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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Catherine's Most Important House

This morning we arrived at Catherine’s house at 9am all ready for church. Since religion is such an important part of her life, I could not do a film about her without including this. When we arrived, her sisters Esther and Caroline were there as well as her sister in law, Lyddiah with little Stephen. We spent a short time there and then they all piled into Catherine’s car and headed for church. (Anthony was already at church for the early service since he is a church elder)

I did not know that the entire group was not going to Catherine’s church; she dropped them near Ngong to attend their own churches so when she arrived at PCEA West (Presbyterian Church of East Africa West) it was just Catherine, Ruth and Filhemina. As always, Ruth looked adorable!

Catherine was scheduled to lead the 10am service that is conducted in Swahili. At 8 am there was a service conducted in English and at noon is a service in Kikuyu. It was a beautiful service and even though I could not understand the language, the music was beautiful and it was easy to see everyone’s commitment to the church. After the service there were a lot of people gathered outside having tea, socializing and it was extremely child friendly. There was a popcorn vendor and kids running around playing and I could see how they make it so people want to come to church which I thought was very nice!

girls enjoying their popcorn

We were able to say hello to Anthony before the next service started and it was very evident what an important role both he and Catherine play in their church. Catherine caught up with church members and friends and Ruth ran around being cute and friendly!

We left them to finish their day without cameras and after lunch I let the crew have an early day; we had been working every day and even when we weren’t out shooting Jon still had a lot of footage to back up and manage so they deserved some time off! I took some time to relax as well and call home and talk to my older son, Eric as it was it 21st birthday! (Happy Birthday Eric!)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back to Roots II

Today we actually got to sleep in; 7am! We left our lovely *cough* Central Hotel after a decent breakfast that was included with the room. We arrived at Kahira Ini Primary School by 8:15 and there were already a lot of students there! Now remember, this is SATURDAY! Because of the track meet on Friday, the headmaster arranged for us to come in today and he also invited parents. Unfortunately there was also a church function today so many were not able to come. When we got there we started filming immediately but there were so many kids interested in the camera that we took some time first to let them check it out! It was cute how curious they all were. Jon had his camera and I had my little Canon and we would film a group of children and then play it back for them while they all giggled and vied for the best viewing position! We interviewed several teachers there and you could see how excited both parents and children were while waiting for Catherine to arrive. We scheduled to be there long before her so we could do all the other interviews and establishing shots. We did not know that they had planned an entire assembly and were expecting Catherine to speak formally to the children and parents. When we learned that she was only minutes away, the headmaster got all of the children and parents seated. When Catherine arrived there was such an excitement in the air you could hear the buzzing! The teachers all greeted her and Anthony and Charles Githii, the headmaster, walked the grounds with Catherine as she reminisced.

Finally the children were rewarded when first Anthony was introduced to speak and then Catherine.

They did not speak in English so I had to rely on the reactions of the children and later learned what they were told. Anthony warned them about staying away from the gangs that had been causing some trouble in the area lately and Catherine spoke to them about working hard in school and nurturing any talents they have that they should not be afraid to start small and not give up. She urged parents to let their children follow their dreams and to support them and she was very humbled that so many people came out to see her on a Saturday when they could be doing other things. She also announced that she was donating 100,000ksh to the school to use for things that they need most! There was a question and answer session after and the children seemed curious to know more. Once again, we were there longer than I had anticipated; I just underestimate the amount of time people want to spend with Catherine especially when it comes to kids!

Before leaving we were invited to have some drinks and a snack so of course we accepted (remember it is impolite not to anyway and we were very hungry by that time!) When I say drinks, it is not the kind of drinks you may be thinking but it also was not tea! It was soda which is very big in Kenya, especially all things Coke a Cola! Before leaving, Catherine wrote her donation check as promised and presented it to the headmaster. She said she would follow up and see what they use the funds for.

