After umpteen hours in 3 different flying cans, I finally arrived home and promptly went to sleep for 2 days. The last 3 weeks have been an incredible adventure, but I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed again. I have a hard time expressing how impressed I am by the improvement I’ve seen in the jumpers in the past 3 years. They seem to be the embodiment of the whole eat, sleep, jump idea. Needless to say, I was impressed with the jumpers. But even more so, I am blown away by the connection we’re able to make with these kids every time I visit. I made some great new friends (like Amon who is one the funniest, happiest people I have ever met), learned some new skills and once again braved the eating of weird animal parts at the legendary Carnivore.
I began the trip with a quick one day stopover in New Jersey for a show at an elementary school. I always love schools that are excited to have me perform. The kids were awesome and I had a blast performing there. I then zipped back to the airport and caught my flight to Amsterdam (it left late due to Customs inspection of the plane). Thankfully I had a long layover as the plane landed 1.5 hours late, I headed up to the KLM lounge (one of the perks I have because I fly so much, free lounge access) and promptly signed up for a shower. I grabbed some breakfast, napped a bit then caught my flight to Dubai. I still haven’t had a chance to perform in the middle east so this was my first time in the area. Unfortunately, it was dark and I really couldn’t see anything so that was lame. I finally hopped on my flight to Nairobi and promptly couldn’t fall asleep. I really wish I could figure out this whole sleeping on a plane thing.
When I got to Nairobi I realized that something was different with the arrival situation. They had us exit the front right side of the plane (unusual) and bussed us to a new arrivals terminal. It turns out, part of the airport burned down this summer and they were building a new international terminal to replace it. I got in the visa line and realized that yet again, I would be standing there forever. I chatted with some other visitors as we endured a 2 hour or so line to get through passport control. Exciting I know. I finally got through and hopped in a cab to the International Guest House that we always stay at when visiting Nairobi. I’ve written about Tom and IGH in the past, but I have to say, he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to hospitality and service. I always love staying there as he does such a great job of taking care of us and making sure we are well fed. Side note: I always bring a bag of snack food when I head overseas as I like to make sure I have plenty of options…why do I even bother when I go to Kenya, the food is awesome and they always feed me so much I feel like I’m going to burst.
Mike Fry (the director of One World One Rope) and I spent the next couple of days finishing up the prep work for the 4th Annual East Africa Jump Rope Competition. This consisted of driving from place to place to pay people and make sure everything was squared away for the kids when they arrived for the competition. Thankfully, there were no big hassles this time around. We went to a couple practices in Kibera with the Nairobi team and I stood there amazed at how quickly they have improved since the first time I saw them 3 years ago.
Over the next couple of days, all the staff arrived from the US, Canada and Japan. They were ready to go from the moment they arrived (though I am saying that with a bit of assuming, as the airport lost power when their flight landed and it took them quite a while to get through customs in the dark…and I was asleep by the time they got there). Ok…a more accurate way to say it is that they were ready from the moment I saw them the next morning at breakfast. As usual it consisted of chai tea, bread, eggs and a samosa. We headed over to Langata High School and were ready for the kids to arrive. This is where the fun truly begins.
The Nairobi team were the first to arrive (mainly because they only live about 3k away…but due to traffic and routing, even that can take 45 minutes). As usual, as soon as they had their stuff in their rooms, they were back in the gym ready to jump. It’s hard to think of a moment when they would stop jumping. They were there to compete and they wanted to learn. As each group arrived, they would grab their ropes and get at it. We had groups from Kenya and Tanzania (I believe there were 6 or 7 different teams total). For people in the states that can’t go, many donate shoes, ropes and clothes for the kids. We got to be involved in the very rewarding experience of hooking them up with some new (to them) clothes. The Seattle crew arrived with a boatload of donated stuff for the kids and in a classic scene of ordered chaos, each kid got 2 pairs of shoes, some shirts and brand new jump ropes. All of which got put to good use over the next few days.
