Category Archives: Blog

It Finally Happened

flock1It finally happened. Traveling the roads and tracks here at Olbalbal one must frequently thread one’s way through flocks of sheep and goats often numbering many hundreds. Our area, the plains on the edge of the wide Serengeti plains seems to love goats and sheep. They in turn populate the area reproducing like rabbits. Driving our Toyota Land Cruiser along our paths, the huge herds part like waves before the prow of a boat. They seem to have a sixth sense of just how close they can come to the car when they race to cross the road in front of us. When they realize the car is getting too close they invariably turn back. They seem to have group consciousness acting in perfect coordination like a flock of birds swooping and turning as one. Sometimes when a baby goat or sheep lags behind, I have to slam on the brakes to avoid running over a tiny “kid”.flock3ram

Anyway, yesterday I hit a sheep. One of a herd of sheep that turned back when the car came near, The sheep kept right on coming and was mangled under the wheels of the Toyota Land Cruiser. He must of somehow lost his group consciousness and all of a sudden, decided to go it alone. He was a very large ram, and left no doubt that I had hit something as the wheels of the car bounced over his very substantial body. We were on the way back to the mission from one of the places where we have a regular weekly meeting. Fortunately for me, there were a number of Maasai elders in the car who immediately began to discuss the situation with the owner of the sheep lying dead by the side of the road.

Initially the owner, a man of some forty years was very angry and said that the ram was of a size to be exchanged for a heifer and therefore was worth a lot of money. He was right. My victim was a beautiful big ram and a real loss to the family. The men traveling with me spoke at length with the herdsman and after a time, he began to calm down. As the discussions progressed, all of us standing on the side of the road beside the dead sheep, the herdsman soon came to agree that his loss was just a case of bad luck. I told him that I would pay whatever he thought was just to compensate him for his loss. By that time, he was saying that if I would look for a young female sheep for him, it would be fine. Immediately the Maasai elders with me told the man that they would look for a fine ewe for him. They would not let me pay for the sheep to compensate the owner. They told me to forget the whole thing and they would take care of it, looking for a ewe and giving it to the man.

I was very lucky to have the old men with me in the car. They were able to negotiated effectively with the owner of the sheep and bring the discussions to a good conclusion, something that I could never have done on my own. Also, I was amazed and immensely grateful that they were ready to take care of the whole matter.

Dangerous Crossing

IMG_1007The rains this year have made an already dangerous situation much more treacherous. There is a place on the road into Olbalbal that crosses a small ravine that becomes a torrent during the wet season. The crossing has been made by heaping soil and rock into the ravine to make a kind of land bridge across. When a major rainfall takes place high in the mountains above us, the ravine is filled with rushing water many feet deep. There is nowhere for the water to pass except over the top of the roadbed. Since the first big rain some weeks ago, every big rain eats a little more of the edge of the road. Now it has become quite narrow and every time I cross, I hold my breath. The tires are just inches from the edge, threatening to topple the car into the ravine. Since the ravine is deep, widening the road by hand would be a huge job. When the Ngorongoro Conservation people get around to it, they will come with a big machine to add more rock and earth to on side widening the road. It is a game of Russian roulette to see what will happen first, Ngorongoro Conservation will fix the road or it will become absolutely impassable. Given past experience, I am not optimistic that Ngorongoro Conservation will come soon.

We are at the bottom of Ngorongoro Mountain, just on the edge of the plains that comprise the Serengeti National park. Rain in the mountains above us mean flooding here at Olbalbal. This ha s the good effect of giving us a small lake of water during the rains and well into the dry season. This insures that there is seldom a water problem for the herds of cattle, sheep and goats of Olbalbal. At the same time the rains in the mountains threaten the life of our precious land cruiser that we depend on to do our work.

Recently a big truck bringing government corn to sell and good prices to the people of Olbalbal fell into the ravine. Much of the corn was lost and it was a herculean task to dig a path for the big truck to be pulled out of the deep gully by another big truck. It took days for a large number of people to make a path up the sloping side of the ravine to get the lorry out. I am hoping that this incident will encourage the Ngorongoro Conservation to undertake an early rescue operation. If not, once the road loses another inch or two of width, I will no longer attempt to cross. We will just stay here at the mission. In a medical emergency there is always the possibility of calling Pat Patten to come and evacuate me by airplane.

Holiday Baptisms

During the holiday season I’ve been getting around to my various Christian communities for Christmas services that include baptisms. Here are some pictures taken at one of them, a place called Ndemua. The grass-roofed church was a little dark and the photos were taken by one of the Maasai with a cell phone so the pictures are not that great.IMG_0415

One interesting part of our Maasai baptism ceremonies is the use of “ndoroto”, a kind of chalk. This is used traditionally to sign that a person is blessed and cannot be touched by curses. In our ceremony it has two meanings. One is that a follower of Christ doesn’t have to worry about being cursed. Secondly, as cattle are branded with the sign of their owner, a follower of Jesus is branded with his sign, the sign of the cross.

