Category Archives: Blog

Olbalbal Connected

The cell phone tower, our window to the world
The cell phone tower, our window to the world

Some have asked how I can use the Internet in a totally isolated place like Olbalbal. The short answer is that my small solar system provides the needed electricity for the computer and there is a cell phone tower perched on the top of Ngorongoro Mountain.

Here in Tanzania people access the Internet by means of their cell phone connection. Some use the phone itself to surf the net, access web sites and to receive and send email. Others use the small sticks that have a small card inserted, a sim card. This small card is identical to the one that is in cell phones and contains a mobile phone line. The stick is inserted into the USB slot of a computer and allows them to access the Internet, again by way of the cell phone towers that have sprung up all over the country. Except in the big towns like Dar es Salaam, the connection is generally very slow and often intermittent.

During my first couple of years here at Olbalbal, the cell phone company that I was using was very poor as regards the connection speed. Also very often there was no connection at all. During the last four months, I have gotten a different cell phone provider and the connection speed is much better. In fact, I have been able to post my blogs to my web site on a regular basis. It often takes many minutes for a web site to load on my computer but with patience, I’m able to get news on sites like the BBC web site. One interesting web site that I have found is <MyWay.com> where news articles are presented without pictures that slow things down.

The phone line "sim card" being inserted into a telephone.
The phone line “sim card” being inserted into a telephone.

My phone allows me to use it as a “hot spot,” which is a wireless connection. I place it near my computer and use the phone as a wireless modem. I pay $15 dollars a month for the web on my telephone, and using the phone as a modem for the computer, I am able to post blogs to my web site, get the latest news on web sites, and even download a book now and then from Amazon to my Kindle eBook reader.

Having a kindle makes a tremendous difference to life here in the bush. In “LBK” that is in “Life Before Kindle” I had to depend on some traveler or fellow missionary discarding a book. If no one visited, There was nothing new to read for months on end. This situation changed dramatically when I received my first Kindle some years ago. Now with the many thousands of eBooks to choose from on Amazon, I download the book I want from the Internet and put it on the Kindle eBook reader by way of a USB cable. This has been a real life changer for me.

The sim card can also be inserted into a USB stick to connect a computer to the internet.
The sim card can also be inserted into a USB stick to connect a computer to the internet.
The Kindle eBook reader has transformed life in the bush.
The Kindle eBook reader has transformed life in the bush.

Musa is walking

Musa at a nearby celebration.
Musa at a nearby celebration.

Some time ago I wrote of Musa, the little boy whom we literally stumbled on a year and a half ago in a nearby Maasai village. It was the deep dry season and his mother had died six or sevenIMG_0337 weeks before leaving the year-old Musa to be cared for by others in the family. Due to the food shortage and the fact that his mother’s co-wives had numerous children of their own, he wasn’t being taken care of and was at the point of starving to death. People were feeling bad about the situation but no one was doing anything about it. As you may remember, we approached Musa’s father and he gladly agreed that we care for Musa.

IMG_0055
Here is Musa Shortly after he came to us a year and a half ago.

That was a year ago February and Musa has been thriving, putting on a lot of weight, whereas he was skin and bones on his arrival. Since our place here is also the point where Maasai from all the villages around come to draw water, Musa has truly become the child of the “village” cared for by everyone and whose progress has been closely watched by all. Till recently, the subject of endless speculation has been when he will take his first steps. In fact, people were beginning to wonder if he would walk at all given his early deprivation and the sorry state he was in when he came to us.

To the delight of all, he took his few tentative steps a month ago. Musa is now two and a half years old and the Maasai say that kids his age were walking many months ago. Well, as the accompanying pictures indicate Musa is making up for lost time. Just a month after his first steps, he is walking everywhere and getting into everything. With Maasai donkeys milling around the water point waiting to be loaded with water containers, Musa’s newfound mobility is putting him in danger of being trampled or kicked. We are having to watch him very closely. During the last few weeks he needed to be rescued from dangerous situations any number of times.

Naponu, who lives here with her children and watches the place during my daily jaunts for meetings in the villages, takes care of Musa. These days she has her hands full. Her own son, Moses, was born just six months ago. Caring for both Musa and Moses has been a real Musa Standingchallenge for her. Now that Musa is on the move, her days are very busy.

Musa was very thin when he arrived.
Musa was very thin when he arrived.

A Time for Feasting

Feasts are taking place all over these days as families celebrate the transition to warrior-hood of their sons. It is also the mid-year school break so those boys that attend primary or secondary school

An ox to be ritually slaughtered
An ox to be ritually slaughtered

are home for a month providing time for them to be circumcised. Each family puts on the most sumptuous feast they can. Naponu, the subject of my recent blogs, slaughtered two goats last Friday for the circumcision of her son, Tetia. This is in contrast to the blowout celebration staged yesterday by Shaudo, one our Christian leaders and the richest man around. He slaughtered six oxen and seven goats to feed the many hundreds of well-wishers gathered to celebrate the transition rites of the twelve boys of his family.

