April 12, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the name of your village?
The name of our area is: Esupetai (es soo’ pet eye). This area has many villages which is quite common among the Maasai. A Maasai village is really a compound where a family lives inside a big enclosure made of cut thorn trees to keep livestock in and wild animals out. To the right of the entrance is the first wife’s house and to the left of the entrance is the second wife’s house and it zigzags from there. Each house is made of a framework of sturdy sticks interwoven with thinner more flexible ones and then covered with a mixture of mud and cow dung which hardens like clay. The roof is made the same way.

Inside the low door is a room to the left where goats and baby animals are brought in and closed off at night for protection from wild animals. Further in the house (which is very dark) are two alcoves on either side where the family sleeps. The beds are made of branches and covered with a tanned cowhide. The fire is built on the floor in between these two rooms. During the day no one is there, but at night it is the center of activity – tea is made, food is cooked, kids come home from school or watching animals. Visitors come and the news of the day is shared.

How many people live there?
Each village can have between 20 and 50 people living inside. Our area covers about 15 square kilometers. So perhaps you could say between 1500 to 2000 people if you consider folks coming for water. It is hard to know exactly because the community is still nomadic in terms of their livestock – they move from place to place in search of water and good grazing. Also, Maasai visit and stay with each for long periods of time. Visitors who need a place to sleep while walking long distances are welcome in any Maasai village anywhere.

What is the closest city to your village?
The closest town is called Narok, 25km away and it has a population of about 300,000 people. Driving takes 35 minutes. The closest city is Nairobi, which is 200km away with a population of 3.5 million. Driving takes 2.5 hours.

What part of Kenya is your village in?
Our area is in South Central Kenya in the Rift Valley.

Do many people in your village die each year from lack of water?
There are no records in our area, only word of mouth so I cannot say authoritatively how many died from lack of water. I can only say that about half of all the cattle in the area died this past year from lack of water and grass. Famine and drought occur here about every four years without fail, and this last year was bad, firstly because of little to no rainfall and secondly, because of the aftermath of the post election violence during which food sources were either non-existent or did not make their way to rural areas.

Is famine an issue in your village?
Yes, The last two years especially have been bad. The UN has doubled the amount of food aid to Kenya this year because of the severity of drought and food shortage – mostly for the arid northern part of Kenya. We see some food aid here, but there are other areas even worse off than we are here and most often it just doesn’t make its way out this far. Sonkoi and I and friends from Atlanta have given bags of dried corn to the school for children during the last two years when families in the area had no food.

What other hardships do you face?
There are many: no cash or willingness to sell cows for cash, diminishing grazing land, no jobs, no job skills, attachment to traditional lifestyle and thinking. The largest positive impact on the Maasai community will be education. Our current generation of children are the first to attend school and this is having a resoundingly positive impact on everyone.

What is the typical day of a child in your village like?
I will tell you a story of two children from one family. Both children will wake in the morning and take tea if the livestock is producing milk. If there is no milk, they get nothing.
One child will walk to school up to 14km a day both ways, amidst the possibility of meeting an elephant, a very dangerous animal here in Kenya. (Last Wednesday a girl on her way to school, was killed by an elephant in another area called Ole Pariata.)

The child who goes to school may go without food until he reaches home at 5 pm. Most likely, during tough times, he will eat wild green leaves cooked if it has rained or tea and ground corn meal mixed with water. Then he goes to bed because firelight is not enough to read or study by.
The second child will not go to school because someone must take the livestock out to graze and watch out for predators.

So the second child leaves home about 7am with the livestock and spends the day without food until he returns at 6pm in the evening where he takes what the family has to offer. When times are good and livestock is fat, there is milk for tea in the morning and evening and at night, there is maize meal with water and fat and sometimes cabbage.

What is the average age that men and women live to in your village?
A child in Kenya has a one in nine chance of reaching five years according to international statistics I read last year. Can’t quote the source, but Kenya is not ranked high on the world’s child survival rates.

In rural areas where the traditional Maasai life and medicines are fully engaged (Maasai have a huge repertoire of traditional herbal remedies) life expectancy is great, much longer than the average Kenyan. Sonkoi’s grandmother is in her 80s and walks many kilometers a day, eats well and though her eyesight is bad (cataracts) can mend clothing.

Has the water situation gotten noticeably worse in the last 5-10 years?
Yes, The water cachement areas that feed our rivers have been devastated by clear-cutting of trees and land settlement. All illegal acts go unpunished. The rivers have gotten lower and lower each year. The rains have been very irregular and unreliable. It is a noticeable change. It may be global warming and it may be the population growth that is explosive or a combination of both.

