Tuesday 4 February 2020

Flooded rivers, elephants and the spirit of Tanzania

On 4th January this year I celebrated 10 years of living in Tanzania.

I wanted to do something to remember - and simply going someplace new by myself, did not seem to make it justice. So I remembered my mother-in-law's long-standing wish to travel and to go on safari and I felt that it would be the perfect occasion to make this wish come true.

I decided to take them on safari in Tarangire National Park as I myself had never been there also and I decided to take two of my three mother-in-laws, Yayai and Totoi, who were the once who had expressed this wish together, my husband, his cousin, our son Yannik and Claudia, a girl close to my heart, my son's cousin and a girl I have known for the entire 8 years of her life.

Totoi, Yayai, Claudia, Yannik and I at the gate to Tarangire. 

I was nervous about taking so many of my family and so many who had never travelled before. I thought Claudia and Yannik would cry at the sight of swahili people and would be scared of the big busses we would travel in, and I thought my two mother-in-laws would suffer from motion sickness. Both of these fears turned out to have been superfluous.

We did the trip to Arusha to access Tarangire National Park in stages, as it is a long trip and all on dirt roads which had suffered extensivly from the ongoing rains.

We set off in the afternoon of the 25th January on three motorbikes to Kijungu where we planned to get a car to Kibaya, our district capital. From there we were to take a bus at 6 am the next morning, straight through the Maasai Steppe and straight to Arusha, a route I had chosen because it was shorter and in better condition than the usual route I would take to Moshi/Arusha via Handeni and Korogwe and also because I had never been that way before and had always wanted to see more of the Maasai Steppe.

Yayai, Totoi, Claudia and Yannik at our home, the day of our departure

We waited for two hours in Kijungu until finally a Toyota Noah turned up, fully loaded with used clothes he was transporting to Kibaya.
Four of us plus Claudia and Yannik squeezed into the back seat and Kiringo, Sokoine's cousin was in the front with 3 other people including the driver, who shared his seat with another person. Luckily the car was an automatic - I don't know how he would have managed to reach the pedals to change gear otherwise. I handed sick bags to my mother-in-laws and off we went.
The road was muddy but passable as it had not yet rained that day. It is 90 km to Kibaya from Kijungu and it took us 3.5 hours. It started raining half-way in and we made slow progress on the slippery road.
Then, just as we were about to enter Kibaya, we got to a stop at a bridge, where a trail of waiting cars made us stop ours too. The driver had alreday mentioned that he was expecting this - the bridge was flooded. What was usually a brook, had turned into a raging river and several cars on either side of it had stopped - too scared to try and drive through the thigh-high, fast-flowing water.

Enjoying the wildlife in Tarangire National Park. 

We had not eaten anything since breakfast, were tired and on edge and I was concerned about the children getting upset. We all got out to check out the water and witnessed a motorbike rider who nearly got washed away....other people were crossing by foot higher up the river and people were talking about having to sleep where we are to wait for the water to receed. I was rolling my eyes, thinking what  a great start to our trip this was....

Then luckily things got moving - a lorry braved the ride through the water and made it to the other side, accompanied by cheers from the people watching. Then another car, then a motorbike. Our driver called us, telling us to get in the car - he had seen enough to be convinced we would not be washed away. I was pretty certain also but just to make sure I told him to roll down the front windows, so that just in case we would have an escape route and I could pull them out one by one, being the only one in the car who knows how to swim......

We rolled down the hill, revved the engine and sped through the water.....we made it to the other side. We were so relieved. Yayai and Totoi had been so scared, they had their heads between their knees during the crossing - probably praying.
Yannik had been nervous too as he had experienced a few crossings like this in our village lately when he was riding with his father on the motorbike - he knows what water does to muddy roads and how difficult it is to navigate.

We made it to Kibaya, a short 90 km trip that should have taken 1.5 hours and during which I had no expected any difficulties - a bit shaken, but alive.

