Category Archives: Blog

Bees

Harvesting honey kills the bees
Harvesting honey kills the bees

 

 

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My teacher Simon and his modern beehive

tad beehive 3Beehives can be great moneymakers. Many Maasai have beehives and reap significant profits from their efforts. A “debe” of honey (about four and a half gallons) can be sold for about $75, a considerable sum here in East Africa.

 

One finds a suitable dried out tree trunk and cuts a section of about a yard or meter. The next step is to hollow out both sections. The final move is to tie the two halves together with

Traditional Maasai hives
Traditional Maasai hives

bark rope and hang the thing up in a tree. Then one waits for the money to roll in; little or no maintenance is required. The major objection to this traditional beehive is that harvesting the sticky stuff destroys the colony of bees, killing much of the workforce.

The modern beehive avoids the slaughter and allows the colony to go on living in the hive, less the fruits of their hard work. On cattle auction day, every two weeks here at Olbalbal, the happy beekeeper sells his honey at a great price and perhaps, buys a good size goat and a sack of cornmeal.

The zinger in this equation is that the beehive must be hung in a place where there are bees. I was surprised to discover that the low country where we live on the edge of the savanna is not one of them. Some time ago, I bought a modern beehive in the hope of providing some income for the mission here at Olbalbal. Setting it up some distance behind the house, I dripped honey on its’ insides and waited for the luxurious new apartment to attract a house hunting colony. It never happened. Six months down the road, I began to think that the American housing glut had caught up with us here at Olbalbal.

Sitting on our front porch with Maporo, a Maasai elder, I casually spoke of my dilemma. This, you will say, is something I should have done half a year ago. Yes, I should have because he told me, with a smile, that bees don’t like this place. Situated as we are on the edge of the plains, there is little for the bees to eat, and no food no honey. Now I’ve decided to give the hive to our recently married catechist Simon and his bride of a couple of weeks. Simon and Nemayani live at Lorlmunyi in the mountains, a place much loved by Ngorongoro bees.

OleTajeuo stands Strong

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OleTajeuo in the suit at left leads the choir bringing the the bread and wine to the altar.

Our Maasai choir here at Olbalbal has gained quite a reputation. We traveled to a few celebrations during the last couple of years and made a huge impression on people.

 

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Choir leads a song.

This popularity is primarily due to Matayo OleTajeuo, their director. He is a great singer and his unique voice stands out among Maasai singers. Due to his growing reputation, our group is being called upon to lend their voices to various Maasai gatherings here at Ngorongoro and beyond. OleTajeuo also composes Maasai music and comes up with unique words and melodies drawn from bible stories and themes for Sundays and feast days.

This popularity has a bit of a dark side to it. With the elections for president coming up next year, a political event took place at Endulen. They asked Oletajeuo and the choir to come and sing at the “feast”. A man from one faction in our area came here to the mission to teach songs in praise of his group. We had an impromptu meeting of the choir on his arrival. It was clear to us that we could not endorse a particular group, even though a good many of our Christians are from its’ ranks. The choir told the visitor that we would be happy to join the celebration and sing our own songs, but we would not sing songs endorsing the

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one faction over others. OleTajeuo told him that as a church whose members belong to various factions, we had to remain neutral.

The fellow reluctantly agreed to our reservations and in fact sent cars to take OleTajeuo and the choir to the celebration and to bring them back in the evening. They came back saying that it was a great party, plenty of food and song. They also were clear that they had stuck to their guns, remaining neutral. This incident has caused some hard feelings among some of our Christians who feel that we should have been ready to sing the songs of one group. I am hoping that time will heal the frayed feelings of some.

The Coming of The Dry

Just two weeks ago, following an especially heavy rain, parents were out on the plains searching for their young children charged with caring for the flocks of sheep and goats. These key pictureMaasai mothers and fathers were seriously afraid that their children had not survived the solid sheets of water that fell that morning.  Coming off the nearby mountains, torrents of water roar along normally dry riverbeds and frequently carry off small unwary animals and even children. These small forms are later found thrown up like rag dolls on the banks of temporary fast-moving watercourses.

Now all has begun to change with the coming of the dry. Like a can of rust colored paint thrown over a lush landscape painting, verdant green is quickly becoming dull brown. It is like the moisture is being sucked from the land by a giant vacuum cleaner. The herds of wildebeest and zebra that dotted the plains of Olbalbal just days ago have disappeared as if they never existed.

The signs of the changing season came suddenly, signed by strong winds and a carpet of purple and yellow wild flowers covering the plains. Then quickly, emerged the brown hues of the long dry season ahead.

image 2Now the land will crumble and the dust deepen. Often I will need four-wheel drive to reach the places that I visit. Water will become ever more scarce and the Maasai women will travel ever longer distances to find it. As the grass dries out and disappears, the Maasai encampments will begin to move in their yearly odyssey to find fodder for the herds.

Two Weddings

During the past few days we had a double wedding at our outstation of Lorlmunyi. A double wedding took place high in the mountains above. Arkado went by foot the day before, a

Simon, Namayani and their families
Simon, Namayani and their families

 

Mika and Nakai with his father and Best man
Mika and Nakai with his father and Best man

three-hour uphill trek. I followed by car on the day itself. The road is ugly, strewn with sharp rocks and deeply rutted through dense forest. Although it came through the trip undamaged, I feared for the safety of our Toyota Land Cruiser. The heavy rains this year have made an already almost difficult track, just about impassible.

