Monday, 9 April 2018

Traditional uses of the forest

Masai culture is ancient and lives on untill this day because of the Masai’s perseverance in trying to preserve it. Despite facing ever grater challenges in doing so and despite some of their customs and knowledge having been lost, their culture is to a large part intact and brings with it the fascinating art and knowledge of utilising what mother nature offers them.

Checking out the blossoms of an aloe vera plant in our boma

Today I would like to share with you, what little knowledge of the uses of the flora surrounding our Masai home, I have gained from my husband's tribe.

There is a tree called Esisteti which I call the toothbrush tree. Masai do not buy their toothbrushes in shops as we do, but break twigs of this tree which they use to clean their teeth. It prevents bad breath and keeps their teeth beauifully white.
The same tree is also used to cut the famous Masai sticks, with which they herd their cattle or defend themselves if need be.
The bark of this tree is also used as a remedy for stomach ailments.

The soft leaves of the Olmaroroi tree, or toilet paper tree.

Aloe vera, Olsukoroi in Maa, grows naturally all around us and is also said to be effective against stomach cramps when boiled up in water, aside from its well-known skin healing properties. It is also what Masai women use to stop their children from nursing when the time has come. Aloe vera sap is incredibly foul-tasting. When rubbing it onto your breasts, the child takes one lick and wants no more. It works - I have used this trick myself on my son Yannik.

Instead of using toilet paper, the Masai use the leaves of a tree which I call - wait for it - toilet paper tree, or in Maa Olmaroroi. The leaves are large and covered in fine soft hairs. A luxury item provided by nature and 100% biodegradable.

The oil-like sap of the Olhilihili tree has antibiotic properties and is used to treat superficial wounds like cuts and grazes.

The fruits of the Oloisuki tree have a pleasant lemon aroma and are used as spice in tea.

The Oloisuki tree and its fragrant fruits.

The well-known Ebony tree, famous for its strong black wood, is very common here and used to be a popular tree for fire making before its use was prohibited. It was also used for cleaning out the kibuyu, the dried out pumpkin shells in which the Masai store milk.

Ilshebellek carries edible fruit in August and is excellent smoke-free wood to put on your fire. Its flexible twigs also make great whips to use on the goats and sheep if need be.  

The bark of the Olkinaisho tree is boiled up and produces a red broth which is mixed with milk and given to new mothers. It is said to stimulate blood production.

The Ilgom tree produces small round edible fruits in June, with soft brown flesh, similar in taste to apples.

These are but some of the amazing trees and shrubs which produce an array of different fruits, bark and saps. There are plenty more but I will leave it here for today.

Thank you for reading and if there is any one aspect of Masai culture that you would like to hear more about, just drop me a message in the comment box below.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Life as a woman

Today on the way from our boma to the village, I bumped into a group of women on their way back home from church. They invited me to come join them in the shade for a while.

We greeted one another and they asked about my son. To which I replied that he was doing fine. They then asked who was looking after him today as I had left him - to which I said that he is with my husband's cousin and his aunt.

Masai women dancing at a ceremony 

Then just as I was about to take my leave as Sokoine was waiting for me in the village, they asked me a question that I had heard a lot of times in the last six mobths: 'So has your son stopped nursing yet?!' To which I replied: 'Of course, quite a while ago!'

The women then burst out laughing saying 'Oh I see, so where is your baby belly?!?' Onto which I started laughing saying that I did not have one yet AGAIN! I took my leave and caught up with my husband Sokoine but this conversation stayed with me all day, as many do. It is particularly catching that this conversation happened while I am preparing to have a talk with the Masai women from our village about overpopulation and their role in it.

The way they see their role as women, all they have to do is have child after child after child. They usually nurse their children for two years - sometimes a little longer, sometimes a little less. And often the reason why they stop nursing, is because they are pregnant again. So a Masai woman gives birth every 2.5 to 3 years. Given that they are married very young and have their first child around the sweet age of 16, they often have 8 children in their lifetime or more.

My husband's cousin's wife with her boy.

