Monday, September 19, 2011

Opening my eyes

We went to a village in Twala and for the first time I found myself faced with a cultural gap that I could not bridge. The village was mainly women, all of whom had come together to try and create a new vision for females. They were from the Masai tribe, and were making the first steps to break away from a completely male dominated society.

To support themselves financially they made beaded souvenirs which the men took to local cities and sold. They also hosted tourist groups, such as ours, and took a portion of every dollar that came in to the village and put it towards a fund that sent the younger girls to school. As inspiring as this all appeared, it became apparent that there vision of females rights was quite different from mine. A young woman showed us around the village after we arrived and they greeted us with traditional song and dance where they grabbed us and twirled us around in a circle, smiling wide toothy grins the whole time. After we walked through one of the houses. It was made of wooden poles held together by mud and cow manure.

The luckier ones had gas efficient stoves that were powered by the methane released from decomposing cow manure that was placed inside a large bag outside the house.

There were two rooms in the house: a larger one where the man slept and a smaller one to the side where the women and children slept. The woman was only allowed to enter the man’s room when he wanted to have sex. The women collected water, food, repaired the houses, made the crafts, took care of the cattle, cooked, cleaned, entertained the tourists, and took care of the elderly and children in the village. It seemed a little unbalanced, especially since the male always had his meal before the woman and after a certain age was able to sit and not work while the woman worked until she was no longer physically capable. I recognized that I can not come in as an American and preach my opinion to people who are completely different than me, acting like my way is the right way and I know best. Regardless, it did not make it any less frustrating to watch.

We visited the local school as well, where we got to meet with some of the students. A year ago they turned it from a day school into a boarding school due to an increase in deaths from elephants in the early morning while the kids were walking to school. Elephants were a serious threat in Kenya. The week we were in Twala one person had died and another one had been injured from elephants. Elephants and wildlife were not the only threat to students. That year alone the school had lost three females students who dropped out when they became pregnant. The principle walked us around the grounds and through the buildings, explaining the struggles and triumphs of the school. The dorms were crammed with bunk beds that slept anywhere from 3-6 students on paper thing mattresses or on the cement floors under a leaky steel roof. The classrooms were surprisingly well stocked, with lab gear and textbooks. We spent some time talking with students in small groups, trying to get a feel for their lives, and at least for me, totally failing. How could I relate?

Before we left we walked back to the principle's office to sign a guest book and get contact information. While we walked up the rocky path I asked him what the age was of the youngest girl to drop out from pregnancy. The principal looked back over his shoulder at me. “Nine,” he said, and continued walking. I remembered where I was and stopped trying to judge something that I would never be able to understand. The students I had spoken with told me they wanted to go to University, that they wanted to travel. They taught me words in Swahili and giggled shyly when I made a poor attempt to repeat it. I was reminded that I have had nothing but opportunities in my life, some of which I have struggled for, but many of which I have been handed, and I felt nothing but gratitude for the people in my life who had made it all possible.

Photos by Kelsey Lucca

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