Friday, April 11, 2008

Maasai Warriors to Run London Marathon

The next time you are working out and feeling oh so exhausted, think of the Maasai warriors running in this week's London Marathon, dressed in traditional garb, abstaining from water, all in an effort to call attention to their country's water plight.

"Back at home we sometimes run for 5 or 6 days, day and night," Isaya, a young warrior clothed in a red robe and adorned with traditional beaded jewelry, told Reuters in an interview. "Twenty-six miles not far."

He and his fellow warriors, all between 20 and 25 years old, expect to reach the finish line of Sunday's race within four and a half hours.

They will run in traditional dress -- a red "shuka" blanket toga and car-tire sandals -- carrying spears and shields showing their running numbers, and will sing and dance along the 26.2 mile route through the British capital.

"And we will do the whole marathon with no water," Isaya adds. "We often travel for many days, eating only twice a day, and we have no water."

There country is suffering from a severe drought that is killing their cattle and crops, and diseasing the population, which now has a 66% mortality rate for children prior to reaching age 5. The runners hope to raise the necessary funds to reach a deep underground water.

Paul Martin, an expedition leader with the Greenforce charity which has been working with the Maasai since 2005, said ground surveys of the area around Eluai had found an underground water source which could offer the Maasai a lifeline.

"It's an enormously difficult and expensive procedure, but it's so desperately needed that we have to make sure we get something out of there, even if we have to go down to depths of 100 meters (yards)," he told Reuters.

Martin suspects the sight of thousands of London marathon runners taking two sips of water from a bottle at each mile and throwing the rest away is likely to horrify the Maasai runners, but says it will only fuel their determination.

"The Maasai are a proud people ... If they achieve this, they will return to their village as heroes," he said.

And Isaya has no doubt he and his fellow runners will do it.

"The finish line for us is not at the end of the race, it is when we can turn on a tap in Eluai," he said. "I really believe that can happen."

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