bit more of an idea about Ethiopia and its people.

Ethiopia has more than 80 different ethnic groups and tribes, and a different language to go with each. The country's official language is Amharic (with it's own crazy squiggly alphabet, called Fidel), though, as I mentioned earlier, English is becoming more widely spoken, and is even used by the government.

A poster in the Ethiopian Tourist Office in Meskel Square reads: 'Ethiopia - 13 months of sunshine!' At first we were unsure if that was a genuine mistake, or an exaggerated comment to emphasise just how much sunshine there is in the country. Later I learned that it was neither. I have known for some time that Ethiopia does not operate on the Gregorian calender like most of the rest of the world, and that it is actually some years behind the rest of the world - 7 years to be precise - but what I didn't realise is that it's months are actually different too. In Ethiopia each month is exactly 4 weeks, and the remaining 5 days (6 in leap years) are bundled into the 13th month (called Pagumen). The Ethiopian new year isn't when we would expect it either, it's 11th September (or 12th September in leap years) and today's date is actually (Hidar 11, 2003). As if being stuck in some sort of a time warp isn't enough, their daily clock is different too. Time starts at about sunrise (6am our time), and so lunch time is 6 daylight hours in Ethiopian time. The Ethiopians have definitely tried to be different!

The 2010 census estimates the population of Ethiopia to be just over 85 million people, making it the second most populous country in Africa. The area of the country is 1.104,300km squared, and is the world's 27th largest country. Ethiopia is divided into 9 ethically based administrative countries and two chartered cities. Addis Ababa, or Addis as it is known locally, is the capital, and in 2007 had a population of just under 3.5 million. As with all other developing countries, people flock to the city to make their fortune, and thus the inhabitants of Addis cover every ethnic group within Ethiopia, and some from outside. Addis is where the African Union is based, and thus is often referred to as the Capital of Africa.

Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts, with spectacular waterfalls and volcanic hot springs. Ethiopia has some of Africa's highest mountains as well as some of the world's lowest points below sea level. The largest cave in Africa is located in Ethiopia at Sof Omar, and the country's northernmost area at Dallol is one of the hottest places year-round anywhere on Earth (Dallol currently holds the record high average temperature for an inhabited location on Earth, where in an an average annual temperature of 34°C was recorded between the years 1960 and 1966). The country is also famous for its rock-hewn churches and as the place where the coffee bean originated. Currently, Ethiopia is the top coffee and honey-producing country in Africa, and home to the largest livestock population in Africa.

Ethiopia, which has Africa's second biggest hydropower potential, is the source of over 85% of the total Nile water flow and contains rich soils, but it nevertheless underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, exacerbated by adverse geopolitics and civil wars, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands. Slowly, however, the country has begun to recover, and today Ethiopia has the biggest economy in East Africa (GDP) as the Ethiopian economy is also one of the fastest growing in the world. This is clearly evident from the construction of roads, house and office blocks on the suburbs of Addis where I was staying.

Ethiopia has close historical ties to all three of the world's major Abrahamic religions (monotheistic faiths emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with Abraham; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). It was one of the first Christian countries in the world, and though it still has a Christian majority, a third of the population is Muslim. Ethiopia is the site of the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa at Nagash. Until the 1980s, a substantial population of Ethiopian Jews resided in Ethiopia. The country is also the spiritual homeland of the Rastafari religious movement, and I saw many rastafarians around Addis during my stay. Rastas claim that Haile Selassie I who was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 is the resurrected manifestation of Jesus Christ. They also claim that he will lead the righteous into creating a perfect world, called "Zion"

The climate of Ethiopia is predominantly tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. The Ethiopian Highlands which cover most of the country have a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000–2,500 metres above sea. Addis is built on a series of hills so the altitude varies depending on which part of the city you're in, but were we were living and training was approximately 2,400m.

With daily temperatures averaging between 20 and 25 degrees, Addis has fairly uniform year round temperatures. The seasons are largely defined by rainfall, with a dry season from October–February, a light rainy season from March–May, and a heavy rainy season from June–September. The average annual rainfall is around 1,200 mm (47.2 in) - more than 50% greater than the annual rainfall in Ireland!

Ethiopia is also one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today, having yielded some of humanity's oldest traces. Among these are the remains of Lucy (or Dinkenesh as she is known locally), the common name of A: 299-1, several hundred pieces of bone representing about 40% of the skeleton of an individual Australipithecus afarensis. Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago.

When Africa was divided up by European powers at the Berlin Conference, Ethiopia was one of only two countries that retained its independence (the other being Liberia, founded with the support of the USA for returned slaves). Knowing this, I wrongly presumed that Ethiopia hadn't had much contact with the Western World. This contributed further to my surprise at the progressive nature of the country and the widespread influence of Western life in modern day Addis.

