Christmas was good here at Olbalbal. There was a Christmas Eve mass at 10:00 PM that I led and Fr. Arkado had the mass and baptisms Christmas day. After an enthusiastic church service there was a feast of four slaughter goats and plenty of rice. The day marked my fourth Christmas here at Olbalbal.
This week, Maasai singers gathered from all over Ngorongoro andbeyond to celebrate their craft. These are leaders of songs in the churches of all the denominations located at Ngorongoro. They are young men and women that have published their music in the form of CDs. There were fifteen who came together to perform their music before the large crowd of Maasai and others gathered here in the small village of Olbalbal. Prominent among the performers was Matayo OleTajewuo, of our own church here at Olbalbal.
The singers mounted the celebration to raise funds for their society of singing artists. They are establishing this group to promote their music and to help each other publish and distribute their CDs. The party produced the equivalent of some $3,000 dollars in contributions. This astounding sum came from a few rich people. Our member of parliament gave $1,000, as did a number of other rich people.
Among the Maasai, there is avery well known singer, OlePakuo, living in Kenya, who has produced many CDs and is famous throughout Maasai country both in Kenya and here in Tanzania. Our own Matayo OleTajewuo is being referred to by many “OlePakuo Kiti”, The little Olepakuo. I was hearing this nickname from numerous people during the celebration. His music is arresting and unique. It seems that our own OleTajewuo is becoming a local celebrity.
Now that it is raining, getting into to wooded areas of Olbalbal has become a real challenge. These places are mostly on the edges of the huge catchment area that fills with water during the rains and from which Olbalbal gets its’ name.
We are a good few people here on the mission and we all cook our food and eat together. Our “family” includes two teachers and their families, Fr. Arkado and myself. Also there is Musa, the little boy of three years that we care for. To cook our “ugali’, a stiff porridge made from corn meal and the rice that we have twice a week takes quite a bit of firewood. We cook beans and wild spinach to have with the rice and “ugali.”
A couple of days ago, with teachers Matayo, our catechist and Naomon, the lady that cooks for all of us, drove the Toyota Land Cruiser as close to the pond as we dared; then we spread out in search of fallen trees from which we collect the dried branches that fuel our cooking fire. After loading up the roof rack with firewood we piled back into the car for the short trip back to the mission. It had been raining lightly all the time that we were collecting firewood and I should have realized that we were in for trouble. On beginning to pull away from the spot we were parked, we realized that we weren’t going anywhere. The wheels were spinning in the soft mud. No problem I thought exiting the car and turned the mechanism on each of the front wheels that would put us in four wheel drive and get us out of that slippery soft place. Back in the drivers seat, I gunned the engine expecting the car to move. It didn’t; in fact it began to dig itself in, going down instead of forward. In seconds the car had dug itself down to the axles both back and front and each wheel was in a hole and the whole car was hung up on the axles.
Thus began an ordeal that lasted three hours into twilight. First we had to find a wide tree limb to place the jack so that it would not sink as it took the weight of the car. We then jacked up each of the four corner of the car, one after another, and put most of the firewood that we had collected under the wheels to get the axles free of the sticky mess. Then we cut lots more branches to place in the path of the car so that, if we did get out, we wouldn’t sink right back in. Alone in the car now, carrying no people and no firewood so it would be as light as possible, I started the car and gunned the engine in four-wheel drive. The car came free with a jerk and a thump and, using the initial momentum, I kept it moving as fast as I could till I was sure that I was free of the mud a quarter of a mile further on.
Fr. Joe Herzsten went to the states on leave in October. Joe is pastor of Ngorongoro parish and I have been filling in for him for the Maasai part of his work. One of the two places that I am going to on his behalf is Enkaiyapus on the lip of Ngorongoro Crater. I go there the first Sunday of each month.
Recently I went there with a group of Christians from Olbabal for Sunday Mass. Just as we arrived in front of the small chapel, a 4-wheel drive car came tearing around the curve just beyond where we were turning in. The overloaded and speeding car did not make the curve. It turned over and slid I don’t know how far before coming to a stop, now bent all out of shape with all the windows shattered. It turned out that one woman was killed outright on the spot and two other people and multiple bones broken. The car belonged to a team from the ruling political part on their way to give campaign speeches in preparation for the elections that will take place next year.
You would think that lack of traffic on our roads and the generally slow pace of life here would result in few accidents. Not true…buses are regularly turning over with lots of fatalities. Cars run into each other or run off the road like the one that we just witnessed. I don’t think that it is so much that people are in a hurry to get their destinations. Rather, I think that people just like to go fast, the faster the better.
Anyway, we finally did arrive at the small church. We had prepared a short “play” portraying the raising of Lazarus. We lengthened the story with the introduction of a “Laibon”, the Maasai Witch Doctor who does his best to bring Lazarus back to life but is finally unsuccessful and then Jesus comes in to save the day. It was a lot of fun preparing the skit and turned out to be very funny, in addition to getting across a an important part of the “Good News.” The people at “Maasai Park” enjoyed watching it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
Today started out as any other. Our meeting with the people was to take place at Ngolola a forty-minute trip over roads that had been gouged and rutted by the last rainy season. Yesterday I greased the
car, checked the oil and radiator water and topped up the air in one of the tires gone a little soft. The car was good to go and so were we, the catechist Matayo, a couple of our Christians desiring to take part in the meeting and myself. After an uneventful ride we arrived at Ngolola and were surprised by the lack of people waiting for us. Usually there is a small group of ten fifteen people waiting under the shade tree that is our place of meeting. The couple of women and a man that waited for us had long faces and it was clear that something out of the ordinary had occurred.
We sat with them and slowly the sad tale emerged. A young woman from the village had been having a difficult pregnancy and found it impossible to give birth. The very competent midwives of the area, usually able to handle any emergency, finally admitted defeat after many hours of effort. They packed the woman, now in great pain, on the morning bus to Karatu some two and a half hours away. Karatu has a good medical clinic. Everyone in the village was hopeful that the resident doctor at Karatu could deal with the ever-worsening problem and save the mother and her baby.
The woman. in excruciating pain, died just minutes after arriving at the clinic in Karatu. The doctor was able to save the child that will be raised by her grandmother. The family was devastated on receiving the news of the death of this young mother hardly twenty year old.
As we sat with the people in their pain, we learned that their had been a second death on the arrival of the sad news from Karatu. An old man, closely related to the newly dead mother had been so stricken by the news that he fell over dead on the spot. It was a horrific day for the whole village.
Olbalbal is far from competent medical care and tragedies like the one just described are not uncommon. In the local government clinics care is haphazard at best and medicine is often unavailable.