Monday, 8 September 2014

Maape Esafari! First Stop: Magadi

Maape Esafari! Magadi
Lets go on a journey

While I was staying with the Sakuda family, Jonathan took me and the other volunteers who were there during my stay to several villages to meet other Maasai family and friends.

The first was Magadi. 
Jonathan, Bertille, Peter, William and I woke up early in the morning and made it to the Ilnarooj town center where we took a packed truck to Ksidean a neighboring town with an actual city center. When I say packed, I mean there were four people in the front seats, and about ten of us in the back, plus three goats, two chickens and piles and piles of firewood.
Jonathan and Peter in the truck before the crowd came
 Once in Ksidean, we got spots in a caravan that took us the remaining three hours to Magadi. At that point, I thought we were there. The caravan stopped in front of a roadside village with several huts lined in a row along the “highway” (two lane paved road). 
Right off the bus
But not yet. We still had a bit of a hike. Up hills, down hills, across planes, up hills again. Across another flat surface of land that looked like “The Lion King” terrain. 
Then finally, in the distance we came upon a group of four huts surrounded by a stick fence. This is where the MBori family lives. We had arrived.
If Jonathan’s village sometimes felt isolated, the Mbori family's village took that to a whole different level. They live here, so far away from any other family or village, and yet they are all still connected. They interact with neighbors when taking care of the cattle and goats, even if the neighbors live miles and miles away from them; the people who live in the town know them; there is definitely a sense of community within the remoteness.
View of Magadi from above
The first night we slept outside on a cow skin rug and under a mosquito net that Mamma Mbori and her daughters set up for us. If I learned anything from sleeping outside right next to the animal pens it's that goats make the most absurd and ridiculous, funny noises. I can’t describe them. Somewhere between baa-ing, eeeh-ing and making gurgling sounds that made me feel I was sleeping next to creatures from a “Star Wars” movie. Do goats in America do this, I wonder?
A group of young kids got into the house. Woops!

The hospitality of this family is incredible. The second we got there we were served shai. We were always to eat before the family, we were to go to sleep before them and when we woke up, there was breakfast already ready. On our last night they sacrificed a goat for us and when it rained on our outdoor campout they insisted we sleep in their beds inside. I felt like I was abusing their warmth and generosity but I learned that, just like back home in Ilnarooj, guests are the center. It’s just as much a sign of respect for them to give as for us to receive.

Nini Mbori: My Maasai Mamma
I became very close to the Mamma of the family after asking her what her name was in Maasai. After hearing the question she laughed and shook her head and I realized that I shouldn't have asked that. No one had told me that it was disrespectful in Maasai culture to ask an elder their name. Luckily, she saw it as endearing and for the remainder of my stay she was constantly teaching the Maasai language, how to milk, how to cook. I became very fond of her. 

One of the Mbori family's daughters, Janet, is currently one of the girls that Jonathan's organisation, MAYOO (The Maasai Youth Outreach Organization) sponsors at the local Safe House for Girls. At the age of twelve, an older Maasai man approached the family with intentions of marrying her. In Maasai culture, if a girl is not enrolled in school or is not already engaged she is eligible to be married, regardless of what the family or girl think, especially if there is an adequate dowry involved (usually involving several goats, cows, chickens and even blankets). Before Janet could get married, Jonathan and William brought a group of Australian volunteers to visit the family, much like us, and, seeing Janet's distress towards the thought of being married (with reason I think) found a sponsor in Australia to help send her to the Safe House. In USA finances, to send a girl to the Safe House, where she gets full room and board and a full education at a private school, it's $35 a month. When I learnt that, I couldn't believe it. That's as much, if not more than so many people I know, myself included, spend in a nigh on dinner in NYC. 

When I returned home, I got my family to sponsor Janet's sister to go to the Safe House. At the time that Janet was getting engaged, her sister Jaqueline was in school. For many Maasai families, whether you go to school or not is luck of the draw, especially when there are many kids and there is also the need to tend the livestock and do chores around the house. By sponsoring the second twin, we're ensuring that she won't only get a better education where she is, but also that she won't get pulled out of school at any moments notice. I also wanted to give her the chance to live with her sister again, since the two of them are very close. 

