Monday, 3 September 2018

Swahili for beginners

Hi everyone!

I have had a few visitors lately, many of whom were struggling to get to grips with Swahili. 

So here is a beginner's guide to Swahili, the official language of Tanzania and Kenya.

The way you will be welcomed to these two beautiful countries will be quite different and definitely warmer if you know a few phrases in Swahili.

During the recent visit of my friend from Colombia (myself: left in pink)

Hello/How are you?                 Habari/ Habari yako?

Hello back/ I am well               Nzuri/safi

Are you OK?
(Literally: peaceful)                  Salama?

Answer to 'salama'                    Salama

Habari za asubuhi?                  Good morning

Habari za leo?                            Good day/afternoon

Habari za jioni?                          Good evening

Nzuri/safi/salama                       Replies to anything starting with 'habari'/ different
                                                       versions of 'good'

Shikamoo                                     Respectful greeting to elders (from arabic)

Marahaba                                    Reply to 'Shikamoo'

Haujambo?                                  Are you well?/How are you?

Sijambo                                         I am good, reply to 'haujambo'

Jambo!                                          Tourist version of 'haujambo'

Wapi?                      Where?

Nani?                       Who?

Nini?                        What?

Lini?                         When?

How many/
How much?            Ngapi?

What does this cost?                  Shillingi ngapi?/Bei gani?

What is your name?                   Unaitwa nani?

Where is.......                                 Iko wapi......

Toilet                                              choo

Restaurant                                    hotel/ sahemu ya chakula

Shop                                               duka

Beach                                             pwani

Water                                             maji

Food                                               chakula

Thank you!                  Asante.                                      1         moja                   6      sita

Excuse me                    Samahani                                 2        mbili                   7      saba

You are welcome        Karibu                                       3        tatu                      8     nane

                                                                                           4        nne                      9     tisa

Good bye                      kwa heri                                   5        tano                    10     kumi
See you later                baadaye                                  

I will leave it at these for today so as not to fry your brains! Let me know if you would like to know more or if there is anything specific you would like to get into.

Wishing you a great day!

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Saving Masai culture

Today I am inspired to write to you by the negativity of some of our fellow human beings.
Not long ago someone confronted me claiming I was 'forcing my western ideals' onto the Masai. Well just as I am writing this, I am laughing to myself at how ridiculous this notion is. But it got me thinking anyway.

I did indeed change my outlook on Masai life and culture but not in anyway to the point where I want to forge them into someone resembling a person used to the standards of the First world. Not at all.

Myself in traditional dress during a ceremony.

For all those of you who know me personally, you know how much I have come to love the Masai, my husband's tribe who have become my tribe too. In the six years I have lived with them, it was and is me who adapted (and still adapts every day) to THEIR way of life, and not the other way round. 

And I would not have it any other way.

The Masai are the most generous, kindest, warm-hearted, even-tempered, most open and beautiful people I have ever met and I owe them so so much. I owe them like someone who has been taken in when they had nowhere else to go.

And they took me in. And I know now that that in itself is proof of my willingness and capacity to adapt to their way of life. It is proof of my respect for them, of the love and understanding I have in my heart for them and always will have.

But I have changed my attitude towards their culture. I have stopped being what I like to call a 'tribal purist'. Because I have come to understand that that is just ignoring the facts, ignoring the danger that threatens to swallow up their culture in the all too near future.

My husband's cousin herding our cattle.

From my earliest days on, I saw aspects of their culture that I knew in my gut, were not good. And when I say 'not good' I don't ONLY mean our standardised 'good' as in 'good versus evil'. I also mean not good FOR THEM. For their culture, for the survival of their ancient way of life.

Like sending your daughter off to be married when she has not even had her period yet. Like keeping her out of school precisely for that reason. Like teaching her that all she has to do in life is breed and raise children. Like buying ever more cattle when there is no longer enough grass or land for them to feed on. Like circumcising your son to be a warrior when he has not even reached puberty. Like switching from materials won from your animals to things you need to buy with money. Like disregarding your own culture's customs because now they are considered bothersome. Like inviting more and more people of different tribes into your land without knowing what this means for your culture and your children's future. Like selling off land. Like felling trees. Like wanting to have big farms to feed your ever growing families.

