Corn is the staple food among the Maasai. Most people don’t have enough cattle to depend on milk, so milk becomes a supplement to the daily meal of corn porridge. The corn is ground and mixed with water, a little bit of milk and some cooking oil and sugar if one has them.
Now corn is ever more scarce. Since no cultivation is permitted here in the Conservation area of Ngorongoro, all the corn eaten by the people must come from the outside. In most parts of the country there has been little or no harvest for at least a year and now the shortages of this basic food have become critical. Prices have skyrocketed doubling in the last few months. Now the only shop having corn to sell here at Olbalbal is asking the equivalent of ten dollars for a five gallon bucket of corn, an impossible price to pay for all but very few people.
The Maasai women had a meeting a couple days ago and decided to boycott this shop until they lower their price of corn. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen, since there is no other place to find the stuff.
Two days last week saw no water coming from the pipe fed by the spring on the mountain above us here at Olbalbal. The young men of the warrior age groupe went up to see what the problem was. It turned out that elephants and Cape buffalo were using the spring area as their mud bath and had totally blocked the pipe with muck. The men cleaned the pipe and did what they could to block access to it by the wild animals. We have water again.
Intense Tutoring. At mid-year and at the end of the year we put on a remedial program for the weaker students in our local grade school. Christmas vacation saw our volunteer teachers working with the weaker students of all the different classes. In addition we gave special attention to the students that are beginning their final year, grade 7, now in January.
This involved some intense tutoring in math and Swahili, two of the subjects that the students find most difficult..
The volunteer teachers spent some hours with these kids each day helping them to fill in the blanks of things they missed or didn’t learn well in the earlier years of primary school.
The idea was to limit the number of kids in the program to about sixty, but it proved very difficult. Most mornings I counted over a hundred that we have divided into four class groups. The program is very popular with the parents, since they see a significant improvement in the reading and math skills of their children. Also, the fact that we provide a “lunch” of corn porridge cannot be discounted as part of the reason so many want to come.
In the beginning the older kids came only at eleven for the meal and then some hours of instruction. But we have found that if the kids stick around home during the morning hours, they are invariably tapped to go out and pasture the family’s sheep and goats. For this reason, we had them come early at the same time as the younger kids although this puts more of a strain on our few volunteer teachers.
The program was a success with 16 students winning the prizes of new school uniforms for significant progress in reading and math skills.The biggest challenge was to keep the number of students down to a manageable number.
No insulin for diabetics. As long as I can remember insulin medicine has been given free to Diebetic people at government dispensaries. Since many need at least one injection a day, the amount of insulin required can be significant. Now it seems that insulin is given free only to those people that have health insurance. Diabetis is a growing problem and many people suffering from it and not the people with jobs where health insurance is available. This is causing a crises for the small built significant number of diebetic people here at Olbalbal and elsewhere.
Yesterday I was returning home from taking one of my students to the hospital at Karatu some two and a half hours away. As usual I stopped at the gated entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation area to sign in. Having parked in the tourist car clogged parking lot, I got out of the car and began to make my way to the office. Suddenly at some twenty or thirty steps from the car, there was excited shouting behind me. Turning around I saw two adult baboons exiting my car by way of driver side window. I had forgotten to close it on getting out of the car.
The two German Shepherd size animals must have been waiting for some forgetful driver to leave his window open. They found their prey in my lack of attention. The robbers sprang into the car and went right to the back seat where lay a large bunch of bananas. In the twinkling on an eye, they had grabbed their succulent lunch and made off back through the front window.. Fabiola, one of my Maasai girl high school students, just released from the hospital that day after a serious chest infection, was sitting in the front seat and was knocked out of the way by the huge monkeys on there way to harvest our bananas. Fabiola was so shocked and frightened, she just about passed out.
Afterwards, we were able to laugh about the attack. But the invasion could have ended badly with Fabiola bitten and a cell phone or something else taken by the baboons. These attacks have become commonplace at the gate where numerous tourist land rovers stop to pay their entrance fees to Ngorongoro. The tourist think that these wild and often dangerous animals are cute and feed them fruit, getting dangerously close to take their pictures. The baboons have become used to people and try to enter cars to steal whatever they can grab, often a pair of sunglasses, some fruit or any kind of food, sometimes even a camera. We usually keep all the car windows carefully closed, but this time I forgot to do so. We’re lucky that they only took bananas and didn’t bite Fabiola.
Next week two Maasai girls from Olbalbal will begin their high school studies at Digodigo Secondary School in the Sonja valley, some six hours drive from here. They have been selected by the Education Department from among the students just graduated from our local primary school. One new wrinkle this year in the tally of expenses to send a child to high school is the need to buy all the books for their various classes. In the past, the schools have provided the books. The reality is that there were no school books for the students. The teacher and one and that was it. Now each student has to find and buy his or her own books. The government has done away with tuition for high school but replaced that expense with others that make supporting a child in secondary school more expensive than ever. Many thanks to all of you out there who are helping me support these girls in school and also others that we continue to support.
Ndaiyo Lengitata has been raised by her aging mother without the benefit of a husband’s help. Her brother, of warrior age, has an alcohol problem and saps much of the family’s meager resources. Ndaiyo’s mother came to me a couple of weeks ago and talked about their situation. She explained that, although Ndaiyo wanted very much to continue her studies, she would be unable to send Ndaiyo to high school. Without help, Ndaiyo will be “sold” to a husband to satisfy the needs of her brother. I have agreed that we support her in high school.
Nakutamba Kapande graduated among the top three students here at Olbalbal with a solid “B” average. Both her mother and father are dead and she has been raised by her grandmother. She is a very clever girl and determined to continue with her education. Her grandmother has no resources at all and would be unable to help Nakutamba fulfill her dreams. After speaking with her grandmother and hearing her story, I have agreed to find the wherewithal to sent her to school at Digodigo.
I have been busy buying all their necessities for school at the local cattle market and at Karatu, the nearest town that is two hours away by car. Ndaiyo and Nakutaba are due at school on Saturday and my next challenge will be to find them transport to get to the school.