Fr. Arkado, who is stationed with me and is an SMA priest, and I traveled crossing the Serengeti to arrive at the town of Mwanza on Lake Victoria. Arkado went to attend a gathering of his missionary society, The Society of African Missions. Thirty SMA priests and volunteers had come together for a week of meetings. They come from nine countries, including Poland, Ireland, The Netherlands, The United States and many African countries. Except for four or five with more than sixty years, all were in their thirties or forties. Most work with the Sukuma people, traditional enemies of the Maasai. Raiding parties regularly travel to the territory of the other’s area to steal cattle. Each tribe believing that they are the only ones with the God given right to own cattle.
I accompanied Arkado because the Superior of the SMA group asked me to give a presentation about the work in Maasai country, the vision we have for our work and our approach. Arkado and I gave a presentation lasting about an hour and a half.
We explained to the group that 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, whom 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.
I was very apprehensive about standing up before a group of people with so many years of missionary experience to talk about being a missionary to the unevangelized. As it turned out, our talk went well and was very well received. There were plenty of questions and a lot of discussion later on over cups of coffee.
This is a kind of rant and it is about shoes. The teachers at our local primary school are adamant about the students wearing shoes, but not just any shoes. The teachers demand that the students buy and wear imitation leather shoes. This plastic footwear is available at the twice-monthly cattle market here at Olbalbal. They are expensive and fall apart very quickly. The students lacking these “leather shoes” are sent home until they come up with that useless plastic footgear. During the rainy season, in which we find ourselves presently, the useful life of the simulated leather is a few days. The mud and wet paths destroy these bogus shoes in no time.
Traditionally, the Maasai wear shoes made from cast off car tires. The tire shoes are indestructible and last years. They are perfect footgear for slogging through the mud during the rainy season as well as long trips over the plains during the dry. These are the shoes that the students wear at home, herding the family cows and goats. Thorns don’t penetrate these tough shoes and they are ideal for every activity in the bush, including walking the many miles to school in muddy conditions.
But these great shoes, environmentally perfect, are forbidden. Out of a warped sense of “development” or “progress,” the students are not allowed to wear these shoes. They must find the money to buy the fake leather ones that last only a few days.
An old man in one of the nearby Maasai villages got up during the night to go outside the house to relieve himself. In the flickering light thrown by the glowing coals of the dying cooking fire he saw a large black snake twisting its’ way out from under the cow skin covered bed. He grabbed his walking stick that leaned against the wall next to the bed and with a lucky blow killed the intruder crushing its’ head. He didn’t wake up any of the other occupants of the house as he exited the igloo shaped cow dung covered house. On returning to take his place on the bed, he didn’t see a second big black snake coming out from under the bed. As the old man stepped near the bed and prepared to lay down, the new aggressor struck him on the ankle injecting what must have been a massive dose of venom. The old man cried out in pain and woke his wife and the children sleeping on the opposite bed. The snake was not to be seen having disappeared back under the bed or having exited the house by way of some small opening in the wall.
The ankle and leg of the old man quickly swelled up and he was in serious pain. The people of the village carried him to the small clinic here at Olbalbal where they injected a shot of antihistamine but had no proper antidote for snakebite. At first light, the people loaded the man, now in very serious pain and with his lower leg greatly swollen, onto a rented land rover and took him to Karatu. That town is an hour and a half away and is the nearest place having the possibility of getting snake antivenom at a privately run hospital there. On their arrival at Karatu, they were told that there was no snake bit antidote and they would have to travel another three hours to reach the big hospital in Arusha. The relatives with the now seriously suffering man boarded a bus and arrived at Salien hospital in Arusha at the sun was going down. The man was immediately injected with anti-venom but it was too late. He died in the early hours of the next morning.
Snakebite is a big problem in the bush where there are no refrigerators to keep the anti-venom needed when snake bite people. In addition, some snakebite require medicine specific to particular venom. Snakebite victims are taken as quickly as possible to the big hospitals but it is often too late.
Small black snakes are often fed milk in the houses of the Maasai. There is a belief that somehow these small creatures are connected to the grandfathers and grandmothers that have died. The big black ones are another proposition all together.