Life in a Boma

(Ed. note: My sincere thanks to Shannon for the use of some of her photos for this post. It is much appreciated.)

Friday was a day of immersion into two aspects of the life of the Maasai on the African plain. The morning was the water walk and the afternoon was smearing.

We are very lucky to get water plumbed right to our house. In the community of Engutukoit it is piped from the mountains to a variety of places where there are central taps. These are often out in the middle of an area where the women (commonly referred to as the Mamas) go to several times each day to collect containers of water.

Water for all…

We were scheduled to collect water from this watering point to carry to one of the local bomas. When we arrived there were 8 or 9 Mamas just sitting there. Apparently the water had been turned off due to some problem or other and they were waiting for it to be turned on again. They can often wait for many hours.  I gather this is not an infrequent occurrence.

Burros are used to help transfer the jerry cans.

Waiting for the water to be turned on.

After some discussion and negotiation via telephone (It is strange to see cell phones being used out in the middle of Africa) we went up to the school and collected water from there. Since it takes about 4 minutes to fill one and we had 12 cans to fill it took almost an hour and then we had the walk. It would be a similar situation for the Mamas since they would have to wait their turn and then walk back and forth to the camp.

It takes about 4 minutes to fill one of these.

Once the cans are filled, they are strapped on to either the burros or the Mamas head/back. We had the opportunity to experience this daily task. As opposed to the women who do it alone, we were set up in pairs and switched off a couple of times on the way to the boma (community) which was approximately 1 kilometer away. I had a great partner – thanks Liz.

Liz – alway a happy woman – even with 20 liters of water strapped to her forehead.

Mark had much better posture than I did!

Each of the jerry cans had 20 litres of water weighing 20 kg. or 44 pounds (Ed. note: For those of you still in an imperial world). I can’t imagine doing this several times a day in order to have the necessary amount of water needed for cooking.

Scattered around the school grounds were more water cans. The kids would fill them on their way home each afternoon. They also served as p.e. equipment. (more on that later)

I have certainly seen photos of women around the world doing this, and saw many of them while on the roads in Arusha. Nevertheless it was a remarkable experience to actually do it, even if it was for a very short time.

After lunch it was time to go back to the boma to learn how to smear. A boma is a collection of homes in what could be defined as a compound. Within the compound there are also areas where the animals (goats, cattle) can be kept, I assume in the evenings. Both the compound and the “corral” are surrounded by branches of acacia trees. They serve to both keep wandering animals of any kind out and the wandering babies in.

This was the barrier around our camp. It is a much much smaller example of the one around and within the boma.

The opening into the boma. There are other acacia branches which are dragged into the opening in the evenings.

The homes in this boma are generally in good repair. I think there were 6 families living in a number of homes, but I’m not sure how many people there were.

A home in good repair.

Not all the buildings were in such good repair, however.

Needs a little work.

The homes are basically made of a mud mixture consisting of dirt, water and fresh dung. This mixture is worked together by hands and then smeared on the wall of the building. In rainy season this has to be done 3 or 4 times a week! When we were there in the morning many of us thought we would be applying – or smearing the mud on to a new residence.

This “skeleton” was waiting for us to apply the outer coating.

They use anything and everything to build a frame.

We were very wrong however. In retrospect perhaps they didn’t think we would be skilled enough to “build” a new home.

First you have to mix the compound.

Mixing mixing mixing

Yes, c’est moi mixing the dung! And no gagging. I was terrific at mixing.

Those are the hands of a mixer – okay the gloves of a mixer. While we all wore gloves to mix and smear, the Maasai just dig right in.

Over my left shoulder (above) there are a number of warriors-in-training. They found it quite amusing to watch us, particularly Mark and I since this is “women’s work” in their world. (Ed. note: One thing I found a little frustrating was over the photography. One of our facilitators asked if it would be okay if we took their picture. They declined but then were taking photos of us using their cell phones. Didn’t seem fair to me but then again, their life isn’t fair either.)

The building we practiced our smearing on was one which was in need of repair. Once the mixture is made, step two is to put lumps of it on the walls in the required spots and using the palm of your hand work it in.

Not so good at smearing it on, however.

Step three is to using a cloth and water to wet it down and spread it out.

Some smeared and some spread with the wet cloth.

The roofs were sisal and straw weighed down with branches of wood to keep it safe from the high winds in the area.

Next post – the people and the homes of the boma.

The Shoe Blog

Okay so before the comments come in regarding my footwear, let me say that I know I was not wearing the correct shoes but Mark was. I don’t recall my reasoning, since the right shoes were back at camp.

2 thoughts on “Life in a Boma

  1. Lois & Robert Marsden

    Interesting…such a different lifestyle as we rush around amid the traffic and speedy need to get somewhere.

  2. Wendy Wilson

    Hi Geoff soooo interesting. Was wondering about any “aroma” from the mixture of dung, and mud , Hope not but guess one would get used to almost anything……maybe. Keep the info coming. I remember when I was in Kenya, yrs ago, and we were in a Masai Village, with all their cattle. One hut, was a 17 yr old very pretty girl, with 3 children already. Good grief. She spoke abit of English. Wonder how she is doing now??


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