If anyone reading this has any interest in learning more about the Safe House or how to help sponsor girls in the Maasai community, please leave a comment or send me a message. I'll be doing another blog post coming up with more info on it, so this is just a prelude, but feel free to reach out! 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Endaa & Enkare- Food and drink in Maasailand

Ugali, Chapati, Nikorogo. Yum

One night sitting around the kerosene lantern at home we began testing each other with riddles. “I am in every house and have my mother, sister and grandmother all together. Who am I?” said Eunice. I had no idea.
Eunice laughed in the girlish enchanting way she often did and said it was easy. I couldn't say. 
“The cooking fire! One two three stones- the mother, sister and grandmother who cook our food!”
This is your Maasai, Kenyan stove. 

Every house I went to cooked like this. Every one. Regardless of how big the family was, how much food was to be cooked. Three stones, laid one on top of the other two with a space in the middle for the fire. Pots and grills rest on top and the cook has to monitor the fire simultaneously with the cooking. 

I did a lot of the cooking while I was there. I learnt how to make chapatti and ugali- two starch staples that are then paired with sukuma (cabage), Sukuma-wiki (a type of kale/collard greens), beans, peas or meat.

How to make Chapati: (as described by Eunice)
1st. In a pot mix water, salt and some fat. 
2nd. Add flour and mix with the hands until the mixture is no longer very very sticky.  

First stage of making chapati: mix the dough
 Eunice and Amy Sall mixing the dough (
3rd. Make nice round pieces of the dough.
4th. Roll the round pieces to make flat chapati. 
5. Heat the fire and put fat on the pan. 
6. Place the flat chapati on the pan and cook. 
7. Eat with greens or meat. 
Cooking Chapati- I became an ultimate expert =P
Another Recipe by Eunice- UGALI- The African Cake
(Written as dictated by my host)
-Aim: How to prepare an African Cake (Ugali)
-Items: Maize flour, water, a pan or sufuria fire, stirer
-Procedure (process)
  • Put water in the pan or in sufuria
  • Put on fire and make sure the sufuria (pan) is comfortable
  • Wait until it boils
  • While boiling, put maize flour and use the stirer to stir
  • Wait until the smoke come out of it
-Observation: you will observe a very nice smell
-Ugali can be served with greens or cabbages or chicken (chicken was Eunice's favorite) 

Kanyor Shai! 
I want tea!

My first Kenyan specialty that I tried was shai. The last Kenyan specialty that I had was Shai. Kenyan tea. 
To prepare the tea, first you boil milk on the fire, taken, in our case, straight from David's cows. Either Eunice or I would walk to his house early in the morning with a bottle and would get fresh milk that Solomon or Saruni would have just milked. 
After the milk boils, you add the tea leaves, then the water and let it return to a boil. Then you add the sugar and strain the shai through a sieve into the teapot. 
Sometimes they would use goatsmilk also.
When you go to a house, shai  is always offered, and even if you are only there to drop something off, you'll more often than not end up sitting for a half an hour chatting and sipping tea. No complaints there. 

Jookee Ankare!
Let's go get water!

Water. That life substance that comes out of taps when we turn them and that we buy in fancy plastic bottles with an array of labels to choose from at the supermarket. 
Well, in Maasailand, and most of Kenya, if not most of Africa, this was our tap

To get water families have to walk to the closest water tank to fill up their jerry cans. We were lucky enough to be able to use William’s donkeys but many families carry them or use wheel barrows. 
Maasai Women Walking back home from the well
Bathing is limited and every bit of water is used and reused. After bathing, it's saved and you use it to mop or clean the house. If you are cleaning dishes, the clean rinsing water will then turn into the dirtier scrubbing water. To heat it, we use the three sisters and wait for it to boil. I got used to just using cold water and taking bird baths most days.
As much as water is recycled, drinking water is, naturally, very valued and I found that as much as other aspects of the daily life there isn't the cleanliest, you make sure you have clean water to drink. At least to drink. "The floors and the dogs can use dirty water" as Eunice once told me. 

