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Updates from the Last Chance to Paint team

Precious Africa Day 5 - Meet the Maasai Women

Today was our last day in Amboseli. We said goodbye to the lovely staff at the Lodge and headed out into the area surrounding the National Park.

Apart from the gates to the park vehicles just driving in and out as they wish, the park has no boundaries. The animals aren’t forced to stay inside, but there are wet areas of swamp and water so they are attracted in, especially during this period of drought.

The local tribes and the wild animals have lived comfortably side by side for generations. The problem the communities outside the park face is caused by the migratory corridors being blocked… most wild animals will walk for hundreds of miles to change their habitat. This helps keep the grazing fresh and allows for better breeding. What has happened is farmers have bought up land in the non parkland areas which blocks these migratory corridors and the only way for the animals to get through can mean them walking through properties, like the school we saw yesterday. Outlying Maasai Bomas struggle with this too.

Today we met with a Maasai women’s community group who Born Free have been working with. They try to help educate them in conservation and how to help share the environment successfully with the wildlife. For example not collecting wood from the same place constantly and by giving them small iron stoves that are more economical to use, leaving more trees unharmed. The women explained to us that they use a lot of wood from trees that the elephants have pushed over and which are now dead - this is a great example of harmony between communities and wildlife. Born Free also help plant trees in their properties to help create a less harsh environment to live in.

The group we met, meet together (usually under the shade of a tree) about twice a month. With the help of Elizabeth from Born Free, who grew up in a Maasai Boma herself and is an incredible example of what is a possible outcome in a woman’s life, they discuss ideas for creating an income for themselves and ways to help one another when they need some financial support. It is like a small cooperative who lend one another money if they need to buy something. For example, if a particular family need help for school fees or for helping to build a house, the women will pool their money to help them.

We chatted with these wonderful ladies at length, and they were very willing to share with us stories about their lives and culture. It felt very special to be able to hear their stories while sat amongst them in their meeting. To thank them for their time Elizabeth brought them food for breakfast and we provided them with bags of maize flour, for which they were incredibly grateful.

Their main source of income is their beadwork, a tradition that goes back many years. They spend their time making stunning pieces of beaded jewellery which they sell at markets to tourists and locals alike. They also make whole beadwork adornments for brides. Yet again, the drought has affected this form of income due to the fact that when a bride gets married, the bride’s father is given a dowry in the form of a number of cattle. Sadly the cattle are no longer as readily available to make these exchanges and so there are less Maasai weddings. Less water results in less cows, less cows in less wedding dowries and less brides mean less beadwork sold.

One of the ladies told us all about her daily routine

  • At 5am she is the first in the family to get up

  • She lights the fire and makes tea

  • She then makes breakfast for the children before they go to school

  • She goes to the cow shed, milks the cow and tends to the goats

  • She feeds her husband

  • She takes the animals to drink

  • She goes out to collect firewood which takes usually about an hour there and an hour back

  • Prepares lunch

  • Goes to collect water at around 3 pm about thirty minutes away. Another NGO has helped pay for solar panels to pump the water from the bore hole; they have to queue for this.

  • Brings the calves of the cows and baby goats in so that they don’t suckle on the mums as soon as the herdsman brings the cows and goats back to the Boma and use up all the milk before the women have milked them for the family. They have to carefully make sure their is enough milk to go around both the family and the young animals.

  • Milks the cows in the evening

  • Prepares supper and feeds the family

  • Washes the young children

  • Prepares water for her husband to wash

  • After the family has gone to sleep she washes the milking equipment ready for the next day

  • Goes to the shed and separates the calves and kids from their mothers again so there will be milk in the morning

  • At the very end of the day she washes herself and goes to bed

She is the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed!

Some families can’t afford to send their children to school because of the drought and the lack of school fees. To help the family the daughters are married off so that the family can receive a dowry in the form of cattle from the husband’s family. Due to the lack of cattle, because they are dying in the drought, there are less weddings. The young boys are also taken out of school if the family doesn’t have the money for them to finish their education and are often sent away to become herdsmen or watchmen and send money home to the family. A lot of secondary school children go to boarding school because the secondary schools are too far to walk to. A boarding school costs as little as £800 a year and a day school about half of that, and yet some families can’t afford this.

We interviewed some of the young women to find out a bit about their lives. All three young ladies are aged between 21-23 and each have one or 2 children. They had all been unable to continue in any professional training because of the cost- each one had their own dream of becoming a teacher or a nurse.

When asked what they might like to train for locally, which would be more feasible, without having to travel away to study, two would have liked to become hairdressers and the other one a tailor as there is a lack of these professions locally. That would mean they could save the local ladies a long walk into the nearest town. These courses cost about £300 and they all said their husbands would definitely let them do the training if they had the money.

Two of them are second wives who have been chosen by their families to marry these particular husbands whose ages range between 23-35. One of the girls was lucky enough to marry her boyfriend who is now a teacher. When asked which of their daily chores they disliked the most, all three agreed that it was the herding of the cows.

I felt incredibly privileged to meet these wonderful ladies and have an insight into their way of life. They were so welcoming and pleased to have their story told. They generously invited us to join them with some tea and then sang us a Maasai song. It was incredibly moving. One of the things the ladies said is that they would be incredibly welcome for any ideas for making themselves more money. The main story which runs through the whole conversation is that the drought is causing them enormous problems - it is only a matter of time that the livestock will be gone and they will have no milk or meat.

After this very interesting morning, it was time to head back on our long four hour journey back to Nairobi. We have spent some very busy, but incredible days in Amboseli and it is time for a more relaxing break tomorrow, before heading up to Ol Pejeta where we are excited to go and meet the last two Northern white rhino. See you there!

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