Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who Said White Men Can't Jump

Old Woman From Ahero With Walking Stick

Old Man In Ahero

Religious Woman in Ahero

Good Advertising

More Good Advertising

Religious Elder in Ahero

Traditional Way of Churning Butter

Young Girl On Mboko Island, Lake Victoria

An African Sunset

Approaching Storm OnThe Mara

Maasai Girl and Baby

Young Maasai Boy

Ben, A Maasai Warrior With The Spear He Killed A lLon With

Blog 6, Kenya and Uganda

Blog 6
Kenya and Uganda
August 18, 2009

Jambo - Gybale Everyone! (just showing off our linguistic skills – Swahili and Luganda)

This blog will be a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and some of the photos are as well as you have seen. There are several photos of older people. We took these at a Medical Camp that we volunteered at. A medical camp is where volunteer doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others provide nearly free medical diagnoses and free drugs to people in a particular village, however no one is turned away. Sometimes as many as 550 people attend. Our NGO provided Family Planning workshops there, and we helped out here and there. Hinda gave out sweet rolls to the kids.

There are lots of stereotypes around about many things, including those that maybe even some of you have about Africa, e.g. “The Dark Continent”, etc., and we try to dispel these notions when we see and hear them. Part of our responsibility is to try and present factual information which we always try to do.

However, there are also lots of stereotypes about the USA also that we have seen and heard here in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa and around the world, and we want to share a few of these with you. You may find a few of them amusing, and like many stereotypes, there may be a grain of truth to some of them. We think that some of what follows must come from TV or the movies, or who knows where. As we heard them from different people, it gave us the opportunity to provide a more accurate description of our country and then also talk about African culture and how things are done or not done, so a learning experience for all.

• “A Mercedes Benz car is a poor man’s car”
• “Many people in the USA want to go to jail because there is good food and accommodations, and you can earn a good salary” - African jails are notoriously bad, and perhaps an African who was unfortunate to go to an American jail reported on the conditions there as compared to an African jail.
• “The government gives everyone in America money” - This gave us the chance to talk about poverty, hunger, homelessness, the 47,000,000 in our country who lack health care, etc.
• “In America, the people only wear clothes one time and then throw them away” – As you may know, many of the clothes that people wear here are used from the USA and from Europe, so we were able to talk about merchandising, “throw away society”, fashions from year to year and more, and also explain that with the faltering economy there may in fact be less clothes coming here and elsewhere – even many Americans are keeping clothes longer and even shopping in thrift stores themselves.
• “Everyone wants to go to America because it is an easy life there” – The reality we said is not so easy, especially for new immigrants, and the kinds of jobs available – service jobs, or domestic help does not make life easy. On the other hand, there is opportunity in the USA. President Obama is of course a great example.
So, over the past couple of months we have had a lot of interesting discussions with a variety of people. We know that we have learned a lot, and we think that those that we talk to have also.

One of the things we have heard over and over is that many people here live on less than $1 a day, and this is not a stereotype, but unfortunately true. Perhaps more true in some African countries, or in parts of countries, but certainly true here in those communities of Kisumu that we work in with our organization. And that is precisely why we are here to work with our NGO to raise that less than $1/day to something considerably more, and make life better for as many as possible. And you know what: they are doing it pole pole – slowly slowly, with training, education, microfinance programs and more, and it is our good fortune to be able to help them a bit. We are doing a lot of empowerment work and capacity building, and they are doing a lot of the same, especially with teenage girls and women.

A couple of interesting expressions that we hear here:
• When a “mzungu” (white) encouraged a domestic worker to leave her job and work for him, she was “snatched”
• When we asked the woman who runs our compound to have one of the workers help us with something, she told us she would “detain” him
• In English, there are a lot of letters in a word that are silent, while in some of the local languages, all of the letters are pronounced, so for example: “clothes” is pronounced “cloth es”, and Wednesday is pronounced “Wed nes day”

One of the best places to eat here in Kisumu is the Mamba Hotel where they serve the best “Kuku Choma” (Grilled Chicken), so whenever you want kuku, you know where to come.

We spent the last weekend in Kampala, Uganda where we have volunteered twice and have very close friends and African “family”. We went to attend the wedding of one of our friends.

