Saturday, March 8, 2008

Maasai Village

Kumbe! (Wow!) This was something. I think I said something on the way home to the effect of: I am so glad the Maasai know Jesus and are adding to their numbers all the time. However, I am also glad God hasn’t called me to live among the Maasai.

This area of Tanzania has many Maasai villages. The long-term missionary here, Herb Hafermann visits 4 villages per week. He oversees about 100 little churches that don’t have their own pastor. Whatever day of the week he arrives they have ‘church’. In Lutheran tradition, Pastor Herb arrives in his clerical collar, takes down the names of those wanting to be baptized, of course he visits with folks at well. Once the people have gathered and are ready Pastor Herb dons his white robe and stole. He and whatever pastors or evangelists have come with him or have arrived on bicycle process in and they do a whole service with baptism, communion, hymns and all. Now mind you it still has a very rural African flavor to it. For example, the choir is about a dozen 9-13-year-old girls. Most of their songs are not in the hymn book. They do traditional call and response songs using an upside down bucket for a drum. The sound of this group is distinctly Maasai, sort of high nasal short notes, sung in KiMaasai, not Kiswahili like the hymns and the rest of the service are. From start to finish the whole service takes about two hours. It finishes with the offering, which is a going forward to give what you have. If most give money, but if other items are given there is a quick auction held and it items sold to the highest bidder with the money then going to the offering. Pastor Herb usually buys whatever isn’t going to someone else and then gives it away again.

In this location there seemed to be plenty of green and quite a number of trees. Here the Maasai are no longer nomadic, but have settled under a government program that promises land rights. So they have built a large (in village terms) cement block church building there with big “windows” that allow for good ventilation. I remained comfortably out of the sun pretty much the entire day.

If you ask me what was the most difficult thing of the day I can tell you without hesitation – the flies. I guess I hadn’t thought about it ahead, but I suppose any people group that herds cattle, uses cattle dung for wall plaster and has a steady diet of milk and blood is going to have a lot of flies hanging around. After a while I began to feel dirty just from all the flies.

If you ask about the highlight of the day I am hard pressed to come up with one. I think African children must be the cutest thing on the world. When we first got there we had three little boys following us around. One was probably 10 or 12, but the other two were about 5 or 7. One of the smaller ones was very curious and shy at the same time. He stayed close to us in a wonder of the wazungu (actually 2 white people and a catholic nun from the Philippines. But I could get him to smile and turn away with his hand over his face just by raising my eyebrows or smiling at him. He was really fascinated by the camera, but shy of it too. Eventually I got a good short of him. With just these few boys around at the beginning it was very pleasant playing with them.

This village had a lot of women. Herb told me probably 50% of the women are widowed. You have to figure there are probably 2-3 wives per man anyway. I think only one adult man from the village come to the service. Whenever you have women though, you have babies on their backs. One woman came to greet us shortly after we arrive there and she had a very tiny baby on her back. She told us the child was born in January. I don’t think she could have told us what day, but I figured he was about 6 to 8 weeks old. As we were walking with her to see her house, we met some other ladies with small children in tow. When this mama took her baby off her back I gestured to hold him. She let me. The little one was so precious. The mama handed him off to another woman who immediate started breast feeding him. That confused me. But I guess these ladies just share everything. That’s a kind of community we in the west know nothing about.

Another highlight for me was entering a Maasai home. Alana, the college student who had gone with Pastor Herb many times in her two months out here said she has never been invited into a home before. Inside we tasted their favorite drink, smoky milk, poured from a decorated gourd. Later I noticed some ladies brought these gourds with them to give the children a drink during the service. That would be the equivalent of Cheerios and a sippy cup. The ladies would have poured each of us a full tin mug of their milk but we each felt a sip was enough. I would have liked to try to get a little deeper into the home than the front entry, but I didn’t want to seem rude. These co-wives were nice enough to invite us in.

One final highlight came at the end of the day as we were getting ready to go. All the children can’t help feeling your hair or skin that has hairs on it. I think it feels the same as theirs, but they still get a kick out of it. In the service I noticed only the older women (grandmas) wore the traditional Maasai beaded earrings and necklaces. My guess is they got a little dressed up for church. The other ladies probably have these things but were busy with their children so came as there were. Some ladies had legs or arms wrapped with brass, copper or tin bands. This seemed like it was not removable ‘jewelry’. So when I notice one little girl with earrings on I stopped her to admire them. Then I thought to take one of mine out for her to look at. Although hers were fairly plain for Maasai standards, mine were much more plain, ones I made myself some weeks before I left home. Before I knew it I was taking the other one off and offering to trade for hers. The girl’s mother (or one of the mothers) was there thinking it a great idea. But I hadn’t realized that her earrings were secured on with a couple of beads at the back and the wire turned up. The mama assisting had to undo the wires with her teeth. The girls fussed a bit and I kept saying in Swahili, “It’s okay, I don’t need them.” But the mama persisted, and soon I had a pair of simple Maasai earrings to sport home.

I was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. I hope to post photos tomorrow.


Grace Lee said...

hi Jan,
I just caught up on your blog. very interesting and descriptive writing.It's great your designing and creating with African fabric.
I am not home yet, in a care center in Sequim.

Ellen said...

I could still hear the Maasai singing with a drum like it was yesterday... yes, and the flies! and the lovely children putting their head forward for me to touch. I'm glad you had a good, memorable visit.