Jonathan preparing the donkeys 
Bertille and I doing housework
Washing dishes with Jonathan's sister, Grace

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Maape Ang! A bit about the Maasai Home

Maape Ang!
(Lets go home!)
When I think of a typical suburban American neighborhood, I think of things being spread out, far away from each other- you need a car. The towns in Kenya take this to another level. Ilnarooj is technically the town where I was staying, but Jonathan’s house was still about a forty minute walk from the few stores and huts that constituted the center of the village. A neighbor is anywhere from five to thirty, to ninety minutes away- walking through bush, trees, pastures, up and down hills, climbing rocks…

The amazing thing is though, as much as I know how to navigate the streets around my parent’s house back in California, or the subways here in New York, the Maasai know exactly where they are going, regardless of where the obvious road stops. 
Jonathan and David (Saoyo and Saitoti) on the main road

They walk at night without flashlights and can tell you where and where not to step. Kids as young as five years old guided me to their school almost an hour away, taking shortcuts through trees that all looked the same to me.

The walk to David's home

Inside Jonathan’s house there are three rooms separanted by thin plywood walls draped over with colorful sheets and shukas, posters and photos. One room is for guests and volunteers; another for himself, his wife Eunice and baby Moses. The main room is the living space. This is where we gathered to eat, drink shai, listen to the radio, "make beads" (aka do beading) , tell stories.

If anything, Jonathan’s house is quite modern. It has a cement floor, wood panel walls, a tin roof and clear room divisions with a separate hut for the kitchen.
Living room- Right to left: Peter, Eunice, Bertille with Baby Moses, Jonathan &me
 The traditional Maasai house is built with sticks and mud and a family will typically have two or three on their land- one with a bed and cooking space, the others left for bedrooms. The floor is the same dirt as outside. When cooking, dirty water, extra shai or any other useless liquids are poured straight on to the floor.

In these houses, families gather around the cooking fire and this is where time is spent together.
David and Emily's kitchen
Emily making Pankakes
Solomon cooking dinner
Jonathan’s house is just off the road (barely a road), surrounded by a stick fence. When my taxi arrived late at night, his wife Eunice and a volunteer, Bertille from France, came out to greet us. There was no light except from a small kerosene lamp and small flashlight Bertille brought along. At this point it was already past twelve, but we gathered around the living room table and I had my first Kenyan Shai- Kenyan tea with milk and sugar. Lots of sugar.
I was so tired I don’t remember much of the conversation during that first gathering. It probably had a lot to do with introductions and the kind of small talk you have with people who you don’t know but with whom you know you are going to be spending a considerable amount of time with. What I do remember was the ambiance. The feeling of being welcomed unconditionally into a home. 
Hanging around the house

Eunice making beads
Saitoti, me and Michelle

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Nashipae! Supa! A Little Intro to My Not so Little Trip

Nashipae! Supa!
(Hello Nashipae)

Two days after my arrival I was given a Maasai name- Nashipae. David Saitoti suggested it, William (Jonathan’s uncle and elder in the community who would soon become my Maasai father) approved it, and for the rest of my time in Kenya I was Nashipae. The word Nashipae means joy or happiness, and as a name, someone who brings joy or happiness. I was honored.

In all honesty, I had arrived in Kenya without a very clear idea of what I was going to be doing on a day to day basis. I have had a fascination with different regions of Africa since I was about twelve. The primary school that I attended in Spain was run by Franciscan Nuns who had built an orphanage and birthing center in Kenya. Every year several of my teachers would go visit and they brought back photos, stories and local knick knacks that we would sell at fundraisers during Christmas time. I fell in love with books like “They Poured Fire on us From the Sky” by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng and Alephonsion Deng about the Lost Boys of Sudan, I tortured myself watching documentaries and footage from the Rwanda Genocide, I tried to find ways to boycott diamonds from the Sierra Leone diamond mines (this was one of my short lived attempts to be radical as an early teenager). I learnt how to make injera and other east African dishes and for a while tried learning the Egyptian alphabet.  All the while though, I felt like few, if any of my peers had any idea of what I was talking about when I brought up these topics. In both the schooling systems that I’ve gone through (Spanish and USA) I’ve always felt that African geography and history is widely neglected. I tried to compensate by educating myself as much as possible and this trip was the ultimate exercise.