Is corruption in Kenya something that effects your village?
Without a doubt in every detail, every day. An example, maize meal that was destined for markets throughout Kenya, including ours, was sold by the Ministry of Agriculture to Sudan for a large amount of money, leaving a small remainder at a cost beyond most poor Kenyans’ affordability. This affected every family in the country, and doubly so for low to no income populations.

Will we face corruption challenges as we move forward with our project?
You will not have to deal with corruption challenges during Wellbeing’s work in Kenya. A little background info here: NGOs (non-governmental organizations) bring a lot of money into this country and use a lot for their administrative costs…even missionaries. Sometimes little of the money reaches the community and its intended purpose.

That’s why Osotua works independently. We can bring money here on our own and work directly on community projects. We are the community and look for help in ways that we think will move us forward the most. We stay out of politics as much as possible.

Most folks know and trust us locally so when we apply for a permit or hire locally, we know the process and how to manage it fairly. We do not take a commission or payment on any process and live independently and simply on our own income. We are NOT missionaries and have no outside affiliations except for our awesomely kind and generous friends who wish us well and want to share our community endeavors. Our work is purely for the notion that if one of us is poor, we are all diminished, if one of us is successful, we all have that potential and opportunity, and that challenge is a part of life – and it is a fulfilling way to live. That’s pretty much our philosophy. Because we are deeply appreciative of the care and concern of others we will safeguard and protect their contributions to see that they are used where they are intended and in the best way possible here. We have a guest house for research students and our beneficiaries are welcome to stay when they come to view their projects, and the door is always open.

Does the village leadership know what we are doing?
Yes they do. Because so many people visit Kenya and are touched by what they see, especially in the Maasai community, they often make promises of help that are never kept which disappoints the people they promise and leaves a bad taste behind. Sonkoi has told the Chairman of our rhino land owners committee that a group of friends wish to raise money for a well here. He makes no promise to them and does not mention money. Because should the project fail (which with you guys is impossible!) then the community will not be disappointed or worse, think you have raised the money and given it to us and we have put it in our pocket!!! So you see that we have to move cautiously and inform the community as Wellbeing moves along.

Do we have their blessing?
Yes. Whatever you do will be greatly appreciated and supported.

Will the village leadership help us with labor to install the well?
Yes, and so will the kids in our local school under the Head Teacher’s guidance.

Will the village leadership take ownership and help maintain the well?
Yes, it will probably happen this way: The borehole (well) will be placed inside the electric fence of the rhino enclosure for protection of the solar pump. Some water will be used for the rhino project which is a community project anyway, and a pipe will be run outside for public use. The community will decide how the pump will be maintained and how the maintenance will be paid for. The Osotua project will ensure the community’s commitment.

What do kids do for fun in your village?
Kids in our area have fun just because they are kids and kids always know how to have fun. They laugh and tease each other and they fight sometimes. There are no toys in our community and they would not last anyway – taking care of things and making them last is not a concept. But they can run and play with animals. A couple of weeks ago, I watched some kids chasing and playing with a wildebeest. They were shouting and laughing and the wildebeest was honking and racing around them playing with them, too, and having great fun. Maasai kids spend time make oringas (throwing clubs) and preparing themselves for their benchmark ceremonies. They know all the wild fruits and vegetables and spend time collecting them for snacks when they are available.

A soccer ball is a real gift. When I come back from the US, and if I have money, I bring a soccer ball to the school. That way it is for everyone’s use and the teachers can instruct and manage soccer games. Sports equipment must be tough because kids are tough. Most kids have never traveled to Narok, our nearest town and many adults have never gone further, so we take folks on small safaris when we can so they can get to know their country beyond their small enclosures.

What do adults do for fun?
Survival is the common element here so fun as we think of it does not exist. But people spend time with each other talking about basic issues, i.e., rain, cows, price of livestock, predators, how mamas are going to feed their families, where they will go to collect water and firewood, price of corn meal, how they can survive on the little money they have, and what’s the news in nearby areas, such as what ceremony is taking place and where. The Maasai transfer community news with alacrity and often without phones. A Maasai will always great another and pass on whatever news there is from where he has come from. It is an extremely fast and powerful way to communicate and is a binding element in the community.

