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Three Years at Olbalbal

Sunday MorningMy First Three Years at Olbalbal Mission

(Dec. 1st 2011 – Dec. 1st 2014)

A Report Presented to the Ngorongoro Deanery

Our Team:

We are two missionaries at Olbalbal, Fr. Arkadiusz Nowak and myself. Arkadiusz is an SMA missionary working at Olbalbal for a couple of years to become familiar with the Maasai culture and language. We work with four full time catechists: Matayo OleTajeuo, Yohana Wandai, Yohana Namanjari and Simon Ngeli.

The centers that people gather for services and Teaching.

Sunday Masses:

  • Meshili, the home mission (Every Sunday)
  • Ngoile, eight kilometers to the West (Every Sunday)
  • Maasai-park near the crater (One Sunday per month)

Prayer services with teaching each week by the missionary and Catechist:

  • Enkipori (Monday),
  • Lengoku (Tuesday),
  • Nkoponi (Wednesday)
  • Oltepesi (Thursday),,
  • Ngolola (Friday)
  • Endemua (Saturday)

Another place is Lormunyi high on the mountain behind us, which has a substantial Christian community. We go there less often because the road is mostly impassable. From Time to time Fr. Arkado makes the trip there on foot. It is a six-hour round trip hike and, when he goes, he stays overnight.

“Jumia” communities visited each week by a catechist:

  • Mtakatifu Stefano at Ngoinini (Wednesday)
  • Mtakatifu Petro at Olkung’u (Thursday)
  • Mtakatifu Paulo at Madukani (Thursday)
  • Mtakatifu Maria at Entepesi (Saturday)

Our Approach to the Work:

We shape our teaching and liturgy so that the Maasai may experience the church as an outgrowth and completion of their own beliefs and religious practices. This involves incorporating their religious myths into our teaching. Examples would be their stories of Creation and the fall. We also welcome their language, music and religious symbolism into the liturgy.

Our aim is for the Maasai to feel at home in the church, fulfilling and at times correcting their traditional religious beliefs and practices.

In a new area we meet with the elders and explain who we are and where we come from. We explain that the Maasai know God from time immemorial. We come to talk to them of this One God, EnkAi, that they know. We ask them if they would agree that we come regularly to speak to them of EnkAi. If they agree and most do, we go to the place each week for a meeting of prayer and teaching/discussion.

Format of our meetings:

  1. Hymn
  2. Prayer led by the missionary in the Maasai form
  3. Hymn
  4. Teaching by the catechist and/or missionary
  5. The Apostles Creed
  6. “Sadaka” that remains in the community for their needs
  7. Hymn
  8. Blessing of the sick with prayer and imposition of hands
  9. Prayer of the Faithful as at Mass
  10. The “Our Father”
  11. Closing Prayer led by the missionary and a closing hymn

First Meetings:

We emphasize that we do not bring a new or foreign God. We speak of EnkAi, whom the Maasai know and worship. We remind them of the Maasai legend about the beginning of the world that speaks of the origin of both the good and bad things that they experience. Also, we tell the bible story of creation and our first parents. We emphasize that the explanation of origin of sin and evil found in the bible and that of the Maasai legend have the same meaning.

Humans not God are responsible for the present situation. This initial teaching is key because the Maasai traditionally believe that God directly causes drought, sickness, death etc..

Next 20 or 25 Meetings:

We teach the Circle Bible of Fr. Ralph Poirier

  • Birth of Jesus (the light that He brought)
  • Raising of Lazarus (the life that Jesus brings)
  • Good Samaritan (Our response: mercy and love)
  • Prodigal Son (Our response: forgiveness)
  • Eucharist (We become one with Jesus)
  • Cross (Our response: we bear our cross)
  • Resurrection of Jesus (Promise of eternal life)
  • Prayer (Praise God, Thanks, Petition, All in Jesus name
  • Ascension of Jesus (Sending, we take Good News to world)
  • Mystical Body (We are His body in the world)

Next Meetings:

Our further meetings up to the time of the baptism of the community and beyond are based on the Sunday readings.

Baptism and beyond:

We usually baptize after weekly teachings that last for about two years. After baptism we continue with our weekly meetings based on the Sunday readings.