We took the bus at 6 am the next day. 380 km on dirt road through the Maasai Steppe to Arusha. It had rained at night and the roads were even muddier than before.  We had just left the bus stand in Kibaya and had turned a few corner when we got to a halt, the driver revving the engines of the old bus. One look through the window and it become clear that he is trying to find the right angle to take a very sharp corner on very muddy roads with a very large bus. He reverses a couple of times, makes an attempt, reverses again and then he swerves left to get a better angle and the tires give way on the muddy road and he drives us into the left-hand ditch of the road.
The bus is stuck at a precarious angle and it is clear that we will fall if he attempts to drive us put of the ditch. Everyone in the bus gets up at the same time, panicking, wanting to get out before he attempts anything.
I tell Sokoine to hurry and get Yannik out of the bus - adrenaline is already rushing through me - I have experienced these situations so many times and they always bring back the accident I had the first time I every visited Sokoine. We are in the back of the bus and it takes a loooooong time for everyone to get out. My Mamas are terrified and so am I but I try not to show.
Finally we make it out and we just start walking. We all just want to leave the muddy stretch behind and get on a good part of the road to continue our journey from, should the driver manage to get the bus out. We turn around to see what is happening after hearing the engine scream and with one big rush, the bus is out.
It takes a different route, meets us on the way and we all get back in.....reluctantly.  Yannik and the Mamas are nervous, Claudia is fine. Laughing even. I silently ask myself if this is an omen of what's to come or if the universe is just testing my spirits again.

The flooded bridge at Terat, Simanjiro, Maasai Steppe on the way to Arusha. 

We drive for 5 hours without accident, through the Maasai Steppe, we see very few people, and if we see them they are Maasai herding their cattle. It is a beautiful route,  a beautiful part of the country I have come to love so much. We even see zebra and wildebeest on the way, grazing,  sharing their space with warriors herding their goats. It is a beautiful sight. Claudia shouts out every time she sees a zebra and the Mamas love it too.
At 12 pm,  in the midst of the Maasai Steppe, far away from 'civilization' the bus comes to a halt. Another trail of waiting cars in front, more whispers about a flooded bridge. I say 'oh no' quietly in my head.
We all get out to have a look and find, yes, a flooded bridge, a raging river and a landruiser stranded in the middle of it with the owner sitting on the roof of his flooded car.
He had tried to cross and failed. The water was reaching to its bonnet.
About 50 people on each side of the river and 5 vehicles on each side...all watching,  waiting.  The water is not too deep, people wade through it to try and attach a rope to the cruiser to pull it out but the rope is too short.
Whispers of ' we will wait till the water receeds', 'there is no crossing the water until we pulled the car out - it is blocking the way' and I realize that that is true. The landruiser had been turned by the water so that it lies across the bridge - the water would be passable with a big bus but the cruiser is blocking the way.

Yannik and Claudia posing by our bus as we wait to cross a flooded bridge on the way to Arusha. 

We wait and wait and wait. Apparently there is a tractor on its way to pull the car out. We go for a walk with the children, trying to find the zebras again. Sokoine says to not go too far as there are bound to be leopards around and I agree - so much prey around, the predator cannot be far. The Mamas are sleeping in the car, Yannik and Claudia are in good spirits despite not having eaten much apart from peanuts since last night. They laugh and play along the road and we take pictures by the standing bus. It definitely is an adventure - but I fear my Mamas already had enough of it.

Finally as we are all trying to sleep in the bus and I have to hide the last few drops of water we have from Yannik who says he is thirsty (as I don't know how much longer we will be stranded here), we here the revved of a tractor engine and look out the window to see the cruiser being pulled out. I can't help but to cheer and clap. 'Yes, we will make it out of here'.
Busses start pulling through the water and pass us. The rest of the passengers file back into our bus and the driver gets ready to pass. And we make it through without a problem. It is now 3 pm. We would have been in Arusha already.

We are thirsty and tired but glad that w ewont have to spend the night in the bush.  On we go and we break down for half an hour a little further down the road....but luckily some Maasai women sell soda on the side of the road so at least we get to quench our thirst. My head hurts,  I am hungry, tired and nervous. I pass paracetamol around to my Mamas who accept gratefully. Their heads hurt too.

We continue and finally at 6 am, after a 12 hour journey we make it to Arusha.
So so grateful and happy to have made it despite all the difficulties. The Mamas just fall into bed,  exhausted. Yannik is hungry and I run out to get him a chips and eggs omelette which he laughs. He is happy as can be,  excited to be in the big city.

We all go out later to eat and everyone is just happy and grateful to have made it.

Yannik enjoying Tarangire. 

The next day we have a rest day and arrange our safari to Tarangire.