Masai girls.

To name but a few things. These are all things that I chose to ignore with the excuse that that is just what Masai culture is now. Because I thought that if I interfered, I would be forcing my views on them, tainting their culture.

But that could not be further from the truth. The truth is, is that if Masai culture is to survive the slow but steady approach of modernity into their lands and way of life, they have to start adapting.  They have to start changing the things that pose a threat to their survival from the inside out. Like those things mentioned above. Like continuing to having children uncontrolled. An exponential birth rate is a death certificate in times where an ever increasing human population is putting a strain on the last few remaining wild spaces and Masai rangelands.

There is no Masai who does not see it. Who does not see the way the land has changed. The way it seems to have shrunk away under the thunderous footfalls of thousands of humans who have encroached onto it. There is no Masai who does not complain about how his cattle are starving, how they are ill all the time, how he does not know where to graze them anymore for all the farms and settlements that have gotten in the way. They see it but they chose to ignore it out of ignorance and an incapacity to understand what is happening to them. They fail to understand that it is partly them who put a neck round their throat, slowly pulling tight. That part of their customs are outdated now and need to be stopped because they themselves are a risk to the culture that they used to be a part of. Like breeding breeding breeding.

Masai women at a ceremony.

The Masai used to be a warring tribe. Fighting for land,  water and cattle with their neighbouring tribes. There didn't used to be many warriors older than 30. Because they used to be warriors truly. Now they no longer are for various reasons, one of which is law enforcement. That is one part of their culture gone, which is sad but maybe it was not such a good part. And the fact that this part is gone, now has an effect on their numbers. The Masai are now one of the largest tribes in Tanzania and Kenya and their numbers continue to grow. Because of their inability to see what it does to them.

In between warriors.

To put it simply: More people from the inside (Masai breeding) and more people from the outside (neighbouring tribes breeding) causes free land or grazing land to become rarer and rarer. On top of this, Masai changed their diet from blood and milk to ugali made out of corn. So they started cultivating maize farms, as do their neighbouring tribes, which causes free land (woodland) to be deforested and turned into agriculture land, which again steals land from the Masai cattle. So their cattle grow hungry and produce less milk, which is part of the reason why the Masai changed their diet in the first place. So it is almost like a vicious circle: breeding=more need for food=establishing farms=less room for cattle=cattle starving=no milk=more need for food..... and so forth.

So where to break this vicious circle?

We tear it up right from the start with teaching the Masai that they NEED to have less children for their own sake. And by teaching them so, we do force our western views on them. We do. Because we love them and want them to survive.

Beautiful Masai rangelands that need to be protected.

So, is it true what I have been told? Yes, it is. And yes it did not used to be this way, but I am glad that it is now. I am glad that I have come to understand that the Masai culture is at risk of dying out.  That so much of it, is already dead. And that it is up to us, who have a view of the bigger picture and the ability to forsee their future, to tell them about it and to teach them ways to stop what is coming.

This is what I want to do. Because I love them. Because I want to preserve their beautiful way of life as much as I want my child to still encounter elephants in the African bush once he is grown. It is all part of our wonderful planet's inspiring diversity.

So I am no longer quiet when Masai parents keep their daughters out of school. I no longer shut up when women brag about how many children they have. I no longer encourage Masai to tend to their own farms but tell them to tend to their trees and land and cattle instead.

A culture worthy of our love and protection.

This is all part of the projects I have ran and am currently running. It is all out of love for the people of the Masai tribe and the beautiful land they live in.

With Stephanie's Masai Education Fund Vol. 2 I aim to encourage Masai girls to go to school. I want them to receive the education their tribe needs in order to survive.

Taking Masai children to school is not the end of their tribal culture. It does not have to be. It can be the way to save them. The beautiful Masai.

Check out my campaign to bring reusable sanitary kits to the girl students of our village by clicking HERE.

Thank you.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Stephanie's Masai Education Fund Vol. 2

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since my last post, sorry! I do have a valid excuse this time though (no it is not that I have been busy), it is that I have been quite unwell.