The following day was the start of competition. We burned through all the speed events and enjoyed the slow cadence that seems to permeate the jump rope competition. Speed took the entire first day, the second day moved us into the realm of freestyles. This is always my favorite to watch as we can see the creativity and skill that they have been able to develop. It was pretty awesome. Even after 28 years of jumping, I still see new stuff from time to time and it was really neat to see kids that have only been jumping for 4 years come up with some brand new tricks. In the end, the Nairobi group won every event, but one. This has to do with the fact that they practice more than anyone else and have a consistent schedule throughout the year. We then got to move onto the camp!
The next 2.5 days were spent working with the kids on new skills and pushing their creativity (and ours) as we pushed them. They didn’t stop. I’ve never been around a group that just kept going and going as much as these kids. Most of the time when you’re teaching you run into the kids that are only there because their mom made them, or they’re too tired, or they don’t like that trick, etc. None of that here. They were like sponges. Anything you wanted to try, they took it in, practiced and wanted more. It was a blast to teach such hard working students.
Camp finally came to a close and we had the usual tearful good bye’s (I have been accused of being part robot because I’m not the tearful type, it doesn’t mean I don’t find the departure sad). We finished cleaning up the venue and headed back for a much needed sleep-in. I awoke at 5am as usual to the sound of a rooster crowing outside my window (every day….I really wanted to shoot that thing and eat it for dinner). We headed into Kibera for an impromptu street show with the Nairobi team. These are always fun because they just randomly take over a street and start jumping. We visited a clinic run by Carolina for Kibera (they sponsor the jump rope team as well) and took a tour of one of the largest slums in the world. Even after having been through there multiple times, it’s still an eye opening experience.
The final day all the staff was around, we decided to take a one day safari to Amobseli National Park. It was a 3 hour (or so) drive there and we had a great time zipping around looking for animals. I love taking photos and safaris are always a time to go to town with the camera. I got pictures of: zebra, giraffe, hyena, birds (I’m terrible with bird names), elephant, hippo, monkey, baboon, gazelle things, ostrich, water buffalo, and probably other stuff that I can’t remember. I was really wanting a picture of a leopard as that is the only big animal I didn’t get a good picture of last time, but I didn’t see one this time around. Oh well, it was still fun. We spent lunch on the top of a hill watching a herd of elephants cross a road and head into a swamp. Truly an amazing thing to watch as you sit there relaxing.
We got stuck in traffic on the way back (nothing unusual there) and were able to get the staff back to the airport for their flight out. For some reason my ticket was way cheaper if I stayed over a couple extra days so I stayed around with Mike and we visited the Kibera team a couple more times for practice then finally caught our flights home. Normally I just say that the flights were good, but my trip home was a case of awful and awesome. My flight out of Nairobi somehow messed my seat assignment up. I was supposed to have an aisle bulkhead seat (which makes for as enjoyable a flight as can be for me), instead I had a middle seat next to the seatmate from…you know. For 8 hours he bounced around in his seat, elbowed me constantly, accidentally turned his light on and off with his hip and was plain evil. I finally got so fed up that I hopped over him (literally, I didn’t want to try waking him and incur his wrath) and walked around the 747 for 1.5 hours. I’m sure I looked a little weird pacing the aisles, but anything was better than trying to sit next to that guy. The second flight was exactly the opposite. I got to the gate and there was a problem with my boarding pass. I checked with the agent and they decided to upgrade me to business class (I think coach was full and since I fly so much I got the golden ticket). I had a 5 course lunch, great service and an almost completely laid down seat. So much better. Also, I was supposed to fly back to New York from Detroit then back to Tulsa, but I was able to hop on a direct flight so that I arrived home 24 hours early and surprised Alicia.
All told, it was a great trip! I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoyed being there with those kids. They are truly wonderful to be around and I can’t wait to see them again. I took a ton of photos and below are just a few of the many that I have. Have a great rest of the holidays! I spent Christmas chilling with Alicia and Wookiee. Being with the family is always nice.