Some Notes on The Sacraments:Baptism: (We have had 280 baptisms during our 1st three years at Olbalbal)

New fire: The hearth fire is extinguished in all the house of the village to be baptized. During the baptism ceremony a new fire is made with traditional fire sticks and carried to all the houses, a sign of the light of Christ entering the community. Green branches are heaped on the flames and the priest and elders then bless the fire. They bless with“engare-pus”, a gourd of water with a drop of milk and with green grass in the mouth of the gourd:

Stones of the hearth fire blessed with “engare-pus.” We are asking the ancestors of the family to bless us as we make this new beginning as followers of Jesus.

The village is blessed: The priest and elders walk around the village blessing the singing people, the animals and the houses, sprinkling all with “engare-pus”

Sign of the cross on the forehead with chalk: The Maasai use the symbol of marking a person with “endoroto”, chalk, to sign protection from curses and other evils. A Christian is protected from curses by his or her faith in Jesus. Also, as a man’s herd is branded with a unique brand, so also Jesus marks his followers with his unique sign or brand, the cross.

An unblemished cow skin is placed in the center of the cattle enclosure. Each person to be baptized sits on the stool to receive baptism.

After all have been baptized, the priest gives each woman a burning ember from the new fire with a sprig of green leaves to light the new fire in her house.

Eucharist:

Black vestments sign the black rain clouds that bring all good things to Maasai country. Black is also the color of the clothing worn by Maasai on their pilgrimages of prayer.

Liturgical music and prayer is the Maasai language and form.

The Prayer of the faithful is in the Maasai prayer form.

We bless the sick in each liturgy. When the first Maasai priests were ordained in mid 70s., they took the decision that following baptism people should not go to the “Laibon.” Certain ailments and conditions seem not to respond to interventions by modern medicine or Maasai healers. Thus people are left without recourse in certain situations. In an effort to fill this lacuna, we have a blessing of the sick at most liturgies that includes anointing, laying on of hands, and the blessing with “engare-pus.”

At the offertory we bless the offertory procession and gifts with “ngare-pus.”

 Penance:

We have communal penance services prior the major feasts.

During our penance service all hold a tuft of green grass. Holding a tuft of green grass is a traditional way of asking for forgiveness.

Marriage:

In addition to the traditional exchange of rings, the groom places the “monorrit” chain around the neck of the bride. The bride places the necklace of blue beads called “onongoi” around the neck of the groom.

The clasped hands of the bride and groom are smeared with sheep fat and blessed by the priest.

Priesthood:

The celibate Catholic priesthood presents tremendous challenges to young men who might aspire the ordained priesthood. Celebacy, far from seen as gift of oneself to God and his people, is rather seen as a curse and is totally unintelligible to the Maasai. A man who dies without children has no respect and his name is never mentioned again.

Challenges:

Most Maasai Missionaries have no additional sources of income to support their work in Maasai country. For example, our Sunday collection here at Olbalbal averages 12,000/=. The Maasai missionary must find funds to enable him to do his work. This presents a huge challenge for the missionary that has no outside sources of income. Given the difficulty of supporting himself and his work, it is not surprising that many priests find Maasai ministry unattractive and leave it as soon as they are able. His recurring expenses include the following:

  • Salary for a cook
  • Various personal expenses and needs
  • Salaries for one or more full time catechists
  • Upkeep and fuel for the mission vehicle
  • The monthly cost of food and other household expenses

Recent history indicates that appointments to Maasai missions are relatively brief. This is evidenced by the very short time people are stationed in out Maasai missions. One would almost get the impression that Maasai missions are seen as stopping off places on the way to more attractive posts and the much sought after assignments to study overseas. There is little continuity. There is clearly no possibility of getting to know the people and their problems and becoming familiar with Maasai language and culture during a two or three year stay in a place.

In the case of the Spiritans, this situation may be changing with the initiative of our provincial, Fr. Amandus Kapele. He has decided to send all new appointments to Maasai country to a Maasai language course before taking up residence at a Maasai mission.

The physical challenges become more limiting, as I grow older. I can no longer walk to places for teaching and meetings with the people. I used to be able to go to two or three places each day. Now my energy level enables me to go to only one place each day. Fr. Arkado is able to walk and goes to our places that can’t be reached by car.

