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Part 2 – Maasai women speak up of abuse and violence

28 January 2011

MRG’s media officer Farah Mihlar shares her stories from the sidelines of a media training for community activists in Nairobi, Kenya. Read part 1 here.

Yes, they did make it on time, but Stella overslept. The poor thing was completely embarrassed as she came down to a few grumpy stares, though just 30 minutes late. Our trip was to Mara to visit Maasai communities. Joining us was Jedrzej, a journalist working for Polish political weekly magazine, Polityka. His visit is part of an MRG project to increase awareness of issues on minority and indigenous communities in the EU new member states.

Despite coming in earlier than the two party animals, I was knocked out and fell asleep through the early part of the journey, only to be woken to Jedrzej clicking his camera to some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. We were driving on a road nestled in between towering mountains. Narok town is a little less than 3 hours from Nairobi.

Our master guide Kedoki and the ever entertaining Eunice, both colleagues of Esmael and Stella, join us as we make our way to Mara. We are stocked with peanuts, water bottles and Esmael’s great idea of Kenyan ice cream. The drive to Mara is arduous and long, the road is in a terrible condition but the company is excellent. We talk about life, kids, romance. When we finally get to Mara, we are stopped at the gate to the wildlife reserve, and asked to buy tickets. While we are swamped by women selling beaded chains and wooden carvings, only Kedoki’s masterful negotiations and contacts within the community get us in. At the entrance to the village we visit, young Maasai men, in colourful robes, welcome us. They sing and dance to a traditional welcome song, whilst Esmael and Jedrzej have to join in.

We are later taken on a tour of the village. We meet women making beaded ornaments, and they show us their hunting tools and how to start a fire. Much of the tour is touristic and it is clear that the villages in Mara have had to adapt themselves to the increasing numbers of tourists visiting the game reserve. I try to avoid the tour guide, and speak to the elders and women about the difficulties they face. The elders explain that they have very limited access to health facilities and schools. They have to walk miles to get to the main road and hope a passing vehicle stops to take a sick person to hospital. ‘We get nothing from the government. You saw the road you came on, they can’t even build the road,’ they say. The Kenyan government earns millions of dollars from tourism, Maasai Mara being one of the most visited places.  It is getting dark and we have to leave to get out of the reserve before it is too late.

I crash into bed, in the guest house room, and watch the Kenyan version of X Factor. The talent was amazing, several Whitney Houston’s and Mariah Carey’s in the making. Just as I was beginning to warm up to the Simon Cowell equivalent on the judging panel  there was a power cut!

I am woken on Sunday morning by the call to prayer from the Narok mosque, and again a few hours later by an array of different church sessions. There are several evangelical groups that practice in Narok. All have their own choirs and sermons that are played out on loudspeakers.

On Sunday, we visit another village closer to Narok. Miriam has helped organise this. Pauline Kinyarkoo, who works with Miriam and is a local councilor, takes us around.  Pauline is a larger-than-life character; she is full of life and energy, kindness and love. We first stop to pick up Mary, a peer advisor to the village we are visiting. It is Sunday so she is at a service in the makeshift little church by her house. Little kids sing and dance the praises of Jesus.

Pauline Kinyarkoo
Pauline Kinyarkoo, a woman Maasai activist and councilor, addresses elders in the community

As we enter the village, Pauline first introduces us to the elders. In African tribal culture elders have a very important role to play, respecting them and seeking their approval is a must. After interviewing the elders, Pauline gathers the women in the village so I can speak to them about gender issues in the community. We go and sit under a tree outside the village fence, surrounded by the vast, beautiful terrain of dusty land stretching miles before reaching the mountains.

The women take time, but slowly start talking about the difficulties in their lives. Maasai women, like most pastoralist women, are discriminated against and ill treated on all fronts. They suffer discrimination by people from other communities, those who live in the towns, who look at them as backward, ignorant and dirty. They have no place in their own community, and are oppressed through various cultural practices, including child marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation. They open up, with their stories, their pain, both physical and emotional. I am touched by their willingness to share these intimate, painful experiences. I ask if I can write about them – they tell me to take their stories to the world.

Maasai women in Kenya
Maasai women in Kenya

On our return we stop at Mary’s home for a cup of tea. She has six lovely children, I ask if I can take her smallest.  The little fellow cringes behind her as she teases to send him with me. We have to leave as it is getting late and I need to return to Nairobi.

I leave Kenya with many wonderful memories, the beautiful landscape, the music and rhythm, the spicy food and the diversity and different stories from each community. But what I will never forget is the tremendous courage and strength of all of the women I met, in Nairobi, Narok, and Mara, who fight tirelessly everyday to give their young girls a better life.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.