7 February 2017, Day 20, near Amboseli National Park
We spend the entire morning in a Maasai village. This an extraordinary amount of time to take these people from the tasks of daily life, but they seem happy to entertain us. The chief and his people have made a conscious decision to give up the nomadic life, and have invested a great deal in their primary school.
Chief Joseph is 46 years old, and has been chief for 18 years. His father was chief, and Joseph, although a middle child, was chosen as his successor by a council of elders because of his leadership qualities. Joseph introduces us to his brothers (some by another mother as his father had 3 wives), chiefly Steven and John. Joseph is training some of his brothers to be future leaders. Steven is only 24, and not yet married. He carries a pointing stick, as does Joseph. Using this stick, the leader of a group points to the one who is next to talk. (It is impolite to point with the index finger in this society.)
Joseph takes us on a tour, showing us the buildings, the fences, and the bomas where the animals are kept safe at night, talking with us about his villages. He is chief for some 600 people; only 50 live in this, his home village. The young men demonstrate for us how they make fire in the bush, using a stick of hard wood to drill on softer wood. After a time the soft wood begins to smolder and smoke, and using dry grasses and blowing carefully, they kindle a flame.
Now the herds head out – cattle in one direction and goats in another. Joseph takes us to the thriving Amboseli Primary School. When he assumed the chieftanship, the school had 5 students, all boys, and 1 teacher. Today there are 430+ students, slightly more than 200 of them girls. There are several school buildings, as well as housing for teachers and dormitories for girl students.
We meet Ann, the headmistress. She tells us that the school has 10 levels – nursery, preschool, and grades 1 through 8. Grand Circle Foundation has been supporting the school since 2009, starting small with textbooks, exercise books, and pencils, and progressing to dormitories, new latrines, and starting this year, a secondary school. There are 12 teachers, 4 provided by the Kenyan government and 8 paid by the parents of the students. Wow!
Lower grades are 1 teacher to 1 classroom; classes are large. Beginning in grade 5, the students change classrooms to study with math teachers, science teachers, English and Swahili teachers, as welll as teachers for Social Studies and Religious Studies.
All children come to school early, at 7. They have time in their classrooms to study and finish homework. Claases start sometime after 8 and finish at 3:10. The children stay at school until 4:30, working on homework, doing projects, or just playing.
We visit an 8th grade math class. First the students file outside, and we take seats while Ann talks. Then the students are invited back in. They crowd 3 or more to a bench, and sing for us. We are lined up at the front of the room, enjoying their enthusiasm. We are asked to reciprocate, and after some fumbling, Patty suggests we play Simon Says. We can’t do a full version as they don’t have room to move about, but we manage to play enough that they understand the game.
Then we are invited to talk to the students. I select a group of 4 in the front row, 3 girls and 1 boy. Their English is quite good, so we cover a number of topics. They ask questions and I ask questions of them. I talk about working with computers, a subject for which they have no context, although they will learn to use computers in secondary school. The biggest hit is when I show them pictures on the display screen of my camera. They recognize people from the village and giggle and point.
Soon our time is over. I wish, like others, that I had brought my cell phone or even my computer to class. There is so much to share. We stroll back to the village. Now it is time for the adults to confer.
The men stand with the men in the shade. The women sit at some distance in the shade of another tree. We learn that all but one of the women who have come to talk to us (there are more than a dozen) were circumcised, and they are determined not to let this happen to their daughters. A few have several children, as many as 8, but most have only 2 or 3 or 4.
They are interested to learn what we do to keep our families small; none of the travelers have more than 2 children. We discuss the pill, diaphragms, condoms, sponges, implants, and IUDs. We even talk about vasectomy. The IUD seems to hold their attention. One woman scratches the letters on her leg with a twig.
Exchanges over, we visit their market, where the women are selling their beadwork and carvings done by the men. Bob buys an ebony pointing stick and I buy necklaces. Finally the men and women gather to wish us goodbye. They dance, the men making great leaps. The women come fetch us to join their dance – their jumps are much smaller, thank goodness. Finally, they squat (and those of us who can also squat) as they recite a blessing for us. We make the responses with them.
What an amazing transformation in just 18 years. Chief Joseph is definitely an inspirational figure. There is still much to do, he says.
We climb into our vehicles and, rather silently, travel the short distance to Sentrim Amboseli and lunch.