Runner Experiences Kenyan Culture

Stephen Valvano and Edwin Rutto till the ground. They are wearing their school uniforms.

Stephen Valvano and Edwin Rutto till the ground. They are wearing their school uniforms.

Stephen Valvano, Guest Writer

What I was about to do didn’t really hit me until I got to the airport. Seeing all the people of varying nationalities made me realize that I was going to a place so different from the U.S, and so far outside my comfort zone, that I already felt lonesome. It was a bittersweet goodbye—my first time being away from home for an extended period of time.

When Edwin Rutto ‘16 and I boarded the plane, I could sense his eagerness and excitement to go home, but I truly did not share the same mindset. In all honestly, I was afraid at what I had gotten myself into, going to a place so foreign and different from what I was accustomed to.

However, on the 13-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, I found reassurance in remembering why I had decided to venture to such a mysterious place: “It is the opportunity of a lifetime,” I told myself. “It will be fun, I will be able to spread the name ‘Benedict’s’ to an international crowd and solidify ties with Kenyans.” I would also: live the life of a Kenyan and prove to all the doubters that a suburban kid from America could hold his own and survive in a world without luxuries, hopefully open the eyes of my fellow schoolmates with stories, and get to spend two months with someone whom I was and am still privileged to call a best friend.

From the time we landed, Kenya did not hesitate to let me know that we were now in a third-world country; the bathrooms had no door handles or toilet seats, and the luggage claim was nothing more than a conveyer belt in a cement room. Over time, I came to realize what living off the land truly meant. However, Nairobi, the capital,was not as underdeveloped as I’d expected. Nonetheless, by no means was it even close to how advanced the United States is. To paint a picture, it is like a smaller, developing, downgraded version of New York City.

My days were nothing like I imagined they would be. Going to a remote Kenyan village, I knew that I would attract attention, but I did not know how much. The first day outside our home, which was the only permanent home (most homes were clay huts) for miles , set the tone for what the next two months of my life would become—a spectacle.

It turns out that I was the first and only white man, or“mzungu”, to ever live in that region. This means that younger kids and people who hadn’t ventured from the village, were seeing a white person for the first time ever. Throughout my entire stay, little kids flocked to greet me wherever I went: to the center for supplies, while I was running, and when I was on my way to church or school. The sheer number of children was almost overwhelming; wherever I went, there was a group that would trail right behind me; the brave ones would eventually come up to touch me.

Due to my newly found status as the center of attention, I was able to meet a lot of people. I can confidently say that our school should emulate the sense of community and care these people shared for one another. I was a stranger to all but one of 3,000 people, which may seem difficult to deal with; however, the speed at which the villagers accepted me into their community made me feel as though I wasn’t visiting, but returning. Since arriving back in the U.S, I have tried to keep this in mind when meeting new people.

We attended St. Paul Kiptoror Secondary School for most of our trip; thankfully, I only had to go for a month. School there consists of 11 classes between the hours of 6:45am until 5:30pm: I only took three classes: physics, agriculture, and kiswahili (language). Students there took the same core classes as we do, but they also took all three sciences throughout the year. During the day, students receive two tea breaks and a lunch break.

I’ve found out that the lunch a student eats may be the only real food they have the entire day because of poverty and too many children to feed in a family. The lunch is by no stretch of the imagination gourmet either, it is one cup of “kitheri”- a mixture of corn and beans. All-in-all, after experiencing the life of a Kenyan student, I no longer take Benedict’s provisions for granted.

During the latter part of my adventure, I was able to make many new friends, run, and visit other places. When school went on break, I met students from other schools in the region. One thing that we could relate to was running because, along with soccer, it is the main activity. Even though I could not keep up with anyone, they were nice enough to stay at the pace I was running.

Thankfully, Edwin and I were able to go to the town that was at the top of my “places to go list,” Iten. Iten, also known as the “Home of Champions,” is famous for the amount of Olympians who live and train there. Although I wasn’t able to meet any of the runners who lived there, I was able to see the whole valley from Iten’s lookout. The views there and throughout the trip were incredible because we were situated in the highlands and could see for miles in any direction- I even saw the Kenya/Uganda border, which seemed to be over 50 miles away, from the front lawn of our house.

Since returning, I have never been so grateful for all the luxuries we have in America: toilets, fresh water, electricity, cars, homes, beds, shoes, clothing, food, etc. My experience was an eye-opener to the fact that many countries are not as technologically advanced as America. In fact, more are like Kenya.

I seriously hope and pray that we Americans can help and support countries like this to advance. I am extremely thankful to my two coaches and headmaster: Marty “Doc” Hannon, Geoffrey “Chelule” Ngetich, and Fr. Edwin, for making a dream become reality. I’m also thankful for Fr. Edwin’s willingness to encourage students from third-world countries to enroll in St. Benedict’s because it allows for a cultural diffusion that is unheard of in any other school throughout the country. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for these kids; it saves them and their family. I was told that every student in Kenya would jump at the chance to come to this country. Lastly, I have finally come to realize that St. Benedict’s Preparatory School is, without a doubt, a blessing.