Sunday, 2 October 2011

Mazungo Sunday

2nd October
Mazungo Sunday
TaD sauntered in to the hotel restaurant, sat at the bar and promptly ordered his coffee. He leaned over the bar and with few words coerced Eric, the barman, to put the football on. As he did so he felt the burn in his legs from the week’s training. It would be a while until Arsenal Tottenham but TaD didn’t mind. He’d sit at the bar and do whatever the hell he wanted. No doubt he would, later in the evening, put away a large quantity of red meat. There seemed to be something different about the way TaD held himself. He seemed surprisingly self-assured. It was a Sunday.
Just as with last week’s ‘Kalenjin’ post, I am uploading this blog from the sofa in Kerio View. Located about 1 ½ miles away from the town centre, the hotel is probably the most luxurious accommodation available in Iten. The hotel restaurant is located within beautiful grounds which run right up to the cliff edge. On any of the short walks that extend from the hotel, or even just sat by the window, one feels a part of the stunning views of the Kerio Valley. It drops over 1,000m below and stretches out as far as the eye can see. We have settled into a bit of a routine of coming over here every Sunday after lunch and spending all afternoon here just relaxing eating, and watching football. As it is quite different to most of the other days here, and quite similar to a Sunday afternoon at home, we have labelled it ‘Mazungo Sunday.’ It has become a bit of a running joke that, on these days, we cut-loose, in the only way a couple of university graduate-distance runners can, and order whatever we want to eat and drink. Normally coffees, cakes, steaks, and ice-cream feature. With the addition of Sunday’s offerings of the English Premier League, we are able, albeit briefly, to let the inner ‘lad’ in us come out.
The Kerio Valley
TaD with a group of Kenyan runners on a walk from Kerio View
The weekly meals at Kerio View function as a kind of pressure valve, providing relief from the weekday rigmaroles of ugali, rice, beans, and cabbage. Food is, if not an essential, then at least an important element of a good training programme. Whilst we aren’t particularly obsessive about diet we have made an attempt to eat well and sample the type of food the Kenyans here eat. It would be possible to eat just as we would at home. Not only is Kerio View only 10 mins away, there is also a large European-style supermarket in Eldoret (45mins by car) which sells everything one can buy in a Tesco, or the like, at home. Both options, however, are relatively expensive. A three course meal at Kerio View costs £10 and the supermarket prices are similar to those at home. We are trying not to rely too heavily on these options.
We buy most of the food for our breakfast and evening meals from the shops or market stalls in Iten. Breakfast is usually a pretty dull affair: ‘Weetabix’, whole milk, bananas, bread with ‘Nutella’ peanut butter and or jam. ‘Weetabix’ is the only available cereal in Iten. We have embarked upon a few long, desperate, but ultimately fruitless, searches for porridge oats. The closest we came was ‘sour ground millett’. But we had to use so much jam, honey, banana, ‘Nutella’ and sugar to disguise the taste of sour flour that we have sacked that option. With a banana costing roughly  4p, a loaf of bread 50p, 50ml of milk 35p, and a 900g box of Weetabix £1.40 we are spending very little on breakfast each day.
From the sorry sight of our food supply in 'week one' to the shelves after a shopping trip in 'week two'
At around 12 noon each day Dougie and I embark upon the 0.75 mile pilgrimage, along the dirt track, to the Mosque. More specifically we go to the mosque kitchen, as it is here where we have our lunch. As regulars we now receive a warm welcome from the woman who runs it and her daughter. There seem to be two options: a) Ugali with spinach and meat; b) chapatis with rice, beans, cabbage, spinach and meat.
Ugali is made from ground maize which grows in abundance in the fields around here. It takes the form, and indeed tastes like a block of mashed and compressed white rice. Being high in carbohydrates and containing no fat, it is known around the world as a staple part of a Kenyan long-distance runner’s diet. Many Kenyan athletes refer, both jokingly and seriously, to its ‘magic qualities.’ Bearing these positive qualities in mind certainly helps one persevere with the chore of eating it every day!
A sideways picture of the Mosque

Option 'a'

Option 'b'

(Outside the Mosque cafe. From l-r: Myles, Me, 'Mosque-lady' and child, Dougie, Dan) 

In the evenings we have become a couple of post-colonialists: last week we hired a local woman to cook for us. Whilst Valerie, or ‘Val’, also washes our clothes and cleans our flat (once a week) she performs her best work in the kitchen, knocking up a feast for us every day for when we get back from training. We get the shopping in for her (usually a selection of the small selection of things available in Iten- rice, ugali, beans, spinach, tomatoes, garlic) and she works her magic. Writing this now sounds a little precious but professional runners out here take their lifestyle very seriously. Furthermore, any practice that maximizes the time one can spend training and resting seized by Mazungo and non-Mazungo athlete alike. Anyway, having Val produce a tasty meal every evening certainly beats fighting a losing battle every night trying to prepare, what inevitably ended up as, a very average, rice-based stew.

'Rice stew' our own attempt

'Millet flour porridge'

Dougie settling down for a Valerie-prepared feast.

Val cooks for us six nights a week. On a Sunday we assume our usual place at the bar at Kerio View and usually order a meat-based meal (as meat is hard to come by in the market in Iten). It feels great to come over here once a week and make the most of ‘normal’ food. The simple mid-week life is very enriching but nevertheless Sunday's are very much looked forward to.

Having a muse to myself overlooking the Kerio Valley.


  1. Hi Tom, you mention Rob Higley. I'm trying to track him down. I grew up just near him in sydney australia, went to the same primary school and we did a bit of running together. I'd love to reconnnect with him. Can you send me his email contacts. Much appreciated. Andrew Dodd. Newcastle australia.

  2. Well I have now reconnected with Rob. He has been in Australia for the last few weeks and we've caught up several times - not bad since we hadn't seen each other for 30 years. At 50 years of age - I've been opened up to a whole new way of approaching running - thanks Rob!