The Kapchebau life is simple and rigorous. "Our diet is goat's milk and millet," says Kisang. "Sometimes eggs or meat, and always ugali. Ugali is our staple."
Ugali is the maize porridge that you hear Kenyan runners yearning for wherever they travel. "You plant the maize on May first," says Kisang, "and you harvest January first." By then the kernels are as pale and hard as porcelain. Grandmother shows you her storehouse of millet, the grain a deep variegated red, the door secured by a strong new padlock.
The huts have no electricity or plumbing, but back on the hillside is a small, stone-lined channel of clear, cold water, quite separate from the stream. A spout of split bamboo allows little Salome to fill her jug. This is not a spring but part of a vast network of ancient channels that apportion water to every clan on the escarpment. The Marakwet have lived a thousand years on these slopes, yet they say they inherited the channels from previous users, possibly the lost tribe of the Sirikwa.
The light fades by seven. You are cordially invited to Christmas dinner and to spend the night. You would accept even if there were an alternative.
Chickens roost in the cooking hut. This is where Grandmother sleeps, on a cowhide folded on a cot. Along the dim back wall are round earthenware pots. "She drinks maize alcohol all day, so of course she is happy," says Kibor.
The fire is surrounded by three stones. A fair percentage of the smoke goes out a hole in the roof, after warming and drying green wood in the rafters. Salome sifts ground maize. Yano cuts and washes the meat and puts it in a pot to stew. A chicken lays an egg. Kibor goes to the main hut, which has two rooms, and does a few more chemistry problems by the light of a kerosene lamp before dinner is delivered. He breaks the sad news to the family that he must leave in the morning. He has to get back to the training camp in Nairobi.
Yano pours water so you may soap and rinse your hands. You eat with your fingers. The beef is tough, the sauce delicious. Ugali is kind of scratchy on the palate, as if there were some earth in with the corn. It is bland but satisfying. You really dig in, to the contentment of your hosts.
Kibor pours water so you may wash your hands again. Dinner concludes with bottles of orange soda (which Kisang opens with his teeth) and goodwill all around.
You pass the night rolled in a blanket on the hut's immaculately swept earthen floor. It is not as uncomfortable as, say, a night on a 747. The dawn is announced firmly, repeatedly, unnecessarily, by a rooster. You awaken thinking that if you need to know where a man lays his head to understand him, well, now you do.
The Rift Valley is filled with vapor. Clouds shoot up from the gorge as from volcanoes. Breakfast is strong tea and bread. "It was always tea and ugali and a run to school," says Kibor with as much nostalgia as a 17-year-old can summon.