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 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,” he said.
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.”
There is a flurry of activities around this year’s tournament which is 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,” a Hotel Reservationist at the Tropicana Hotel at the Las Vegas Strip said.
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,” added DJ KillBill, the spin master holding forte for the ToD in Delaware.
This year, the number of Kenyans traveling from Kenya is expected to be very high according to organisers.
It is estimated that more than five thousands Kenyans living in the US and Canada attended last Year’s Sevens Rugby tourney in Las Vegas, making the event by far, the largest gathering of the Diaspora in recent memory.
‘Kenyans 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.
Last year, majority of Kenyans came from Minnesota, California, Texas, Georgia and the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia areas. Other cities represented included Seattle, Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Missouri and Alberta, Canada.
Kenyans living in Boston, New Jersey and New York city areas have also turned up in large numbers despite the winter storm towards the end of that week that disrupted weekend travel plans.
“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 organise an event that would attract more than 500 Kenyans living abroad especially if that event is neither a funeral service nor a wedding.
The Las Vegas Rugby tournament has however consistently broken the record with the consistent 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.
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?” posed 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 to the stadium at 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 lovers of Kenyan dishes, Jennifer Gachui and her team put up a kitchen that served hot meals. 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 inside 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.
CONNECTING WITH FRIENDS
Apart from the feel-good-Kenyan atmosphere, many also come with the hope of making new friends. “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 party halls. The battle of the DJs and party organisers around who can pull the biggest crowd is played out for all to see.
Away from the streets, Kenyan residential homes are also not usually left behind. Last year, as has been in the past, several homes owned by the Diaspora played host to Kenyans from different states.
– article written by CHRIS WAMALWA
– adapted from THE DAILY NATION