Imagine running in the wild, passing through hectares of beautiful virgin land and soaking in the breathtaking panoramic view. Imagine seeing giraffes, craning their long necks in an attempt to reach out to the highest twigs on the acacia trees that are spread across the landscape of the savanna.
Athletes are rewarded with a view of a herd of grazing zebras as they pause to look at the friendly strangers who are traversing their land. A few meters away, a pack of charged wildebeest slow down athletes as they race across the path of the runners in their annual ritual that has become known as the great wildebeest migration. ‘Mafisi’ gaze from a distance as they are thrown off balance in their scavenging ways.
The running tracks are jagged, excellently beautified by an unpredictable terrain and furrows. On the side, a special kind of protruding raw rugged volcanic rocks that have valiantly defied metamorphosis take their rightful place in the great Mara ecosystem. A thick layer of dust settles on the athletes heads like an advocates wig as they endure a grueling marathon, their knees almost giving way, their tongue almost getting stuck on the roof of their mouth because of excessive heat and in the end, they proudly wear the scars of the race on their bodies. If we had no environmental challenges, perhaps the race would not have been so sweet; if we did not sometimes in utter shock witness the cruelty of poachers, conservation efforts would not be so welcome.
The breathtaking contrast between the gentle streams that eventually join together to form the Mara River and the noisy choppers that fly over your head to drive wild animals away makes you appreciate how delicate this environment is. And in that instant moment it dawns on you that you are running through Kenya’s paradise. A sense of pride engulfs you which is quickly replaced by a stench of crippling fear because of how fragile this place is. At that moment, the fog of complacency clears as you get convinced of the urgent need to conserve this Kenyan paradise.
Why We Ran
The young and the old, tall and short, black and white, rural and urban folks, the rich and the poor, in a resolve to prove that indeed empty pockets never held anyone back, only empty heads and empty hearts can all gathered together to be counted among the people who refused to stand aside and watch from the sidelines as the environment was being destroyed.
The unforgiving sun, the mighty winds, the rough terrain and the fear of wild animals did not dampen the spirits of these people. They had elected to abandon the leisure and pleasure of urban conveniences for a weekend in the jungle all for the sake of preserving our country’s natural heritage. One by one, bus by bus, chopper by chopper, they all trickled in. Each one wore a brilliant glow on their faces. Warm humid air gagged the field, and soon all the athletes were almost drowning in their own sweat. With each small step made by each athlete, it was a one giant leap for mankind.
If complacency has its way, the only elephants our children will see are the ones found at Nakumatt. The drive through our game reserves will someday be gone and the only interaction our children will have with buffaloes will be through the lyrics of Bob Marley. If we don’t rise up, our grandchildren will only be able to see rhinos on images plastered on cement bags and to them, they will be as mythical as unicorns. If we don’t urgently run to conserve the environment, our grandchildren will only get to see lions in the “Lion King” movie.
Why the Marathon?
Barack Obama confessed, during his recent exclusive interview with Capital FM that he would love to visit the Mara. With those words, he placed an indelible mark of approval on the Maasai Mara as one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. All that remains is for the message to be turned into a marketing tool for the marathon. Perhaps in future, he will be the one to flag off the race. Imagine the magnitude of international media exposure that the marathon and the Maasai Mara would get from such exposure.
The marathon is a noble initiative in all respects. A world of difference could be made if the national and the local county government would throw its weight behind the event to make next year’s edition even bigger and better. Marketing an event that is so well put together and that addresses such an important national cause should be a walk in the park. All that is required is the goodwill and support of stakeholders.
The organizers need to incorporate the ideas of selling the authentic Kenyan brand to an international audience. The promotional videos and the advertising plan should position the marathon as the world’s unique race in the wild. The entire venue from the track guides, music, merchandise for sale, consumables should be thick with an authentic Kenyan brand. The great Maasai culture within the Maasai mara circuit can be exposed to the world thereby diversifying tourism in the region.
The choice of entertainment, especially for the after party should be an icing on the cake to a great race with a noble theme. The entertainers should use what is considered as a unique Kenyan sound to entertain visitors and locals. A Maasai traditional musician could be the one to be the headlining artist. Tourists generally seek authentic Kenyan entertainment away from what they are used to in the urban lives. It would be tragic to leave your urban residence with a thirst for authentic indigenous or cultural entertainment only to be treated to more urban music in the wild.
Among the many challenges we face as a nation, the degradation of our environment has become like an Achilles heels. We could choose to idly sit by and watch our forests dwindle, our elephants & rhinos poached off and our rivers get polluted while saying that there’s simply nothing that can be done or we could rise up and stop the runway wanton destruction of our natural resources. Every child and adult must have these principles of conservation engraved on their hearts because after all, we don’t have to wait for the rains to start for us build an ark. Every citizen must act as a guardian of our natural resources.
All photos by Alex Njora