Five Countries, Guests, Visits, and Lots of Learning…

First Stop Kenya and the Maasai in Masai Mara

I just wrapped up an amazing five-country East African swing as an invited guest to meet with a variety of representatives ranging from non-governmental organizations, to governments, from school sites to orphanages, to higher education institutions, to local community leaders, from students to local business owners to hopeful residents to sector leaders and I concluded this trip with a special audience with a member of the Ugandan Parliament. These series of visits have been often eye-opening and insightful and will forever leave long-lasting impressions on me as a human being. Over the course of the next few days and weeks, I hope to take each experience and share some of my thoughts. I will start in chronological order – Kenya.

I started off in Kenya with a visit to Oloolaimtia School on the outskirts of the colorful Maasai people in the Masai Mara region of Kenya (southwest and bordering with Tanzania). The school conditions were primitive at best with about 560 students for 6-10 classrooms, although there was no electricity, indoor plumbing, nor running water. To orchestrate this point it was evident each morning I witnessed students walking upwards of 7 kilometers (about 4.3 miles) each way to school with a bottle of water and a tree or some type of branch. I use the term “bottle” loosely because anyone who has traveled to third world countries understands that any type of plastic container qualifies as a “bottle”. In this case, I saw clear plastic, I saw old yellow oil plastic, and I saw disturbing gas-can type plastic bottles. Also, each student brings and in some cases drags tree branches. I originally thought they had these branches to fend off animals and dogs; however, each student carries these each day so that the adults can cook lunch for the students. Needless to say, there was no indoor school cafeteria. Meals are cooked outdoors in what appeared to be a small, standalone shack… The familiar outhouse was the bathroom facilities; however, the children in this school did wear uniforms, although sometimes they were also adorned with the colorful outfits common for the region.

As I met with students and teachers at the school there is one thing that stood out, the sense of hope and optimism by the students. It firmly reminded me that we know our own realities, sometimes nothing more, nothing less. For an American traveling through the region I was shocked, however for the students I was reminded that kids are kids and are resilient. Teachers, on the other hand, discussed at great length some of the challenges they face including limited resources, teaching materials, and the vast set of needs the students have in their home lives. For example, for many students school meals are the best (and sometimes only) meal they receive. At the conclusion of my meetings, I shared some information about the two projects which I am involved in that could be a link between the Maasai and students in the United States – Project PeacePal and One Million Bones.

At times the Maasai people resemble our Native American communities and the cultural richness is clear. It was interesting for me to discuss how in Southwestern, United States we also use mud-straw combinations for adobe making whereas the Maasai utilize cow and animal dung and straw mixtures for their homes. I still do not think that the leaders I met with actually believe me since they often looked dumbfounded given what images of America are seen by people so far away are images of big cities and TV shows such as Dallas. Although the Maasai are very nomadic and construct new villages every few years, however, they were very welcoming of my visit and they welcomed me into their homes. Language was somewhat of a challenge; however, the younger Maasai often translated between the elders and me. Overall I had a pleasurable start to my East Africa visit. The Great Rift Valley at times reminded me of the Southwestern, United States and my beloved home New Mexico with stunning views as far as the eye can see. The animal life very quickly reminded me I wasn’t home, but rather, I am Eastern Africa with all of the BIG FIVE animals, plus hundreds, if not thousands of other animals and birds. Onward I go…