From my experiences, Ethiopia is definitely a country of contrasts; a place of cultural diversity; and a land of hope and opportunity. I look forward to returning in the future, not only to see what progress has been made, but also to travel beyond Addis and to delve further into Ethiopia's rich history and culture.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Can I be a 'Funrunner' for a day?

The main reason that I've chosen to visit Ethiopia at this stage in my travels was to take part in the Great Ethiopian Run, the largest race in Africa. Yesterday I made my way to the Hilton Hotel to pick up my race pack, only to be disappointed on a number of fronts. I knew before I came here that I would be expected to race in a teeshirt provided by the race organisers, and while I didn't expect the most high-tec sports garment, I didn't think that I would be given a medium men's sized bright yellow thick cotton tee-shirt with a tight neck, advertising coffee flavoured condoms. It's been getting warmer and warmer every day this week, and when I toe the starting line alongside 35,000 other 'fun runners' in the polluted city centre at 9am on Sunday morning, I'm pretty sure that all the Sure '24 hour protection' deodorant in the world won't stop me from having massive sweat patches. What I'll look like when I finish only time will tell.

After getting my head around the fact that I wasn't getting a tee-shirt that actually fits me, I proceeded to open my race pack to see what goodies were inside - a calender so small that I cannot see, a condom leaflet in a language that I cannot read, an advertisement for vehicles that I can neither afford nor drive, and an invitation to a prerace pasta party which, given its location, is not top of my list of things to do before I leave Ethiopia. Oh and no race number or timing device. Despite the £26 entry fee, if I actually care about how long it takes me to cover the course (as normal athletes do) and not just about how much I've raised for charity, in addition to the massive aforementioned tee-shirt I'll also have to wear a watch to time myself.

The Hilton hotel reminded me of everything that is wrong with the world. In the middle of a developing city, is a hotel of most epic superfluousness, where the guests, many of them aid workers and international dignitaries it seems, can be isolation from the poverty, and deprived of the culture, outside of the hotel compound. I'm not sure my ragged bottom tracksuit pants and torn trainers went down so well in this 5 Star hellhole, but I came to Africa to experience Africa. 'We can end poverty by 2015' the slogan on the back of the race tee-shirt reads. I'm all for a bit of optimism, but surely that's stretching things a little too far, especially when so many people live in complete ignorance of the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and when a hotel so disgustingly extravagant can exist in a city so poor.

Trying not to get too outraged, I did manage to smile at one thing in the hotel. Alongside the other sandwich boards and pull-up banners informing of events taking place was a sign for the 'Ambassadors and Heads of Mission Souses and Diplomatic Spouses' Diplomatic Bazaar 2010. Is that like W.A.Gs of the diplomatic world?

Before I get a barrage of hatemail, I do admire those who give their lives to helping others, and who do what, in their opinion, they can to help those in the developing world. After all I can't really speak. All I do is travel to these countries and spend a small few pennies on bananas, a fruit, which with or without my miserly investments will be extinct in a few years anyway.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Carb Queen is Dead and Gone

Enjoying massive portions of pasta at least twice a day; not thinking twice about devouring a full loaf of bread in one sitting; and happy to eat bowls of cereal between meals, I have long considered myself to be the carb queen. Having spent a week in Ethiopia without seeing anything resembling a cake, a sweet or a biscuit, those illusions are now shattered. In fact, I'm not sure I could cope with this much pure carbohydrate in my diet. 'I just want a big juicy stake' I sometimes hear myself cry, but all we get is bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.

My first day at the camp I was greeted with a breakfast of bread (not of the sliced variety, just a big massive chunk of it) and a bowl of porridge. As my mother well knows, I hate porridge, but given that it was made with water rather than milk, I managed to force down half of it, just so that I didn't seem rude.

Lunch consisted of a massive bowl of spaghetti, which even I struggled with, and a small portion of tomato and onion sauce.

But the best bit was dinner - rice with potato. Yes just rice and potato! I'm by no means against double carbs. In fact I applaud it. But when all you have to add some taste to it is a small bit of butter that the potatoes have been cooked in and a tiny bit of carrot to give it some colour, even I'm going to struggle.

