Oloicura has signed on with me here at Olbalbal to watch the place when I am out in the villages and when I go overnight to the main mission on the crater rim. Yesterday, he came with a big problem. He needs to get his wife and three children back. Years ago, Oloicura went to the village of a local elder and undertook to herd his cattle for years, about ten. The elder on his side agreed to give Oloicura his daughter in marriage. This is a common way for a Maasai man to marry, if he doesn’t have cattle to give his prospective father-in-law.
Oloicura shepherded the old man’s herd for some years and then was given one of the family’s daughters for his wife. Oloicura continued to live with his father in law and to herd his cattle. The old man also gave Olocura sufficient cattle for the house of his daughter. Three children came along and everything was going well. Then things went very bad very fast. Oloicura got into an argument with his mother-in-law. The disagreement escalated to name calling and some very serious accusations and nasty language. The mother-in-law, in a fit of rage went to her husband and demanded that he take his daughter back together with the children and chase Oloicura away. To maintain peace in the family he agreed to do as his wife wanted. This is where the situation stands and now oloicura wants me to act in the name of his father who is very old and lives far away. He wants me to go with him to ask forgiveness and get his family back. He figures that my position as the padre here in Olbalbal might prompt his mother-in-law to accept his apologies. Another bazaar factor in the mix is that both he and his mother-in-law are members the small group of fifteen that lead the singing in our Christian community here. I’ve asked around and a couple of the leading elders of the area tell me that there is no way that Oloicura’s mother in law is going to relent. Her feelings run too deep.
My electricity system here is severely limited. The small (10 inch screen) ACER computer that I use has a 12 volt adapter, thereby bypassing the need for an inverter. My iPhone that is also a “hotspot” using the app “MyWi” also uses at 12 volt adapter as does my LED light that I use to cook and to read at night. That is my complete electricity system. I’ll use it in this way for a while to see if the 60watt fold up panel is maintaining a good charge on the 100AH battery. If things continue to go well, I’ll add a couple more LED lights. Each of the five lights that I brought back with me from the states has 30 LED bulbs. They are great lights. Another part of my life here is a hot shower every morning. With water heated on the small kerosene stove, I fill a bucket with an attached shower head and hang it from the ceiling. Also, with a hand coffee grinder and the best beans from Kilimanjaro, I use my French press to have great cup of coffee every morning. Life is good at Olbalbal.
At dawn this morning the cries of the women could be heard lamenting the loss of a herds boy six year old. During the night a small child was taken and eaten by a leopard.
At various times during the year warriors take the bulk of the cattle to places where there is better grazing. Here at Olbalbal, while there is still plenty of standing water, the rains have slackened and the grass is short. Nearby villages have joined together in sending cattle off with a band of warriors. They drove the cattle some twenty miles distant to take advantage of some good grazing. As is normal, the young men took some small children with them to herd the calves near their temporary makeshift “boma.”
Yesterday evening, on the return of the calves to the encampment, one small boy was missing. The warriors lost no time back tracking the herd of calves and then followed the meandering tracks of the lost boy. They found what was left of him in the branches of an Acacia tree, clearly the work of a leopard. The boy had somehow become separated from his companions and the calves. Lost and alone, he was easy prey for the leopard. At dawn this morning news reached the home villages at Olbalbal.
Just moved into my place at Olbalbal. Twenty seven Maasai elders, warriors and women welcomed me with tea, helped me move my stuff in, scrubbed the two rooms, and sat with me most of the afternoon. They also found a mosquito net for me and helped me put it up. We are in the midst of the rains here and there is plenty of water around so mosquitoes. They also cleared lots of rocks from around the house so that I can park close to the door. They are so friendly and welcoming that it is embarrassing. I am determined to live up to the warmth of their greeting.
These days, many Maasai girls are coming to ask for help with school fees for secondary school. They come most often with their mothers. It is heart breaking to see the happiness in the eyes of the mothers at their daughters being “chosen” by the government to go on with their studies in high school. The parents come with high hopes that education will enable their child to find a good job later on and help the family to have a better life. In most cases it is a forlorn hope. The schools are hopelessly poor. There are few books and few teachers. The teachers that are stationed in the schools are often reluctant to live and teach in the bush. Unless the child is exceptionally bright and takes advantage of every tidbit of available resource, he or she will leave after four years of secondary school with nothing. I do help each family that comes to me, at least a little. But, I do so for the sake of showing some solidarity with the parents, knowing that, in most cases, it is a useless gesture. I prefer to look for one or two primary school graduates each year that are clever and have done really well in grade school. I send the one or two to a good school that has books, good teachers and other resources. This is what I have done in the case of Fabi Meing’oru, whom I wrote about a few days ago. In this way, I am hoping that the funds people entrust to me for the education of Maasai girls will have some positive impact, both for the individual student and for the Maasai.