We went on the Akamba Royal bus – a 6 ½ - 7 hour bus ride. Well there is nothing “royal” at all about that bus. The air conditioning didn’t work, and the seats were broken, so we had to sit in nearly a reclining position, which didn’t make the woman behind us with a sick infant very comfortable, and the seat in front of us, also broken, so neither were we comfortable. And then about 15 or 20 miles about of Kampala, the bumper to bumper “jam” began. So we arrived late, but we also started late.

Another stereotype is “African Time”. Well, we know it is only a stereotype, since many things are on schedule, but there are also lots of things that start late, or even not at all. Sometimes it can be frustrating, but “se la vie”. In fact the wedding was late, and everyone got there late, so in fact it started on time.

This wedding was a Catholic wedding in the largest Catholic cathedral in Kampala. Rita – our friend, was the 6th wedding of the day there , and we think there was going to be another one following. Our happy bride was dressed in a white gown and like all brides looked beautiful. We were proud to have been able to be with Rita on this important day.

It hadn’t rained in Kampala for a month, so of course it rained the whole time we were in the church – a couple of hours. The ceremony – mass was pretty traditional Catholic, but there was a lot of very nice African music. As the 4 previous just married couples filed out before our wedding started, they were given a send off by their guests with a lot of ululating – in Swahili, it called sagalagala, and in Luganda it is akayuyuu. We love it!

So we went to the reception which was held in a garden outside. Everything was soaked including the table cloths so everyone got a little wet, especially when it started to drizzle some more, but not for too long.

We were very honored to be recognized as “honored guests”, and we were asked to address the bride and groom which we did. We taught the audience to say in Hebrew “Mazal Tov” (Congratulations) and we led the 600 guests in the traditional Hebrew toast “L’chaim” (To life).

When we arrived in Kampala two nights before the wedding we went to a “kasiki” kind of a party for the bride to be and her friends and we were welcomed so exuberantly by our friends and “family” that we nearly fell over a couple of times. We love them all dearly.

One more funny word we learned at the wedding. A “flukie” is someone who crashes the party to get free food. But we were told that an anti flukie machine was installed. Flukie is Ugandan and not Kenyan and comes from the word fluke – not intended, so it makes sense, just sounds funny to us.

Local travel here in Kisumu is by tuk tuk, boda boda, and matatu. A tuk tuk is a springless 3 wheeled cart that sound like tuktuktuk;, a boda boda is a bicycle taxi where the passenger sits on the back; and a matatu is a 12 passenger van that never has less than 20 – 25 stuffed inside. If you don’t have back problems now, you will after riding a tuk tuk on Kisumu’s rough dirt roads – guaranteed.

This is getting far too long, so we will end here by telling you that are work is going so well and we and our NGO are extremely pleased. It really couldn’t be better. It is a great place to work with very friendly and talented people. And friendly is a good adjective for most Kenyans and Ugandans.

And finally, each day we have lunch that is prepared and served by the girls in one of our training programs. We usually pay between 50 and 60 Kenyan Shillings about 65 - 75 cents. Today we had “green grams and chapatti and fresh passion juice. Green grams are lentils.

OK dear friends and family, so long for now.


Mzee Peter and Mama Hinda

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Male Impala

Head Shot

Just Resting

Male Ostrich

Tall Savannah Grass and Zebra

Mother and Daughter

Giraffe Family

My What Big Teeth You Have

King of the Beasts

A Roller Bird

Wildebeests and Zebras

Sunbathing Hippos

Waiting for Dinner

An Elephant Family

Sunset on the Maasai Mara


Cape Buffalo

Bird of Prey

Mother Cheetah

Jumping Maasai Warriors

Maasai Women Dancing and Singing


Maasai Warrior with Sheep Wool Braids

Maasai Woman

Maasai Girl

Young Maasai Wife

Maasai Woman

Maasai Man with Henna

Maasai Elder

Kenya Blog 5

Blog 5,
Maasai Mara, Kenya
August 7, 2009


We hope that this finds you well. We are both fine and happy, though we do miss you, our family and friends.

This is going to be about our recent trip to the Maasai Mara and our experiences there.