It was once again getting late and we needed to visit Catherine’s birth home so off we went. Catherine rode with us in the van so she could commentate and Anthony drove their 4 wheel vehicle. We made a stop at the little shopping strip so Catherine could buy some groceries to bring to her brother’s home as she never shows up empty handed. It is customary to bring basic needs to those who do not earn as much as you do. She got what she needed, I got drinks for everyone and then we continued on our way.

As we neared our destination the ground was soggy and muddy and lo and behold we got stuck! Anthony was driving ahead of us and didn’t notice so he kept going until he was out of site. We all got out of the van and Jon and Willy pushed while Michael (driver) tried to steer the way out. Catherine and I stood out of the way and watched the mud flying! She was on the phone so Anthony called me to ask where we were and I told him our predicament! He drove back but the guys were finally able to free the van and we continued to the birth home.

It was different from last year in the fact that the project her brother was working on that prevented us from driving up the hill was complete but we decided not to even try taking the van up the hill! Anthony drove up but we walked! It is a beautiful piece of land that sits up high and overlooks the countryside; just breathtaking. Catherine walked us around the property and showed us where she and her siblings lived, how they gathered water and where she grew food. The original structure she lived in as a child is still there but her brother, Anthony uses it for storage now and built another house on the land where he lives with his wife, Grace (also known as Mama Lillian) and two children, Hilda and Lillian. Word quickly spread that Catherine was visiting and soon a former neighbor showed up as well as Catherine’s uncle, one of her father’s brothers! Catherine gave her uncle some groceries and she gave the former neighbor some cash (again, custom to help those less fortunate). Then Mama Lillian prepared tea for all as well as sweet potatoes that she had roasted on the fireplace that is their stove. The house is in the same style as the one Catherine grew up in with the kitchen in a separate building. We enjoyed the healthy snack and then had to say our goodbyes so we could make our last stop of the day.

When we got back down to our car and were about to leave, we ran into Charity, Catherine’s Aunt that we ran into and interviewed on our first visit to her home town.

She asked me to come to her house (just up the road) for a visit and some tea and I felt horrible having to decline. I know it is not polite but we were on a very tight schedule and it would be getting dark soon and we still had to visit Anthony’s parents who had been waiting for us. I promised that the next time I come I will take her up on the generous offer.

We drove back through Karatina and on to Anthony’s parents who still live in the home where Anthony grew up. I still don’t know how people find their way around these places as there are no street signs and people just know which coffee field to turn at! I had not seen Anthony’s parents’ home in daylight and when we arrived it was very pretty! They have a little orchard/garden where they grow some vegetables and also have some passion fruit trees! They showed us down into the garden and I watched Anthony climb a passion fruit tree like a little kid (even though he was wearing dress clothes and shoes!)

He and Catherine knocked down a lot of fruit and I tasted my first passion fruit which was surprisingly good! We then interviewed Anthony’s parents, Jane and Kenneth and learned some interesting things from them. Anthony definitely gets his sense of humor from his father; in fact, they are almost one and the same person! His mother seems to be very practical and we learned that she used to be a runner as well! We shared some tea and biscuits and a little bit of time and then needed to head out so we could get back to Nairobi before it got too late. We left Catherine and Anthony there to spend a little “alone” time with the parents and Anthony said he would see us on the road as he passes us! I laughed and we got on the way :) Sure enough, about 40 minutes into the drive, we saw them pass our van! Kenyan drivers! :) We stayed our course and arrived back at Wasini at almost 10:30. It was a long day but well worth it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Return to Roots

Friday May 15th, 2009

I woke up thinking it was morning only to find my watch said 1:03am! I woke up every two hours and finally got up 10 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to ring at 4:30am. I got up (and made sure I had socks on before walking on the floor) and got ready for a shoot that needed to take place at sunrise. We got to our van and there was no driver to be found; I had to call and let him know we were all waiting for him; (he said his alarm didn’t go off but I wasn’t happy because we couldn’t afford to miss the sunrise!) We left Nyeri and drove back to the little shopping center near Kahira Ini and when we arrived there was already a whole group of students from the school waiting watch us film and this was 5:45am!