We leave at 6 am the next day. It has rained so much that parts of the park are inaccessible, even in four wheel drives. The grass is green and high and animals are difficult to spot. Yet we see elephant, waterbuck,  giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, warthog, baboons, vervet monkey and even two big male lions.
We try to drive through a very muddy bit and get another shock as the car slides from side to side and the makes a 360 as the driver tries to take a corner to get us out. I am nervous and tell the driver to slow down, Yannik feels my fear and starts crying and I take him in my arms and tell him not to worry as the car slides and swerves through the mud.
We make it out and continue. We take a rest at a beautiful picnic site overlooking the Tarangire river with vervet monkeys guarding over us trying to get crumbs of whatever we are eating. Yannik gets another shock as one of the monkeys he and Claudia approached gets aggressive, expecting them to feed him.
I think because Yannik is so small the monkey dared to challenge him - I run over and take a crying Yannik in my arms wondering if his love for monkeys is destroyed now. Claudia is laughing as always. The girl I had been so worried about turns out to be inquisitive and fearless in all situations. I am proud of her.

We continue our safari till about two pm and then head back to Arusha. Yayai says elephants are ugly and I say 'Whaaaat, they are beautiful!!!' She says, well you say that because you never had them trying to break your house and chase away your children and your cattle. And I see her point. It brings back childhood memories for her.
We get to Arusha at 5 pm and then get into a bus to Moshi. We are very tired from all the excitement and the challenging roads but I want to take them to Materuni waterfalls tomorrow, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, close to Moshi town, so we need to get there tonight.

The mystical beauty of the Materuni waterfalls in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. 

 We make it to Moshi at 7.30 pm.
We are all exhausted. Yannik had fallen asleep in the last half hour on the bus and I carry him from the bus, to the taxi and into our hotel room and am thankful that he stays asleep through all of this. No dinner for him, but at least lots of sleep.
He had been so excited and therefore overtired the last few days, that he only got 8 hours sleep or so each night, so I am glad he fell asleep at his usual time today.

We leave Yannik with his grandmothers and Claudia, who say they are too exhausted to eat, and go out for beers, Sokoine, Kiringo and I. I have a pizza and a beer and am very thankful to be here in Moshi and to have made the safari happen. And I am exhausted.
The next day we get up, have breakfast and discuss we there or not to go the waterfalls. I really really want to take the Mamas and the kids but I know that the roads in the foothills of the mountain will be wet and slippery. It is a 40 minute drive to the gate and then a 45 minute walk through the hills to the waterfalls and I am worried that the Mamas might not be up for it. Weather forecast says rain I  the afternoon. The Mamas say they are ready to go and Sokoine and Kiringo say the same. So at 9.30 we set off into town and find a taxi for a good price that sprees to take us to the gate.
The driver is a young guy, very nice but doesn't quite know the way. He asks me for it and I tell him: 'What, you asking the Mzungu for the way - who is the taxi driver here? Ask people of the way'. And he does and we make it.
He then decides to join us on the walk as he has never been and he agrees to take us back in his taxi also.

Yayai and Totoi making their way towards the waterfalls. 

The paths up the mountain are slippery and steep and the Mamas are very nervous. They won't even look at the views of the mountain as they are too scared to fall. I feel for them and ask myself if I asked too much of them. We walk slowly in single line as one wrong step and you would slip on the wet mountain paths. Sokoine is ahead with the guide and the driver, guiding Yannik, Kiringo is looking after Claudia and I am in the back with the two Mamas telling them to take their time and guiding them over wooden bridges and slippery bits.
I start cracking up at the Mamas because I am so nervous that they might fall and break a leg and I apologise to them for putting them through this. They are in good spirits, and put on brave faces say, 'No Stephania, we are very grateful for you to bring us here, don't worry, we are fine. This is something that we will talk to about to our great-grandchildren - the day our white daughter brought us to Kilimanjaro'.
And I laugh and nearly tear up, grateful for their graciousness, their strength, courage and resilience. They show me again, why I love them so much.

We make it to the waterfalls, the Mamas are amazed and scared at the same time and I point them to a log to sit down and rest. They don't dare to go up close to the rushing water. I finally catch up with Yannik and Sokoine, Yannik seems teary and I figure he must be hungry, he just walked 45 minute up and down hills on slippery paths. I am so proud of him and call him my mini warrior. His grandmothers do the same and call him from their log. I give him a juice and biscuits and he cheers up.

