Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boma or bust

The last time I went to the boma was exactly 1 year ago, 3 days before I found out I was pregnant. I haven't been able to go during pregnancy because I knew the drive would be too uncomfortable. It's a long journey, about 6.5 hours, with 2 hours on really bumpy roads and 30 minutes on 'paths' through the bush, but we made it without any major problems. Our caravan of 2 trucks and 6 people arrived at Hendeni, the town near Ibra's home, well into dark and we settled in for the night. After breakfast Mercedes, John, Jen, Ibra Naanyuni and I headed off to the maasai market for some shopping and a chance to dress my friend, John into his outfit for weekend.

I had the spontaneous idea that Naanyuni needed a cow, so I asked Babu ("grandfather"/Ibra's dad) to pick one out for her and gave him some money. For those interested, a young calf costs 150,000 Tsh, about 140 CAD. Babu selected an all-white calf and told Ibra he chose the most beautiful cow for a beautiful baby. I named it Chicken-Rad in honour of Bjorn and Susan. We paid someone to walk it to the village, a hike of about 3 hours.

We then ate a large leg of roasted beef. One of the men began carefully cutting off pieces and placing them in a communal bowl. I have never tasted such fresh and amazing meat! It's incredible how clean-tasting meat can be when it's not from a 'farm' but is free-grazing in the countryside. When we arrived at the boma, all the children came running. They know the car by now. Then the customary greetings began. Ibra is a type of elder so the children all walk up to him and he touches their heads, like a blessing of sorts. I have some more language skills than I did when I came a year ago, so I was much more comfortable conversing with the people as they approached. My Maasai name is Entapukai Nanana (delicate flower) a name bestowed on me by Ibra because of my sensitive skin (I'm sunburned a lot) and dislike for general rough-housing (I don't particularly enjoy wrestling with a huge maasai). His family took a liking to the name and use it jokingly when they greet me. After greetings we are invited to sit and drink tea. Babu then took the opportunity to hold his granddaughter for the first time. Men don't hold babies generally and it was so nice to see that exceptions were being made in this way. Uncle Karokia, still a warrior, also enjoyed holding her.

Our visit was a few hours, during which time Naanyuni had a chance to meet all her relatives. I was escorted into Ibra's hut for nursing (public breast-feeding is NOT allowed, even with a cover. I discovered this when I began to feed under a cover and was quickly ushered into a hut) and bathing the baby before dressing her in a new outfit she had been given and some traditional jewelry that was made for her by the other ladies. Naanyuni didn't care much for the cold bath.

The following day we returned in the morning and again drank tea. There was a brief session of singing followed by a presentation of cattle to Naanyuni. We approached the herd of calves and were shown that Chicken-Rad had arrived. Then, Babu pointed out another all-white calf from him and Ibra's mom, and first wife (Momma Zachariah) pointed out an additional white calf from her own herd. So, Naanyuni is the proud owner of 3 white cows and the offspring they produce. We all had a laugh about the cows matching my my very pale skin colour.
Then church began. This consists of people gathering in a circle and singing call-and-response songs of worship while dancing, swaying and, of course, jumping. There are times when only women go into the circle, only men and then all combinations of different kinds (according to the song's lyrics). It's amazing to hear the harmonies and voices blending together so effortlessly. One of the highlights was watching all the women sing and dance while hearing a distant low chant coming up the road and seeing that it was the warriors coming in a group to enter the 'service'.

We returned home again that day, rushing out because someone needed to be taken to the hospital. Ibra's sister developed an ear infection and was in mild discomfort the first day we arrived. By that second day she was basically immobile. We rushed her and her toddler, also suffering from an infection, to the nearby town and Ibra went with them to the hospital. They are both fine after receiving antibiotic injections. Infections move fast in this climate and, unfortunately, many people in remote places wait too long before taking the long hike into town to get help. It was a good thing we were there with a car when this happened.

