Vol. 15, No. 7
During a two mile trip to the hospital:
No matter how long I live here in Endulen, I never seem to grow weary of the local sights. This afternoon, on the way to the hospital, I passed a long line of donkeys, driven by boys and girls and carrying grain to Maasai villages far out in the bush. Having bought the corn at the local shops here in Endulen, they were starting off on a trip of a number of days to reach their homes down on the edge of the Eastern Serengeti. They were laughing and calling to each other as they went, untroubled by the prospect of the thirsty and hungry journey ahead. A little further on, a warthog ran across the track in front of the car, proudly holding his tussled tail at full mast. Two giraffe stood in the shade of a tall Acacia tree with their long necks bow and their eyes closed. Some hundreds of yards further on was a herd of zebra, forced to leave the plains of the Serengeti, now a desert. They were getting little in the way of grass here in the Ngorongoro highlands. It is almost as dry here as it is on the Serengeti, visible in shimmering waves of dust far below us here in Endulen. Just before arriving at the hospital, we passed a small herd of impala desultorily scratching for what grass they could find in the virtual dust bowl that Endulen has become during this dry season.
How to help Nosikito?
Nosikito is not yet twenty. Ages are hard to figure out in Maasailand, but she has been married about three years and has a little boy still nursing; Kirika, her son, is closer to two than he is to one. She was married pretty young, as is usual here, where less than one in a hundred kids go to school. Boys usually don’t marry till they are well into their twenties and sometimes beyond, but the girls are quickly married in their early teens to men of the older age groups, and as often as not into polygamous households. Nosikito and Kirika live in a Maasai village visible from our front porch, just twenty minutes walk across the valley. She is married to Lorore, a man of the age group, which at this point is ruling in Maasailand, men who are in their early forties to early middle fifties.
The significant thing about the life of Nosikito is that, although she is the younger wife, she has never hit it off with her husband. It is unclear, at least to me, how the falling out began. Perhaps he thought she was taking too much of an interest in the young warriors, people of her own age. He, almost, from the very beginning of their marriage has indicated that she is no more than tolerated, and is simply there to bear children. He never buys her a new cloth, never checks to see if she and her young son might be hungry during the dry season when there is little milk, and people are depending on corn flour which must be bought for cash at the shops. He very often beats her, and she has a good many scars on her back and shoulders, mementos of his frequent anger.
These days we read a lot about powerlessness, and that somehow, we should do something about empowering the powerless, but for the life of me, I can’t figure how I might help Nosikito. Maasai women, are a pretty powerless lot. They do have effective control over the milk they get from the cattle assigned to their own house by their husband, and although this gives them a bit of a clout in certain situations, it is not helping Nosikito much. Her last milk cow died of Heartwater, a tick born disease, just last week. It will be a year or more before the two calves she has have their first calves and begin to give milk. Her co-wife, Ngoto Lande, is not helpful. In fact she speaks about Nosikito often to their husband, exaggerating Nosikito’s faults, insuring that whatever help is available from their husband continues to come to her exclusively.
What kind of redress does Nosikito have within the Maasai society? Very little. Beating is not only allowed but it is said that a wife should be beaten from time to time, just to remind her who is boss. She can call together elders of her fathers’ clan and accuse her husband to them, but to do this, she must have clear evidence that he has overstepped his prerogatives. To prove that is difficult, since elders have so much leeway in dealing with their wives. Even in normal conversation, the way one asks a women who her husband is is to ask, “Who do you belong to?”. The only real out she has is to go back to her father. Here there are two major difficulties. Not all the time, but often, her father is not in a position to take her back because in accepting her back into his household, means giving giving her cows to milk. For this and any number of other reasons, her family may find it inconvenient for her to move back in with them. The second reason and by far the more compelling one for Nosikito and others in similar situations, is that her son stays with his father. She has no rights whatsoever in regard to what we would term “custody”. Not only that, but any subsequent children she may give birth to at her fathers village or anywhere else, are the property of her husband, and after they are weaned, he will come to collect them. Nosikito talks of returning to the village of her father, but with little conviction. No matter how difficult she finds the going in the village of her husband, it is preferable to living without her son, Kirika.
Till next month…