Blessings are made with a gourd of water with a drop of milk, “ngarepus”; the mouth of the gourd is stuffed with rich green grass. The Maasai bless their villages and cattle with these gourds of “ngarepus.”IMG_0417IMG_0436IMG_0448IMG_0451IMG_0453IMG_0455IMG_0457IMG_0458IMG_0466IMG_0467IMG_0469IMG_0474IMG_0476

Musa lifts Curse

DSC04732DSC04736Some of you have read my blogs about Musa, the little boy of three years that we are raising here on the mission. Two and a half years ago one of my students visiting us on vacation from secondary school went to a Maasai village some few minutes walk from our place. At the gate of the village, he came upon a small child laying on the ground and crying. All his ribs were sticking out and it was clear that the small boy was not being cared for. In the house next to the gate the student, Lenkangu, found a group of women sitting around passing the time. He asked them about the emaciated child. They told him that the little boys mother had died some six weeks before and that her co-wives all had small children. They said that since the family had only a few cattle, the children of the co-wives were getting most of the milk and there was little left for Musa, the child laying at the gate. Each of the women of the family blamed Musa’s condition on the others, saying that the responsibility to take care of Musa rested with the others. It was clear to Lenkangu that Musa was slowly starving to death.

He came back to the mission and told us about Musa and how it was clear that the child would not survive the ill treatment and deprivation much longer. We talked it over and the woman, Naponu, who watches the house when I make my daily trips to the villages, said that she would undertake to care for Musa if I would buy milk for him each day. We immediately climbed into the car and went looking for the father of Musa, finding him at the shops in the village. He told us that he had asked his wives to care for Musa, but little was being done because they claimed that there was not enough food for Musa and their own small children. In fact he said there was little he could do. He told us that perhaps Musa was not meant to live. On being asked if he would agree that we care for Musa, he agreed saying that he did not expect Musa to survive. We went with him to the village and brought Musa here to the mission. That was two and a half years ago.

It was touch and go for a while but Musa did survive and after a few weeks began to put on weight. He has thrived and is now a sturdy little boy of three running around and getting into everything. He took his first steps months after other children of his age were walking and now is beginning to speak a few words. He has become the child of everyone here at Olbalbal. Since all the local MaasaiDSC04754IMG_0190IMG_0310

Musa and Me
Musa and Me

draw water at the tap in front of our house, all the Maasai women of the area check on Musa each day and many take a few minutes to play with him. Even the co-wives of his dead mother have come to enjoy greeting Musa and spending a little time with him.

Some time after we began to care for Musa and he revived and began to grow, there began to be a lot of sicknesses in the village of Musa. Most of the time there has been one or other of the people of that village seriously ill, much more so that the people of the surrounding villages. In fact, one began to hear talk of a curse on the village because of the way they treated Musa. Not long ago, the grass roof blew off the house of the oldest co-wife of Musa’s dead mother. Then some weeks ago, her baby of the same age that Musa was when Lenkangu found him took sick and began to waste away. The family took the child to various hospitals, even to the big new Lutheran hospital in Arusha. He received medicine everywhere but has not improved; he continues to get weaker and thinner. They say that he gets plenty of milk and is fed butter as are all Maasai children, but the milk does him no good and the butter sits in his stomach like a stone.IMG_0929

Last week the people of the village sent a delegation to an old woman, a diviner, at Nainoknoka in the mountains above us here at Olbalbal. The old woman has the reputation of being able to discern the “why” when bad things happen. She thought long and hard (a couple of days I was told) about the problem and then gave the delegation from Musa’s village her verdict. She told them that all these bad things were taking place because of the way that they had treated Musa.

The old woman said that they must have Musa bless their village. The blessing would consist of taking Musa to their village and giving him the things that he was deprived of as an infant. Musa’s father came to us with this story and asked us to take Musa “home” to bless the village. We agreed and a couple of days ago took Musa to his village. The family gave him milk to drink and a gourd of milk to take with him. They fed him a little butter and rubbed butter on his stomach. These were the two things, milk and butter, that he lacked as an infant, the food that a normal Maasai child is given in abundance. During all of these very solemn and vital proceedings, Musa was much more interested in the baby chickens that a woman of the village was raising to sell to the shopkeepers at Olbalbal village. He kept running after the chicks and had to be brought back to continue with the blessings. That was it. It took about a half hour and Musa had blessed the village by his presence and the symbolic milk and butter that he was given. We brought him back here to the mission and now everyone is waiting to see if the very sick child will get better and if the general health of the people of that village improves.

I thought afterwards that the least they could have done would have been to give Musa a baby chicken for his efforts.