Earlier this week we had a meeting with the people at Loongoko. The subject of our presentation that day was the “Raising of Lazarus from the dead”. This story always elicits a lot of discussion, and initially draws laughter and derision. How can this fellow (me) expect us to swallow this one? It was bad enough when he came telling us that we shouldn’t hate people of other tribes and even help them when they are in trouble. (That was the teaching around the story of “The Good Samaritan”.) But now he comes saying that Jesus raised someone from the dead. He tells us that Jesus brought a body back to life that was rotting in the tomb for four days. The story of the Good Samaritan was far fetched, but this one about Lazarus is totally weird. Most Maasai haven’t been to school but we’re not stupid!
In the midst of this heated discussion an elderly lady ran up screaming that a woman had just been bitten by a snake. The Good Samaritan and Lazarus were quickly forgotten as we all followed her to a nearby village. We found a terrified woman, whose foot was already beginning to swell. Some one among us had a “black stone” and a couple of small cuts were quickly made at the site of the wound and the black stone applied. A young man of the village quickly wrapped the foot, securing the stone in place. The “black stone” is a remedy that has been around for years. Carefully applied and tightly secured, it very often is quite effective in drawing out the snake poison.
We bundled the young lady into my car together with her mother and husband, and quickly reached the Serengeti road just a mile or two away. A tourist car, headed up the mountain to Ngorongoro Crater, stopped at our frantic waving. They graciously agreed to take the snake bitten woman and her relatives to the government clinic located near the crater. A couple of days later found the woman cured and back in her village. It seems that there was no anti-venom to be had at Ngorongoro but the “black stone” seems to have helped her. Since poisonous snakes are common in Maasai country, we’re never without a “black stone” in the car.
The people of Loongoko are still debating about Jesus restoring to life the man who rotted four days in the grave. We’ll be returning there in a couple of days to talk further of Lazarus.
Musa, almost two, has been with us for a year. A year ago, while on high school vacation, Lenkangu Moses was visiting some friends at a nearby Maasai village. Beside the village entrance, he came upon a small child, pathetically thin and crying. Lenkangu was surprised to see this child. Children in Maasai country are normally well cared for by the family and the village. This was clearly not true in the case of Musa. Lenkangu learned that Musa’s mother had died some months before and, at the same time. Maasailand was experiencing the worst dry season in years. In fact, most of the people had moved into the highlands of Ngorongoro taking their cattle into the high country where grass was still to be found. This left Musa with the co-wives of his dead mother who themselves had numerous children. The family gave Musa a small share of the available milk, but it was far from sufficient and the child was slowly starving to death. People had pretty much given up on the infant and expected him to die very soon.
On his return to the mission, Lenkangu told us the story of Musa. We sat talking, wondering if there wasn’t something that we might do to save the dying boy. Naponu is the lady that lives here on the mission and watches the place when the catechist and I go to the villages to teach. She offered to undertake the care of Musa if I would buy milk for him each day. That same day we sought out Musa’s father and told him that we would like to care for the child until he might be in a position himself to provide for his son. He immediately agreed saying that He had given up on Musa and expected him to die.
After getting the approval of Musa’s father we brought the child to the mission to be cared for by Naponu. Musa has been with us a year now and is thriving. He gets plenty of milk and lots of attention. It has taken many months for him to recover from his months of starvation. He still doesn’t walk by himself as do most other children of his age, but his legs are becoming stronger every day, and soon he’ll be taking his first steps. Musa’s father and people of the village come by often to see how Musa is doing.
Fr. Joe Herzstein is the pastor of Ngorongoro parish. Olbalbal, an hour and a half to the South, is a satellite mission. Joe and I arrived in Tanzania together in 1966. A few days ago, Joe and I took Fr. Brendan Smyth and Fr. Kisuda, one of the members of our Tanzanian Spiritan Leadership team, into Ngorongoro Crater. Fr. Smyth lives in Brussels Belgium and heads up the European Spiritan Fund Raising Organization called “Kibanda.”
It was a beautiful sunny day, a perfect day to roam the crater floor taking pictures of the animals and enjoying the spectacular scenery. Ngorongoro Crater is 20 miles across and some hundreds of feet deep, a caldera created when the top of the mountain blew off some millions of years ago. This day Brendan had the opportunity to take pictures of most of the more well known East African animals, wildebeest, zebra, various gazelle, a couple of huge male lions, and a rhino from a distance.
We were surprised at the absence of elephants at their expected haunt, a small forest near the salt lake, tinged pink by numerous flocks of flamingoes. Disappointed at not seeing any of those most magnificent of the Ngorongoro crater dwellers, we went on to the hippo pond for a delicious lunch of cold chicken and hard-boiled eggs prepared by Joe. Despite having to compete with swooping birds for our food, we enjoyed a great picnic. A couple of massive hippos chose that hour for their mating rituals and vied with the dive bombing birds for our attention.