Though our exit was swift, we were able to say some goodbyes to our friends and family. The women had made us each a beadwork cross with dangles (all maasai jewelry has silver dangly bits) and presented us with them. What a remarkable time. I'm looking forward to the paving of the roads, which is currently in process. Once the roads to Hendeni are paved (construction that is under way by the Chinese government for some unknown benefit they will receive...), Naanyuni and I will make that trip more often. It will shave about 1 hour off the worst part of the drive and make it so much more accessible for us.

I had intended to add photos to this blog but can't seem to get them to load. There are two albums on facebook to look at.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Top Tens

Don't forget to check my 'top tens' page. I'm posting miscellaneous things there as well.

Another week at the office

Well, the first week back to work was normal. And normal here has many different settings. I think I'll call it normal-crazy (which is closer to real normal than crazy, but more eventful than crazy-normal). Normal crazy looks like this...
Day 1: I arrived at work and was called home because the baby wouldn't stop crying. After 20 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic, I arrived home to discover she was sleeping. I hung out for a bit, fed her when she woke up and headed back to work. Learned about a crazy literature analysis essay with very few guidelines that my EAL students are supposed to write,

Day 2: Ran out of luku in the middle of the night (luku is prepaid electricity) around 2:30. Everything shut off. Had to send Ibra out to buy some or the nanny wouldn't be able to heat bottles to feed the baby. Took him an hour and a half to find a 24-hour luku station (almost nothing is 24-hours here). Returned around 4:15. Baby woke up. I fed her then started getting ready for work. So much for sleep. Head to work and pump, pump, pump.

Day 3: Off to work and pump, pump, pump. Tried and tried to help kids organize their essays. I think we all left more confused than when we started. Staff meeting mayhem after school where frustrated teachers get a platform to complain about the systems. Problems-many. Solutions-aaaaannnnd we're out of time.

Day 4: Off to school and traffic cop won't let me turn onto Toure Drive. All the right turners get frustrated and decide to go straight to the next street. I get cut off by a bus full of kids who overtake me on the right turn and force me into oncoming traffic. Their first lesson of the day was how to kill the teacher in the 4X4. Another day of pump, teach, pump, teach and pump. Starting to feel like a talking cow ("I.....can.....talk...")

Day 5: Two sick colleagues means cover classes. It's hard to teach three periods, have a staff meeting AND pump, pump, pump. Managed it somehow AND, by some miracle, had a wonderfully inspiring lesson whereby the mental fog cleared and the EAL students managed to successfully write their opening paragraphs for their lit. essays. Phew!
Then to a birthday party and staff party before heading home for the evening.

So that's a basic 'day-in-the-life'.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Bibis

Bibi means 'grandmother' in Swahili. Ibra has 5 moms (one biological and 4 other wives of his father). Two of these bibis came to visit us last week. The introduction to their granddaughter went well and though Naanyuni was a little hesitant at first, she warmed up to her relatives quickly.

It's so easy to forget where you are when you live in a major city. I love the realizations that storm in when I am forced to deal with the fact that my 'family' ties here are totally other-worldly. The bibis had never before left the village, where livestock roam freely throughout their living spaces (small huts made of mud and sticks) and electricity and running water are unheard of novelties. Watching their reactions to the inventions of the past century was entertaining and they thoroughly enjoyed exploring things like the TV, computer, airplanes and the toilet. They first thought the actors on TV were speaking directly to them and asked Ibra why they were there and what they wanted. He laughed and explained the concept. I wish I had been able to speak Maa and could have listened in on all the conversations. Unfortunately, we communicated very little during the week, but smiles go a long way and there's always that phrase that bibis love to hear "Would you like some more tea?". I know that one in Swahili.

By the end of the week, the bibis seemed well settled, turning on the TV in the morning and watching Maasai gospel videos on Youtube.  And drinking tea at leisure. The first holiday they have ever had. I'm so glad I got to be a part of it.

Ibra's father called every morning and eventually called them back a couple of days early. Maybe he was getting nervous they wouldn't want to return, what with limitless hot water, entertainment, endless supplies of tea and a little grand-baby.

The bibis left feeling ever-so-proud of their son who had managed to learn so many valuable things in the city, including how to cook and take care of a baby. These are very abnormal skills for a Maasai man.