Star Date:  September 2009
Central Kenya: Wamba & the Samburu Tribe


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


(Hello! Kikuyu tribe)





"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

(Margaret Mead- anthropologist)


Wamba.  The end of a long, dusty road in the middle of nowhere.  Surrounded by the stark Ndoto Mountains these hot, dry plains dotted with acacia trees and thatched huts are like returning to a time when life was simpler.  Proud Samburu warriors strut around town like peacocks, surrounded by beautiful women wearing stunning colorful necklaces, large bead collars, earrings and headdresses to accent their bright cloth wraps.  Walking through the savannah we were invited into tiny huts to rest or to pause with a family or goat herder under the shade of a tree.  Telling the tribe people we were teachers, (myself a teacher/counselor in Hawaii for many years and Joseph a lecturer at Harvard) they opened up their lives and huts to us and happily allowed family pictures to share back home.  We have a list a mile long of addresses for the highly valued photos to be mailed to such as: Morogi, Box 30, Wamba! 

These photos are precious because life is hard here with no electricity, little water and food consisting mainly of bags of grains given by relief organizations.  It is all about survival, not fluff like in the west.  They don't worry about what type of shoes to buy with their new dress.  They don't have shoes and if they do they are so worn we would have discarded them long ago.  Most shoes are made out of old tires and clothes hang in shreds off the little kids, so covered in dust that they look like powdered sugar donuts.  Flies crawl on these dear little dusty faces and it reminds me of the pictures of the starving children of Africa, haunting us on the television screen while growing up. What has changed?  Relief organizations curb the starvation but as population increases, trees disappear, and what little resources are available are taxed to the limit.  No trees, no rain, no life.  Once flourishing savannah forests are eroding at alarming rates and turning into dust bowls.  The desert is moving south across the continent and engulfing everything in it's path.  Animals die and thus these pastoralists, surviving solely on the meat, milk and blood of their animals are in a precarious balance of life and death.  With a drought of over 6 months (2.5 years just north) most animals have been moved to higher ground, up in the hills surrounding the villages; but so have the remaining lions and elephants and few remaining large animals, all fighting for their lives.  Brave Samburu herders must fight off predators with only clubs and spears.  It is a fight to the finish with an uncertain future looming on this vast, endless horizon.  We hiked over 10kms up into the hills in search of wild elephants.  We found a magnificent small herd of a large male, 2 females and 2 babies munching trees as they waited for a turn with the livestock and finally villagers to drink from the only small water hole existing in the once rushing but now dusty river.

Do these hardships break the spirit of these noble people?  No.  Proud mothers show us baby number 9, named after Kenya's son, Barack Obama (6 to date).  Grains are stretched beyond capacity making watery gruel to feed everyone around the cooking fires.  Clothes are patched, 'repatched' and passed from one child to the next with small toddlers often wearing only a man's t-shirt for covering.  Women scrimp  to buy a few beads at a time, making them into intricate, traditional collars to accent their colorful cloth wraps. 

Moran warriors take their job seriously as guards of their community against marauding cattle thieves from neighboring tribes.  Traditionally these young men only kill wild lions who start attacking their cattle.  They are circumcised at about age 14, in an elaborate ceremony, which we were invited to attend but was postponed.  The young men are then sent off in groups of 4-5 to build a hut and fend for themselves.  Cutting Mama's cord they learn from the tribe's 'bull elephants' how to become men, warriors, and eventually husbands in about 15 years.  They initially spend time creating their distinctive traditional costume consisting of long braids covered with red clay, (usually hidden under a scarf), a cloth around their middle, hand carved clubs, spears and knives at their side, and a cocky display of bangles and beads to finish the look.  This 'coming of age' ritual has been the tradition of the Samburus for centuries and luckily to date has not been replaced by the silly habits from the west of starting to smoke or having your own cell phone or car to prove you are a man.  During these years the moran are allowed to have girlfriends, but as they acquire livestock and mature they will buy beads for a special girl, give them to her parents and she will create a stunning neckpiece to wear as the new wife, of her strong, powerful warrior.  Thus even in hard times the women are decked out in striking bright costumes, adding beauty to the dry landscape in which they live.  The current drought has cancelled all ceremonies and instead we saw a ritual being performed, pleading with their God, Nkai, to open the skies with rain for the parched land and peoples.

