Vol. 14, #7
….and who is my neighbour?
(contributed by Mike Jemmett, the latest addition to our Endulen community. Mike is a Mennonite volunteer here at work with our Osotua Maasai Education for Leadership program)
It would seem obvious that moving from a first-world, urban environment to third-world rural requires certain practical adjustments, and I took seriously the advice of my colleagues regarding life-threatening circumstances. Then reality stared me in the face.
I contemplated how long it would take to hike down and up the valley to stand atop the far “mountain.” Solo, I struck out among aging corn stalks; waded through waist high, pale-gold expanses of tired grass; clawed into dense forest; scrambled over steep, rock- and boulder-strewn natural walls. Hours later and from 1900 meters (6,200 ft.), I commanded a spell-binding view of the Serengeti Plains, the Ngorongoro Highlands, Lake Eyasi and beyond with only the sigh of the ancient African wind in my ears.
The return was far more than I’d bargained for. Familiar with but ignoring the gentle thunder of guinea-fowl wings taking flight, I proceeded a few more dead-weight steps. The true source of the rumble was plain as I raised my bleary eyes: a 1700-lb. Cape buffalo had sprung to life from his siesta, facing me out of the grass which had concealed his massive bulk a mere twenty feet ahead. In the twitch of an ear, every story I’d heard in the village came vividly to life recalling the species’ aggressive, lightning-fast and dangerous behavior. Shot through with adrenaline, I bolted for cover behind a flimsy wall of bushes surrounding a solitary tree, while behind me that rumble grew. One stupefied hiker watched a rolling sea of grass and shrubs fade away to his right, as the beast sought solitude, not victim.
This, too, is my home; these, too, are my neighbors.
Division of labour:
Recently asked how the normal jobs of the men and women differ in Maasai country, one of our Osotwa Prep School girls responded: “The women build the houses, go to the spring to draw water, cut and carry the firewood to the village, cook the food, care for the children, look after the young sheep, goats and calves, milk the cows, buy or borrow enough grain for the evening meal each day, maintain the house by plastering wet cow dung on the roof and walls when it rains, prepare the gourds to be receptacles for milk. Asked what is are the responsibilities of the the men, she replied, “They defend the country in time of war, make the decisions about family and village and sing.”.
e-mail at Endulen has no telephone connection:
In fact, the nearest telephone is at the Ngorongoro Post office some twenty miles from us here. Some of you have asked about how I send and receive e-mail. I do it by short wave radio. Using a technology originally developed by ham radio people, we use a modem that is especially constructed to link a computer to the short wave radio. Secondly there is a software program that we use called BUSHLINK that transforms the e-mail text on the computer into a form that can be read by the modem and passed on to the short wave radio a little like radio teletype transmission. In Arusha we have our own server having two short wave radios always switched on to receive and send e-mail to us. This gives us two frequencies and since we are now about forty on short wave e-mail, there is usually one or other of the two frequencies available when I want to connect to the server. Our speed of transmission is very slow compared with the 56,000 bawd that I understand is standard in the States now. Our transmission rate is about 600 bawd and much slower if there is static on the short wave radio. This is slow but very adequate for simple text. Of course photographs, clipart and long files are beyond the scope of the short wave radio system. These kinds of files are too big for us to receive at the speeds we operate at and therefore are not possible for us. It would take a couple of days of uninterrupted transmission to send or receive a photograph, but it is a great system and perfect for our needs in the bush. The whole thing runs off my solar system that also operates all the lights in the house, the VCR and coffee grinder.
Doctoring Maasai style:
If a Maasai warrior is shot, and an arm or leg broken, the surgeons are able to mend it. They cut through the flesh, take out the splinters and bring the edges of the bone together, after which they stitch up the wound with the sinew from the back of an ox, and bind the limb securely.
The only food that is given to a man with a broken limb is roast meat and the thirst-quenching medicine obtained from the “olkiloriti” (Acacia abyssinica). Should a man be speared in the belly so that the intestines protrude, the wound is washed and the intestines returned to their place; sheep’s fat (a quart or more) is poured into the wound, which is then stitched up.
Again, if a man is speared and a rib broken, the flesh is skinned from the wound, and a sheep’s rib is inserted in place of the broken one. Sheep’s fat is then poured into the wound, after which it is sewn up. The wounded man is not allowed to drink milk, and may only eat meat.
If a man is shot with a poisoned arrow, a pregnant cow is slaughtered, and he is given the udder fat to drink. This causes him to vomit and he recovers. If the surgeons see that a man’s bone cannot be mended, they fasten a tourniquet round the limb and amputate it.
The surgeons are also able to castrate bulls, rams, and he-goats by either removing or crushing the testicles. When bulls are castrated, a cord is fastened tightly round their necks and blood is extracted from the jugular veins to prevent inflammation of the injured parts.
Maasai land continues to be alienated at an alarming rate:
An important new thing is happening in Maasailand. In a way, it is the beginning of what could be a small but significant revolution in the way the Maasai people are dealing with an ever more pressing problem, the alienation of their best grazing land to outsiders for the purpose of cultivation. The situation is not new. For years and years non-Maasai have been taking over the better land in Maasai country, areas with water and richer soil. They’ve been getting the land in all kinds of ways, through corrupt government officials, through just moving in and squatting on the land and through the Maasai themselves, many of whom are as ready as anyone to turn a quick profit. It has reached the stage in many areas that the Maasai no longer have access to their traditional watering places. The fields of corn slowly multiply in a dry season grazing area with water, till the passing of herds of cattle presents a threat to the growing fields. Meetings are then held and the non-Maasai who speak the national language, and have a certain political savvy, at least much more than do the Maasai, “decide” that Maasai cattle can no longer water in this place. Since the Maasai have no political clout, they are simply forced to move on into ever sparser and poorer country. It is true the dry season grazing is only used part of the year, and is “sitting uselessly” during the wet growing season, but it is the critical factor in Maasai pasturing. Without it as a refuge, a source of water and grass during the worst of the dry season, all the grazing land of that area becomes useless, and the people are forced to pack their belongings on donkeys and move on, displaced persons, refugees in their own country.
The Petersen brothers, Dave, Thad and Mike of Dorobo Safari are deeply concerned about the issue of land alienation in Maasai country. They are working with Maasai groups in various areas of Maasai country, helping them get title to their land, so that it cannot be sold off by an unscrupulous Maasai elder or government official. These are the same Petersen brothers who, together with their friends in the States, have taken such an interest in our Maasai Education for Leadership program here in Endulen.