Since wedding celebrations would take place in each of the bridegroom’s villages, the blessing of the marriages took place in the small church. In addition to the traditional exchange of rings, there is the customary necklace of blue beads placed around the neck of the groom by the bride. The groom places a light metal necklace around the neck of the bride. Another unique feature of the Maasai wedding is the liberal smearing of sheep fat on the joined hands of the bride and groom. This is done when the priest says: “What God has joined, let not man tear apart.

For many years, I have been resistant to having church weddings here in Maasai country. I ended up agreeing to do the ceremony, only after much discussion with the bride andDSC04511

The Church at Lorlmunyi
The Church at Lorlmunyi
Simon and Namayani
Simon and Namayani

IMG_0859groom. Eventually, marriages often end up polygamous with the taking of a second wife. This puts Christian marriage in an awkward position. The Tanzanian government recognizes traditional weddings that are potentially polygamous, but stipulated that Christian marriages be monogamous. Theoretically, a church marriage that becomes polygamous would be against the law.

There are strong reasons for polygamy among this semi-nomadic people. Maasai life, lived on the edge of survival depends very much on building a strong family consisting of more than one wife and many children. The work of a woman is hard. She carries water sometimes at great distances. She cuts firewood and brings it back to her village. She must care for the children. She looks after the small goats and calves that are left in the village when the herds go to graze. A Maasai woman goes to wherever corn, the staple of Maasai diet, is sold and carries it back home. She milks the cows and cooks the food and, of course, builds her own house. She is the first one to push her husband to look for a second wife, because alone, if she falls sick, the family will falter and is in danger of crumbling.

Asked what role the Maasai men have, it is often said with tongue in cheek, “They deliberate and make the decisions.”

 

Mika's father
Mika’s father

The Maasai built their own churchThe Maasai built their own church

Arkado presides
Arkado presides

TB Meds for Olbalbal

Spiritan Pat Patton operates a flying medical program here in Maasai country. His Cessna with medical staff comes to Olbalbal for a clinic every two weeks and the people welcome the sight of his airplane that promises excellent medical care that day. During the past year, Pat has had two plane accidents that have temporarily left his without an aircraft. This has been very hard on the people here, especially recovering TB patients that need their regular supply of medicine. During the last months, during my monthly shopping trips to Arusha, Pat has given me the needed TB medicine. The much-needed medicine is then distributed by Ndoros, Pat’s man on the ground here at Olbalbal. This situation will soon return tofms3fms2 normal as Pat is receiving a new aircraft during the next few weeks.

Our Spiritan web site <Spiritans.org> profiles pat as follows: Pat has spent twenty years as a bush pilot in Tanzania, the only Spiritan and only priest of four Flying Medical Service volunteers. They provide regular preventive, curative, and emergency health care and health education in areas far removed from ordinary medical facilities. The volunteers fly about nine hundred hours a year using two specially modified Cessna 206 aircraft. Last year they treated 17,554 patients and flew eighty-four emergency flights, treating everything from the common cold to injuries by hyenas, lions, and spear wounds.

Pat shares this story: I was flying with the senior staff of one of the bush hospitals in the country, in all six adults and an infant. Weather was stormy. We were flying on instrfms4fms1uments. We had a total engine failure at 7,000 feet. No one panicked. We glided down through 6,000 feet of thick cloud till we could just begin to see some patches of earth only a thousand feet below us. We landed in a rice field without any injuries and not a scratch on the airplane. But it took us six weeks to get out. We built a small airstrip and had to drain a swamp to get our makeshift runway dry enough to take off again. We slept in a mud hut, which we shared with a giant monitor lizard and a green snake. Hippos occasionally visited us on the runway. There were crocodiles and pythons in the water around us—through which we had to swim to get to the plane.  Ben Wilhelm has some wonderful pictures of the Flying Medical Service at his website: benwilhelmi.typepad.com/benwilhelmi/flying-medical-service

Dorothy’s Party

Dorothy, Arkado’s niece, came to visit and left money for a goat and a crate of soda for an Easter celebration. This week we bought a goat and had a party. Dorothy has been helping her uncle for many years. She aided him in his work with the pigmy people of the Central African Republic, a very dangerous place these days. An SMA mission, staffed by Arkado’s missionary society, was recently attacked. The missionaries and medical volunteers were chased away. More recently, Dorothy helped at his mission not far from the town of Arusha.

Food has not proved to be a problem for our European visitor. She has tucked into our cooking without complaint, if not with relish. Since my recent acquisition of a used frig powered by bottled gas, we buy some goat legs at the twice-monthly cattle market here in Olbalbal. On Sunday and Wednesday, we have goat and rice. On other days it’s beans and “ugali”, a stiff porridge made from cornflower and water. Dorothy arrived with some wonderful polish sausage that we have been enjoying also. I am especially fortunate in that my sister Martha and my sister -in-laaw Sharon send me a care packages from time to time. They provide goodies that make a welcome change from our somewhat monotonous fare.

Dorothy speaks only Polish and has no Swahili or English. Despite that handicap, she seemed to communicate well with the people here, especially the children. Her day job is at a desk at an insurance agency in the city of Warsaw. She takes the bus and subway to work each day, so life here at Olbalbal was quite a change. Here are some pictures taken at our goat roast.

 

Dorota & Kids
Dorota & Kids
Final minutes before slatughter
Final minutes before slatughter
Penina anxious for her portion of the meat
Penina anxious for her portion of the meat
Nemesi pensive
Nemesi pensive

Naponu and her new babby
Naponu and her new babby
Tuke drinking some blood
Tuke drinking some blood
Musa waiting for the roast goat
Musa waiting for the roast goat
Roasting goat
Roasting goat
Cutting up the roasted meat
Cutting up the roasted meat