October 1999

Endulen Diary
Vol. 14, #9
October, 1999


Fire in a Maasai house is one of the most feared calamities among the Maasai. Houses are cow dung igloos, with the main room and smaller ones connected by low narrow tunnels…death traps when fire strikes. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, word came that fire had struck one of the nomadic encampments some ten miles from Endulen village in the direction of Oldupai Gorge. We immediately set out in our Toyota land cruiser with every water container that we could find filled to the brim. The water was not for the purpose of putting out the fire, since it takes minutes for a fragile Maasai dwelling to burn to the ground but rather to aid the now homeless people, who would not have had time to walk the five miles to the stream for water that day because of the calamity that had struck the village.

We arrived at about nine in the morning to find the two women, wives of one man, who had lost their houses in tears, but thankful that no one was injured in the fire. Their houses had both burned because they were just inches apart. It seems that about midnight, the children, in this case a group of about five newly circumcised girls were singing and playing in one of the two houses. They had heaped plenty of wood on the fire and were having a great old time. Suddenly the fire, much too big, licked at grass laid to cushion the cow skins on one of the beds. Since the girls were awake, they immediately grabbed the small children sleeping in the house on one of the beds with the woman of the house and ran outside, rousing the people in the adjoining house too. Thus all the people got out safely. Unfortunately two baby goats were burned to death, all the skins on the beds, accumulated over many years were burned together with the cooking and eating utensils of both houses. All the gourds for storing milk and whatever spare clothing the people had in the houses was lost too.

Because the fires always kept burning in Maasai homes are open cooking fires and the houses are so vulnerable, serious burns from tipped over cooking pots and falling into the fire in the case of small children is very common in Maasai country. Also, a significant number of houses burn to the ground each year, sometimes with the deaths of those inside, especially when the fires occur in the night.

Mike Jemmett, a Mennonite volunteer, works with our Osotua Maasai Education for Leadership program here in Endulen. He writes…..

Copied meticulously from the reflective sheen of the classroom blackboard into a notebook of frayed edges, the word “PUT” evolves into “PURTNS.” The student now focuses on the next word. He continues, satisfied in his work yet absolutely oblivious to any error in transcription, and mostly unaware of the meaningful connection between the written word and the word he may commonly parrot.

* * *

If we had never even known the existence of an encyclopedia, and then were presented with a set in a foreign language after a cursory study of that language, what might we explore first? “Dog; rain; boat; brain”? At Osotwa, the logic, skepticism, and wonder of one Swahili mind plunged the young man into an English-language encyclopedia to grapple painstakingly with his first two entries: the rationale of the “United Nations,” and the taxing concept of “light years.”

* * *

The above two examples describe the range of intellectual talents that
daily file into our classroom. Not only a teacher of English and Math, I see part of my role here in helping to identify the natural leaders of intellect, instinct, creativity, ability and interpersonal skills; and in providing these young Maasai with opportunities to test their wings in these capacities.

In a basic exercise of creative problem-solving, we sat on a plot of bone-dry grass, thoroughly reviewing shapes and colors in English. One simple instruction followed: in three minutes, find a blue circle. A blue circle?! Look around! Our environment is golden grass, brown bark, grey gravel. Well, blue sky; but a circle?

The two solutions I recall vividly came in one minute from girls. One snatched up one of those ubiquitous, blue plastic bags that dance in the wind and tore out… “a blue circle.” The second never left her place. She looked at her blue pen, popped off the cap, turned it around, and looked down into… “a blue circle.” Two distinct methods were used: creating to fill a need; seeing what exists, invisible to others.

This creative thinking in leadership is what Osotwa is cultivating. Practically, however, quality leaders need adequate participants with skills to work in concert, to follow competently. Others here would do well to learn the value of following instructions, of completing a project efficiently, and of enjoying this satisfaction. This is cooperation, one strategy for survival.

Occasionally through Ned’s “Endulen Diary” and from my angle, you will glimpse some of the methods, results, frustrations and successes of our team’s local search for and training of a new generation of Maasai leaders and followers. Who will they be? How far will they go. light years?

Till next month…….

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