Just a few hours ago I received a letter from the Kindermissionswerk foundation in Aachen Germany. They write: “We are pleased to inform you that our grant allocation commission sanctioned the funds for the purchase of a veicle for Olbalbal Mission, Archdiocese of Arusha, Tanzania.”
The car will be a long wheel base Toyota Land cruiser hardtop, the model especially built for bush conditions. One interesting aspect of this particular model is that Toyota has retained the pre-computerized version of mostly everything. This means the car can be maintained and repaired by the ordinary mechanic here in East Africa. Different from cars in the states and Europe, it does not have to be hooked up to a computer to diagnose problems. The car will now be ordered from Toyota in Japan and I should have it by the end of the year.
Kangai and Lemayani came to me at Endulen Mission in 1998. They were unique in that each had only one leg, Kangai, the right one and Lemayani, the left leg. They came to me at about the age of six or seven right from Endulen Hospital, where they had their legs amputated. A cow had fallen on Kangai, broken his leg and caused a gaping wound that was not treated. The family was very poor and not having the resources to pay hospital expenses, hoped that it would heal itself and by applying the traditional remedy of plastering cow dung on the open sore. It didn’t heal and gangrene set in. Finally, when he was running a high fever and in danger of dying, they took him to the hospital. The doctor saved Kangai’s life but not his leg.
Lemayani fell from a tree and got poked in the leg by a sharp stick. The wound festered and as in the case of Kangai, the family did not have the money for hospital care. They left it hoping the wound would heal. As in the case of Kangai, it did not heal and when the leg turned black they took him to the hospital where the doctor cut off the leg.
The families of the two boys requested that Kangai and Lemayani stay at the mission and attend the local primary school. The Maasai bomas of Kangai and Lemayani are within the Conservation area of Ngorongoro and about fifty miles apart and a considerable distance into the bush. They are no relation to each other. Over the years I’ve saved a considerable amount of money on socks and shoes. Since the boys take the same size, one pair of socks and a single pair of shoes does for both.
Kangai is the athlete of the two. As you see in the Education Video
on the side bar and in the pictures, he plays football using his stick as a second leg. In fact, having only one leg did not slow him down at all. He was one of our best footballers and much sought after when players were chosen for teams. Lamayani is the intellectual one and has done very well at his studies. They have both graduated secondary school now and are looking to continue their education.
Fabi Meing’oru started school this weekend. Since I was on retreat on Kilimanjaro, I arranged for her aunt to accompany her from her village at Endulen at Ngorongoro to St. Joseph Secondary School here in Arusha. Today, I went to see how she is doing. I guess it is to be expected that she is a little frightened. For the first time in her life, she is far from the cattle camp of her family and hundreds of miles from home. She knows no one in the school. There are two or three other Maasai girls, but from other parts of Maasai country.
Right now I am feeling badly for her as she struggles with loneliness and the strangeness of a new place and being plopped down in the midst of many hundreds of strange girls from all over Tanzania. In time, she’ll get used to the place, make friends and eventually feel totally at home, but the first weeks will be difficult. She speaks Swahili well of course, having just finished seven years of primary school. But, it is a second language and not the familiar Maasai that she is used to speaking every day with her family and friends.
To stay home at Endulen would mean little hope of good secondary education. St. Joseph’s is run by sisters and has a great reputation and track record. I feel very lucky to have gotten her an opportunity to take the entrance exam. And she did very well on the various written tests.
This morning, traveling down Mount Kilimanjaro heading back to Maasai country, we passed numerous women making the ten or fifteen-mile trek down the mountain. On asking where they were all going, I was told that they were on their way to cut grass for their family cows.
I discover that there is no more grazing land left on Mount Kilimanjaro, not an inch. Over the last fifty years the Chagga people have become so numerous and the land divided and re-divided among their children and children’s children, that there is no land for further farming, not even a square foot for cattle to graze. A unique solution has been found and one that is very hard on the women of Kilimanjaro. A household may have a cow or two cows, but these are kept in a shed next to the Chagga’s home. Each morning, someone, the lady of the house or an older daughter, never a man, must go down to the grass land many miles distant to cut fodder for the family cow. Sometimes, if finances allow, she will buy a bundle of grass. Some people make their living cutting and selling bundles of grass to women from the mountainside. Then, unusually in the late afternoon, the women will climb the ten or fifteen miles back to the homestead of her family on the mountain. She carries the thirty or forty pound bundle of grass on her head.
Wow! It blows my mind! As someone from the savanna, where grass is usually in plenty, it is hard to take in what these women go through to obtain two or three day’s fodder for a cow.