We filmed a segment with 2 young girls and then dropped them off at Ngorano Secondary school. (The primary school was closed because they were scheduled to have a track meet with the surrounding primary schools and it was being held at the secondary school field). It was no short distance from where we were shooting to where this track meet was being held, yet all of the other kids had to walk and arrive by the start of the meet! It really is amazing how far these children walk on a daily basis but then it's no surprise when they learn to run well to get to places more quickly! We ran (in our car!) back Karatina to have breakfast and then returned to Ngorano to film there for the day. We were initially supposed to film at Kahira Ini in the morning but they found out they had the track meet and had to postpone. We rearranged our shooting schedule to accommodate that event so went to Ngorano Secondary School instead. The athletic director there had arranged for some of Catherine’s classmates to be there as well as a former teacher and a former cook. It was really cool to talk to them and learn more about Catherine. I interviewed all of them and waited for Catherine and Anthony to arrive. When they did, it was obvious that Catherine was surprised to see former classmates! She seemed to enjoy reminiscing with them and we learned some fun tidbits :-)

We ended up staying there much later than I had anticipated and they prepared lunch for everyone as well. Kenyans are extremely hospitable and it is considered an insult if you are invited to tea or a meal and can not accept. The former classmates helped to serve and we all had lunch together including some of the current teachers.

After lunch we set off with the athletic director in search of Mr. Wambugu, the former headmaster of Ngorano who had great influence on Catherine's life but whom she had not seen since graduating. She wanted to surprise him with a visit. The athletic director said he knew where to find Mr. Wambugu, that it was not far outside of Nyeri but after 2 hours we still had not arrived at the place where he supposedly was. It seemed as if we drove for ages without seeing anything and then we finally reached a tiny town! keeping spirits up on the long drive!

at least it was pretty!

After a half hour of inquiries, we learned that Mr. Wambugu had moved and no one knew where he was. It was disappointing not to be able to capture Catherine reuniting with one of her mentors and it also took the remainder of the day and it was too late to do anything else, but at least the scenery was beautiful and we got some great footage at the secondary school today! I'm looking forward to filming at Kahira Ini tomorrow, Saturday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An interesting week....

Thursday May 14, 2009

So far this has been an interesting week unfortunately filled with some disappointments but I guess this is documentary! On Monday we had two interviews scheduled with accomplished female athletes Edith Masai and Margaret Okayo. Both women are employed by the prison just like Catherine so I thought it would be interesting to speak with both of them about working with Catherine but also competing with her at prison meets and other professional races, Unfortunately, before we were to meet with Margaret Okayo she messaged to say she had an emergency patient and needed to cancel. We were to meet with her at noon, Edith Masai at 2 and then meet with Catherine to schedule some time with her. It was too late to reschedule so I did some work at home and then we met with Edith. She invited us to her home for the interview and she lives in an area called Ngong (pronounced with the “N” almost silent, more of just a nasal sound). Her home was lovely and warm and she was extremely nice. I also found her to be quite interesting being a divorced woman who did not start running seriously until she was 33 years old and a single mother needing to support her and her son! She is definitely a strong woman who decided what she wanted and went for it! She is now 42 years old and still competing; in fact she has recently switched to a manager in the United States (New York) so she can compete more in the U.S. instead of Europe where she had been competing for years. She also is looking to send her son to a college in the United States when he graduates next year so I was quite impressed with her as well.

Once we finished there we were to meet with Catherine to go over some scheduling but she had a 2pm massage and it was after 4 and she still had not been seen because the therapist had an emergency at home and he was now on his way back. So we decided we would wait until Tuesday and meet with her then. Instead, I wanted to film the sunset in Ngong Hills so Willy drove us to a place called Corner Baridi, literally translated to “Corner Cold” or Cold Corner because it is so high and gets so cold. Jon did some beautiful shots and there were a bunch of schoolchildren who watched and also sold us beaded keychains.

