Vol. 22, #5
Car trouble and a long walk for water.
A few weeks ago on the Eastern side of the Serengeti, I had major trouble with the car due my carelessness. It happened on the way back from my furthest outstation near Kakesio, a drive of three hours from Endulen. After our meeting together, I checked the water in the radiator. Finding it down a bit, I topped it up and started out on the return trip to Endulen where I have a small house I use as my center. About an hour into the trip, I noticed that the temperature gauge on the dash was off the scale, way beyond the red danger mark, although I hadn’t noticed any steam coming out from under the hood. I stopped the car and opened the hood. The radiator was dry and the cap was missing. I hadn’t properly tightened when I had checked it earlier in the day. Also just a half hour before, we had made a fire by the side of the track to prepare tea and fry some flat bread and had used up what water we were carrying with us. With no water and no way to move the car without it, we faced a long walk to the nearest spring. This part of the Ngorongoro Conservation area is plains country and it is very dry. At one o’clock in the afternoon I started out with a Maasai warrior to look for water, leaving the women and children in the car with the admonition to carve a plug for the radiator out of the limb of a tree. We finally found a spring at about four thirty and got back to the car at seven in the evening. We filled the radiator and capped it with the wooden plug the women had carved in our absence, arriving back at my house at Endulen at about nine. Needless to say, the next day after a meeting at an outstation nearby, I slept most of the afternoon.
Gift giving in Maasai country.
I always used to wonder why people here didn’t open gifts you gave them in front of you like we do at home. I finally realized that perhaps all over Tanzania, but surely here in Maasai country gifts don’t mean the same thing at all as they do in the West. In the West we give gifts to delight the one we are giving it to. Part of our joy in giving is watching that delight happen when the person opens the gift in front of us.
Here gift giving is relationship creating, obligation creating. I would much rather buy a goat than have one given to me, because that goat will follow me the rest of my life. The person who gave it didn’t give it to me to delight me or to make me happy as would be the case at home. Rather he gave it to me to create a relationship of interdependence, or to deepen and strengthen one we already have. I’ve been given many cattle, sheep and goats over the years and all those people come to me in time of difficulty expecting to be helped.
If one doesn’t want such a relationship, one must refuse the gift. This happens most often in marriage negotiations but it can also happen in very ordinary circumstances too. One finds some kind of an excuse to refuses. I’ve done that too. Some years ago there was a man who wanted me to send his son to secondary school. He didn’t have the means to do it himself. He came many times to ask, but I always said I couldn’t do it; I knew that his son couldn’t make the studies. Finally the man brought a beautiful fat goat to me as a gift knowing that if I accepted it, I’d be caught. I’d have to send his son to school knowing that he would be sent back home within a year or two. I told him that I couldn’t accept his gift because the missionary I was stationed with at the time was allergic to goat hair. This wasn’t stretching the truth too much because it was true that Bill didn’t like goat meat. He reluctantly accepting my refusal and went off. Needless to say his son is happily herding the goats at home.
Even the giving of a gift can create an unexpected and unwanted relationship. Yesterday I was at one of my places near Ngorongoro Crater. I met a man whose daughter had recently been very sick and was doctoring at the hospital in Endulen. During the time she was there, I met her many times while on my regular rounds of visiting people in the hospital. Yesterday the girl, her mother and her father came to say hello. I saw that all were dressed very poorly and were very gaunt. It was clear that all three of them were not getting very much to eat in this time of the dry season. Having been given a small bag of corn as a gift at a place I was earlier in the day, I gave it to the mother of the girl. Five minutes later, the father came and addressed me as a relative and asked me for a blanket.
You can see why I’m always very wary of receiving and giving gifts. At least among the Maasai people gifts mean relationship and obligation.
Till next month,