They Came A-rushing!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
In remote Maasai country, the warriors came a-rushing!

Submitted: May 03, 2017

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Submitted: May 03, 2017

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Losetiti is more of a district than a village, but there is a school there. We went there to encourage tree planting and environmental responsibility but I could tell that the teachers were not particularly motivated because conditions are harsh and it is really remote. Most teachers would dream of a job in a larger towns where life is much easier with water and a shop on every corner. The school role at Losetiti fluctuates because the Maasai parents do not see great need, or benefit in educating girls and the boys may be taken out of school at any time to carry out herding or other manly duties.

It’s chip-dry, because the semi-Sahara sun burns hot. The short scrubby Acacia trees shed most of their leaves to battle the dry, so the landscape looks grey except for the dun-yellow of dry grasses, which are still nibbled on by hungry goats. There is barely any soil, instead there are ancient alluvial gravels, washed by ancient rivers from ancient mountains like Kilimanjaro, but now long eroded into plains. The slightest movement on the ground creates puffs of dust, and on a windless day, the dust trail of vehicles can billow and waft like a trailing ribbon. The people living there think nothing of all this, they know it only as their home.

Taking a different route home, we stopped to admire a Baobab. There was a cluster of four or five of them, but this one took my eye because it was a week or so ahead of the rest. Anticipating rain, it had begun to produce leaf buds. Most often Baobabs are bare, hence the legend that God planted them upside down! Soon the flowers would be out, but only at night, thus satisfying the small bats that will be attracted by the nectar. A few slept upside down, further up the tree, on the shady side. The Maasai will collect the large fruit which contains white/pink pulp with a tart taste, much enjoyed by the children.

Unusually during the heat of the day, a lone Maasai woman came upon us, and she was carrying an axe! The markets sell axe heads. Heavy, thick, blunt things that have fat cheeks and are made of soft steel. Handles are cut from pole-size trees or branches, so they are not shaped and are not at all comfortable to use. A step up from the Stone Age, but hardly a giant leap! Anyway, in my role as an environmentalist-cum-tree-planter, I asked her where she was going with her axe. She replied that she needed to cut a tree to mend her boma. The thorny fence surrounding her house-compound. A leopard had taken a heifer through the night, so her barrier was no longer impregnable. I wasn’t about to suggest that she stop or chide her for doing what is essentially an important household task. This was the balance of life she needed to maintain. She did however promise to plant and tend a few trees I promised I would bring when the rains arrived.

After about half an hour’s travel we came to another boma which was right beside track. The thorny surround looked secure and very neat. We decided to call in to offer the householders some trees as well.  It is perfectly ok to enter a boma, but that’s all. No knocking on the door, you simply call out, ‘Hodi!’ With a higher note on the last vowel. Phonetically ending in e. There was no reply, so we called again but there still no answer.

Always, there is someone around, but not this time, we had lucked out. So we turned to go out the gateway and back to our vehicle. Just as I reached for the door handle there was a crashing of brush and a shrill call, ‘Yip, yip, yip!’ I looked in the direction of the noise, the hair on the back of my neck bristled as I saw three men dressed in black, their faces painted white and brandishing spears. They came at us a-rushing! For a moment I felt like Michael Caine in Zulu!  I knew exactly what they were, but knowledge didn’t stop my heart skipping several beats not sure if I should flee, or face the onslaught. I heard Loti slam his door shut and the lock button click into place. I was too late, they were nearly upon me!

Maasai youth dress in black robes and paint elaborate white markings on their faces to roam in groups for a number of weeks, happy that they are to become men and looking for adventure. This is a prelude to their circumcision ceremony. It is basically a bonding time and peer pressure makes them brave to face the knife. It is perhaps the most important time of their young lives. I guessed these fellows were about seventeen years old.

The young men were merely running because they wanted to catch me! Their call was to alert me to stop! Surprisingly one of them was Jehosophat! I had taught this young fellow at Ngarash primary school some years ago during my environmental work there! Ngarash is far away and the thought sprung into my head, ‘How on Earth did he get here?’ He had heard on that amazing African grapevine that I was working in the area and he had heard our truck stop. He wanted trees to plant on the boma he was preparing because he had been promised a wife through his family ties! I was in no danger at all!

It is a privilege to watch the progress of people and Jehosophat was no different. He took good care of his trees, mind you, the area he built his boma was favoured with better soils and more moisture than at Losetiti. He is able to grow maize there, and I called several times with more trees. He was due to become a father when we finally said our goodbyes.  

 


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