On Tuesday morning we went to Catherine’s house to go over some of the shooting schedule and to coordinate with her schedule as to when we can do some training footage. We spent a good part of the day just discussing what needs to still be filmed and then she took us for a drive to look at her training route and do some planning (if possible!) When we got back to the house Catherine went to change to go out and do a short run and Jon was going to run part of the time with her.
Like last time, the monkeys were out but this time they just came right up to us, quite close actually and Catherine asked Filhemena to bring a banana and she tried to lure the monkey with the banana! The monkeys seemed skeptical and finally Catherine said ok, we have to move on so she left the banana on top of the fence.
As soon as she left it, one of the monkeys swooped down and grabbed it! They were just too adorable!

We finally all got back into her car and as soon as we left the main gate it started to pour! It was evident that she was not going for a run so she took us by car onto her training route. It is amazing how hard it rains here at times and makes everything SO slick and muddy! The training route is beautiful; she even goes all the way up to Corner Baridi where we were yesterday. We got a nice tour of the different areas where Catherine trains.

On Wednesday the 13th I was very excited for my interview with Kipchoge “Kip” Keino who is one of the most noted athletes in Kenyan history and is also the Chairman of the Olympic Committee in Kenya. Now if you remember I said there were some disappointments so far this week, well this was one of them. We had a 3pm interview scheduled with him and when we arrived we learned he was called away to Eldoret for a state function. Evidently the State is known for calling people to meetings last minute. It turns out there was a burial that related to the post election violence some time ago and he had to be there. It was very disappointing but hopefully we will be able to conduct the interview next week when he will be back in Nairobi for an Olympic Committee election (Catherine is up for a seat on the committee).

Today, Thursday May 14th, we were ready to leave early and our rental car was due at 9am. I got a message from the person arranging the car that it would be there by 10; evidently the person who arranged for the vehicle was stood up and she had to arrange for another one. By 10:30 we still didn’t have a car and Willy’s car would not make the trip; we were headed back to Nyeri and Karatina, Catherine’s birth place. Finally, the woman organizing our car said we could have their van and driver which solved our problem even if we were now over two hours behind schedule. By the time we got out of there and stopped at the ATM it was time for lunch so we stopped on our way out of town.

We finally arrived in Nyeri around 4pm and went to our hotel to check it out. We had made reservations at Central Hotel which was reasonably priced (1000ksh bed & breakfast/approx. $12!) but I guess you get what you pay for. The bed was “ok” but the room was rather dismal and the “self contained” bathroom was missing a toilet seat (some rooms have one some don’t!) We were not thrilled with the place so we drove to a few others to check out and there were two that were just way too expensive and other less expensive ones were sold out. We drove around Nyeri Town and checked out the area and then stopped at a viewpoint to watch the sunset.
The spot we found was at an opening in a coffee plantation. I had never seen coffee plants before and learned that the beans actually are red when they are ripe and then the outer layer is stripped away to reveal a white bean. The coffee bean doesn't become black until later in the processing! It is odd how so much coffee is grown in Kenya but Kenyans are not big coffee drinkers; they do grow a lot of tea as well but they drink that!