I have been asking myself a lot why this is lately. And I came up with this:

It is lack of education and lack of choices and opportunities that leaves women to believe that there is nothing for them to do in this world apart from having babies. But it is also the influence of their mothers that puts an emphasis on having babies, rather than on getting an education.

How many girls in our village fail to attend secondary school because they fall pregnant in the middle of it? How many girls get married off when they are a mere 13 years old? Too young and too malnourished to even fall pregnant?

I ask myself what their mothers are thinking? Is it the 12 cattle that they want, that are being given to the father of the bride in exchange for marrying her? Is it, that they just don't know that there is another way?

It is these questions that I aim to address in our next village meeting this week as part of my Masai Education Fund which aims to tackle environmental and cultural challenges within the Masai tribe.

I have no idea how my talk will be received but I see a golden glimmer of hope in that I am well known in our village and that I have lived alongsid the Masai now for six years and have gained their trust.

All that I do, I do out of love for them, for their beautiful culture, for their kind souls and their ever smiling spirits and for the awe-inspiring wilderness they call home.

I hope this love will shine through and make our community back me in trying to provoke positive change for them.

Get in touch to find out more about my Masai Education Fund and find out about ways to support us!

Monday, 12 March 2018

Stephanie's Masai Education Fund

Sooooooo, I have left my beloved Tanzania and swapped it for Kenya for just a week!

Why? Because I say no to staying silent when I see things not going well. I say no to letting the tribe and people I have come to love be washed down the massive river called modernisation.

I say no to seeing wilderness be turned to desert and to let wildlife disappear.

During our first day of training at the Mara Training Centre 

This is why I have started my Masai Education Fund with which I have raised funds for our community leaders to be trained in land management and sustainable husbandry. This is why we are here at the amazing Mara Training Centre, Narok, Kenya.

It has been a challenge getting here and organising travel permits for everyone but it has been an AMAZING experience and one that has brought us even closer together and made us wiser and stronger in so many ways.

Our warrior leader Seperwa enjoying some time with the beautiful herd of Ankole cattle we were introduced to.

From being refused travel permits in Arusha and having to travel to our region's capital Babati to getting out huuuuuge amounts of cash under guard from our warrior leader ready to throw his club at anyone coming too close, to getting everyone safely across the border, to laughing at how bad Kenyan Swahili is compared to our Tanzanian one, to dodging traffic in Nairobi and finding a way to call home - all I feel is pride and happiness that we have made it here.
And the great thing is, we are just in the middle of it: Today we have completed our first day of training at the centre and have done the ground work to provoke change in our community starting at the social level.

Beautiful Ankole-Watusi cattle.

We have seen different breeds of cattle and different ways of keeping them, have walked in woodland where cattle and antelope graze side by side.

We have identified challenges and ways to overcome them. And more importantly, we have recognised what we want for our future, for the future of my husband's tribe and for our community.

I look forward to what the next fews days will bring and to getting back to our village of Lesoit in Tanzania to start on the long hard road to a place called change.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Masai customs

I am often being asked how I managed to adapt to the Masai culture as it is so different from my European background. The answer is: I managed because I wanted to.
Moving to a different country, surrounding yourself with new people and an unknown culture is always a challenge but one, that can teach us great lessons about life and make us stronger.

My mother-in-law milking a cow with my son Yannik on her back

I would like to share with you today, some of the lesser known, smaller Masai customs and taboos that I had to get accustomed to and that sometimes make me roll my eyes, but more often than not, put a smile on my face.

1) when lying down outside because of illness or tiredness, one has to make sure, one lies in such a way, that one's head points towards the sun.

2) when you pour milk out of the traditional enkoti, the dried out pumpkin shell in which milk is stored, make sure you do not empty it completely, leave a few drops inside.

3) when putting logs on the fire, make sure, the big end of the log goes into the flames.

4) when sitting on a chair, and encountered by someone older than you, give that person your chair and sit on the floor or on a log.

5) never step over a man's stick, walk around it.

6) when shaving your head, do not let the wind disperse your hair, collect it and bury it somewhere secret.

7) Masai clothes are always tied together on the right shoulder, exposing the left.

