Vol. 23, #4
The key to leadership is education. But the door to higher education is slammed shut in the faces of the Maasai. Primary education in Maasai country is in a poor state. Many teachers dont want to be here. Many are just waiting for their exile to be over so they can get back to places where food is plentiful and life is more pleasant. Often little teaching goes on, and there is no sustained effort to overcome the traditional resistance of the Maasai to formal education. Our Maasai young people find it very hard to compete with STD VII graduates of other tribes for places in schools of higher education. Our Osotua Maasai Education Program supports them in secondary school because their parents do not understand the value of education and will not pay school fees or other school costs. We now support 70 Maasai girls and boys in various secondary schools and secondary level technical schools. Also we have Maasai young people doing Teacher Training and medical programs.
Nina was unique among her school mates. She enjoyed school from her earliest years. While other girls from her village often hid in the tall grass to avoid school, Nina never played truant. Nina loved to read and always borrowed books of Swahili stories from her teachers. Maasai children are not encouraged to go to school by their parents. The government officials are required to fill the school register and in turn threaten the elders with fines if the quotes from the villages are not filled each year to fill the classrooms. Once the school year begins though and the required numbers and nominally met, no one worries too much about attendance.
On completion of Standard Seven, the final year of grade school in the Tanzanian system, Nina was able to read Swahili and even struggle through a small childs book in English. Not much to show for seven years in primary school, you might say, but quite and accomplishment in Tanzania where many graduates of seventh grade are not able to write their names nor understand a simple Swahili sentence let alone read and write the language.
Nina came to me during her first months in grade seven. I want to go to high school, she said. Can you help me? Given her family situation, typical among the nomadic Maasai, this was going to be a tall order. I knew that her father had already promised her in marriage to a friend and age mate in his village some years older than himself. The celebrations were to take place immediately after her graduation from seventh grade. Lemalali was not a wealthy man and was looking foreword to the expansion of his small herd of cattle that the marriage of Nina would bring. Ninas mother further complicated the situation. Very old and almost blind, she was looking foreword to the return of Nina to the village. Nina as a young wife would not only be responsible for building a house and caring for her aging husband but would have to find time each day to bring water from the river for her mother and cut for firewood for her. This is quite a program for a thirteen year old girl, but not an unusual one for an African girl and especially not for one among the very traditional Maasai people.
I talked with her father and mother many times over the following months, arguing that, in the long run, it would be to their advantage to have an educated daughter. They would have to forego the cattle that an early marriage would bring, but having Nina in high school would be like having money in the bank. On completion of her education, Nina would get a job and be able to help them regularly, much more than two or three cattle would help right now. In the end they reluctantly agreed and Nina went off to high school in Arusha.
Fortunately I found her a place to stay with a family on Mount Meru, the mountain towering above the town of Arusha. Tumpet is a member of the Arusha tribe, a people similar in customs and language to the Maasai and has three children. Nina has become especially close to Simaloi, The oldest daughter of Tumpet who is the same age as Nina. Tumpet treats Nina as one of her own and Nina has come to feel very much at home there.
Each morning Nina walks seven miles to school and seven miles back up the mountain each evening. It is a long way for her to walk each day, but I was not able to find a place nearer to school that I felt good about. It is especially difficult during the rains when the mud is often ankle deep and there are many rushing streams to cross.
Now three years later, Nina is a junior in high school and is talking of entering the Medical Assistant program. A medical assistant in our terms would be somewhere between a nurse practitioner and a doctor. They can be in charge of small hospitals and even do minor operations. It is a three year program following graduation from high school. Maasai medical people are badly needed in Maasai country. Most outsiders have little sympathy for the Maasai and generally try to profit from their gullibility and lack of sophistication. It would be wonderful for Nina to get into this kind of work. She would be an asset both to her own family, especially her ailing mother and to the Maasai people.
I wrote last month that the local people here are afraid of wild dogs and that they the animals killed off some impala and wild pigs here in the Endulen area. Although this is true, it was perceived by some as speaking badly of wild dogs. I apologize for that. Also I got my numbers from the local people. They may or may not have exaggerated. The following is the email that I received:
I dont know whether you realize but the kind of fear that you express with regards to the wild dogs in your latest diary entry is part of the reason that their numbers are so low, along with your assertion that they are depleting wild animal and livestock populations.
This is a story that should be celebrated as these much maligned and completely harmless animals (towards humans at least) struggle to reestablish themselves across much of their original home ranges.
Did you know that they are extinct in the Serengeti? Please Ned, publish a retraction of sorts playing down the negative spin of your entry below. I know people from all over the world who would be very excited to hear about a pack of 50 wild dogs! Cheers, DOM
Till next month,