Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Musings for Women's Day
This past Sunday was International Women's Day. It's funny... I know women all over the world, yet the woman who stands out to me is Ngoto Milai.
I don't have a polished piece on this "traditional Maasai." I just have some rambling thoughts about this lady I love.
Ngoto Milai doesn't have huge aspirations. She lives a simple life in a simple place, void of pretense, focused mostly on getting through each day. She collects her firewood, carries her water, repairs her house.
I can't really say how old she is. Her ID card gives some estimated year of birth. We sat and tried to work it out once. She wanted to say that she was as old as my Mom, but I knew that wasn't right. I can say that she has a number of married children and a growing number of grandchildren. Her youngest is the same age as Trevor, my 2nd born, who is 19. I know this because Kanunga was 8 mos. old when we moved to Loita and so was Trevor. So... she's older than me, and younger than my Mom. That's helpful :-)
Ngoto Milai lives in a traditional bread loaf house. That's what our family calls the low, rounded houses of the Maasai. She wove her walls of sticks and then plastered the whole thing with mud and dung. Like many in Loita, she has improved the roof by pitching thatch over the "crust" top. It's dark inside, which helps keep the flies from buzzing around the whole time. The little calves and smallest goats stay inside with her at night.
I know how the nights go there. I've slept in her house before. It starts out warm, too warm, kind of hot. Lying on the stick platform bed that is covered with a cow skin, my thin plaid blanket isn't even really needed because the fire in the earthen hearth is cranked up to heat the house up. But round about 3am things can start to feel pretty cold. July and August are particularly cold during Loita nights. The fire has died by those early hours and it's pretty miserable, really. Yet it won't be long before Ngoto Milai (and every other Maasai woman) will get up and start it again. She'll be up before dawn to tend the fire and the herds, milk the cow (assuming she has one) and make some tea.
The village Ngoto Milai lives in has tried to cultivate maize and beans during the last 10-15 years. It's a constant battle. The baboons raid it brazenly in the day while every critter from bushbuck to porcupine pillages it at night. The most destructive visitors are the elephants. They aren't too bothered by the thorn fence and they have a healthy appreciation for fresh maize. Sometimes in the night, they pass so close to the house that Ngoto Milai can hear their stomachs rumblings as she lies on her bed.
Some time around 15 years ago, we bundled Ngoto Milai into our car early in the morning and drove a couple of hours to the village she grew up in. She hadn't seen her mother in years and years and years. They cried as they greeted each other. It was a pleasure for us to simply facilitate a little family re-union.
Ngoto Milai has the same hopes and dreams that I do. She would like her children to do well in life. She hopes that her grandchildren will get a decent education. She wants to grow into her quiet years with peace. But her desires are also much more immediate and basic than mine. When she came to visit me in camp a couple of weeks ago, she sat and chewed the news with me for a long time. Finally, before leaving, she made a very simple request. "I need some food because everyone at home is hungry." I knew that she was not exaggerating. For her to ask me straight out on the first day of our visit revealed the gravity of the situation. I guess "economic downturn" looks like hungry people in her world.
Ngoto Milai has always been skinny as a rail and stubbornly upbeat. She works harder than most people I know. She faces life with grace and she prays like there is a God who hears. She'll probably never see more of the world than Loita.
Many breakfasts at our table. How do you say "waffle" in Maasai?
Running a deep hot bath for her when she was sleeping over and explaining to her what to do. (She loved that bath!)
The day she saved Colin from a puff adder.
The time she found me lying on the bathroom floor, too weak from vomiting to move, and she stayed and cared for me and the kids till Byron came home late that night.
The red dress my friend, Heather, made for her. She still asks after Ngoto Grace (Mother of Grace is Heather's name in Maasai.)
The day she took a red hot poker and burned a hole in the top of Byron's ear so he could wear an earring up there.
Teaching her how to scramble eggs.
Making popcorn for her kids over the fire at her house.
Crying with her when I saw her for the first time in 5 years.
Ngoto Milai is the oldest of 3 wives and has long been neglected by her husband. She cannot read or write. When she chewed the news with my Dad last month during our visit, she told me this:
"Tell your father I have something from God's word for him. Proverbs 3:5&6 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't rely on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
I love that lady. I pray safe paths for her. Happy International Women's Day, Yeyo-lai.
(Photos by Jesse Borden)