A new age group opens about every sixteen years. All the boys circumcised during the time that the age group is open are members of that age set. Traditionally the members have a very close bond and help each other in difficult times. An example of their closeness and interdependence is food. A warrior is not supposed to even take a drink of water alone. He needs to be with an age mate and share the cup with him.

At Naponu’s celebration for her son, we had a good meal of roast goat and rice together with family and friends gathered for the party. Shaudo’s celebration by contrast was amazing. Happy crowds gathered for his feast. Warriors and young girls were dancing and singing in one place. In another, women in great numbers were singing their songs of happiness at having children or laments for lack of them.

The day before, the boy’s heads were shaved and even their eyebrows are carefully removed. Circumcision signs a new birth for a boy, a new beginning where he leaves the carefree happy-go-lucky

Newly circumcised boys wearing their unique black clothing
Newly circumcised boys wearing their unique black clothing

life of a child and begins to shoulder the responsibility for the welfare of his family and village.

Boys, circumcised in recent weeks, dressing in their black sheep fat saturated clothing, and with white and black painted faces gathered the previous evening. Through the night they sang to the twelve who would fall under the knife at dawn. They sing songs of warrior hood aimed and giving courage to the twelve. Showing any sign of fear during the procedure, even a twitch, could bring disgrace on the family. The boys needed all the help their new age mates could provide.

Huge platters of roasted beef and others heaped with rice and potatoes waited for us in the house of Shaudo. Many families, the clan of Shaudo among them, do not have alcohol at their feasts, so there was very sweet tea and soda to drink.

“Sodbusters” is the name of this new age group, a name derisively given to them by the older warrior age group. . The name points to the fact that these days and where possible the Maasai cultivate plots of corn, something that used to be forbidden. The Maasai grow corn. People don’t have the herds of cattle that they had in the past and farming has become a necessity for survival. In the Conservation Area of Ngorongoro, where cultivation is forbidden, people with few cattle struggle.

One of the boys to be circumcised, a boy with the baptismal name of Yohana, was renamed the day before his circumcision. He was given the name “Lobikoo”, “The one who will endure.” This name was chosen because it belonged to a man in the history of his family who possessed great herds of cattle. The elders blessed the new name and he will be known by that

A young man begins a new live with all his hair shaved off, even the eyebrows.
A young man begins a new live with all his hair shaved off, even the eyebrows.

name from now on. This is one more strong reason for using the traditional Maasai names at baptism. These carefully chosen names are given shortly after birth with much blessing and ceremony. I haven’t been able to find out why Yohana didn’t already have a Maasai name.

This time of feasts in Maasai country is a happy time and people are eating their fill. I think I’ve gained at least five pounds since the celebrations started.

Warriors and girls dance at the celebrations
Warriors and girls dance at the celebrations

 

 

 

Lenkangu off to Teacher Training College

Lenkangu arrives at Teachers College
Lenkangu arrives at Teachers College

Developing leaders takes on a special urgency in Maasai country where there is massive pressure from non-Maasai and more sophisticated people. These are after Maasai land and water for purposes of cultivation. The Maasai of Ngorongoro, where there is no cultivation, face other pressures, hunger among them. Only educated and articulate Maasai can reverse this situation. Fr. Gene Hillman began our Spiritan Education efforts in the 1950’s.

I use the resources that I can beg from my Spiritan family, friends and acquaintances, to educate Maasai girls. Maasai parents are more ready to help their sons. With the boys, families have a hope of help once their sons complete their education and find a job. The girls, on the other hand, provide an infusion of cows and goats upon their marriage and sending them to school puts that windfall off for many years.

Sending Lenkangu, a boy, to school was a departure from the usual group that I help and, as it turned out, a good move. Lekangu’s mother came to me fourteen years ago asking for help to educate her son. The family was without resources, their cattle decimated by the cattle disease known to the Maasai as “Olmilo” that I talked about in my blog of a week ago.

I was able to get a substantial reduction of the fees at Arusha Modern School, an English-medium school near Arusha. Enrolled there, Lenkangu attended kindergarten (1 year), Primary School (7 years) and Secondary School (5 years) at that very good school.

Now having graduated from Secondary School, Lenkangu wants to return to Maasai country as a primary school teacher. It is almost unheard of that a secondary school graduate would choose to

First Day at School
First Day at School

be a teacher. The pay is low and the living is difficult. Most choose more lucrative careers connected one way or another with business. I have told Lenkangu that I would do my best to provide some help toward whatever path he might choose. To my delight, he has chosen to be a teacher in Maasailand and to cooperate with me in facilitating the education of Maasai young women.

