Vol. 19, #10
(In the following account some place names and other details have been changed so individuals can’t be identified.)
Deep in the hill country on the slopes of Naiyobi mountain whose summit boasts Mbakai Crater and its’ incredibly beautiful flamingo pink tinged crater lake lies a Maasai cattle encampment. Dominating these hills and valleys is the dramatic cone shaped active volcano Oldoinyo Leng’ai, the sacred mountain of the Maasai. Most of the fifty people who live in this small nomadic camp have never been out of their small valley. This is the home of Nasha, a young girl who constantly surprises me. Her will to get an education has been incredible.
It all began in a very ordinary way. Her father was chosen by government officials at random from a list of Maasai elders as one who must send a child to help fill up the first grade class in primary school. This is routinely done at the beginning of every school year. The old man thought he was being clever, thinking that as soon as Nasha reached puberty, he would pull her out school and give her as wife to his eighty year old age mate, an arrangement that was made long before Nasha was born. He underestimated burning desire Nasha would soon acquire for schooling. From the beginning of her school years, Nasha loved sit and look at Swahili and English picture books, trying to puzzle out the writing under the pictures. When she reached fifth grade and was about thirteen years old, she came to me with tears in her eyes to say that she had been told a secret by her mother. At the end of that school year, she would be circumcised and taken to the village of her husband. Her father saw no problem with the authorities. Living so far in the bush, who would ever attempt to follow Nasha and get her back for school?
I went to the local government officals and suggested that they officially place Nasha with the family of one of the female teachers at the Primary School. They agreed to write a letter making it mandatory that she live with the teacher and her family for the rest of her time in grade school. For the next three years she lived with Teacher Neema. Our next crisis took place at the end of Standard Seven, the end of her primary education. Nasha finished her primary schooling with good grades but was not one of those chosen by the government to go on the high school. At the same time there is no law in Tanzania requiring parents to send their children to secondary school. What to do? I enrolled her in a private secondary school and paid her school fees. Nasha on her side secretly fled from her village the very night that she was to be circumcised and given to her octogenarian bridegroom. She got a lift to the mission in a police land rover and I took her to school. Both she and I thought our problems were over. She was on the fast track to an education and a profession that would enable her to return to Maasai country to help her people. Wrong, at the end of the first semester, she came to me, tearfully pregnant, saying that she had been raped by the Headmaster of the school. It was true. I went to the government people in the area of the school and had them check her story out. It turned out that the teacher had made other students pregnant also. He ran and has not been heard from since. Nasha and I talked long and hard about what to do next. Here in Tanzania, it is the woman who always is in the wrong. It is shameful for a school girl to become pregnant and she invariably leaves school in disgrace. Here, as at home in the U.S., the presumption is: “Well, if she really wanted to refuse, she could have.”
We made an unprecedented decision. Nasha would stay at the mission, be cared for by our Christian Maasai women, have the child, let it grow to be three or four months old, give the baby to her mother to take care of, and then Nasha would apply to get into another school. Only if you know the African situation, can you appreciate what a radical solution and decision this was.
Nasha had her child without difficulty, all of us in our local Christian community acting as her family of love and support. After four months, we went and brought her mother and father to the mission and talked things over. They were overjoyed at the birth of their grandchild, and hopeful that Nasha would put away her ridiculous ideas about getting an education and to help her people. Her father said that the best way for Nasha to help her people would be to become a good wife and mother. Nasha, to my joy, said “No Way”. Her mother and father happily took the baby and left for home. They less enthusiastically left Nasha with me.
My next step was to contact the sisters who run a technical school near Arusha town. She began in January and has now completed one semester at the school. I am happy and more than happy to report that Nasha was among the first in her class of 45 students in her class at the end of the semester. I cannot adequately express to you my joy at her progress. We are talking here of the survival of a people, the Maasai people. Nasha is determined to do something for the women of Maasailand.
The headmaster of the secondary school here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority has agreed to put aside three places for the coming school year in January 2005 for our Osotua Maasai Prep girls.
Till next month…