The trip from the coastal city of Victoria, British Columbia in Canada to Las Vegas, Nevada in the US, is by all means a long and expensive journey but for the Kenyan born Salim Amusala, it is a small prize to pay for the country he loves and the game he enjoys.
We bump into Amusala in the company of scores of Kenyans on this particularly chilly February Saturday morning at the Strip in the streets of Las Vegas wandering around looking for an eatery that serves something close to a familiar breakfast.
Amusala is one of the thousands of Kenyans who have flown into Las Vegas from practically every corner in the US and Canada to cheer the Kenyan Safari Sevens rugby team.
“I’m here to support our rugby team just as I’ve done over the years. It is a trip I look forward to every year because I love the game and my country. If you come back next year, you will find me here. It is my addiction”. Said Amusala.
The US Sevens has moved from its usual spot in early-mid February to the last weekend of January 24-26, 2014.
This is so the US tournament does not conflict with the 2014 Winter Olympics. IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “With its Olympic credentials boosting rugby’s landscape around the world Rugby Sevens is growing all the time, as we saw in London with world record crowds of 71,898 on day one and 113,025 over the two days.”
At the time of writing this, there is a flurry of activities around this year’s tournament, less than three weeks away.
There are reports that Kenyans from all over the world are booking hotel accommodation in large numbers.
“We have special deals for Kenyans here if you book through the CPR Las Vegas Kenyan team.” Said Hotel Reservationist at the Tropicana Hotel at the Las Vegas Strip. CPR a.k.a Certified Party Rockers is a group of Kenyan DJ based in the US especially in California, Texas and Georgia.
And, at the more centrally located Monte Carlo and the Hard Rock hotels, the Take Over DJs a.k.a the ToD are also holding up special deals for Kenyans. “The time to book hotel accommodation is actually now because these deals are selling like hot cakes and before long, they will all be gone.” Said Bill K. DJ KillBill the spinner master holding the forte for the ToD in Delaware.
This year also, the number of Kenyans traveling from Kenya is expected to be very high according to organisers.
Back to last year, it is estimated that more than five thousands Kenyans living in the US and Canada attended last Year’s Safari Sevens Rugby tourney in Las Vegas, making the event by far, the largest gathering of the Diaspora in recent memory.
‘The Kenyans’, as they are commonly referred to in the streets of Las Vegas, during the tournament, came from practically every State and Province in the US and Canada.
“I think it is two things, one, being the largest gathering of Kenyans in Diaspora, you know you are going to find a friend, relative or a cousin in Las Vegas and we are social creatures so we follow each other. And the second thing is Las Vegas as a destination is a destination so people come to see the hotels and other attractions like the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon so there is more than just rugby”.
Said Jennifer Gachui, proprietor of Kenyans Connect when asked to speculate as to why the Las Vegas Tournament attracts such large numbers of Kenyans.
Last year again, as it seems to be now a tradition, majority of Kenyans came from Minnesota, California, Texas, Georgia and the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia areas. Other cities heavily represented were cities like Seattle, Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Missouri and Alberta, Canada.
Kenyans living in Boston, New Jersey and New York city areas were also many in Vegas even though the winter storm that hit the area towards the end of that week cut off many who had planned to travel to Las Vegas over the weekend.
“Most of my friends who were planning to fly over on Friday could not do so because almost all flights along the North East corridor from Boston to North Carolina were cancelled because of the winter storm. I just feel glad and lucky that I flew in earlier on in the week”. Said Daphne Ogega, a Kenyan resident of New Jersey.
Kenyans who live abroad would tell you that it is extremely hard to arganise an event that would attract more than 500 Kenyans living abroad especially, if that event is neither a funeral service nor a wedding. That is why many Kenyans are at a loss as to why the Las Vegas Rugby tournament has consistently broken the Diaspora social rules to attract a huge turn out.
“The notion that Las Vegas tournament just happens is misleading. The events are usually marketed by Kenyan DJs like crazy! Every Kenyan DJ based here in the US has his/her followers and usually it is their responsibility to make sure that their astute fans turn up in Las Vegas.” Said Paul Simani of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
It is only in Vegas during this tournament that Kenyans beat West Africans especially Nigerians when it comes being patriotic. Last year, it was indeed a carnival mood as Kenyans’ filled up major hotels in Las Vegas at times, occupying whole floors and turning the City that never goes to sleep into one big Kenyan party.
For those who didn’t want to go out in the streets, it was convenient for them to bring an assortment of drinks to their rooms and let the party go on throughout the night.
“Who wants to sleep in Vegas when the Kenyan party is going on?” Asked Wasim a.k.a Wazimu a Kenyan resident of Kansas City adding, this is the only time it feels truly good to be Kenyan.”
By Saturday morning, the strip, a long narrow stretch avenue of shops, hotels and casino in Central Las Vegas spotted many Kenyans hovering around with swollen eyes from lack of sleep after long hours of partying.
The celebratory mood and a sense of Kenyan patriotism were however not only on display on the field as the games went. It spilled over outside the stadium in a place called Kenya Korner.
Here, all manner of business deals, networking and product launches were in full swing with the noise from the stadium acting as an appropriate soundtrack.
For the lovers of Kenyan dishes, Jennifer Gachui and her team had put up a kitchen that served a hot meal. Kenyan tea and coffee came in handy especially on Saturday when the temperatures suddenly took a nosedive.
It is increasingly becoming evident that a good number of Kenyans turn up in Las Vegas during the tournament not necessarily for the love of the game but for other reasons. After all, it has been observed, many never even show up in the stadium to cheer the Kenyan team.
“There are those who plan their vacations around this time because Las Vegas is definitely one of the world’s best-known vacation destinations.” Said Brian Nyamu, a Kenyan resident of Bear, Delaware himself an ardent rugby lover.
CONNECTING WITH FRIENDS
Apart from that feel-good-Kenyan atmosphere that happens only once in a year for the most part and which is pervasive around Vegas at this time, many also come with the hope of finding friends to hook up with. “With all these Kenyans roaming around, a prospective seeker would definitely be spoilt for choice.” Said Daphne Ogega.
But, it’s without doubt that majority of Kenyans who come to Vegas during the tournament are party lovers.
Kenyan party organisers who comprise mostly DJs turn every Club in Las Vegas into Kenyan party halls. The battle of the DJs and party organisers around who can pull the biggest crowd is played out here for all to see.
Away from the streets, Kenyan residential homes are also not usually left behind. Last, year as it was in the past, several homes owned by the Diaspora played host to a Kenyan crowd from out of state. Kenyan dishes were in plenty.