Maasai Will Make You Wonder

Driving deep into the Maasai Land which surround Nairobi, Kenya, is fine until you get off the main asphalt road. When you hit the trail in your jeep all of a sudden you forget the potholes on the main road. The scenery also changes. The savannah and the frequently encountered cattle make you forget the city and its noise. The land of the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people whose culture is largely closed to the world. 

Things are changing for the Maasai as I was able to witness on my recent visit to the Kisaju region in the Rift Valley, just 50 or so miles from Nairobi. Scores of them are adjusting their habits and their diet, some of the younger ones attend literacy classes and groups are involved with a variety of income-generating activities. The cows, the goat, and the sheep are still synonymous with the Maasai. So are their colorful dresses, accented with elaborate beadwork, adorning the women as they come to church. It's Sabbath, January 17, 2009. One by one, perhaps with family head at the helm, they walk to church; their at first diminutive figures, then walking tall, straight and with proud determination, with small children in their mother's arms or trekking behind. 
The best of that color is on full display when a group of six women walk to the front of the church singing. Now, that your world music, Ray, I told myself! I couldn't have asked for more as the swaying movement of the singers and their high-pitched voices sing a song about their liberty in God.

As usual, words are not adequate to replace the images. Here is a selection of them from Kisaju and Inchorri - two Adventist communities in the Maasai Land, some 2,000 meters above the sea level. The women at prayer. The children pierce each visitor with their gaze. And then, the lone figure of a 70-year old grandfather and his grand child. "I am William Nanka. I live up there," he pointed his hand toward his hilltop homestead. "And this is my church. These are my children."

Tranquility of the moment. Never enough of it, though. The peaceful aura around them makes an impression on me. Another world discovered. Another moment to cherish. 


The Week of January 20, 2009

Three moments of the week enriched my experience - a Barack Obama's ascendency to the White House, watching all 257 minutes of Steven Soderbergh's Che (including a Q&A with Benicio Del Toro) and an ongoing reflection on the ugliness of the situation in Zimbabwe. 

The first moment was the contagious resolve expressed by the new American president to change and take us forward. There was a moment during his inaugural speech that made me truly hopeful. Decades ago one president promised us the moon, this new president is taking us there. That's how I felt.

The Che experience - which I was awarded to enjoy courtesy of my friend and videographer, David Brillhart - was more than I was asking for. Honestly, I felt that the film should not end. It was at once near-hypnotic and devoid of Soderbergh's, it seemed, personal views. What amazed me - something that crossed my mind only while watching the film - that Che's [as a person; as a revolutionary] appeal is in the fact that he was out there, in Bolivia and among the people he didn't know, yet he was there for them and all the way. Personally, while rejecting armed struggle and being of a different world view, somehow and strangely I feel indebted to men and women who stand up also for my freedom. 

Some reviewers called the film flat, others called it a draining experience, flawed, so forth. Not a reviewer, I consider the film and the story quite absorbing and engaging. Whatever ... It was a moment to remember during the week of January 20.

On Thursdays, Zimbabwe is the focus of my weekly fast. The genocidal crimes and pain of the innocents have been created by a madman obsessed with power hit my own indifference. A couple of weeks ago, and once again, Archbishop Tutu pricked my conscience with a challenge - this time to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. Starvation, cholera, apathy and hopelessness of a land whose innocent victims are countless children and women all are crying to high haven. 

This week's end topped my anger and my resolve with a news feature in The New York Times about scores of desperate and destitute Zimbabwe children whose plight takes them from hell into South Africa's milieu of the "unwelcome" and resentment. The report's images were stark: "Crossing the border can be a simple chore ... But for the uninitiated and the destitute, the journey is as uncertain as the undercurrents of the Limpopo and the appetites of the crocodiles." The unlucky ones are prey to the "swindlers, thieves and rapists." Can this get worse?

Standing on the E Street corner, David and I saw Del Toro walking in our direction. We shook hands and exchanged our initial "wow" comments about his stellar performance in Che. I shared with him a moment of my own connection with Sierra Maestra where I participated in dedication a church in Buey Arriba just over a year ago. The house of worship serves as a point of reference and an inspiration to a different kind of mission and to a different brand of revolutionaries ...

There on the E Street corner a moment of vanity took over and we asked Del Toro to sign the film folders. He did. Then we moved on ...