I’d found Jonathan and his organization The Maasai Youth Outreach Organization (MAYOO) through a website called workaway, where people worldwide post jobs for volunteers. The main project I wanted to be involved with was the Safe House that Jonathan told me MAYOO was working with- A house for girls built as a refuge boarding school to escape arranged marriages, abuse, female genital mutilation and homelessness. Other volunteers had told me they worked in the local schools, visited local villages and had sponsored well digging, school uniform purchases and school fees.

After having spent a week in Maasailand, I felt like I wasn’t doing as much as I wanted. I taught English classes in the primary and secondary schools, I visited the safe house and met with the head teacher and matron, I had seen the water hole and the amount of families that walk to it every day for water. I was learning, yes and everyone seemed pleased with this. I was learning the Maasai language, how to cook, how to communicate with them but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. The schools have good teachers. The girls were in a good home and supportive environment. What they really needed, need,  is sponsorship to keep these programs going.
Girls Safe House

Children from the local primary school
Photo by Amy Sall

I decided to stick with what I know. I sat down with Jonathan and we began outlining a clearer mission statement and program plan for MAYOO. I’ve since been working on updating the website that they had to make their cause more accessible to western attention and plan to help MAYOO continue to grow and expand.

Much of my actual volunteer time has been spent in the last month since leaving Kenya but the time I spent there was crucial for helping me understand the tribe, lifestyle and the need within the community I had set out to help in the first place. Over the next few weeks I'll be finally posting entries that will show a bit of what I did, what I saw, what I learned in this brand new community in Maasailand, Kenya. 
Photo by Amy Sall

Jonathan (Saoyo) and Peter on our way to Magadi

Goats make the weirdest noises- you have no idea. 

Oh, hello there! 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Telegraph from Kiserian

I made it safely to my host's house in Ilngarooj, a small Maasai town in Rift Valley Province. Stop. I have no internet reception on my phone (even though I supposedly have free international data). Stop. Must resort to posting a short message from a cyber cafe in Kiserian. Stop. We are on our way to Makadi to visit another Maasai family. Stop. All is well. Stop. More pictures and full, descriptive posts will have to wait untill I am back in the US. Stop. As for now, I am MIA. Stop. More or less. Stop.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

A Whole New Trip to a Whole New World

Another year of busy New York living has flown by and I am once again heading out for some traveling. This time, I'm starting my summer off with a trip to somewhere completely foreign, completely new and terribly exciting- Kenya. 
When I was in fourth grade, the school I went to in Spain founded a school and birthing center in Kenya which triggered my interest for the region. I've been wanting to do a trip like this for years. 
I finally find myself in a position where I am old enough and confident enough to travel to Africa on my own and learn firsthand about a culture and lifestyle so different from any of the European and American lifestyles I have been a part of throughout my childhood.
I am going to Maasailand, Kenya to live with a Maasai family for a month and work with their local non-profit- The Masai Youth Outreach Organization (MAYOO). The program was started by Jonathan Saoyo (my host) and Elijah Olkupai to help conserve Maasai culture concentrating on the culture'a youth. Check out their website at
I can't say how much access I'll have to internet once I'm there, or how much time I'm going to be able to spend blogging. However, I'll do my best to post updates as frequently as I can.
For now though, I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to the shenanigans I am about to stir and stay tunned! 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Life of a Sailor

