Rosslyn Academy has a program called “Cultural Field Studies”- CFS for short- in which kids and teachers travel for four days to sites all over Kenya to learn more about the land, culture, people, and, ultimately, about themselves. Some cultures have (or have had in centuries past) coming-of-age ceremonies which might include such a trip into the wilderness, indeed, sometimes to wound a young man (or woman) in their most vulnerable places. Ultimately, this causes young people to understand themselves in a way they had not previously. (Really, American culture could use such a thing. Vote at 18, drink at 21, join the military at 17, smoke at 16, but can’t buy cigarettes until 18. When are American young people adults? I theorize that this may be part of why we have young folks who need to “find themselves” for a stretch of time…) All I’m trying to get at here is that CFS can be a stretching time for both students and teachers. Some of our readers may remember stories I’ve (this is John) told in the past about my CFS experience at Olepolos back in 2001 or 2002. You know, sleeping in a room the size of my upper body, eating so much ugali I decided I would avoid it forever, attempting to communicate with folks with which I had, literally, no common words. Well, this year I traveled even farther (and further, I suppose), as I and another teacher rode all the way to Olepeshet, which is a half hour drive past Narosura in Masai country (the drive was about five hours total).
We arrived on Friday afternoon, and set to work setting up tents, and, um, digging latrines. The girls had a tent-like contraption covering their short drop, and the guys had a big roll of plastic sheeting. The “showers” were two circular areas enclosed by heavy leaves and a curtain on the “door.” The water (from the river) was heated each evening over a fire, and we would take a basin of water into the enclosure. (I learned not to dump the remainder of the water on my head after digging all the pebbles, sticks, and other bracken out of my hair one evening. Duh.)
So we drove all this way to spend some time storytelling with the Masai people, and… believe it or not, deworming their animals. Really, though, what we were there for was the people. This CFS included quite a bit of time to just hang out with the local Masai folks. It’s hard to overstate what this meant to both me and the students. Lesa Brown, the other teacher on the trip, said that we would all know everyone’s name by the end, but when we got there, I looked around and thought, “Everyone? There’s no way.” But she was right- I absolutely knew everyone’s name by the time we piled in the vans Tuesday morning to head back to Nairobi. It was a fascinating time of deliberate cross-cultural interaction.
Here are a few of my observations that I wrote in my journal over the four days:
- Flies everywhere. Kids walk around with no shoes and flies all over their faces. There are two on my writing hand right now!
- We have to walk to certain spot to get cellphone service. Nope- didn’t work there, either. Jeremiah and I had to walk across a valley and up a hill, and then hold our phones over our heads at arm’s length to get a signal. The school was glad to hear everyone was ok, though. (I’m not checking my phone every three minutes! It’s freeing!)
- During church, the Masai moms just laid their kids down on the hard concrete floor to sleep. No nursery here!
- The flies were a constant battle during the church service. When everyone was still, they would settle a bit, but as soon as the guy next to me shooed his flies, they came over to bother me. When anyone walked by, a cloud would rise, only to settle to earth again.
- When I went to find cell service with Jeremiah, his daughter came out of his house to say hello. Jeremiah said, “She wants to greet you.” The little wisp of a thing walked up to me and leaned forward, so I could rest my hand on her head for a second. That’s how older folks greet children- seems like something we should adopt in western culture.
- I watched a Masai women deal with her fidgety daughter during church quietly, carefully, lovingly; just like Glenda.
- Hmm. You really DO become less sensitive to flies over time.
- Holy cow! (Heh) I just dewormed a bunch of cows, goats, and sheep! If only my dad could see me now! (I’m covered with dust, animal mucus, deworming medicine, and Lord only knows what else. And it felt GREAT.)
- The stars out here are amazing. No electricity=bright, bright stars.
- During the Sunday service, the Masai youth, interestingly enough, looked pretty disinterested in performing a dance for the congregation- just like the teenagers at our school!
- The Masai men were very open about worship in church. There was lots of milling about, and several times, men turned to face the wall and pray. I’m not used to such overt worship… maybe I can learn something here…
- No down time here. I tried to sneak into my tent for a little rest, but two Masai boys stood outside the tent and just stared at me. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble concentrating (or sleeping) in that kind of situation. I came back out of the tent.
- The last night, we had a “gift-giving” time. Each Masai man gave a gift to a student, and each student gave a gift to one of the men. Then, after the “officially-sanctioned” gifts, some of the men gave more gifts. I was inundated with gifts- Francis gave me a rungu, then I got a second one, and two walking sticks, and a necklace of Masai beads. I am humbled….
- It really is a wonder how close we all became in such a short time. I’m trying to figure out how I can get my not-interested-in-camping family to visit this place.
- The title of this piece? It means “My name is tall person.” The name “Oloodo” was given to me by the community.
- We stopped by Kim’s Dishes in Narok on our way home- I hadn’t been there since about 2001. It sure hasn’t changed much…. and I don’t think the bathrooms have been cleaned in a decade.