To Say Ashe, Thank You, in Masai
(Page 2 of 2)
Under a nearby tree the people sat down to sing hymns and listen to a short sermon delivered by a native pastor from Nairobi. The sermon had to be delivered in Swahilli and translated into Masai.Skip to next paragraph
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The combination of speaker and translator gave the message a rolling cadence that added fire and melody to the words, even though I could only understand half of them. When the service was over, people gathered around to discuss mambo - important matters. They almost always addressed my father as Olelashe (Brother) or as "The man with a beard like a goat."
`WHEN can you bring a doctor? Do you have medicine for malaria? May I ride with you to Nairobi to look for work?" As the elders spoke with my father, children would come silently up to him and nudge his legs with their foreheads. This was the proper way for them to greet him and receive his blessing. As he talked, he would lay his palm on top of each head presented. Sometimes a short exchange of greeting passed between them:
Roughly translated, it went something like:
"How old are you?"
"All is well."
Dad was very popular with the children because he almost always had a toddler in one arm, even when he was filling baskets. By watching him as he lovingly held the smelly, ragged, little children, I began to appreciate the depth of my dad's love for me.
After the meeting with the elders, we were invited to have chai (tea) in someone's house inside the village. It was the first Masai hut I had ever entered, and it resembled a huge loaf of wheat bread that stood about waist high. To build it, the women had made a framework of sticks and then plastered them with cow dung. The hut we were invited to was dark and cool, but I could barely breathe because of the smoke from a small cooking fire.
The conversation inside the hut was less formal. We could be serious or just swap jokes. The woman of the house boiled milk, sugar, water, and tea leaves in one pot to make a thick, sweet drink. Each of us was handed an enamelled tin mug of chai in order of strict seniority - from oldest to youngest. I loved the chai because it was strong, sticky, sweet, and tinged with smoke. But I felt guilty at the same time, because I knew that for this woman to offer me chai would mean that she would have one less c up for a hungry child of her own. Yet I drank it because I knew that declining her offer would be the ultimate insult. Later I figured out that if I drank slowly enough, the woman would not fill my cup so often.
It was late in the afternoon before we started home. The children's cries of "Serenaduo!" "Goodbye!" - rang in my ears. I sat in the back of the VW and said nothing.
During the year and a half that we distributed food, we helped save hundreds of lives. We lost thousands more. In the years that followed the famine, we returned to work with the Masai in agriculture. But it was that first day I participated in famine relief when I learned of love, of suffering, of pride, and most of all, equality. For all that, it was my turn to say "Ashe."