Written by CorpsAfrica/Kenya Volunteer Mr. Raphael Kivuva
The real journey of integration commenced on the first day of arriving at the site and it was a moment of deeper reflection on the next 11 months and what it will be like. During the first 3 weeks of staying with the host family, everything seemed very cool and smooth as the host mother was introducing me to some individuals as well as groups such as church and community groups. There is something about the start of a new life experience that is so special and inspires me to look at great heights. During the integration period, getting to mastering Maasai greetings was one aspect that I focused on. When I met people, they would greet me in their dialect and I was unable to respond accurately and pronounce very well. When they greet you in the Maasai language and fail to respond, that is how they know you are a guest from a different community. This experience and impression made me feel determined to learn their culture and language so that I may not feel discouraged or feel like I have devalued them as they greet me. One day a woman who had met during household visitation, we met during the market day and we discussed how I was doing and the new experience of living with Maasai people. She was eager to help me and invited me to her home and I had no idea about the invitation. She offered me tea and she started to teach their Maasai culture and later on language. Women are very instrumental in passing community culture to the next generation. Once upon a time, a wise person said that “women are the best person to empower to achieve the best outcomes”. Here is the part of the conversation as I was being taught Maasai greetings.
Her: Sopa baba? Replied: Sidia
Her: Kekijiaa erkana? (what is your name), I replied: Kajiaa Raphael Kivuva.
Her: Kejaa endama inno? (how are you today?), I replied: kasidai endama ai, maata enyamali, keja ninye eninno? (I am doing great, thank you for asking. How about you?
Her: Kara nanusupat (I am fine), I replied: Ayia (okay)
Her: Noto endama naropil (have a good day), replied: Ashe oleng, noto siiyie endama sidai (thank you, have a good day too)
This will help when communicating to the community members as it goes: “When you speak people’s language, you speak to their hearts.” Indeed, the writer was right because this has helped me when community members hear me struggle to speak their language, they are interested and eager to teach me more and also embrace me as one of them. Even when a baby starts to utter some words, they are taught by their mother their language which is why we call it “mother-tongue language”.
As the days went on, I attended a meeting of Maasai women and they welcomed me and even gave me time to introduce myself and CorpsAfrica’s mission, vision, and approaches we use to facilitate Community-Led Development. These include Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), Human-Centered Design (HCD) and Innovators Compass. Women are key actors in every community. They have been desperate to get someone who will help them in exploring their untapped skills, knowledge, and resources they have and use them to empower themselves. After the meeting, they discussed and started singing one of their local songs. The group leader who spoke on behalf of others called me in again and said that my new Maasai name would be LEMAYIAN, which means someone sent from the above to help the community.
In the past, community members used to discipline children even if it was not theirs when they were found making mistakes. This helped children and even adults to develop good character and become role models to the younger generations. Some cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), demean the value of girls and deter them from getting the same education level as their counterparts’ boys. I have pinpointed FGM because it’s one of the cultural practices that doesn’t add any value to people’s values. I am in a community that still practices such evil aspects and am determined to help them abandon that and embrace the new change that is locals helping locals. Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to predict your future create it now”. This quote fuels the unmeasurable passion I have for the community of Maasai and this drives me even during the time I am facing the most challenging obstacles.
“Never look back reminiscing on yesterday, smile for the future. Tomorrow’s a new day.”