Thursday, 13 December 2018

Quack Quack or how Masai women give birth

One of the things I love about Africa is that it let's you experience so many new things that you never dreamed of seeing.

One of those things I experienced with the Masai, is witnessing childbirth.

The wive of my husband's brother who gave birth recently. 

As generous, warm and welcoming the Masai are, I was first invited to watch a Masai lady give birth in February 2012, when I had only been living with them for a month.

Masai women traditionally have their babies at home, aided by a traditional midwife and many many of their female relatives.

The hut in which a woman is labouring is swarmed with her sisters, neighbours, mother and even grandmother. Any woman who is around is invited to watch and to support her.
However, there are rules regarding age and respect for your elders. No woman younger than the lady in labour is allowed to watch. Also, pregnant ladies are not allowed into the hut until the child is born and mothers with babies who have not yet teeth are not allowed unless they leave their children to be watched by someone outside of the hut.

Myself with two of my sisters-in-law during a ceremony.

The traditional midwive and older ladies sit on the bed with the woman in labour, holding her, rubbing her back and checking her dilation every so often. They are all naked from the waist down. This, they believe, helps the woman relax and open herself for childbirth.

After the baby is born, the traditional midwive also oversees the passing of the placenta. To help this along, a boy (or the husband of the new mother) is called to climb the roof of the house with a stick and tap it repeatedly saying 'Quack' over and over again until the placenta is out.

It is then wrapped in leaves and taken outside by two women holding a machete. The machete is used to fend of wild animals as well as men while they complete their task of burrying the placenta in the bush.


Masai women dancing at a ceremony after the birth of a child.
The women that have been called to witness the birth, help by cooking tea or porridge and boiling water for the new mother and the baby as well as the helpers. They also help clean up after the birth. Then no matter what time it is another pot of tea is cooked for the helpers.

The day after the birth a sheep is slaughtered and people are invited to celebrate. The new mother is given as much as a litre of liquid sheep's fat to drink (I tried it, and yes, it is just as disgusting as it sounds). This is thought to help her heal.

The new mother will stay inside of her hut with her baby for roughly two months and her mother and mother-in-law do all the work for her, cooking, washing, looking after the goats and much more. They also help her with the baby at night.

Her husband does not stay in the same hut as the new mother for up to three months.

Masai women from our boma receiving reusable sanitary kits through one of my projects.

Women call each other to witness each other's birth even in the middle of the night. The sense of community and love is inspiring. I have witnessed five births so far and have yet to succeed in keeping a dry eye.

Only recently my sister-in-law had her second son and I was called to her hut at 1 am. For a second I thought about just continuing to sleep but the feeling of responsibility and of showing my support to my fellow women, made me get up.

I sat in her hut, watching her labour with many other women for over 2 hours, until she gave birth just after 3 am and I held her tiny baby for the first time not long afterwards. During the birth of her first child, she was in labour for nearly 48 hours and all without any kind of pain relief.

Myself with women from my family and a friend from Colombia

The strength, kindness and generosity of Masai women (as well as men) is something that I will never cease to admire and be grateful for.


This is why I am currently running a women empowerment project in our community, teaching Masai women how to sew their own reusable sanitary kits. If you would like to support us in this endeavour, please click on this link: 'Stephanie's Masai Women Enterprise'.

Thank you!


Thursday, 11 October 2018

(Masai) women empowerment

Provoking change is a painful progress. One of the lessons I have learned since starting off with my Masai Education Fund in our village of Lesoit, Tanzania.


Taking my place in the midst of the Masai women during a recent village meeting.

There are days when you feel like throwing in the towel and there are days where you have tears in your eyes inspired by people's gratefulness.

Ever since we came back from Kenya where we took part in a land management and conservation seminar in March (sponsored by 'Stephanie's Masai Education Fund), I have been trying to provoke our community leaders to implement what we have learned, but sadly they are not making a great effort.

Our warrior chief enjoying the views during our trip to Kenya. 

This is why I have decided to start at a different angle and support Masai women instead. Girl education rates in Africa are significantly lower than those for boys, simply because girls are often 'sold' or married off in exchange for a bride price. And this happens to girls as young as 8 years old. Another reason is that girls living in rural communities lack access to sanitary products which makes it difficult for them to attend school regularly.

My beautiful sister-in-law with the kit she received from Days for Girls. 

With 'Stephanie's Masai Education Fund Vol.2' which you can read about in my previous blog posts, I have brought ALL the girl students in our Masai community (over 200 of them) a reusable sanitary kit each! These kits are made by 'Days for Girls', an international organisation which has made it its mission to reduce poverty worldwide - by empowering women and girls. The kits contain everything a girl needs to take care of her menstruation: underwear,  waterproof shields and cotton pads as well as soap and a washcloth.

Secondary school girls very happy about the kits.

These kits ensure that girls enter and stay in education unhindered and therefore are a step in the right direction towards ensuring girls have equal opportunity to an education as boys, which has a positive effect not only on local communities but also on the country as a whole.

Masai girl and secondary school pupil with her kit.

So great news to everyone who supported us!

In other news, I am going to climb Kilimanjaro in March together with Wanderlust women's adventures, an Australian travel company ran by an amazing lady who helps single mothers and girls in rural communities in Tanzania and who also gave us 25 reusable sanitary kits for free!

The views that await us when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro 

We will be climbing to raise awareness of women's issues in Africa and worldwide and to fund more reusable sanitary kits for our respective communities, so if you feel like going on an adventure while empowering your fellow women, come with us to the highest point in Africa! Click on the link above or drop me a comment here if you are interested!

Thank you to all of you who continue to support me and let's keep making a difference!


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:
https://youtu.be/y7aXAytIO6Q

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?