World journey continues

Published 10:13 am Saturday, June 6, 2009

Greetings from the land of Afreaka.

Since the last time I wrote, a lot has happened. Now, all of the girls have safely returned to the States after a very successful semester. There were a few close calls, but we managed to make it out virtually unscathed. With that being said, I’m in the city of Nairobi, Kenya, right now but will be taking a bus to Mombasa on the coast to meet up with my good buddy Mead for a week of soaking up the Kenyan sunshine.

This was an incredible journey in East Africa, and one of the most memorable experiences I had was our stay in the Maasai village of Esalailei. The Maasai are probably the most well known tribe in East Africa and still live in traditional bomas (huts). They are also well known because they are one of the tribes that still practices male and female circumcision, which is quite a controversy.

Anyway, we had the opportunity to share one of these bomas with Mse’s goats and cows for a week while we were trying to build a toilet for the new school. The project turned out to be disastrous, like a lot of development work, but the overall experience was unmatched. The Maasai still live in harmony with the wildlife of the Serengeti. During my afternoon strolls around the dusty village, I came across gazelles, giraffes, ostrich and elephants. Three weeks before we got there, they had to kill a lion because it had been eating some of the cows.

Unfortunately, there was a terrible drought when we were there and the animals were literally starving, which meant the Maasai were as well. They only eat meat, and they drink blood and milk from their livestock. Due to the severity of the drought, the elders called a meeting to decide which group of people were going to make the pilgrimage to sacrifice a sheep to the gods. It was decided that the women were going to trek up the holy mountain, and from sundown that day until the sun rose the following morning, they sang and danced through the night to prepare themselves for the journey.

I’m still kicking myself for not going to sneak a peak of the ceremony, but I wasn’t about to mess with the spirits of the starving Maasai. However, I was lucky enough to hear what was going on and decided that it would be appropriate for our group to also sacrifice a goat our last night in the village on behalf of the rain — and simply to have a true Maasai-style barbecue.

After an incredibly intense week of battling the heat, flies and lions (not really), we went to the UAACC. This is a community center started by Pete O’Neil, who is a former Black Panther living in exile. He was the founder of the Kansas City branch of the Panthers and was arrested on a gun trafficking charge and skipped the country to come to Tanzania. Some of you may remember an interview in which he said that he wanted to walk into the House of Representatives and take the speaker’s head. So, he was a bit radical during the tense days of the civil rights movement, but what he has created in a small village at the base of Mount Meru is truly inspirational.

UAACC stands for the United African Alliance Community Center. He has a rescue home that houses 20 children and a free school for the villagers who are interested in studying English, history, music and art. The center has a basketball court and a music studio called “Peace Power Production,” which has recorded a number of East African musicians as well as some famous rappers from the States.

I also had the opportunity to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, which was simply a trip to heaven, but it left me with a bit of frustration when talking with my Chaaga guides. The government receives an enormous amount of money for everyone who enters the mountain, and the money gets caught in the hands of corruption and doesn’t make its way into the health care and education of Tanzanians.

Our semester ended on the island of Zanzibar. This is an amazing island with an incredible cultural fusion. The Omani sultan first came to Zanzibar in the mid 1800s to capitalize on the East African slave trade. Indians came because of the abundant spices that grow on the island, and now the mzungu (white man) comes to enjoy the delicious food, incredible woodworking, and pristine beaches and reefs.

The capital of Zanzibar is Stone Town. I went to church two Sundays ago where the last slave market in the world was closed in 1873. The altar at the church was the old whipping post, and there was quite an eerie feeling in the old slave chambers, but it felt somewhat relieving as a Southerner to see where the institution of slavery ended.

I’m planning on finishing my journey in Zanzibar because, let’s face it, I have no problem being a bit of a beach bum in paradise.