The Maasai live in the scrub desert, water is a very scarce commodity and hard to come by. If they have money to buy a donkey, they tie barrels on the donkey and go up the mountain side to a creek for water, or into Longido to find water. Because their diet is so sparse, the Maasai natives are very thin- truly skin and bones- I’ have never seen such skinny legs! Certainly, no body fat on them! They also practice polygamy (multiple wives). They also don’t brush their teeth, instead they use some twig off a certain bush to clean their teeth! It was funny as I brought ‘gifts’ prizes to the training to encourage them to participate. No one took a brand new toothbrush, they didn’t know what the shampoo was (they have no hair), and they never seen hand cream before (but by the end of the week, more of the women were taking hand cream when I demonstrated to them what it was!)Most of them took a bar of as their prize (go figure- they don’t bathe and there is no water!- I did tell the translator to be sure they understood this was not a food item!).
Unfortunately, HIV is beginning to become a serious problem in the Maasai community, hence their willingness to be educated on the subject. However, with the nutrition lecture I gave, I was very discouraged to teach. How do you explain to the women that a balanced diet is so important for health and especially pre-natal diet when the typical Maasai diet consists of chai (tea) for breakfast, porridge for lunch and porridge for dinner!!?? I got to interview a couple of women on the family diets. They do eat meat, but only when one of their cattle die, they do drink lots of milk (children live only on milk every day until they are 2-3 yrs of age!). They do eat ugali (maize and wheat), some potatoes, and beans. Men do not eat vegetables (what little there are anyway!- they believe veggies are for women and children only). There are no vitamins or minerals consumed in the diet, little protein (save meat- they won’t eat eggs from the chickens), and in this desert region, they don’t even get bananas! Pregnant women eat okay for first 6 months and then basically stop eating in last trimester, so they don’t gain weight as they want to have easy delivery with the midwife! End result is the babies are quite small, but Maasai women are really big on nursing and nurse very freely and openly. Interestingly, after the woman has a baby, she is “allowed” to rest and eat meat. These women do not have to work for 6 months after delivery.
I also got to spend a day watching the training and construction of a compost pile, and the concept of ‘double digging’ to improve gardening and use of natural fertilizers. We ended our week on Friday afternoon with a ceremony for the women. We handed out certificates and gave them a gift of soap or hand creams. We were back in Arusha by late afternoon to spend time with my family for the weekend. The African men I am working with have been very protective of me, as I am regarded as an “elder”- respected one- a babu- meaning ‘old man’- respected elder. They have been a lot of fun to talk with (English is rudimentary, some better than others), they ask lots of questions about America, and translate and teach me more Swahili. On Saturday afternoon, my Momma took me to a wedding reception- very interesting. Instead of where the bride and groom give each other a piece of cake, they wheeled out a roasted goat, complete with furry head intact but with rest of body roasted in a kneeling position! The bridal couple would carve some meat and then feed each other a piece of goat. They also did this to their respective parents as well. On the groom’s side of the family, there was a man (groom’s father) with two women in the same pink gowns. I asked my momma who they were, and she said they were the two wives of the groom’s father! Polygamy in action!