8) when you see the new moon rising, pick up a pebble and throw it at it.

A group of warriors eating meat outdoors.

9) warriors are not allowed to eat inside a woman's house, recognised by the presence of 1) enkisojet, the tree twig with which the enkotiook (pumpkins used to store milk) are cleaned, 2) olmasarr, the cow tail which is used to disperse ashes inside the enkotiook as a means of preserving the milk and 3) ilkiperre, the specially carved tree stick with which emutu, the Masai's staple meal of maize flour, is stirred.

10) when milking a cow, make sure you stand on her right hand side, where her branding is.

How many of these querky Masai customs are you familiar with? Let me know if you have a questions or would like to know more about a particular one. Of course there are more, but I think ten is a good number to stop for now 😊.

Wishing you a lovely Sunday.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Speaking Masai language (Maa)

It has been nearly a month since my last post - I hope you can forgive me!

In the Masai Steppe, cattle often take over the roads.

It is not like I got tired of sharing stories with you. It is because I was so super busy running my crowdfunding campaign, Stephanie's Masai Education Fund, to bring environmental education to the Masai community I live in.
It was a successful campaign and we raised enough to take part in a three day Bootcamp in land management and conservation at the Mara Training Centre in Kenya. I am so excited by the change and opportunities this project can bring for us!
I will keep you posted!

So the last two months, I was glued to my tablet all day long sending emails, replying to donors, posting updates, etc. All my energy and inspiration went into this project and it left little time for anything else. Now I am back and would like to share with you another beautiful aspect of Masai culture: their language.

In the western world the Masai language is often called Maa. I do not like to use this term, as it is not what the Masai call it themselves. When they mention their language they call it: Enkotok te Masai, which literally translated means: the mouth of the Masai.

Myself (right in red), my family and my friend Nare from Armenia.

Here are some basics and their translation to English. Masai language is pronounced as it is read. Vowels are pronounced seperately and treated as syllables. For example the number two is pronounced: A~Re, three is: U~Ni, six is I~Le.

Numbers:     nabo                        one                                      
                       are                           two 
                       uni                           three
                       omwan                    four 
                       imieyet                    five
                       ile                             six
                       napischana            seven   
                       isiet                         eight
                       endoroit                  nine
                       tomuon                   ten

To say yes, you say: E-Eh     and no is: A-Ah 

Greetings:     supai                      greeting for boys, girls, warriors and old men
                        hapa (ipa)             reply to 'supai'
                        takwenya              greeting for women
                        iko                          reply to 'takwenya'
                        kiduaye                  we will see each other
                        sere                         bye
                        kadake                   later

Basic vocabulary:    sidai                  nice, beautiful, good
                                    torronok           bad, ugly, unpleasant 
                                    enketeng           cow
                                    enkine               goat (female)
                                    enkir                  sheep (female)
                                    enkerai              child
                                    enkema              fire
                                    enkaji                house
                                    Enkai                 God, higher spirit
                                    enkolong           sun
                                    olappa               moon
                                    lolkirr                star
                                    oljetta                tree
                                    enkoitoi             path
                                    enkarre             water
                                    endaa                 food, ugali
                                    endito                girl
                                    olaiyoni             boy
                                    enkitok              woman 
                                    olmorani           warrior (circumcised boy)
                                    olpaijan             old man 
                                    owaou               grandmother
                                    kuyaa                 grandfather
                                    esepata               true
                                    muluki                false, untrue

Colours:         naiborr           white
                        narok              black
                        nanyuki           red
                        nanyorrei       green
                        pus                   blue

I hope you find their language as beautiful and interesting as I find it and enjoyed this post. Drop me a comment if there is a particular word or expression you would like to know. Wishing you a lovely week and promising to not keep you waiting for too long for my next post! 😉

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Masai misconceptions

Today, after having been silent for 11 days! (forgive me!), I would like to share with you some of the myths about my husband's tribe.

There are many books about Masai culture but sadly, 90% of the time they are outdated. The Masai have a culture that dates back to over two centuries ago and they try to hold on to it even today in 2018, yet they have to adapt daily to the many challenges modern day planet earth brings with it.