The Maasai are a tribal group living in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Mara is a large national park here in Kenya. It is about 500 square kilometers. On the Tanzanian side, the park is called the Serengeti, and is perhaps 5 times as large. We came to visit Kenya this time of the year so we could witness the great Wildebeest migration from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara. The Wildebeest usually follow the rains and the green grass for grazing, but this year East Africa is experiencing a very serious drought, so the migrating herds are a bit confused. They seem to come and go back and forth across the border, always looking for the green grass.

There are hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions, and you see them in very, very long lines for miles and miles and hours and hours just plodding along. Interestingly, the Zebras migrate along with the Wildebeest, so you always see them together. Somehow most of the grazing animals get along with each other quite well, and it is only the predators that upset the balance a bit when they are hungry.

In Africa, the “big 5” are the Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Cape Buffalo, and Leopard. We saw all save the leopard, but for 2 nights outside our tent, one was heard quite distinctly and close. We are going to another national park at the end of August – Lake Nakuru – and there will be leopards there as well, and we hope to see one. They are very elusive.

The Maasai Mara is extremely beautiful – most of it is savannah. While there are lots of animals, there are also a lot of tourists, especially now to see the great migration. In other countries where we have gone on safari, there were very few tourists, but also fewer animals, so you have to make your choices. We were very satisfied with the Mara.

The Rhinos that you see in the photo above are quite rare: they are black rhinos as opposed to the white rhino. The difference is not color, but the size of the mouth. The white has a wide mouth and the black a narrow one. The croc is in the Mara River waiting for a herd of Wildebeest to cross. Many of them crossed on the Sand River, which is now dry, and why it is called the Sand, and there are no Crocodiles there.

Unlike nearly all of the people who visit the Maasai Mara who stay in pretty luxurious and expensive lodges and luxury tented camps, we stayed in a Maasai community run small tented camp. It was moderately priced, and quite nice. The benefit was that the half dozen or so young Maasai warriors who worked there made us part of them and we got to know them and they us, very well. And we learned much, some of which we will tell you about.

By the way, the Maasai came to the Mara because they were displaced by the colonial British who wanted there land. Kind of like the Native Americans and the US government, the Australian Aborigines, and the New Zealand Maoris.

The Maasai is a pretty closed community of people. There is very little, hardly any intermarriage. For the most part they are polygamous, with men taking as many wives as they can afford in terms of paying a dowry. As you may know, the Maasai life revolves around cattle, and like their close relatives – the Karamajong in Uganda near the Sudanese border, they believe that all cattle belong to them. Most of their diet is cow milk and blood, and occasionally meat. They also have goats and sheep, but the meat they eat is beef, and it is not often, perhaps monthly. They do not grow any crops.

The dowry price for a wife may be 10 cows and 10 goats and 10 sheep, and perhaps some shukas – the capes or blankets that the Maasai warriors wear.

Maasai men don’t get circumcised until they kill a lion, (not really allowed in the park anymore), or at least a Cape Buffalo. Then they go off into the bush for a couple of months before they return to the village. Of the 5 men in our camp, 2 had killed lions, and 2 more were still hoping to. Only one did not want to.

About 99% of girls according to the Maasai we spoke with undergo FGM – Female Genital Mutilation, often when they are only 9 or 10. The founder of “Oldarpoi” the camp we stayed in, is developing a shelter for 30 girls who want to escape FGM. . He has asked permission of the chief’s to have the girls stay in the shelter, and the chief’s have agreed. They will try to work it out with the girl’s families.

His village was only a couple of kilometers from our camp, and we went there to visit his mother, sister, blind grandmother, and other members of his family. Maasai villages are interesting. The dwellings are surrounded by a wall where the cattle are enclosed each night to protect them from predators like lion, cheetah, and leopard. The smaller animals are kept inside the dwelling in a closed off area. These living places are made of sticks and covered with fresh cow dung, and when it dries, it is like adobe mud or brick. They are built by the woman of the family. Inside it is very dark – only tiny windows so the predators cannot come in – and very hot since there is no ventilation and the fires burn inside for cooking at least 3 times a day.

In one of the villages we visited where a number of our Maasai warrior friends lived who worked at our camp, live about 80 people from only 3 families, and there is no intermarriage, so wives come from different villages, some as far as 40 or 50 kilometers away.