We take a few pictures and take a rest in a nearby hut. The Mamas have taken their shoes off and look exhausted. I give out biscuits to everyone and tell them how well they did. Sokoine and Kiringo are pouring sweat and I laugh at them.
We start the way back slowly, the Mamas without shoes. The going is easier now as we are used to it and glad to be on the way back. I praise the sun which has come out to dry our paths. I laugh and giggle in the back with Kiringo, maybe it is adrenaline, maybe thankfulness that everyone is still healthy.

We make it to the car and drive back to Moshi. I take the drivers number and promise to bring him customers when I can.

Our team at Materuni waterfalls. 

My work is done - I took my family on safari and to the the water coming down from the famous Kilimanjaro and I finally feel like I can relax.
I have some work to do in town and let my family rest.
The next day is another errand day for me and a rest day for the family.
I have a go at taking Yannik into the pool at the Ymca, but he is scared of the water and gets out quickly.
At 3pm we make it to the bus stand to get back to Arusha after nearly losing Sokoine's backpack after we had left it in the back of a tukuk. We get it back and take the bus, so that tomorrow we would get the 6 am bus back to Kibaya. Our adventure is coming to an end and I am sad.
 No surprise, our bus breaks down about 30 km outside of Arusha. Lots of smoke coming out the engine and I tell Sokoine 'let's go find another bus.'

We get into a dala dala,  a mini van. Sokoine,  Yannik and I are next to the driver who takes a liking to Yannik, trying to speak Swahili with him all the way. Yannik knows mainly Maa, his tribal language and little English and Swahili but the two manage to communicate and it is lovely to see.

It is the warmth and kindness of the Tanzanian people that has won my heart. Hardly would you get into a bus in Europe and have the driver engage you and your kid in conversation.
We make it to Arusha around 6 pm and I get bus tickets for the next day. The Mamas again are too tired too eat.
The next day, our journey passes uneventfully. The rains had not been that heavy the last few days and all the bridges are passable again. We again see Zebras and wildebeest grazing alongside Maasai cattle and that makes me so happy. I think 'This is how it is meant to be - man and animals in harmony. The Maasai still know what that means, while we in the western world have forgotten it'.
We make it to Kibaya at 3 pm.
I am sad to be back and at the same time relieved to have made it safely despite the difficult travel conditions.

The next day we take it easy, I am exhausted due to lack of sleep and worry about getting my family home safe on these dirty roads. It rained at night and we still have 100 km of mud between us and home.
We get in a minibus at 1 pm and thankfully the roads are pretty dry despite a drizzle.
Only 20 km outside Kibaya though we get to another flooded bridge - and another car stuck in the water, blocking the way.
There is a tractor on the other side and rumours say, it will pull the car out. Yannik is tired and nd nervous about the water - he has seen it too many times now. He tells me: 'Mama, let's just go by foot, I don't want to get back in the car, I don't like the water'. My sentiments exactly. I see the way the car is stuck, its backwheel in a ditch in the mud and I ask myself  how our old minibus is going to make it through it.
Sokoine says we should get back in the bus, as soon as they pull the car out and I refuse, saying I am going to strap Yannik on my back and walk through the water. People had been passing and it was only knee-high, flowing slowly. I was much more confident wading through it that sitting in our bus.

The car is pulled out and I say to Yayai, give me your cloth - I want to put Yannik on my back and walk. And she says: 'Right, here you go, let's go together'. I put Yannik on my back and take her hand and we start wading through the water. Totoi takes the hand of an elderly Maasai man and off we go. I look back and see Kiringo and Claudia standing at the water's edge, giving us instructions of where to go and I tell him: 'Let's go, take Claudia'. He does and follows us. Sokoine arrives out of nowhere, wanting to help us, but he sees that we got it all under control and goes back to help push our truck. We make it to the other side safely and I cannot help but ask myself how many more obstacles fate will put in our way until we make it home safely.
We all look back to see our truck shaking and rolling its way over the broken bridge and through the mud.
We get back on, reluctantly and continue our trip.
We see rain falling close to home and just pray that we will get there.
We make it closer to Kijungu, Yannik playing horn which is missing in our bus, when we have to pass herds of cattle, much to the amusement of our driver: 'Beep beeeeeep' he goes.
 We share grilled corn that we bought on the side of the road, the bus passengers having become family after we made it through the hellish water. An older man, passes half a corn to Claudia and she hesitates to accept and I tell her to take it and say 'asante' which she does and I can't help but smile at this token of love and humanity being shared between strangers. Then I see our driver break his cob in half and pass it to one of his passengers and I am reminded again why I love this country so much.