My husband and his brothers working to inject one of our bulls.

Because of this, their culture is changing quickly and there have not been many publications that deal with these changes in Masai culture.

I would like to give you examples of some customs here and would like to ask you to comment below wether you believe they are true or false.

I will then reveal the answers and explain.

1)     To become a warrior, Masai boys have to kill a lion.  True or false?

2)     Masai men share their wives with visitors.  True or false?

3)     Masai women do not use hygiene products during their periods. True/false?

4)     Masai celebrate Christmas.  True/false?

5)     Masai girls are circumcised before marriage. True/false?

6)     The colour of the cloth a man wears, displays age or social status. True/false?

7)     Masai dance is exclusive to men. True/false?

8)     Warriors whistle to their cattle. True/false?

9)     Masai girls herd the goats. True/false?

10)   There is a hidden meaning to facial markings. True/ false?

11)    Masai live only off meat and milk. True/false?

12)    Masai don't wash. True/false

13)    Masai live close to famous National Parks. True/false?

Please click on the 'comments' icon below this blog post to type your answer for each example. Looking forward to chatting!

Please also check out my crowdfunding campaign which I am running to bring environmental education to the Masai community I live in. Thank you!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

An african love story

I have not shared stories with you for a while as I am so involved in my Masai community education campaign which is leaving little time for anythung else.

It is taking me on a journey to reconnect with old friends and to also go beyond my comfort zone to ask people for support, but it has so far been an AMAZING experience and one that is leaving my heart full of love every day!

We have also had a very sad week as we lost a young warrior in a tragic accident but the amount of love and support that has and is being shown to his family is just overwhelming and is leaving everything else in its shadow.

I am wrapped in a blanket of love, in the mood for sharing this beautiful emotion with the world and this is why I would like to tell you a love story - my very personal one. The story of how I met my husband Sokoine:

Sokoine taking a break while herding our cattle

I had met him on Mafia Island. A magical place. Paradise. A haven of peace, blue seas and the most amazing diving. Mafia to me was Zanzibar’s little sister. Just as beautiful and cultured but more herself. Less altered by the hordes of tourists that befall Zanzibar so frequently.

The day I set foot on Mafia was the day I met Sokoine.

I was with a group of volunteers, exploring the village of Utende, when we bumped into some Maasai. I was enthralled at first sight. He was taller and bigger than the others, but what drew me in were his eyes. Dark and fiery, yet infinitely kind and patient.

Our wedding day.

I tried to keep him there, on the dusty road in the midst of the village, with my year’s worth of Swahili I had picked up working in Ifakara, close to the Selous Game Reserve in the south of Tanzania. I did not want this moment to end. Another one of those moments that made me feel so intensely at one with the dust under my feet and the sun caressing my skin; at one with the country I had come to love, with the Swahili flowing freely off my tongue, with the immensely beautiful and fascinatingly exotic people standing in front of me.

He worked as security for one of the hotels by the beach and everyday, when we walked past, I tried to make myself as noticeable as possible, pushing our dive cart, laughing, talking; and should I glimpse him watching me, my heart would beat a little faster.

Five weeks passed and I became more and more attached to Mafia, its people and Sokoine. I knew I would not go back to Germany.

And when my friend Michael, whose shop down by the beach was right next to Sokoine’s, told me one day that Sokoine liked me, it seemed I had even more of a reason to stay.

That this beautiful, proud, mysterious human being that comes from a world I cannot even begin to envision, should like me, this ordinary white chick, was too much for me to comprehend. But it was true and we got together and spent the most amazing three weeks under the sun and the stars of Mafia Island…

…a year later we married and moved to his traditional Masai home in the Masai Steppe of Tanzania.

Our son Yannik, Sokoine and I. 

Six years later, and I am still here with him, his parents, his grandmother and more recently with our son. I am as in love with the beautiful country as I have always been and have recently launched a campaign to bring environmental education to our Masai community to make a stand against the ongoing environmental destruction of their homelands.

If you would like to support me in saving the Masai culture along with the wilderness they live in and depend on to feed their cattle, click on this link.