Relating the teaching to the life experience of the Maasai continues to be a tremendous challenge. Fortunately in the last 20 0r 30 years they have come to know cultivation and many parables have this theme.

Most Maasai are not fluent in Kiswahili. Both Arkado and I find expressing ourselves in the Maasai language to be an ever-present challenge that doesn’t seem to become easier with time.

 

 

 

 

Cape Buffalo Attack

In the forest above the mission here at Olbalbal there are herds of Cape buffalo and many elephants. In the deeply shaded glens of the forest these animals find shade and rich green grass, as do the

Buffalo hiding in the tall grass
Buffalo hiding in the tall grass

herds of Maasai cattle. There are many Maasai villages on the edges of the forest and in the open meadows inside the forest itself. This area, called Olgilai, is not far from Olbalbal village and people come to the shops in the village to buy corn, sugar and other necessities. Also many children make the daily trek to attend classes at the primary school located in Olbalbal village. Although the forest is filled with those very dangerous animals, Maasai people seldom have problems with them, having learned over the millennia how best to avoid potentially lethal encounters.

At night it is a very different story. No one dares to walk through the forest after dark. It is considered foolhardy and extremely dangerous to be on a forest path at night. People plan their trips to the shops so that they will be back home well in advance of twilight and darkness. School children have the danger of being in the forest at night drummed into them from their earliest years and never wait till late in the afternoon to leave school for home.

For all these reasons, there is almost never a problem with the lethal beasts that populate the forest so close to the Maasai villages of Olgilai.

The old men that come down to Olbalbal village looking for “pombe” alcohol are in a class by themselves. Although, alcohol is now forbidden here and offenders are subject to serious fines, “pombe” is still to be found, secreted in hidden places around the village. These ancients (most of them are about my age) spend their days seeking out these concealed caches of alcohol. Unlike the women who come to buy things at the shops and the children who study at the local primary school, these old guys feel no urgency to reach home before dark. They start out whenever they have had their fill of the local brew and as often as not travel the forests paths after dark even passing out by the side of the path in their drunken state and sleep right there till morning. Strangely enough, nothing ever seems to happen to these oldsters.

Buffalo lying in wait
Buffalo lying in waitBuff

That is nothing happened till a few weeks ago. OleKiroiya had spent the day drinking with his buddies well hidden in one of the houses of the village away from the vigilant eyes of the village authorities who would have levied substantial fines on these oldsters. Dusk began to fall and the ancient celebrants began to take their various paths toward their home villages. OleKiroiya staggering a little, but still capable of walking a crooked line began his regular homeward journey of a couple of hours. This night he was not so lucky; his usual immunity from harm had run out. A Cape buffalo bull had chosen the same path as that of OleKiroiya and somewhere in the middle of the forest their paths crossed.

It could have been worse, the huge bull charged and caught OleKiroiya on the right knee. The old man dropped like a stone and was still, waiting for the sharp horn that would gut him. It didn’t happen. For some reason, the buffalo lost interest and moved off. The knee of OleKiroiya was totally shattered. People came upon the old man in excruciating pain the next morning. They carried him to his village and subsequently his family took him to the big hospital at the town of Moshi. He spent two months there undergoing various operations. It seems that OleKiroiya will eventually be able to get around with the help of two crunches that he will need to use for the rest of his life. His days of walking to Olbalbal village to spend the day drinking with his friends are over.

Village Elections

This week people all over Tanzania are voting for village chairmen. In American terms, such a person would be the mayor of the town. The run up to the election here at Olbalbal village has seen huge very public expenditures by the two candidates for the office. One gave over $300 dollars to a woman newly widowed when a cape buffalo surprised her husband in heavy bush, goring and killing him. This contribution was announced loudly and everywhere as an example expressing the public spirit of the candidate for office. The other made a very substantial and very public contribution to a famine-feeding program. Each rented a land rover and traveled back and forth throughout the district making loudspeaker-assisted speeches about how Olbalbal will become a utopia if people vote for him. The election took place yesterday with huge number of people lining up here at Olbalbal village to cast their vote. The process has been very much like an American election.