This shelter is very much needed. If you want to help, go to www.iseemaasai.org and you will learn how. We made our own small contribution – about $40 – enough to purchase a truckload of Mara stone to help build the shelter. Anything helps.

This non profit has the following explanation of FGM and what they want to do about it on their web site: Maasai girls who reject the ceremonial practice are disowned by their families and rejected by their community for failing to meet the expectations and tradition of their people. For most of the 9-12 year old Massai girls who do undergo the circumcision, a lifetime of immense physical and psychological agony results. After the girls are horrifically stripped bare of their external sexual organs, one in five die. For the survivors both physical intimacy and childbirth become painful experiences that recall the nightmare of their mutilation. Besides building a village to take in the young Maasai refugees, ISMDI is out to educate the Massai people of the brutal consequences of female genital mutilation while creating alternative rites of passage ceremonies for the culture to embrace.

Most of the Maasai in the Maasai villages are uneducated because they cannot afford to go to school. There are school fees to pay, and uniforms to buy. If someone does get the opportunity to attend school, it is usually a male child. The girl child is married off, and builds the houses, takes care of the children, does the cooking and the laundry, while the husband tends the cattle and gathers food for his family or families. There are lots of little children, and family planning is unheard of and until things begin to change, would not be acceptable. Hopefully, education and people like the man who started the shelter and Oldarpoi are going to change things, but poli poli (slowly slowly), but it will come. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of death, pain, illness, and grief before that happens.

By the way, Oldarpoi which means “sausage tree” – there are a lot of them in the Mara, was given by the community to raise money from fees to build the shelter and improve the community. 40% of what we paid went back to the community for these purposes, and we would rather have our money go there than into some rich person’s pocket.

The good news is that as time goes on some of the Maasai are getting educated and they have different attitudes toward a number of things. In talking with two of the Maasai men who worked at our camp, when I asked about FGM they said it is their culture, their wives are circumcised but each has a daughter and they will not allow them to be circumcised. Their practice now is to only eat meat, no vegetables or fruit, chicken, eggs, etc. But since they have been to school, they told me they go to a market and buy those things for their children. One man even has 8 chickens and even though people in his village make fun of him, his child is not anemic or malnourished.

The Maasai warrior practice of jumping is so the highest jumper chooses the most beautiful girl for a wife. And the young Maasai warrior to be who is the first to thrust his spear into the lion gets the mane and others get the tail, claws, etc. About 20 young men go out to kill a lion armed only with spears. When you see one of these lions from only a few feet or meters away, they are pretty intimidating. The rules in the Park are that no animals may be killed so the practice of killing a Lion is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

In one of the huts we visited, we sat in the kitchen which was about 6 or 7 feet square and all of a sudden, there were no less than 10 people there. We were offered wine made from the fermented and dried “sausages” from the sausage tree, and African tea. The wine was good, but since Peter didn’t know how potent it was, he only drank a half a cup. The left over jug was brought to the camp that night and it looked like most of the men were feeling pretty good after a short time.

That night we also had a dinner in the bush with “mbuzzi chama” – roasted goat over an open fire. Very good! Just as some of the warriors started heading back to the camp in the dark, they came running back. They ran into a Cape Buffalo and dropped the chairs they were carrying. Most of us piled into the van, and the rest ran along side. One warrior threw his spear, but missed. Cape Buffalo are exceptionally dangerous, especially the bachelor males, and is considered the most dangerous animal in Africa. No one was hurt and all’s well that ends well.

Finally, our cook was a Maasai warrior named Willy who learned how to cook in a luxury Japanese lodge in the Mara. He can even make sushi, but we didn’t get any, but his Spanish omelets and pancakes were good and so were his dinners.

Just before we end, we have to tell you that our work is really going well. We just did a dynamite report writing workshop, Hinda has taught a one of the employees how to use a computer and she is delighted. She is doing lots of organizational work, and hopefully making a difference. Peter’s fundraising mentoring of our NGO’s staff is also going very well.

So, goodbye for now. More in a couple of weeks. Next week we are going to Kampala to attend a wedding and we’ll tell you all about it.


Mzee and Mama

(Peter is now a Maasai elder with his own shuka, elder club, and sword.)