No wonder these people run so fast. Their muscles must be so loaded with glycogen that I'm surprised that they can sit still for two minutes.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Despite flying just two hours north from Nairobi, to the Ethiopian Capital Addis Ababa, it feels like I've landed in a very different country. Though it still feels very African, Addis is different from Kenya is so many ways. Right from stepping off the plane I realise that the differences between the two Eastern African countries stretches far beyond the subtle difference in skin tone (Ethiopians are very proud of the fact that they are brown and Kenyans are black!). When you arrive in Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi you know that you are in Africa. The airport is old fashioned and packed with souvenir shops selling an array of Kenyan craftwork. Once passed security and customs you are accosted by a multitude of taxi drivers wanting to take you wherever you're willing to pay for (despite the 'no soliciting for passangers' signs everywhere), even though you are just trying to find the internal departures terminal. Bole airport in Addis is just like any other airport in the world. Modern, glass-fronted, efficient, and devoid of obvious transport out of there. And that's just the beginning!

For 4 weeks I've had a certain level of apprehension about travelling to Ethiopia. Through my limited knowledge of the country, I know that, not having been colonised at all, let alone by the British, English is not as widely spoken here as it is in Kenya. In fact they don't even have the same alphabet, so the chances of blagging my way are slim. Having grown up in a time when the main word associated with Ethiopia was famine, it's difficult to expect anything more than an underdeveloped country drowning in poverty, despite the passing years. I have heard that Addis is crowded, polluted and manic, and having a limited but not necessarily positive experience of Nairobi, I am apprehensive about spending the next two weeks in an African capital city. Most of all, I'm scarred that I'll find something a bit like Kenya, but be left feeling short-changed.

After a short wait at the airport, where it seemed entire families had turned out to greet returning travellers, I was meet by Gudisa, one of the young Ethiopians training at the Running Across Borders camp where I will be spending my time in Ethiopia. Gudisa is a happy, friendly and funny 18 year old, who speaks good English, and immediately all my apprehensions disappear. When I climb aboard a minibus full of excited athletes just returning from training, I know that this is going to be an experience to savour. And during the short trip from the airport to the camp I realise that Ethiopia has it's own very unique identity despite all the similarities with it's closest East African neighbours.

Luckily, the camp is on the edge of the city, and within minutes the hustle and bustle of Addis is left behind. In fact, sometimes it's easy to forget that I'm in a city at all. Less than five minutes from the camp, are fields, forests and dirt roads where we have been running most mornings and evenings. The dirt here is gray rather than red like in Africa, and the fields are full of wheat and teff, unlike the maize dominated landscape of Kenya. While everything is transported by bicycle in Kenya, here the donkey makes transportation of goods possible. While the kids cry 'muzungu' in Kenya, here 'farangie' is what you can expect to be called. The people though are still friendly, the skies are still blue and the roads are still dusty!

Addis is a fast developing city, and I have no doubt but that the land on which I have been running will be covered with houses in 5 years time. Already, a network of unfinished roads transverse the farmland, and some new blocks of apartments are springing up in what is now open countryside. While Kenya seems to have stagnated somewhat during the 5 years that I have been travelling there, Addis is changing by the day, and a few times we have had to reroute our runs, because where there was a path yesterday, there is a building site today.

I'm surprised by how progressive the city is, and in some ways by how rich it seems. Obviously I'm not fooled by this, and can see the obvious gap between the rich and the poor, and know that the fancy houses around where I'm staying are not the accommodation of the masses. But I can see a country of hope and opportunity, worlds apart from the horrific images I remember as a child. As I quickly learned, running water, hot showers and flushing toilets are not yet commonplace, but everyone has a mobile phone and supports an English Premier League football team. There's nothing like getting your priorities right!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

This is Kenya

Yesterday, for the first time, I heard a Kenyan child cry. The reason for the toddler's tears were not that he had fallen and grazed his pride, not that he had no shoes on his feet, not that he had been denied a fist full of hyperactivity inducing sweets, nor that his parents had refused to buy for him the latest games console. The reason for his tears were that he just couldn't keep up with me running no matter how hard he tried to make his little legs run... and this in Kenya, even for the youngest of the Kalenjin tribe, is classed as failure. I have no doubt that soon this child will be keeping up with the mazungus visitors to Iten, and who knows, maybe one day he will join the long list of Olympic and World Champions that this tiny Rift Valley town produces; for running in Iten is everything.

Nowhere else in the world is your '42 kilometer' (marathon) PB so valuable, yet a sub 2:10 clocking potentially so insignificant. For each of the last 2 years more than 100 Kenyans have ran faster than 2:10 for the marathon. While Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie still holds the world record for the distance, Kenya dominate the IAAF World Lists, filling the top 4 spots in addition as well as many more further down the list.  15 of the top 25 ranked athletes are Kenyan. Last weekend a Kenyan won the Venice marathon, another the marathon, and just yesterday the Frankfurt, Athens and, not surprisingly, the Nairobi marathons were won by Kenyans. Figures of 2:05, which wouldn't even guarantee you a place in a Kenyan Championship team, would make you a running hero in Europe or America.