We finally stopped for dinner but it was after 8pm and I guess Nyeri town is not a very happening place at night! The only place we found nearby that was open for food was at a bar. Poor Jon did not have many choices as I have learned this is a meat and potatoes type of area and not very vegetarian friendly (although there usually are a few things for him to choose from.) I needed to use the bathroom but once I went in I decided I could wait! I hadn’t packed my TP supply in my purse! I also wanted to wash my hands yet there was no soap or hot water! So just how do the employees keep their hands clean….don’t think I want the answer to that although before we ate they did come around with a pitcher of warm water and fortunately there was a bar of soap in the basin where you wash your hands.
After dinner we ended up back at Central Hotel and figured we had to be out by 5am anyway so it’s just a place to sleep. To give you an idea of this place (and you can see photographs) there is a condom dispenser mounted on the wall at the top of the steps at the first floor. The pillow felt like a sack of potatoes and it was pretty difficult to sleep between that and people outside talking; it sounded like they were in my ear! Fortunately I was so exhausted that it wasn’t that difficult to fall asleep but it was difficult staying asleep!

Central Hotel, Nyeri

the "bathroom"

at the top of the stairs......

but oops.....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday May 10, 2009

Today we interviewed a former Olympian and London and NYC Marathon champion, Douglas Wakiihuri. He was the first Kenyan man to win a gold medal at the World Championships in 1987. He lived and trained in Japan for many years and is very well-spoken and we interviewed him about women in athletics and how things have changed since he was competing. He invited us to Nairobi National Park where he is organizing an event later this month called the Sotokoto Safari Marathon. He has combined his ties with Japan and his love of the marathon to put together this event that will only be a half marathon this year but will progress into a full marathon next. The starting point is inside the game park at the ivory burning site and the finish line is there as well. (They will have rangers on duty the day of the race to ensure protection against any animals). He was very interesting and I’m looking forward to his race; he granted us permission to film the start and finish and Catherine’s brother, Cyrus, will participate in the race as will Irene Limika and Nephat Kinyanjui, two of Lisa’s other runners.

After the interview, we had lunch with Douglas and then Irene met me at the Park with her daughter, Deborah and her husband and another friend. Deborah is so adorable! Douglas provided a ride back to our apartment for all of us and I spent some time with Irene and her family at Wasini. Once Deborah decided it was time to go they went back home . :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

First Week of May

Today (Monday May 4th) we had a full day of interviews. We started out at Athletics Kenya, the organization that governs running in Kenya. We started with David Okeyo who is the Secretary General and then moved on to Stephen Mwaniki who coached Catherine when she was first discovered by the prisons. On the top floor is a small museum dedicated to Athletics (here they refer to running as Athletics). If you look towards the back of the photo you will see a sculpture that represents Catherine. The room is designed to look like a track.

We then went to the Prisons Headquarters and spoke with Elizabeth Olaba who was the recruiter who actually recruited Catherine. It was an informative day and we got some good interviews!

On Tuesday May 5th we took a drive out to Catherine’s hometown where we visited her primary school, Kahira Ini and filmed some establishing shots in order to save time when we come with her. It was just like when I arrived here last year; once the kids caught wind that a “mazungu” (white person) was there, word spread and all 330 kids were surrounding us within minutes! They love the cameras and are so curious about white people because they rarely see any. Many of these children have never been outside of their village. The school is almost exactly was it was when Catherine attended except for the addition of actual windows now in place instead of just the opening for the window.

One of Catherine’s former teachers offered to show us where Catherine used to live and we also visited her secondary school and confirmed everything for our trip next week. Then we went into the local town (which consists of a small shopping center) and spoke to random ladies from the village to learn what they recalled about her. It was fascinating to hear some of their stories about when Catherine was growing up. It was a very good day and the drive back was also quite interesting; driving the Kenyan roads at night is extremely scary! Many of the roads are not even paved and the drivers are crazy; they pass on curves, they pass when oncoming traffic is way too close and the matatus, small buses used to transport people stuffed in them like sardines in a can, have the craziest drivers of all, even resorting to driving on sidewalks to get around traffic!

