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A Pole Problem

Dry River Bed

Dry River Bed

house2This year the rains have come as never before. Torrential downpours batter the slopes of Ngorongoro mountain and the plains at its’ base where lies Olbalbal. The dry riverbeds that gather the water on the mountain above us and take it out onto the plains are being dug ever deeper, as the torrents carve their paths out to the Serengeti. Many of these riverbeds cross the track that we use to reach the main road, a gravel track that climbs Ngorongoro mountain.house3

Some twenty years ago I wrote a story about a Maasai house destroyed these tremendous rains. Almost the same thing happened this week to Noonkuta here at Olbalbal. The house was fated to fall from the beginning. Two years ago Noonkuta built her house. Caring for her four children, going for firewood, drawing water here at the tap in front of our house, cooking for the family, and taking care of the small goats and calves made the added burden of building a house a difficult proposition.

Building a Maasai house is a tough job. Lots of trips have to be made to the forest for wood of all kinds. Poles are needed for the frame and are sunk into the ground. Great numbers of light branches must be found and cut for the heavy framework of Maasai house. Then lighter ones must be found for the outer frame. Grass is fastened to these and finally a thick plaster of cow dung will be smeared on the house. The finished house is dry in the rain and warm when it is cold, although a little smoky at times.

Flash Flood filling a dry river bed

Flash Flood filling a dry river bed

Flash Flood fills river bed in seconds

Flash Flood fills river bed in seconds

The problem was poles; the right ones. Cedar poles are the best ones to use. Every Maasai knows this. The ants don’t eat them and the damp doesn’t rot them. But Noonkuta didn’t have time to go deep into the forest for cedar. Her other daily tasks took up too much time. She settled for soft wood poles and has regretted it ever since. No one else knew. Her friends would have laughed; she never told a soul. Noonkuta had used soft wood poles and her house was destined to fall, its’ chassis, so to speak, eaten by the ants and rotted by the damp.

Yesterday it happened. The rain had come in torrents all morning. The ground was soft and the plaster of cow dung was water logged and heavy. No one was inside at the time. All the women and girls were under a nearby tree giving some sick baby goats “pills of two colors”, our local name for tetracycline. There was a heavy squishy rending sound and all turned to see. Down came the house of Noonkuta in a pulpy mushy mound with the soft wood poles exposed for all to see.

The women and girls laughed till sunset. Noonkuta laughed with them after her initial tears of dismay and frustration. They even made up a song about her, about the foolish girl who built her house of termite food and watched it fall on a rainy day.

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