It is interesting to note that the post of village chairman has no salary attached to the job. It is a post that a person undertakes out of an altruistic desire to serve his fellow citizens and make Olbalbal a better place to live. Not true. This is one of the most lucrative jobs imaginable. The opportunities to receive bribes for allocations of plots of land and other privileges are endless. A huge source of income for the village chairman comes from fines levied on people for any one of a hundred different reasons. For example, the drinking or selling of alcohol that is now forbidden here provides opportunities to fine people and the village chairman pockets most of these. It is no wonder that our mayoral candidates have spent hundreds of dollars winning the support of the people of Olbalbal. The meaning of the term “public service” seems to have pretty much the same connotations all over the world.

Some time ago, I talked of our church choir recording a CD to make money for improvements to our church building. Heavy rains last year have hastened the deterioration of the outside walls and a major plastering job is badly needed. Giving the fact that money could be made from sales of the music CD, the issues surrounding how the money will be spent and even which individuals will profit by the sudden major infusion of funds has divided the leadership of the church and choir. Now the bad feelings and rancor is growing and the meetings that have so far taken place, instead of bringing peace, seem to have deepened the conflicts. I have asked two respected elders of our area to meet with the people and see if they can resolve things.

OleNdoiki, is local Maasai leader, “leguanan”, and has the reputation of being an able peace make when serious disputes arise. OleNdoiki spent all of Sunday afternoon with about forty-five of our Christian community. Everyone came out of the meeting very tired but smiling. The conflicts seem to have been resolved.

 

Language Learning and “Pencilgate”

study at desk
Spiritan at Maasai Language School

Maasai Language: Fr. Arkado, the Society of African Missions missionary, working with me here at Olbalbal, has begun a Maasai language course at Oltepesi in Kenya. Fr. Dennis, a Zambian Spiritan, is also taking the course. Fr. Dennis has just been appointed to the Nainokanoka area of Ngorongoro and will take the language course before taking up residence at his mission. The Kenya Diocese of Ngong sponsors the course. Hans Stokes, a Dutch linguist, together with Paul Morero, a Maasai language teacher, are giving the course. This initiative represents a major step forward in our Maasai work at Ngorongoro. Soon, we’ll have two more Maasai speakers among the four missionaries at Ngorongoro.

Solar Lighting for the School: The night is brightly lit these days due to the new solar lighting system recently installed in two dormitories of the primary school. Now the students are able to study at night and progress more quickly in their studies. At least that is the idea.

Solar power for our primary school

Musa is running everywhere and getting into everything. Just a few months ago we were wondering if Musa would ever walk. Then, all the children his age were walking and Musa was still crawling. We found this little boy neglected a year and a half ago and have been caring for him at his father’s request. Now at three years, Musa is chasing away the calves and goats that often try to enter our house. We’re afraid that he will be stepped on. Recently, pencil in hand, we found him half way to the primary school. He sees the other children going off to school and wants to follow them. Recently we caught up with him just entering the forest that borders the mission. Having seen the older children going for firewood, he had decided to collect firewood himself.

Pens and Pencils: On Saturdays we have a prayer service at a Maasai village near Oldupai Gorge. This is the place where Louis and Mary Leeky excavated artifacts in the way of bones and other things, relics of ancient dwellers of Ngorongoro. The proximity of this Maasai village to the tourist attraction of OlDupai has made it a place that tourists also sometimes visit. Pens and pencils seem to be the major gifts of the tourists to the people there. So much so that every time we go to the place, the Maasai load us up with pens and pencils to bring back for the primary school students at Olbalbal. The local shops that sell pens and pencils to the students have a huge unsold stock of pens and pencils. Our local merchants are not happy. I understand that a delegation of Olbalbal retailers is being formed to visit the Maasai village to complain about their loss of revenue.

Live Soccer from Europe: The new source of electricity has also made it possible for one of the teachers to begin a very lucrative business. He has bought a TV, a satellite dish, and has opened up a kind of small theater in his house. The attractions are the soccer games from Europe available live via satellite. He fills his limited space with European football addicts from nearby Maasai villages and shopkeepers twice a week. The teacher charges the equivalent of 75 American cents admission. Due to the limited seating and standing capacity of his living room, he must turn the overflow away on the Saturday and Sunday soccer nights. I think the next thing we’ll be hearing will be that he is expanding his house to accommodate the growing number of Olbalbal soccer fans. I am fortunate in that I don’t have television. People would be knocking on my door in great numbers to watch the games.