“I live in two worlds,” Mr. Shommet told us, “in the modern world, by virtue of my education, and in the world of the Maasai.” Mr. Shommet was educated at Columbia and two European Universities, but he still owns and raises cattle among his native tribe. He is one of a network of aging Maasai who fought for and attained excellent educations then returned to their homeland to advocate for their people. They are familiar with the book-laden catacombs of the world’s top universities, and the crocodile-laden rivers of the Tanzanian bush. Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting a few of these men.
For the past two weeks, we have been on the move with our friend, colleague, and sometimes mentor Sekoine. After our trip to the village of Parakuyo, we traveled to Kilosa—the capital city of the Kilosa District—where we intended to speak with some members of the District Council. The district planning officer came first:
“We are from a non-profit organization called ELI—“
“Do you have a letter from a ministry?”
“No, we don’t.”
We weren’t able to meet with the politicians, but that’s no big deal in this research phase of our work, and Sekoine is going to register ELI Africa Tanzania as an NGO in Tanzania, which will open doors for us in the future. We traveled to Mikumi next, where we hopped on a cheap safari—because this is Africa. We saw impalas, giraffes, elephants, buffaloes, wildebeests, zebras, hippos, wild pigs, bush dogs, baboons, and a lioness with her cubs. Waka waka. We also crossed paths with two Dutch doctors, who taped my sprained ankle and dressed Vedant’s motorcycle wound.
After Mikumi, we spent a night a Sekoine’s house in Morogoro, where we met Godfrey, a future member of ELI Africa Tanzania and a guy who, if I were to write a recommendation letter for him, I would call “an energetic and inspired young man.” From Morogoro, we set out for Arusha—Tanzania’s “second city”—where the real fun began.
We found Arusha fresh and pleasant, and we ate rice with a delicious sauce called mnafu every evening. At night Sekoine told us hilarious bedtime stories of life in the bush. Some highlights include his clinging to the branches of a tree while elephants shook its trunk and a monkey defecating on his friend.
Sekoine has connections all over the Maasai development and advocacy community, and he set up meeting after meeting for us. We met two directors of MWEDO, an organization for the advancement of Maasai women; the director of CORDS, a society for Maasai community development; the director of PINGO, a Maasai land rights advocacy group; the headmistress of the EMSOUI center, which gives remedial education to Maasai girls and funds their secondary studies.. The directors of CORDS and MWEDO were both Maasai women, whom I respect greatly for defying the norms of a culture in which ambition and activity are not expected of women. All these organizations work for Maasai development from different angles, including land-rights advocacy, microfinance, female empowerment, community education, health service provision, and secondary school scholarships. Through these meetings, we saw a community of determined people, whose work has made huge improvements to the situation of the Maasai of northern Tanzania.
We also met some of those inspiring older Maasai men. Dr. Alais Ole Morindat was first. He told us about the research he has done with Irish Aide and, with his soft-spoken manner of great conviction, told us that, if we carry out truly innovative work for the Maasai of Parakuyo, we will be heroes and heroines of the changing world. We met Father Brown, who, as a Maasai chief, is at the top of the governance system that, to members of the tribe, trumps the authority of the state government. He is also a sort of political boss in the region. We met William Tate Ole Nasha, a lawyer whose articulacy and pragmatic attitude simultaneously inspired and grounded us. He told us all sorts of interesting things about the legal situation of the Maasai and the conflicts they have with neighboring farmers. We met Frances Naikosa Ole Shomett, who entertained us with stories of arrest in Germany and Maasai warriors routing British colonial troops with their spears. We met Dr. Stephen Kirosua, an executive of the African Wildlife Foundation and one of the founders of the Mayanara Ranch School. One of the life stories I most respect is that of an individual from an underprivileged community who, through will and talent, rises above the situation into which he was born, but who chooses to return to his homeland and fight for his people. Now we head back to Dar.