Sorry to say females are still circumcised, and as a further rite of passage they ritualistically have a front tooth or two removed to enhance beauty.  I spent an afternoon sitting around a 'manyata' hut compound with a dozen women with toddlers and babies at their breast.  One spoke English and was able to translate for us as we compared cultures, laughed, cried and shared together.  Most of the women had been circumcised at age 10.  They showed me the dance the village women do around the girl's hut the night before, telling her not to be afraid.  Large pierced ears with beads show that the woman has been circumcised and brass earrings are added once married.   Lenguya is only 20 years old and has 5 children already.  We were told that traditionally a woman was not suppose to conceive again until the baby was over 3 years old, but now with the influence of the church a baby a year is common.  Nanikuni was married at age 10 when her father was offered 7 cows, 2 fifty pound sacks of sugar, colorful beads and a can of sheep's grease to mix with the red clay for decorating the bride and groom for the marriage ceremony.  The girl has very little to say about who she marries and it seems no good offer is refused.  This is just the beginning for the future wives who have very few rights, including when their husband decides to take another wife or mistress.  I told them my husband and I thought that a couple should respect each other and share responsibilities.  They were surprised when I said I had to go to the market, buy vegetables, and cook dinner.  I told the spell bound group that my husband makes breakfast every morning and if one cooks the other cleans up.  Ahhhhh!  Hmmmm!  I mentioned to them I was interested in singing and dancing and away three women went to put on their ceremonial beads and wraps.  They sang and danced two traditional songs for me and were thrilled that I was going to send them copies of the photos I had taken, their first ever.  One wanted my address so she could make me a bead bracelet and send it and another woman offered to kill a chicken and cook dinner for us.  What an honor considering the shortage of food.  When told we didn't eat meat she ran to her hut and gave me a necklace she had just beaded.  Bidding farewell, I thanked them many times over and told them, "I would never forget them"; bonding on a deep level beyond the boundaries of skin color, culture or language.

At the same time Joseph spent the afternoon giving over 80,000 e-books to the 2 secondary schools of the village.  One is powered by a generator at the hospital and the other is installing a solar system, so a couple of computers are on the horizon and the books, Encarta and Britannica Encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. are waiting to be loaded.  On a walk through the savannah we had met Moses, an orphan living with his Grandma in a little hut.  She sold goats to pay for his first 2 years of secondary school, but they were out of money.  He was an extremely dedicated student with all A's and B's.  He applied for money from the government without success and was told by the school not to report for opening day.  We gave him a little money towards books and Joseph talked with Moses for over an hour, instilling in him to never give up.   He was the 10th student that morning asking us for financial sponsorship with school opening  2 days away.  We told him we donate money towards education already.  He understood and said he was inspired and motivated and was thankful to have met us.  Joseph then walked 3 kms. out to Moses' school and met the principal.  He offered him his library and made a request that Moses be given financial aid to attend school until graduation.  He agreed and promised to send for Moses to start school opening day. We are sure that young man was really surprised and is smiling ear to ear as I write this.  Joseph also gave an inspiring talk to a group of over 40 interested men and women from the community about symbolism, the difference between spirituality and religion, and the threatening environmental disaster looming from drought and overpopulation.  He instills hope in concluding that change is always possible.  Begged to share his ideas to a wider audience by several of the young men of the village, Joseph was well received and encouraged by the questions and comments.  Change is inevitable.  Adapt or perish.  We try in our own way to help those we meet. 

Antiquated rituals are passed down verbally from generation to generation through the pastoralist tribes.  We learned that superstition still controls the Samburu people.  They fear death and the human corpse is immediately taken away from the village to be left for scavengers.  If a moran dies all other moran from his hut will shave their heads as the contamination of his death will spread into their hair.  If milk is poured from the right hand to the left or a man tells exactly how many cattle he has or even if a hide of an animal mauled by a hyena remains in the family hut, persons of the hut will fall ill or die.  Curses, especially from Father to son are most serious, as the son drinks of the Father's milk and starts his own herd from the Father's livestock (which now includes camels, in an attempt to deal with the increasing drought).  'Kursa' or ritual specialists interpret events and help the tribe members through life's crises.  Samburu are deeply connected with Nature around them.  'Nkai', their God, resides in the sky and is aware of everything that happens in Nature.  Days begin, as with so many traditions worldwide, with praying or singing towards the sunrise.  'Nkanyit' is the fundamental moral value that goes deep into the Samburu fabric.  It translates as respect, good upbringing, sense of shame, politeness and duty.  According to the Samburus these qualities are lacking in other tribes or strangers, thus creating stumbling blocks towards outsiders trying to deal with them or any negotiations with neighboring tribes.   Xenophobia strikes again.