Even as I am writing this, I am lying in bed, wrapped in three blankets to keep the fever chills at bay. I have caught a rather bad infection in my left leg and have been unable to leave the house since the beginning of the month. 10 days on IV antibiotics and several courses of oral antibiotics as a follow-up later and I am able to walk again but still not all too well.

Primary school pupils of Lesoit village playing at break-time

I was going to write something about health in Africa and our fear of falling ill or catching a tropical disease while travelling, but I believe I have covered this topic before.

So I am writing instead about something I am very excited about and that has been in the planning for a long time now, delayed by my illness.

I am about to launch a second crowdfunding campaign for the benefit of our Masai community here in Tanzania, particularly the Masai girls.

The state of my left leg when I first fell ill.

Education is the key to sustainable development yet sadly so many Masai girls are deprived of their right to go to school because it has been ingrained in them and in their parents that all a Masai woman has to do on this planet, is getting married and having children.

I would like to encourage young Masai girls to go to school and empower those already in education to make the best of their studies. Yet there are so many hurdles to overcome when it comes to sending a girl to school. Prejudices, greed and ignorance all play a role and are difficult (yet not impossible) to overcome. This is why I continue to hold my women only meetings and this is why, with my new campaign I would like to take away at least one of the many obstacles Masai girls have to overome to gain an eduation: I would like to provide them with reusable sanitary kits.

The beautiful kits I hope to bring to the girls in our community. 

Here in rural Tanzania, sanitary products are hard to come by and are pricey and the lack of them is one of the reasons why many girls hesitate to go to school.

The kits I would like to bring to the girls of our primary and secondary school here in our local village, are made in Tanzania and contain everything a girl needs during her time of month, including underwear,  waterproof shields and washable pads.

Please follow this link to watch my campaign video and consider making a donation to this important cause. Campaign to be launched in the next few days:

Thank you!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Trouble for changemakers in Africa

When I tried to get sponsors for my Masai Education Fund, a common reply I got was: 'It is great what you are doing but from my experiences with community conservation in Africa, I know how hard it is to change things, so thanks but no thanks.'

Myself and our village land committe during a land use mapping seminar.

While this did not stop me to pursue what I was doing, now that we are in the implementation phase of the project, I see the critics' point.

So why is it so hard to implement change in the local people's attitude to conservation?

First of all, I believe it is lack of education and foresight that makes people indifferent towards their future, indifference born out of ignorance. You cannot fear what you cannot see, so to say. When you tell the average person here in Tanzania (and this is probably true for other African countries too), to stop felling trees because it contributes to climate change and is unsustainable, they will look at you and tell you: 'But how am I meant to cook my food? I need firewood.' Or: 'I am felling these trees to make room to plant my crops so my children get something to eat'. 'And what is climate change anyway?'

What do you answer them?

Learning to read the land during our training at the Mara Training Centre in Kenya. 

Secondly, there is no such thing as a humanitarian in the most rural, poorest parts of Africa. What I mean by that, and I am being careful not to generalise here, is that compassion for your fellow human beings and a wish to better all your lives together as a community, is pretty much non-existent in rural Africa.

If I give our village here in the Masai Steppe as an example: I see here daily, how funds given to the village leaders as part of projects that are meant to eradicate poverty or go towards education or feeding school children, to name but a few, are not passed down to the people they are intended for. They disappear in the pockets of the people who receive them, leaders, who were chosen to look after their communities. But instead of caring for their fellow human beings and instead of showing empathy and a wish to move forward, they use the funds for their own personal gain.

How do you instill a wish to help others in someone, who simply does not have the heart?

The beautiful land I hope to protect with my Masai Education Fund. 

Thirdly, there is an element of fear that keeps those people who do wish to make a difference from speaking up. When I tell the Masai women here, who go out daily to collect firewood (only dry wood is supposed to be collected, no trees to be felled for firewood), why they do not chase away or apprehend the Swahili women from our neighbour village who go and fell big mature trees to put on their fires, they tell me that they are scared to do so and tell tales of how they were being snapped at or threatened on occasions that they did speak up.
Common replies are: 'What does it concern you?' 'You did not plant that tree!' 'Go away or I will make you!' While these are more modest examples, there are cases where people have openly been threatened with murder.

