frica is undergoing a very rapid transformation in terms of affluence, attitudes and customs. Some of the more subtle changes are not often easily noticed immediately. Take cats, for instance.

When I first arrived in Kilibwoni as a Peace Corps volunteer teacher 13 years ago, cats were a very rare household pet, not known for much utility compared to the short-legged, aggressive African hunting mongrels. The dogs could, at least, bring down a rabbit for the home cooking pot and raise a ruckus when strangers came onto one's homestead.

Back then, the Nandi farmer who kept a cat was considered mildly eccentric. Today, there has been an explosion of cats. I became increasingly aware of them while visiting friends, stumbling over the slower ones or fighting off the more agile, bolder cats from attempts to steal goat meat from my plate.

My host and friend, Cleophas arap Moro, was amused at my annoyance at one of his three cats, with whom I was nightly competing for my bed.

"People have more clothes now then they did before and more corn in their stores," Cleophas said. "The cats are there to protect both from rats." When rats get into houses, they nest inside clothes and, in the process, chew big holes into them. Cats have therefore increased with the rise in local incomes.

I then began to notice that all of my friends who had done well as farmers had several cats. Friends who had not made any income advances did not have cats.

WHEN I first drove back into Kilibwoni, I saw an old friend, Joseph arap Misoi, watching over his grazing cattle. I wondered to myself what a 39-year-old man was doing watching over cattle in the early afternoon, the work of herd boys.

A short distance away, I noticed an elderly woman watching over another small herd, and then I heard the quiet.

In years past, the area near grazing herds would be noisy with the games of herd boys. They played while keeping one eye on the herds to ensure that bulls from each did not end up fighting or that no unwanted crossbreeding took place between their cows and alien inferior bulls. It was not uncommon to see herd boys suffering a severe parental tanning with a switch when they became too engrossed in their games and neglected any of these duties.

Since primary school education became free in Kenya in 1978, herd boys in Kilibwoni work on weekends and school holidays only. All other times they are in class or the local chief, who also acts as truant officer, wants to know from the parents why not.

TWO 29-YEAR-OLD former high school students of mine are examples of the rapid generational change now occurring. Both John Mark Sum and Julius Chelulei today teach in primary schools that did not exist 13 years ago. In addition, Chelulei doubles as the deputy headmaster of a community-built girls' high school that opened in February.

Most of the 120-odd students that I taught during two years at Kilibwoni High School "are primary school teachers today," said Sum. Two, Francis Kaptich and Patrick Serei, made the highly competitive entrance to Nairobi University and graduated. For 4.5 million Kenyan students in primary school there are 8,000 places at Nairobi University.

The parents of both Sum and Chelulei are illiterate, but they recognized early what educaton would do for their children.

Sum's father sold charcoal to put his two oldest sons through high school and Sum, the third born, had his expensive fees of $85 a year at Kilibwoni High paid for by an aunt.

With six brothers and sisters still behind him, Sum picked up the fees of two younger brothers when he began teaching immediately after graduation in 1973. His older brothers are carrying the other four. The youngest of the nine is now in the fifth grade. "All of us are now educated," Sum beamed proudly.

Chelulei is the fourth of five children of his father's fifth wife. Under traditional Nandi law, Chelulei's father could marry as many woman at one time as he could afford to maintain. There are a total of 19 children in the family.

Chelulei, who has one wife and three children, does not intend to emulate his father. His wife, Rosa, plans to begin birth control after the fifth child is born. "I can't afford to be like my father," Chelulei said, laughing.

"My father picked up the importance of having an education very early," Chelulei said. "Not one of us, his 19 children, was allowed to stay at home and just look after cattle. We were all educated."

"My children will have more options than I had," he continued. "We know more than our parents, for example, who were uneducated. Our children will know more than us."