The rains have begun and the desert is blooming. It has been said that during the dry season, one would not believe that the country could be green. For months the landscape has been dry and the color of rust, dust and sand as far as the eye can see. Now after just a few good rains, the land is green and the grass is already a couple of inches high. In fact some cattle have become sick due to overeating. I am told that sometimes cattle over fill their stomachs with the new green grass and can die. There are also huge herds of giraffes around. I don’t understand the reason for this since these long necked animals don’t graze on the grass but rather browse the leaves high up in the acacia trees that populate the plains around Olbalbal.
Soon the herds of cattle that were trekked to the highlands for the long dry season will return. The high plateaus surrounding the crater almost always have grass and provide dry season grazing for the herds of Olbalbal. Recently, I visited Tomaslav Mesec, a Croatian Spiritan working at Nainokanoka at 8,000 feet above sea level. It is mostly cold and foggy there and I was happy to return to the warm climate of plains and Olbalbal. Tomaslav finds the loves the cold foggy weather of Nainokanoka, saying that it is similar to the winter weather in Croatia. During my visit, I found many Maasai villages at Nainokanoka filled with the cattle of Olbalbal taking advantage of the good green grass of that high country.
Soon we’ll be seeing the dung beetles pushing their tremendous loads and traveling to who knows where. The rains provide respite from the constant pressure of finding fodder for the small herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats that remain here for the dry season. With the more relaxed atmosphere, the young men and girls pass the evenings singing and dancing.
Last year the unusually heavy rainy season devastated a dam here at Olbalbal. This particular dam has been fix three times in the past and now has failed again. The Conservation Authority of Ngorongoro fixed the huge gaping hole where the water had destroyed the retaining wall at great expense bringing huge earth moving equipment here to Olalbal. Everyone is wondering if they will undertake that herculean task a fourth time.
Spiritan Brother Francis Sullivan built the house here at Olbalbal during the late 90’s. At that time he was almost ninety years old and lived here for a number of years. Brother Francis was a determined missionary focused especially on helping Maasai families that had few or no cattle and lacked sufficient food to feed their children. He worked tirelessly visiting and writing letters to government offices and church organizations finding food for hungry people. Francis was clearly trustworthy always informing his donors how he used the money that he received. Consequently, few government officials or church organizations ever refused to help him. Many Maasai people here at Olbalbal are grateful to Francis for the help that he provided.
The Maasai word for grandmother is “koko” and is used by young people when they greet an older woman. I was puzzled and surprised on my arrival here at Olbalbal to find that the Maasai name for the mission here is “OlKoko”, which is the word for grandmother turned into a masculine form. It turns out that the people named the place here with the name of affection that they had for Brother Francis. Brother Francis was the old grandfather that the people came to love and respect. “OlKoko” is not the normal name for ‘grandfather.’ The word for ‘grandfather’ is “Engakui.” The people coined this word especially for Francis and the place that he lived. “Olkoko” continues to be the name of our mission here at Olbalbal.
During the rains we enjoy wild spinach at least two times each week. It is a tasty treat and provides a change from our usual fare of beans and stiff porridge made from corn meal. During the rainy season, on our daily trips to the villages, we stop along the way and gather some wild spinach for dinner. Now during the dry season, there is no wild spinach and we miss it.
During the rains the young Maasai girls are out every day gathering the stuff. The Maasai use it as a supplement to their bland diet of “uji” or corn gruel. The herd boys collect it during the day and bring it home to their mothers along with the cattle and goats in the evening.
During the last couple of weeks there have been signs of the coming rains, dark clouds and distant thunder. Soon we will again be enjoying wild spinach at Olkoko.
Graduation from seventh grade has been celebrated at Olbalbal. Primary school in Tanzania consists of seven grades, then there are four years of high school followed by two years of junior college. After that some few lucky students go to a college or university.
As elsewhere, there is always a guest speaker at the graduation, usually a political figure. I received an invitation to the event at our local grade school that announced it would begin at 10:00 AM. Knowing that things don’t begin on time and nobody would expect things to start at ten in the morning, I waited till 11:30 AM to show up. I was the only person who appeared “so early.” I returned to the mission and waited till one in the afternoon, thinking that the celebration would surely be in high gear by then. On arriving at the school at one o’clock, I was told that the guest of honor had not yet arrived. Plenty of parents had come and everyone was passing the time enjoying the company of friends and students. No one seemed at all concerned that the ceremonies were scheduled to have begun three hours ago. Nor was there to be heard any criticism of the “Big Man”, our guest of honor, who was holding things up.
People are used to waiting around for a “Big Man”. The Big Men are immensely busy with their immensely important matters and expect everyone to hang around till they have time to turn their attention to a something as mundane as a seventh grade graduation at which they have agreed to be the guest of honor. Anyway, I seemed to be the only one put out by the tardiness of the “Big Man.”
I went back to the mission and waited till 3:00 PM. On returning to the school, I was told that they were still waiting for the guest of honor, now five and a half hours late. I returned to the mission. Finally at 4:00 PM I went back to the school certain that the “Big Man” would have shown up. I was surprised and disappointed to be told that the graduation had taken place during the hour that I was away. They had substituted the Olbalbal Village Chairman for the guest of honor and had the graduation. The Village Chairman had been waiting around with everyone else.
It was a frustrating day. I missed the graduation but learned something of local culture.
Recently, I wrote of “CD Fever” that has captured the imagination of many Maasai here in the North of Maasai country. This “fever” has now infected our own church community here at Olbalbal.
Matayo OleTajeuo is our leader of song. He regularly composes music based on gospel stories. “The story of the Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son” come alive when Matayo fashions lyrics and Maasai music for these stories. Matayo also composes narrative songs based on the events of the life of Jesus such as “The Raising of Lazarus from the dead”. His music is amazing and has become known far beyond our Christian Community of Olbalbal.
Last week Matayo traveled to the town of Karatu, a town about half way between Olbalbal and the big city of Arusha. He went with seven Maasai from our community, four young men of warrior age and two young women. They went to cut two CD disks, one of Matayo and our singing group and the other of Matayo himself. The two disks will contain the twenty songs chosen from the best that Matayo has so far composed.
A recording studio has recently opened at Karatu. Family, friends and our church community have collected the $300 dollars that the studio charges to produce two CDs. One will bear the name of our Olbalbal Christian Community and the other of Matayo OleTajeuo. Once the disks are produced and Matayo has some copies in hand, he will organize a celebration to mark the publishing of the CDs and hopefully begin to sell copies of the CD disk of his music. The celebration with the many gifts that he hopes to receive will be very profitable in itself, probably returning all the expenses that they have incurred producing the CD. He will share whatever profit there will be with our church.
Many Maasai are cutting CDs these days and most don’t expect to sell more than a very few disks. They rather hope to reap the return of their expenses and further profit from the gifts they will receive at the celebration announcing the publishing of their disk. A few, with outstanding voices, become “famous” among the Maasai and sell a lot of CDs. We are thinking that Matayo will be among these.