When some friends in Nairobi invited me to join them for a Goat Derby, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I was in for a new experience. How could I refuse?
Hosted by the Ngong Racecourse, the second annual Nairobi Goat Derby was held to raise funds for the Heart to Heart Foundation, which pays for children to have life-saving heart surgery. According to the friend who invited me, the goat derby came to Kenya from neighboring Uganda, where they are kind of a big deal. Ugandans breed and train their racing goats — they are not messing around. Kenyan goat races, on the other hand, are pure silliness. Here’s how it works:
Participating families, schools, and corporations pay a fee for the privilege of running a goat in the races. These are not purebred Ugandan racing goats, so getting them to run (and in the right direction) takes a team of 2. One person to guide them with a rope, another to politely encourage them from behind using a broom-like bundle of grass. Racers are encouraged to dress their goats in differentiating costumes. Each category of racers (schools, families, companies) runs in a separate preliminary heat, and the top 2 goats advance to the final.
My hosts’ goat was full of fight. Maybe because he preferred to avoid the stew pot. He would have won the prelim heat, but the winner cheated. Still second place was enough to advance to the final. I stepped in as the herder for that race. I know we were favorites to win it all . . . but our goat was a little too stylish for his own good. Along with the necktie pictured above, we tried to race him a dress shirt. His legs tangled and he went crashing to the ground. Our only consolation was that his spectacular crash took a few more goats down with him. Stew loves company.
Here’s a video of the prelim race:
Through the day of racing, eating, chatting, etc, I got a chance to see some interesting sides of Kenya. There was a sound stage that mostly blared European and American pop music. Bands rotated in and out, playing some decent music, and a lot of corny covers. I finally spotted the elusive white Kenyans. Stranger still was the black country western singer who did an astonishing impersonation of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and other American singers with a country twang. Many of his songs would have sounded totally authentic if I’d been listening to them at a small club in central Texas. And even more surprisingly, almost everybody seemed to know the words to his songs. So there it is: Goat racing, euro pop, country western music. I think Kenyans have a healthy sense of fun!