Thursday May 7th, 2009

view of Rift Valley

Today we left to drive to Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley known for producing some of Kenya’s best runners. (I say “some” because there are successful runners not from this area, such as Catherine) The altitude is over 7000ft which makes it an excellent training ground for distance runners and there is no lack of them! We went because I wanted to show this area that is so well known as well as to attend a track meet where runners compete in hopes of making the national teams. The officials from Athletics Kenya attend as well as coaches and managers looking for new talent and up and coming runners. It took us over 6 hours to get there and it was dusk by the time we arrived so we found some high ground and filmed the sunset. Unfortunately, there were a lot of clouds on the horizon so we didn’t actually see the sun set but it was pretty nonetheless. We rented a Rav4 because whenever you go outside of Nairobi and venture out onto the roads you need a 4 wheel drive and Willy’s car is a four door sedan that would never make it! After filming we checked in to our hotel which is called the Sirikwa. The room was adequate and we had a bite to eat and got to bed early so we could be out at the “meet” first thing.

When we arrived at the stadium we were struck by how many athletes were there either to compete or just watching! We interviewed some up and coming female runners to hear who their role models were/are and find out if things have changed for women in Kenya in the past ten or so years. It was interesting how many people there now run in order to obtain scholarships to universities in the U.S. We also found runners who wanted to make running their career but there are some who simply want the education that can be obtained through running qualifying times. The meet is a two day competition and some of the events have heats in order to reduce the size of the field. There is everything from 100yd races up to 10000m ones and steeplechase, hurdles, javelin and shotput; everything you would see at a track and field competition. Catherine’s brother, Cyrus, ran in the 5000m race as did one of Lisa’s runners’ brother, Raymond brother to Hosea! There were 350 entrants into this event and they ran in heats of approximately 14 runners each.

runners line up waiting for the 5000m

I wasn’t able to find Cyrus among the sea of faces but we did see Raymond. The heats were fun to watch especially the finishes because some were so close! the kids LOVE the cameras!

We left the stadium only briefly to film a group of runners warming up nearby so we could get a glimpse of the area where many of these great runners train. We filmed until sundown and then returned to the Siriwka. Little did we know we would be having a loooong night ahead of us! We had dinner and were all exhausted so wanted to get to bed early because we were scheduled to film the sunrise and head to Iten before the second day of the track meet. We got to bed early but had no idea that our rooms were located directly across from a night club. Being that it was Friday night I am assuming it was crowded if the volume of the music was any indication! By 2am I called the front desk to ask what time the club closes only to find out it closes at sunrise!!! Needless to say, just as the music stopped at 5am my alarm rang. I learned that neither Jon nor Willy got any sleep either but at least we were all on time to film the sunrise!

We found a nice location on the way to Iten and filmed it. It was beautiful to watch the whole area come alive and there were people walking back already with goods on their heads and backs and matatus picking people up along the road, bicycles and of course, many runners around. We got to Iten and saw why it is the home to many training camps for runners. It is at high altitude and it is beautiful with plenty of hills for training. We had breakfast at the top of a restaurant that overlooks a viewpoint where you can see the hills around and valleys below and it was quite scenic.

After breakfast we returned to Kip Keino Stadium and watched more of the events. We were scheduled to interview someone but he did not have time so we agreed to do it back in Nairobi. We had planned to interview Luke Kibet, an international athlete, but he was called away to run in Berlin to fill in for another runner who was injured so we had to reschedule. After watching and filming a bit more we needed to hit the road back so we wouldn’t have to drive at night. As it was, we got a late start (almost 2pm) then stopped for lunch (which was interesting in itself. I find it odd that at many restaurants they give you one menu for the whole table and then wait for your order but you have to pass the menu around! The first 3 items we tried to order they did not even have! Jon is vegetarian so there was literally nothing on the menu he could eat!) By the time we actually started our journey it was almost 3:30 so we knew it was going to be a rough ride! We buckled up for the trek back to Nairobi and finally arrived there around 10:20pm, tired and hungry. It was nice to be back at Wasini, our home away from home, back to my comfy bed, internet, clean shower and peace and quiet! (Boy have I become spoiled?!)