Nothing is taken for granted - dangers and difficulties are expected at each moment and they are being taken in their stride, with courage and dignity and afterwards people are not scared or angry, but happy and thankful to be alive. And they go and share corn with each other that they bought with the little money they have. But here in Tanzania, what you have, you share and you don't think twice about it. To eat while your neighbour is not eating, is something that simply feels wrong and that is easily corrected by sharing.
I am sitting in this old cluttery minibus, exhausted, in my soaking wet sandals from passing through a river, looking at dark thunder clouds threatening our safe return back home and I get teary thinking how thankful I am for it all. How alive I feel and how full of love. And I know that we will make it. And if we have to walk the last kilometres - I am ready, I say.

We make it to the turn off to our village after it had started raining again and after the bus had nearly slid into a ditch again, to which Yannik told the driver 'Pole pole', which means slowly in Swahili, much to the amusement of the entire bus - and Sokoine's brother Lemomo is waiting there with our motorbike to take us back home.

We are all tired of the combination of mud and cars, so we tell him to just take our bags and let us walk. Three kilometers by foot to get home seems like nothing to the distance and the challenges we had already behind us.
So we walk, my family and I and stop by Sokoine's sister's home on the way to distribute biscuits. We walk through dirt and mud and water and laugh and say words of thanks to have made it home safe.
And this is where our adventure ends.

And I say to Totoi and Yayai: 'If it weren't for the mud - I would turn around right now and do it all again.'

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Speaking Masai language (Maa) continued

I have introduced to you the very basics of Maa or the language of the Masai now nearly a year ago. Where does time fly?!?

Capturing beautiful moments with dancing Masai 

So I would like to continue this post and give you even more of an insight into this beautiful nilotic language.
Nilotic literally means 'coming from the Nile' and refers to the fact that this kind of language was first spoken in the Nile area, coming from Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and moving into Kenya and Tanzania.

I have written a similar post for Africa Geographic's blog and someone commented saying how unnecessary it was to know Maa or even Swahili (the National language of both Kenya and Tanzania) stating that it was sufficient to know English, French or Arabic. Well this person might think that it is OK to speak the language of the colonialists but I like to disagree.

Practising to dance like a Masai woman.

The language of a people is the gate to their hearts. It shows them that you make an effort to understand them and communicate with them. It makes it easier for them to trust you and to welcome you into their homes. For me, travel is meeting new people and getting to know different cultures and you can only really fully get to know a culture when you speak at least a few words of the native language.

So here are a few simple expressions and phrases that might come in handy when you are in Tanzania or Kenya on Safari or on Zanzibar encountering Masai and Samburu people.

Masai warrior jumping during a dance.

Kai ta?                                An informal greeting, loosely translated meaning 'what's up?'
Kiti                                      Answer to 'Kai ta?'

Keiya toi?                          Same as 'Kai ta'
Sidai                                   Answer to 'Keiya toi'; also means 'good', 'nice', 'beautiful'

Kai iji enkarrn inno?      What is your name?

Aji......                                  My name is......

Ai?                                        Where?

Anu?                                    When?

Kanyoo?                              Why?

Kai eti....?                             Where is.....?

Choo                                     Toilet (Swahili as there is no word for toilet in Maa)

Kai iloito?                            Where are you going?

Aloito.....                               I am going.....

Kanyoo iyesita?                  What are you doing?

Kai emanya?                       Where do you live?

Kai ingwaa?                         Where do you come from?

Aata esumaji                       I am hungry

Aiyo....                                   I want.....

Maiyo.....                               I don't want. ....

Aata......                                 I have......

Maata.                                   I don't have.

Anyorr                                  I like

Manyorr                               I don't like

Arra                                       I am

Marra                                   I am not

Enchake                               I would like/Please give me

Enkarre                                Water

Food                                      Endaa

Ugali                                     Emutu (staple diet in most sub-saharan african countries,                                                                   made of dried maize)

Meat                                      Ngiri

Personal pronouns

Nanu                                     I

Iye                                         You

Elle/enna                              He/She (there is no 'it' in Maa)

Iyook                                     We

Ndai                                       You

Kullo/Kunna                         They (Male/Female)

Awe-inspiring human beauty: the Masai.

Sooooo I will leave it at these for now as I think these phrases will occupy your brains quite a lot! 😊

Please let me know, if there is anything specific you would like to know.

Wishing you a great rest of the week, until my next post!


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:

Thank you!