(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not all the buildings were in such good repair, however.
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.
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.
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.
Step three is to using a cloth and water to wet it down and spread it out.
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.