Saludos de Cabo de Palos! I am now at my cousins’ beach house in the small seaside town where I’ve spent summers since I was in the womb, and like every time, it’s great. Truth be told though, I’ve only been here for two weeks. Where was I during the missing week before then? Well! After leaving Paris, I arrived in Madrid, stayed there for a day with my aunt Cuca, and then the two of us plus a family friend’s daughter named Gaby (who was in Spain for three weeks to practice her Spanish as she lives in Hong Kong but is half Australian, half Mexican- complicated I know…) drove down to the south east coast to meet my family down here in C de P. The day after we arrived, we packed up our rucksacks and embarked on a “travesía marina” up the coast of the Spanish peninsula and to several islands along the way. Here is a debrief of the journey:
 Day 1: The Journey Begins
We embarked from the port Thomas Maestre in La Manga under Captain Juan Antonio Garcia (my uncle)- sailors: Caridad Martin-Nieto (my aunt Cuca), Gaby and myself. Our journey began with a five hour stretch up towards Alicante. We made a brief stop in Tabarca, an island just off the Alicante coast to have lunch and go for a swim.
We then completed our first day's sailing with three more hours towards Altea, a small seaside town. Once in port, we showered, had dinner, and went out to the town to meet some family friends- Fernando and Curra- who happened to be in town, for ice-cream and drinks.  

Day 2:

We awoke in port and went out for coffee and to meet Curra who had insisted we check out the older part of the town. Located on top of a hill, this part of Altea is classic. The cobble stone streets lead up to the church in the middle of a big plaza surrounded by bars, restaurants and cute little shops and stalls. The views from up there are amazing. 

After our little tour of town, we said goodbye to Curra and set sail towards Denia, another seaside town where we were scheduled to meet my uncle and cousin for dinner. We ended up finding a great little restaurant run by a pair of twin brothers, with a line stretching all the way down the block. The wait was well worth while though. The food was great- sepia a la plancha, croquetas de bacalado, atun con verduras- everything so fresh and delicious!
Day 3:
Sunday we took a break from sailing. A life long friend of Cuca’s daughter has a family house in Denia, and seeing that we were all in town, they invited us over for lunch. The whole family, plus the family friends who were over there also were all from Valencia (where I grew up).
Day 4:
Early Monday morning, my cousin Mari-Leti met us in port after having spent a week volunteering at a music festival in a nearby town. With this added member to our crew we continued our journey towards Formentera, an island right next to Ibiza.  The voyage was about nine hours long, but they went by quickly- lots of sleeping, sunbathing and reading involved...

That night we didn't go into port, but "fondeamos", meaning that we anchored just off shore.

Day 5 and 6: Formentera
We woke up to the swaying of the sea and sound of waves on shore and slowly but surely headed into port where we docked an showered. Formentera is small, with three little towns filled with small car and motorcycle rental shops, seafood restaurants and Italian tourists.  We rented a car and drove around checking out the different views, lighthouses and cliffs.

That night we spent docked in the very touristy port of town. 
Early morning we filled up on groceries, took a last tour of town and headed back out to find a good place to drop anchor. 
We found a great spot right off shore of a beautiful beach on a part of the island right next to the locally famous mud pits. Yes, locally famous mud pits, where locals and tourists alike go, rub mud all over themselves and lay out in the sun looking like Avatars or some sort of science fiction natives. It’s an alternative to the mud baths offered in spas, and for much cheaper. 

That night was probably my favorite.
 It was so peaceful, no cars, no city lights- only the creaking of masts and sailing lines. It was a good ending for what was to come….

Day 7: Sea trip back to the mainland.
At 5am I was woken up by loud banging and swaying. The wind and picked up, and it didn’t stop all day. This day was literally spent curled up trying to sleep bellow deck, clinging on for dear life everytime the boat swayed. It was a long twelve hours.
Nevertheless, we made it to Campello right by Alicante at around dinner time and dizzily stepped onto the port. We were all exhausted, but still had a nice stroll on the boardwalk after dinner.
Day 8: Return to Cabo de Palos
We were prepared for the worst from the winds, but luckily the next day was calm and beautiful for our voyage home.

Before entering port, we stopped for a quick swim at the Grosa island. To top it off, we weren’t allowed back on board, so we clung on to the life saver rope while the adults turned on the motor and tried to escape. Just kidding, we did it on purpose for fun.

It was a good ending to help our restlessness as we sailed into our final stop.
The next day Cuca and Gaby left early, and since then I've been here, in Cabo de Palos. We spend the days waking up late, swimming, eating, napping, more swimming... Some days we take the boat out, others we snorkel or go into town for coffee or ice-cream. My brother got here on Friday, so now the house is full and lively, but very relaxed and ideal. Why else would it be my favorite place in the world?