A culture worth preserving.

Another factor is one that is frowned upon or laughed at in the First world and that is the issue of witchcraft. I believe in all of sub-saharan Africa, this magic is practised and believed in and it is a common tool used in retaliation against someone who offended you or caused you harm in any way.

While we may not believe in it, many many Africans do and it scares them enough to not do what is right.

How do you tell people to stop fearing what they feared for centuries?

We are currently struggling to implement what we have learned through my Masai Education Fund and we are dealing with all of the above.
While it is definitely challenging and keeps me on my toes, it has not made me despair yet and I still believe that we can overcome these obstacles if we continue to talk and educate.

I have nothing but love for this beautiful tribe.

After all, we all only have this one life given to us and we might as well use the time we have to try and make the world a better place, even if it is difficult and feels like a fight. If you look at things with love, you never get tired 😊

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Masai wisdom

Eight years in Africa.

Eight years in the land of elephants, lions and giraffe. In the land of open plains and acacia trees, in the land of the Masai people, Samburu, Himba, Zulu and Mursi tribes.

In the land where you never say no, even though yes often seems insane. In the land where no one is ever on time but everything somehow has its order.

In the land where the most stunning sunsets are everyday business and where the moon rises like a big red sun and the stars cover more space than the dark.

Masai warriors parading at a ceremony

What have these eight years done to me? They have turned me upside down and shaken out all the dust, the fear, the doubt, the hate. They have left me standing with wide open eyes, ready to see everything anew. To see everything from a selfless angle of love. And one of my greatest teachers are the beautiful people I am so lucky to share my life with: the Masai.

They have taught me that tears are only cried for the dead and that any other tears are cried in anger rather than sadness. They have taught me that children are tellers of the truth and that they lift you out from the darkest corners of your soul.

Overlooking the stunning Masai Steppe 

They have taught me that it is rude to not accept gifts, even when they come from someone who has nothing. They have taught me that being still does not mean you are moving backwards,  but that it gives you time to reflect on your next move.

They have taught me happiness can be found anywhere and any day and that it is you who creates it, for yourself and others.

They have taught me that accepting each other's differences teaches you to accept not only those different to you but also yourself.

They have taught me that inviting strangers into your house leaves you feeling connected to the world and is nothing but basic decency.

They have taught me that laughter and stories are more important than big cars and designer jeans.

They have taught me that dirty, skinny kids are happier than ours could ever be and that it is OK to play with sand and sticks.

My husband and I.

They have taught me that family is everything and that sharing makes you rich.

They have taught me to live slower and with more purpose.

They have taught me to be patient and that detours make the journey memorable.

They have taught be to observe more and judge less.

They have made me softer and harder at the same time.

Warrior herding his cattle

They have turned me into the person who talks to strangers when passing them on the street, who gives a random child a sweet just to see it smile. They have turned me into someone who fears the coldness of the western world and who has stopped trying to explain to those who have never been to Africa.

Do YOU understand?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

More of a woman

There are days where I am just bursting with inspiration and often this inspiration comes from the beautiful people I share my life with, but sometimes (and this has been the case recently) I struggle to pick up a pen and start writing.

Today though I feel like I have something to share with you again and this comes from my recent wish and desire to improve the lives of my fellow Masai women and mothers.

With my son Yannik in May 2016

As I am a mother. And I am so proud and happy that I have chosen to become one.

I remember a friend of mine once telling me, that she asked herself, after the birth of her first baby, why she had not done this earlier as it is the easiest thing she has ever done. I have to say I disagree. For me, it is not the easiest thing, it is quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done, but as is so often the case with us humans, the hardest things, that we cannot imagine ourselves doing or accomplishing in life, turn out to be the best, most rewarding things at the same time.

I for my part feel that I am complete now, but by that I do not mean I am completely happy or completely fulfilled. On the contrary, having a child, has left me with a hunger and a need to DO more, to ACT more, to BE more. It has opened my eyes and my soul and has made me want to reach out and connect with the world to bring good to it. It has made me stand up and work towards a better future for my child.