The question I feel is not 'why are the Kenyans so good?', but rather 'why is running success so important to them?' Why do young men from all over the country leave their homes and families to travel to Iten, and other similar training venues, to pursue running success? Why, with no guarantee of ever even getting a trip to Europe, do they put everything into training for those 26.2 miles of cardiovascular endeavour?

It seems that in Kenya, more than anywhere else in the athletics world, role models are a major player in the running success of the nation. In a town the size of Iten, Joe Jogger (by Kenyan standards), has the opportunity to train among world record holders. Everyone knows the ordinary guy next door who has reached international stardom. Athletes view those who are successful as being just like them, and rather than thinking of their more illustrious piers as been genetically gifted, they believe that if they too train hard enough, they can be the next Kenyan success story.

Just this morning I was training in the gym alongside recent world 800m record holder David Rudisha. Conscious of not distracting him from the work at hand, I failed to pluck up the courage to ask him to pose for a photo with me. Later I found that he was not only a celebrity among us wazungu, but a star attraction among the Kenyans who are very proud of their athletics star. Like everywhere in the world, football in Kenya is big business, but it is here that athletics comes closest to rivaling 'the beautiful game' for popularity.

Because I have been to Kenya 5 times before, and because I am not necessarily seeing things for the first time, I feel that I have been depriving you, my avid readers, of some of my observations and experiences of this beautiful country. That, I now intend to rectify!

Kenyans, like most Africans, are very laid back people. Hakuna Matata (no worries), is very much the order of the day. That is, of course, with two exceptions: driving and running. Then, almost like as if they have transformed into different people, Kenyans are suddenly in a hurry. Kenyan roads have no street lights, in fact most of them are not surfaced, and having arrived at Eldoret airport after dark on Tuesday 5th October, I was reminded of how crazy the roads are. As we drove from the airport, in some heavy drizzle, the headlights of the taxi showed locals cycling along the side of the road without any form of lighting that either reveled the road ahead or indicated to other road users their presence. And I'm not talking about one or two cyclists, I mean hundreds of them.

Matatus - crammed full Toyota Hiace vans - are the usual form of transport in Kenya. The drivers communicate with other road users, friends, and potential customers in a complicated series of horn beeps. Indistinguishable to the untrained ear, the relevant beeps can mean 'howaya', 'get the hell out of the way', or 'matatu approaching, climb on in with your chickens, sack of corn and empty buckets; we're full, but there is always room for more'. And these machines know nothing of road safety, common road courtesy, or patience on the roads. Totally mad! On the up side though, they are cheap, and you usually don't have to wait for very long to be picked up by one.

In Iten, the children are either very cute or very annoying, depending on what mood you're in, how fast you're trying to run, or how many days you've been there. 'Mazungu', (the Swahili word for foreigner or white person) 'how are you?' is the common cry of the local young (and sometimes not so young), as they attempt to high-5 you, or run alongside you, as they make their way to school. The special skills of the Kenyan child means that he can spot you from miles off, and often you can hear the distant cry 'how-are-you-mazungu' without actually being able to see anyone. One morning earlier this week, I was 'how are youed' by a small child squatting in his front garden - the Kenyan child is never too busy with the task at hand to greet a foreigner!

The spectacular views of the Kerio valley, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley, are breathtaking, and are part of what make Iten one of my favourite places in the world. I never tire of the views, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with Kerio Valley once again. The Rift Valley is a massive geographic trench running approximately 6,000 kilometres from Syria in Southwest Asia right down through East Africa to central Mozambique, but the views are at their most spectacular as it passes through this part of Kenya. Formed by tectonic activity, the Rift Valley is what causes much of Kenya to be at high altitude, without being mountainous.

As I said in one of my very first posts, Kenya is everything that I expected of Africa, and more. Even after 5 visits, I never tire of this very different way of life. It is a privilege to witness the best in the world training, but also to live for a short while among Kenya's very laid back and friendly people. Part of me is sad when, over the 5 years that I have been visiting the country, I see how little change and development is occurring; how far behind the west the country still is; and how poor so many of it's people still are. Part of me is happy that things are not changing; that the Kenyans remain true to their simple and happy existence. But the largest part of me is angry, when, just like the rest of the world, people think that money will give them a better life. In the past, I have been used to the children cheekily asking for money. This time the popular request was 'mazungu, give me my sweets'. They may root away their teeth, but maybe they won't root away their souls.