Awaiting us as we exited the hippo pool was a most incredible sight. Some seventy elephants were grazing on the open plains on the side of the road. They were not spread out but were grazing the prairie grass in compact groups. I had never seen so many elephants at one time. Brendan was able to get some stunning close up pictures.
It was a good day. Brendan is the man that found most of the funding for the Olbalbal car, the Toyota Land Cruiser we used for our crater excursion. He will retire from the fund raising job at the end of this year, so it was a chance for me to say ‘thank you” for the help that he has provided Olbalbal.
“Everyone is out for himself or herself these days” is a remark often heard, and frequently made by the Maasai themselves. As elsewhere, some Maasai are adopting this way of looking at things.
This week saw brotherly Concern dramatically played out here at Olbalbal. The youngest age group called derisively by the older boys, InturuEnkop (Sod Busters) met to help an age mate. Lesion fell from the back of a fast moving pick up truck traveling up to Ngorongoro from Olbalbal. The young man was badly injured with a broken leg and multiple head lacerations. As he explained to his age mates gathered in the shade of a tree just below the mission, he will need an operation to correct the damaged leg. The boys deliberated for a number of hours, and then collected the equivalent of about $500 for the operation and related expenses.
The age group just above the “Sod Busters” also had a meeting this week. They met to help a cattle and goat poor age mate to obtain a wife. Under the same tree, the assembled “Karianga” age group collected 30 goats from their members for their wifeless or in the local idiom, their brother “without a cooking fire”.
It is true that the closeness and interdependence of age mates these days is a far cry from what it used to be. In the “old days” a warrior could not even drink a gourd of milk without the presence of an age mate to share it. It seems that in really difficult situations age mates are still very ready to kick in a buck or two to help each other.
It has yet to be determined which is easier on the ears of the people, American accented Maasai or Maasai with a Polish accent. Arkadiusz Nowak, a “Society of African Missions” priest, has come to Olbalbal. He will spend a couple of years with me learning the Maasai language. I am doing my best to help him, although I’m mostly finding out how little I know. Arkadiusz is in his early forties and has had a wide range of missionary experience. He worked among the pigmies in the Central African Republic for two years and has been in parishes here in Tanzania, first in the diocese of Mwanza for a couple of years and for the last seven years in the parish of Moita Bawani here in the archdiocese of Arusha.
Here at Olbalbal, besides his language studies, Arkado has undertaken a number of trips by foot to visit our widely scattered Christian communities on the plains and in the mountains. Due to my decreased mobility, I have only been able to get to places that I can reach by car. Just this week, Arkadiusz, known to the Maasai here by the much more pronounceable “Arkado”, had his first mass in Maasai. The preaching will come along later. It is great to work with someone who is enthusiastic and committed to our Maasai work.
Two small boys went missing two days ago. The children were herding the goats and sheep of their Maasai village. Evening saw the goats arrive back at the village without their shepherds. At dawn yesterday, every able-bodied man among the warriors and elders was off searching the countryside for miles around. They search the forest above us as far as Ngorongoro Crater and the plains below to the edges of the Serengeti. Last night all returned without having sighted the lost children. The hundreds of exhausted men promised the now frantic parents they would resume the hunt for the missing boys in the morning. Early this morning, the search was resumed, now focused now on the large lake formed by the rains. This year the lake is huge due to the unusually heavy rains. Feeding it are streams from as far away as Endulen by way of Oldupai Gorge to the West, and Ngorongoro crater in the mountain above us. This afternoon, the boys were found drowned and floating together in the shallow lake. Somehow, they had lost their way in the gathering darkness and stumbled onto the sucking mud flats on the edge of the huge pond.
Olbalbal is a small trading center for the Maasai on the edge of the Serengeti Plains. In recent years some old men and even some young men of warrior age have begun to hang around the shops drinking and bothering people who come shopping for corn, sugar, tea, cooking oil and other household necessities. In recent months this has become quite a problem, with one young Maasai elder dying of pure alcohol overdose. The local Maasai decided to do something about the situation. They held a series of meetings that resulted in a local ordinance forbidding drinking and the sale of any alcoholic drink locally or factory produced. The step was taken some weeks ago and since then the village leaders have been imposing very heavy fines offenders. If caught, a drinker or a seller of the stuff pays the equivalent of $75, big money here. Just yesterday, two of our government primary school teachers and a young Maasai warrior surprised as they staggered near a shop. Considering the penalty they must pay, they’ll be staggering elsewhere in the future.