In five days I’ll board an Ethiopian Airlines flight that will take me back to Tanzania. I’m wondering if they will be serving “Injera b’wat”, that wonderful large flat bread with meat and vegetable sauces and cream cheese. Anyway, I’ll soon be back at Ngorongoro Crater to open the new mission at Olbalbal. I hear that it has been raining so the neighboring Serengeti will be green and dotted with herds of wildebeest, Thomson Gazelle and zebra. The Maasai cattle will be out on the plains enjoying the rich green grass and rain ponds. It will be good to go home.
The Maasai live on the open plains of East Africa. It is believed that the Maasai People originally came from northeastern Africa more than four hundred years ago. Perhaps due to famine or drought, they moved southward, and eventually settled on the grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania.
The Maasai speak a language called Maa. They worship the one God, EnKai, whom they believe gave them cattle as a gift to be treasured. Historically, the Maasai did not cultivate crops, hunt, or gather wild food. They are a semi nomadic people who live mostly off the milk and the corn bought from the nearby farming peoples. The have meat less often and usually only on special occasions like weddings.
My own connection with the Maasai began in March of 1966, when Joe Herzstein, Vince Stegman, and I arrived in Tanzania. I was just out of the seminary and anxious to join Gene Hillman, Vince Donovan, Ed Kelly and other Spiritans in our mission among the Maasai, which was begun in 1952 by Gene Hillman. The years have fled by and a year ago I completed 25 years at my most recent assignment at Endulen Maasai mission in the area of Ngorongoro.
I wrote to Father Fogerty and his council requesting a sabbatical and since June have been in the states visiting family, spending time with family, and learning a little Spanish.
Two Tanzanian Spiritans, Gaspar Mushi and Joachim Karabwe, have taken over the work at Endulen. Our bishop, Joseph Lebulu and the Spiritans have now assigned me to begin a new mission, Olbalbal, where our work of evangelization has scarcely begun and where the young Maasai have had little encouragement and opportunity for education.
In the course of my 25 years at Endulen, Maasai catechists and I established eight active Maasai Christian communities. The work grew and when I left Endulen last June, twelve full time catechists were helping me care for these communities and doing further evangelization.
In addition to evangelization upon my arrival at Endulen in 1985, I was faced with the near lack of education among the Maasai. There were few Maasai attending primary school and very few boys going on for secondary education. In those days no girls at all had the opportunity for secondary education. I addressed this situation by establishing a prep school of one year to help Maasai girls with remedial schooling in English and Arithmetic so that they would be capable of passing secondary school entrance examinations. Over the years, with the help of Spiritans abroad and others, I was able to underwrite the education of almost three hundred Maasai girls and boys. Some of the fruits of this program are five nurses, four clinical medical officers, five lawyers, many teachers, and many others now working in various fields among their people in Maasai country.
In a few days time, on December 10th, I will return to Ngorongoro to open the new Maasai mission of Olbalbal. The work will be much the same as it was in Endulen, primary evangelization among the far flung cattle camps of the Maasai and facilitating the education of Maasai young people. As in Endulen, I will focus on Maasai girls who, because of the pressure to be married early and thus provide their families with some short-term benefits, have little opportunity for education.
My new mission is at a place called Olbalbal. Olbalbal is about two hours from Endulen. Whereas Endulen lies on in the highlands of Ngorongoro at six thousand feet, Olbalbal is on the plains below Ngorongoro crater near Oldupai Gorge and the Serengeti plains. There are numerous Maasai encampments that have not yet had the opportunity to hear the gospel and great numbers of young Maasai without opportunity for education.
Till next month…