Lenkangu talks sadly of the sorry state of schools in Maasai country. Generally they are poorly supported and lack books and other teaching materials. Getting their kids to school is far down a list of a Maasai parents’ priorities. Anything can take precedence over the attendance of their child at school. Even something like a mother needing help to cut firewood can prevent a child from showing up for classes. Once at school, a child in a Maasai school spends little time in class. The teachers don’t want to live in the bush and busy themselves writing letters to the education authorities asking for transfers to schools in or near towns where there is access to shops and sources of diversion. Most teachers in Maasai country start some kind of business near their school and are much more concerned with that than spending time in the classroom with their students. Another perennial problem is the salaries. In addition to being quite low, they often arrive months late, making it difficult for a teacher to buy even the food he or she needs.

Years ago, teachers were held in very high regard. The title most used for Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania and Father of the nation was “Mwalimu”, the Swahili word for teacher. In the early days after independence, teachers were the ones chosen for responsible government posts. Now, given the sad state of our education situation, few are ready to undertake this thankless and

Hillman opened primary Schools in the "50's"
Hillman opened primary Schools in the “50’s”

underpaid job.

Lenkangu will begin his two-year course on July 9th at Arusha Teacher Training College. It is a two-year program and will enable Lenkangu to teach primary school. Once he qualifies, our plan is for him to work with me during leave time and evenings if possible, to provide supplementary study in English and Math for Maasai students. My hope is that eventually, with upgrading courses, Lenkangu will find himself in a position to influence the education situation in Maasai country.

Hillman arrives at one of his first Maasai schools
Hillman arrives at one of his first Maasai schools
Hillman in the classroom
Hillman in the classroom

A Local Plague

naponu and goat 2
Naponu and her very sick goat

This afternoon I’m sitting on the front porch with Naponu, the lady of my blog of a couple of weeks ago. You may remember that her very special goat “died of snake bite.” A band of

young warriors, who just “happened” to be passing by, took the opportunity to have a goat roast. Now another one of Naponu’s goats has a problem.

We are watching her black and white goat that recently gave birth stagger around our front yard like a Maasai elder on his way home from a honey beer party. The goat is a victim of the disease “Olmilo”.  This good milk goat was perfectly healthy and producing milk yesterday morning.  Last evening she was in trouble, dizzy, disoriented, wandering aimlessly around with a high fever, and bumping into things.  This morning, she is dying.  “Olmilo” is a plague that has gotten into North Maasailand and is destroying cattle and goats in some numbers.

musa and goat
Musa going after Naponu’s sick goat. Musa has been walking since three weeks.

At the time I came to Ngorongoro 28 years ago it was still a new thing, and people weren’t too concerned.  They figured that there must be medicine to cure it, and if the medicine were obtainable in Arusha or Nairobi or wher­ever, it would soon become available in our part of the country.  This complacency has long since dissolved.  It turns out that it is a “tick-born” disease known by the English name Hartwater.  There seems to be no known cure once the animal is infected.  The only medicine is preventive in the form of dipping the animal about once a week.

The fact that it can only be dealt with by dipping is enough to strike fear into the heart of the most stalwart Maasai here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  The dips are a disaster.  They are under the control of Ngorongoro Conservation and are not maintained nor supplied with cattle dip. In fact dipping is not a viable option for the ordinary Maasai person.  First of all, the medicine is not readily available and it is very expensive.  To shorten a long sad story, a lot of the medicine is sold on the black market or “magendo” as it is called in Swahili.  With a huge markup in price, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how much medi­cine gets to the dipping tanks.  The people, desperate because they see their herds dwindling before their eyes, sell healthy animals to buy the lifesaving medicine.  Then, the stuff being so precious, they carefully dilute it to the prescribed ratio of water to medicine and then carefully, with a cloth, wipe it on to the parts of the animals most prone to tick infestation, the ears and under the tail.  Fewer cattle die in the herds of those people who have the wherewithal to get the medicine at the inflated prices, but even among those herds, cattle continue to die, since submersion is the only sure way to get to all the ticks.

Among the majority of herds of cattle and flocks of goats and sheep, which have no access to the medicine, the situation is very bad.  Even when some barrel or other of medicine does find it’s way to the dips – and this, surprisingly enough, does happen from time to time – ” they must pay for each animal that goes through the dipping tank. Most of the people find this prohibitive as large numbers of animals are involved and they must be dipped every seven days.

Naponu does buy as much dip medicine as she is able and applies it as often as she can. It helps but now and then she still loses an animal to “olmilo.” Naponu’s goat is doomed – It looks like we’ll be having a goat roast in a day or two.