Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Noloholo, Day 36: Celebrations

I attended my first Maasai celebration today – a close family friend of Laly and Buddy’s. Actually, it was a celebration for the age-change ceremonies for his family and all of his relatives. We estimated that between the total 20 cows slaughtered (keeping in mind that here, cattle= wealth), 15 goats and a number of sheep, not to mention all the fuel costs and beverages and tents for visitors, that the entire celebration probably cost the equivalent of USD$20,000-$30,000.

The Maasai age-change celebrations are interesting – they only happen once every 7 years, and signify either a boy/girl’s entry into warriorhood/womanhood, or a warrior/woman’s change into an elder stage. There are a number of rites that both genders must go through in order to claim the status of the next age group. Friends and family from miles around come to take part in the feasting and dancing; all are dressed in their finest. This particular family is very highly regarded and as such, there were hundreds of people scattered between the different houses. Children ran everywhere.

When a cow is killed, it is kept under branches to keep the insects away. Next it is cut into pieces – each group gets a different part of the animal. The men get the best cuts around the middle of the cow, the women get the legs, the elders get the neck and head. They eat separately. The women are usually in a big group together, while the men break off into little groups. The way it works is that one person cuts pieces off of a part of the cow with his machete, one by one each person around the circle gets a mouth-sized piece. Then he gives himself a piece and continues around. This means that by the time they get back to you, you better have eaten your piece of meat, otherwise you are holding up the entire circle from getting their meat. I kept holding up the circle. Apparently I eat too slowly.. I had to step out. The other thing is that if someone offers you meat, it’s rude not to take it. Same goes for drinks – you have to take, and drink, all of it. Needless to say, I left the celebration totally stuffed.

This celebration also made me realize that the Maasai dance demonstration yesterday was a bit of child’s play compared to today’s. There must have been 30 or40 warriors in one group, dressed to the nines, and making leaps of such incredible height that I could barely believe it possible. All around, watching carefully, were Maasai dressed in black robes – these were the boys who were about to be initiated into the warrior class.

In a different part of the complex, the women were dancing. Most were dressed to the nines, in their wedding beads and most beautiful clothes. These groups were much more cohesive, with more age classes represented. And I wondered, what if this was my life? There are some cultures in which being a woman is better than being a man…the Maasai culture is not so, and I believe that this one is fraught with inequities. Any culture in which a woman has no choice about whether or not she contracts HIV/AIDS even though her husband does, about how many children she has, about whether or not FGM is practiced, cannot hold property as a man can, is to me an unequal culture. The fights I fight as a woman of privilege in America is the one described in Anne-Marie Slaughter's fantastic article, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" And yet, these people are as real as I am, and it is not so hard for me to look out of her eyes for a moment or two.

It was such an experiential afternoon for me. Between the singing, the dancing, the air filled with the dry dust of animal dung and red dirt, the endless stream of meat and soda, and the constant greetings with everyone at the celebration, I feel that I could barely keep up in absorbing the atmosphere. No wonder nobody wants to attend the women’s meetings, I thought to myself, this is much more exciting.

Today was also the last day of summer camp. I gave my contact information to all the scholars, and wished them luck with their studies. It was amazing to watch the little ones too – they have all developed so much confidence in just 6 days. It really makes me believe in the power of a positive educational experience. It’s also been a very full and rich 6 days. The staff here at Noloholo has been amazing, bringing food to feed all of us, making sure we all stayed safe and happy. They are nothing but friendly to me, with a genuine smile and wave for me everytime they pass. I am very lucky.

When I came back from the celebration, I finally took a shower, and then went down to Kelly’s room where the other interns were proceeding to unwind from camp by getting very tipsy. Buddy made southern-style fried chicken for lunch. Tuma fled the kitchen pretty soon after our arrival, and we ate and talked long into the night, wrapping it all up with raspberry coulis over the last of the ice cream.

A buttercream moon is just rising now at 10:40. I saw eye shine not too far from my tent earlier tonight; probably no more than a little dikdik, but I’m huddled in for the night nonetheless.
Tags: travel - tanzania
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