A family snapshot with all the women. (Myself: back row, right)

So I am not complete, but I am completely happy in myself. I have learned to love and accept myself for who I am. When you see your body go from small to big and back and when you have had your life turned upside down and go back to normal within a couple of years, you understand really that there is nothing wether good or bad that lasts forever and that there is nothing to worry about or fear as there is nothing really that you cannot achieve if you put your mind to it.

I am more of a woman now and more of a person and I am so thankful that I have made it through the first two years of my child's life and have come out stronger.

A beautiful Masai women and her son.

If you are thinking of having a baby, if it is your heart's wish, then do it, because you will be just fine. And if you already have become a mother, then please share with me here, what you feel your baby has given you in life. Mine has given me confidence and purpose and the strongest desire to live life to the full as well as huge amounts of compassion towards my fellow women, wether mother or not.

Wishing all you beautiful ladies (and gentlemen) a beautiful day!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Blood drinking warriors or freshly picked spinach - Masai diet

Masai diet traditionally used to consist of just milk, butter, forest fruits and roots and the occasional bit of meat and blood.

These days however, because of a changing environment and the effects it has on their cattle, milk has become as precious as gold to the Masai, and just as rare.

An increasing human population has encroached onto their wild spaces and has lead to a decrease in cattle rangelands. Nursing cows produce much less milk now, which barely suffices to feed their calves, let alone the Masai who depend on it.

A boiling pot of ugali simmering on an open fire in a Masai hut.

Due to this, the Masai have had to change their diet, away from lactose products, given to them by their cattle for free, towards corn and vegetables which have to be bought. This has also lead to large areas of rangelands being deforested for the sake of farmland, which has increased pressure on their pastoralist way of life.

Warriors these days spend most of the year away from home, working in cities and tourist places to earn money to be able to feed their families.

My sister-in-law taking a break from cooking ugali to nurse her son.

A traditional Masai meal today consists of ugali, a thick paste made out of corn flour boiled in water, eaten with milk or vegetables. Common vegetables here are potatoes, carrots, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach and beans. They are usually fried in oil and then cooked in a splash of milk. No spices are used, only salt.
Rice is available to be bought, but as its price is high, it is only eaten on special occasions, like ceremonies.
Even meat these days, has almost become a luxury item as goats or cows are only slaughtered when there is a need to feed many people, as for festivities.

Freshly picked pumpkin leaves to be cut up and cooked.

When a goat or cow is slaughtered it is butchered in a very efficient, almost professional way and is split between men and women.
Cows, goats and sheep each have designated parts that are given to warriors, old men and women and children.
The stomach of a goat is for the men to use in the traditional meat broth which has medicinal properties and is drunk by everyone who wishes to do so. The stomach of a sheep however is designated to the women, as is its hindquarters, whereas the lungs and the chest are for the uncircumcised boys. The girls get the back of a goat or sheep.
Blood is drunk straight from the carcass while it is being butchered. On other occasions, the vein of a goat or cow is tapped into with a bow and arrow or a needle and the blood is caught in a cup and mixed with goat or sheep oil or honey as a traditional remedy for injury or illess.

A warrior drinking blood from a freshly slaughtered goat.

The corn needed to cook ugali, has to be bought or planted and is therefore costly, as are vegetables and often both are not available in sufficient amounts to feed large Masai families. The Masai therefore often only eat ugali once a day and as a second meal, cook a simple porridge out of the corn flour mixed with milk and/or water.
Malnutrition is an issue prevalent in Masai country, but one that is yet to be addressed by a worldwide audience.

It is one of the many challenges I hope to address by continuously working with our community members through my Masai Education Fund. Teaching women and men to use family planning methods to reduce the number of children they put into the world so that they are able to take better care of them and reduce the pressure an increasing human population is putting on their rangelands, cattle and therefore on the survival of their beautiful culture.

I have received nothing but love and support by my friends and family and likewise by people who I have never met but who have taken an interest in my efforts to increase quality of life in Masai country - and I would like to say THANK YOU!

If you too, would like to know how you can help, please get in touch, so that we may work together towards a brighter future for one of Africa’s last remaining ancient tribes.