After our draining, often hectic treks into the villages of huts or 'manyatas' we would retreat to the serenity of the mission.  Their work with the community's schools and hospital is to be commended and if becoming a Catholic would provide services to their family, one can understand the lure to join.  James was the only other guest at the mission.  He is a Kikuyu research student studying the relationship of the Samburu to Nature, which includes sunrise chanting to Nkai, and special songs sung to each animal, domestic and wild.  We met Fidelius on the matatu coming in and he brought us to this little serene haven frequented only by Priest Peter, a few nuns, seminary students and bountiful birds singing amongst the colorful bougainvillea branches.  Their songs were only outdone by the churches magnificent choir.  I joined them learning  dances to add to the music VCD they want to record.  Hope exists in this tiny village.  May it never die!  

Living in this environment for a week makes one ponder the hierarchy of life on this planet.  Possibly we were born into a striving village such as this in a previous lifetime and now we are returning as visitors.  We are as we are this time around.  One must come to terms with the poverty around them and figure out their place in this crazy, often unfair world.  There is a story about a wealthy man in Europe who walked by the begging street people for years on his way to work.  Not being able to stand it any longer he withdrew all his money from the bank and handed it out to each beggar, until it was gone.  Thinking he had solved their problem, he was shocked to find the next day, the street people were all in their same places begging.  Teach a man to fish.  As we have said before we see education as the key to helping people in the long term and we donate towards grass roots projects annually.  Overpopulation is another key, with education crucial to adults as well as children now.  Beware of giving money without knowing what percentage actually reaches the people intended.  On a day to day basis we never give money, it only encourages more begging.  One man told us he has 5 children but hopes to have 12.  Asking him how he plans to feed them, he told us the westerners will provide relief.   Locals told us the missionaries have created this attitude of giving in return for joining their church, creating an expectation that 'muzungus' are here to give something to them.  We find it a little unbearable at times to be viewed as a 'walking wallet' (called chupas in western Africa).  When asked for money I sometimes scold young children for being rude, but most of the time I simply reply, "No, Thank You!" 

Be genuine.  It opens doors.  We sit down with the local people and get to know them.  We play balloon games with the kids, learn songs and dances, sharing time exchanging cultures.  We patronize the smallest, poorest produce vendors, purchase little handicrafts from 'starving' artists, buy a bag of food or a meal for a destitute soul, and often  books or pens for an ambitious student in need.  Joseph talks to groups of interested young men about the global overpopulation problem (encouraging vasectomies after 1-2 children: quick procedure, sex is better not worrying about more babies) and regularly shares his e-text library.  Being kind, fun, loving, and open to villagers and providing them with a positive experience with a foreigner, 'muzungu' is an important step in building bridges between cultures.  It doesn't matter what we do to help those around us, just so we do something.  Build a bridge today.  Remember to ask ourselves, "What am I doing to help?"  Even the smallest bit helps.


And so it goes.........................................Next month the coast of Kenya, full of seafaring history and balmy ocean breezes.  O.k., O.k., 'sausa, sausa' this webpage is catching on like wildfire.  Close to 40,000 hits a month.  Thanks for sharing our site with your friends and helping to get the word out what a wonderful world this is!  Knowledge replacing fear will help solve many of the problems facing the planet we share.  Keep informed, but turn off the distortion of mass media.  Small grass roots efforts are the most powerful at creating change.  Never Give Up!  Glad you stopped by.   Thanks for keeping in touch!   


Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph


Travel notes:

$1.00US = 78 Kenya Shillings

Mission Guesthouse.  Not a hotel but the local Catholic parish takes in strays at their clean, quiet, peaceful place on the edge of town (300-600s) with clean outside bathroom down the hall.  Just ask anyone where it is, even the matatu will drop you off.  Spend time sitting along the main road observing the Samburu people.  Fascinating.  Jonathan will find you and want to be your 'guide'.  Rasta Joseph will find you.  Nice guy but seems to have a drinking problem.  If either (don't encourage both) take you for a walk to see the elephants, etc you must buy tea/sugar to take as a gift.  Buy several Small packs to distribute - you hand it out to the villagers you visit.  Give either guy maybe 100s cash and 100s worth of items of their choice from a grocery store.  Everyone wants a handout - we don't give money but did buy them groceries to say thank you for the 'guiding service'.  If they suggest you attend a tribal ceremony check with other people first to make sure it is happening and not just something to string you along to give money.  Of course always pay after you have had the experience.  Walking with the kids is fun for awhile.  If you give a treat literally millions will materialize.  Better to just hold hands and be friendly.  Sometimes we chose to walk while the little critters were in school - more peaceful.

Take the matatu north to Isiolo.  Wamba is 3-4 hours NW from there.  An early start will get you there before dark.  Get dropped off at the mission and go in search of someone to help you get a room.  We did find an ok fruit/veg stand on the main street that has shipments 2 times a week.  There are a few small eating places, mainly meat, around the town.  If you buy charcoal, the mission has a little charcoal stove on which to cook and boil water.  Only boil the water they tell you to or buy bottled water.











After spending the afternoon sharing and exchanging
cultures, Lenguya, Nanikuni, and neighbor ran off to
dress in their finest bead collars and perform two
traditional songs for me.  I was honored.

A proud Samburu moran who allowed his photo to be taken after
we got to know him.

Moses and family all live in their hut about 2km from Wamba.
Study hard Moses and Never Give Up!

Stunning, intricate bead collars adorn all the beautiful Samburu women.
Note the missing tooth pulled during a 'coming of age' ritual.

A shop keeper in the market along the dusty main drag.

Three less than fierce new moran just 'goofing' along main street.

Proudly named Barack Obama, after "Kenya's own son".  Mary's 9th
child, they all lived in their manyata half the size of Moses' family hut.
  This was the 6th baby named Barack Obama we have met!

As we walked by, literally dozens of little kids popped out of each hut
and walking near town we gathered a crowd of hundreds, often
squabbling who got to hold our hands.  Please just give them
attention, never candy. 

Heading back to their hut in the savannah.

This moran is ready for anything on his way
home from the market.

Jonathan's Mom and Auntie.

The extremely friendly old guy we met in Moses' manyatas.  He was disappointed we couldn't go into his hut but it took us hours to walk
around, due to the constant invitations.  A deaf boy hung with us for over
 an hour and made us promise to stop by his hut.  We were in demand!

Pausing to let his 4 camels nibble on the thorny foliage.

At the invitation of several young men Joseph spoke to over 40
very interested townspeople in Wamba.

I picked up a few new dance steps when the Catholic Mission's choir
practiced for their upcoming VCD.  All Samburus, they have joined
the church and chosen a more modern way of life.  They
still don traditional outfits for family ceremonies.

  On our way to Wamba (Where's Wamba??)
this man appeared, 40 miles from anywhere, and asked if
 we wanted to buy charcoal.

Below are a few of the wild animals and birds we were able to capture as
we roamed the back roads of Kenya.  We also saw elephants, dik diks,
 eagles, hawks, vultures, storks, hyenas, jackals, warthogs and even a pair
 of ostriches; that didn't pause long enough to have their picture
 taken out the window of a speeding matatu.

Herds and herds of gazelles and other grazers.

A lone buffalo and his two stowaways.

The majority of wildlife outside of the game reserves, has been eaten
and replaced by herds of bony cattle.  This danger keeps the truly
wild animals on the move.

Patriotic lizards everywhere.

One of the many bizarre birds of Africa, the 4 ft tall secretary
bird has the body of an hawk perched on top of the tall legs of
a heron.  Walking up to 20km a day you can catch glimpses of
this strange bird striding through the dry grass in search of
 poisonous snakes for lunch.  One viper to go - hold the mayo!

A stately heron hangs out at a waterhole.

This lilac breasted roller provides a welcome flash of
color as it rolls from side to side, showing off it's
 dazzling iridescent colors for all to see.



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