Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flotrack checking out Africa

The staff at the two Mzungo HQ's in NYC and Europe respectively still daydream about the trip to Kenya this last January. Now Flotrack is sending a team member to the black continent. This will make for fun reading and good vids.

"21 hours. Not the longest air travel of my life, but certainly not the shortest. After a week of heading to Philadelphia, Plainsboro NJ, and a few sites in New York to get the xc season rolling with some solid content, I sat in JFK, relieved that I was about to spend an entire day on planes and in airports. I guess it was a finally moment. After this trip sat in the back of my mind all summer, 4 vaccines in the shoulder and my visa finally arrived 36 hours before departure, I was ready to go. My 4th continent in 24 years of living. More impressively, it was Flotrack's 5th continent in just under 4 years. After Melbourne, Osaka, Austin, and Paris. Rome, Auckland, Beijing, and Eugene. Stockholm, Guelph, New York, and Berlin. Flotrack was finally making its first visit to Africa! Ethiopia to be exact. So NY to DC, DC to Rome, Rome to Addis Ababa, 3 in-flight meals, 1 terrible airplane movie staring Catherine Zeta-Jones and a 45 minute wait on line at customs and I was there.

First thing I notice, 35 US Dollars gets me 491 Birr, what! This is going to be sweet! Then, the cab ride to the hotel, no seat belts, or headlights (It is 10 at night). We make it safely to the hotel, though and things change quickly. The hotel is super-nice. Yo almost forget you are in a developing nation there, until you see the guards at the gate with AK-47s and the metal detector and x-ray machine at the door. You almost feel guilty staying somewhere that nice when many of the people outside the gates live an entire year on what a 2 night stay costs! Also, something you notice immediately...Ethiopians are some of the nicest and most beautiful people you will encounter. Also, every country I go to I feel ignorant for know only English and basic Spanish, when almost everyone on the other side of the Atlantic knows at least 2 languages sufficiently.

The first night's sleep is rough with the time change, but the next day the schedule is light. Just shooting B-Roll around the city and finalizing the schedule for the following 3 days. Well, not quite...the hotel phone rings, "Haile returned from Gateshead early, he can meet now." Ok, so new plan, good thing we were prepared for anything. We head to his office. Beforehand, we learned all about Chairman Gebrselassie's business ventures in Ethiopia. He is an advocate for creating jobs and putting money into the developing economy. He owns multiple office buildings, a cinema, car dealership, and is opening a resort hotel 4 hours south of Addis in a few months. In total he employs over 600 Ethiopians. Because of this, I can not wait to see him at work and how involved he is. After all, he is still an elite runner who just a year ago broke his 27th career world record. I had a brief encounter with him at the NYC Half Marathon in the spring, but on this trip I was going to get to spend a few days with this historic runner.

We get to Haile's office and it is one of the nicest buildings we have seen so far in Addis, behind our hotel and the palace, really. We take the elevator up 6 stories and walk through the door marked "Chairman." Eamon Coughlan and Bernard Lagat may be the 'Chairman(s) of the Boards', but Haile is basically the Chairman of Ethiopia. We enter his office and you see some Ethiopian art, pictures of his family, a framed picture of him breaking the half marathon world record, and tons of binders full of work. He jumps out of his chair to greet us and it the most gracious host one could ask for. After introductions are done, we begin to talk. He tells us about his business, the Great North Run, the NYC Marathon, and about his life. It is almost surreal to have him talking to me from five feet away. This isn't a press conference, this isn't TV, this isn't a Flotrack video, the guy who ran 2:03:59 is sitting across from me telling me about when he won a major competition between the biggest high schools as a freshman, beating all the boys 2 and 3 years older then him. A race his school did not want to enter him in because of his age, despite being the fastest in his school. He talks extensively about his professional career with adidas, which he believes, at around 2 decades, is the longest contract any runner has held with adidas, or any brand for that matter.

Once the conversation winds down, and we decide it is time to let him get back to work, he tells us to meet him back at the office at 4 and he will take us to his house for a traditional Ethiopian meal. I tried to play it cool and not seem like a super-track fan and humbly accept the invitation. All I am thinking is, 'Haile could serve me Snausages for dinner and this will be one of the greatest meals of my life" So we head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner...

To be continued...expect follow-up blogs and some video highlights of the trip in the next couple of days!"