How many children does the average family have?
These days, men over 40 years have 2 wives so that can be up to 20 children per family. Younger men are tending to take only one wife and they usually do not have more than 7 children. The more education men and women have the fewer children. Also, children can be raised by relatives or neighbors if there is a problem at their homes. We are raising two of our neighbors children because there is not enough food at their house.

When do most Maasai get married?
Typically men marry at 35 to 40 years of age, and women from 10 years to 18. A Maasai woman that is over twenty years of age is considered a spinster!

Is divorce an issue?
Divorce occurs in the Maasai community, but not often. This is how it happens: a marriage is agreed upon by the elders on both sides of the bride and groom. If later on, the couple want a divorce, those same elders are called upon again to listen to the couple’s problems, and if they cannot be worked out a divorce is agreed upon.

Are women respected in the Maasai tribe?
They are respected for the roles they play in Maasai society, but their roles are subservient to men and entail hard labor. When a man refers to his family, he talks of his “engera”, which means his children and his wife. – there is no distinction between the two. The Maasai woman is nearly invisible and has very little individual power. As women begin to congregate over issues, however, they are learning to own more of their own power and gain confidence in making decisions – it is a slow process.

What is the form of currency?
The form of currency here is the Kenya shilling. Which is about 75 shillings per dollar. It is not an international currency and cannot be traded.

How do the Maasai make money?
Maasai make money by selling their livestock. They sell for cash to buy food or they trade cows on the weekly market as a business.

What is the average annual income?
The average annual income per year for most of our neighbors is less than $1 a day IF they have an income, however there are some who have a lot of livestock and can make up to $3 a day.

Is politics present in the Maasai tribe?
Yes, politics is everywhere in Kenya and the Maasai are no exception. They discuss politics endlessly, probably because they are so underrepresented in government.

Are the Maasai well represented in the national government?
No. Out of 210 Members of Parliament, including those elected and appointed, there are only 5 Maasai.

Does the government do much for the Maasai?
No. Maasai have little or no power in government. The Maasai are part of the indigenous population of Kenya and they are a minority in terms of population. The Kenyan population is 37 million and the Maasai make up about 3 million. There are 42 tribes in Kenya and each speak a different language. Swahili and English are official languages of Kenya.

Do the Maasai pay taxes to the government?
Not in terms of income tax. However tax is paid when selling or buying livestock and buying land. A value added tax of 16% VAT, is paid upon purchasing goods and services. Taxes paid by Maasai are more like sales tax. Because Maasai have little or no income, they do not pay income tax.

What does a Maasai home look like? How big? Any modern luxuries?
For a description of a Maasai house, look at question 1. The size is about 12 x 14 ft by 5.5 ft high. You have to stoop to go into the house. There are no luxuries as we know them. A wood fire heats water and cooks the food. No fridge, no running water, no toilet. No beds as we know them, but sometimes there are small stools or even a wood chair to sit on. The floors are dirt.

Does the village have electricity?
No. We understand electricity is coming down our road, but no one in our village can pay for it so it will have no impact in our area.

Does the village have plumbing?

Does the village have transportation?
There is public transportation on the main roads in the form of matatus, which are cars or vans where everyone is stuffed in, or you can hop on the back of a truck if one comes by. You have to walk to the main road to catch these forms of transportation, except on market day (Sunday where we live) and then you can get a group together to hire a matatu to your village with your heavy weekly loads of ground maize meal, potatoes, fat and cabbage. If you have bought a goat from the market, then you will walk it home. Or for those who drive the cattle sold by buyers from Nairobi, the trek will be 200 km pushing the cows all the way to the slaughterhouse.

What is the literacy rate in your village?
The literacy rate in our area is .05%.

Are there any other questions people frequently ask about the Maasai?
There are many myths about Maasai which are spread about mainly by non-Maasai because it stirs up the imagination. For example, it is said that anyone from a man’s age-group can share his wife just by leaving his spear outside the door of the home. This is an interesting story but it is not true. In fact Maasai are very conservative in nature and even prudish when it comes to speaking about sex or gender issues.

Maasai wear of lot of red blankets and clothes – Sonkoi does not know why, but it is traditional.
Maasai sometimes have loopy earlobes, holes at the top of their ears and the two lower front teeth have been pulled out.

The Maasais are considered custodians of the wildlife wherever they live, because they live amidst them in remote areas and do not take bush meat. Their diet consists only of beef, lamb and goat meat. They do not eat fish – it is taboo, and they do not usually keep or eat chicken. One is called a derogatory name if they are seen eating any food besides their livestock. In areas where there are no Maasai, the wildlife is gone because people have killed and eaten it.

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