My spear will protect you
"I will leave my spear here. It will protect you," said the warrior, as he thrust his spear into the ground a few feet away from the Land Rover. Smiling, he hurried off after the other warriors who were, by then, disappearing over the edge of the clearing. I looked around. I was alone in a large clearing a few hundred feet up the mountain behind our house. The ridge, so impressive and distant from below, was clear and close in its every detail. All I could see were hills and more rolling hills, revealing even more.
The valley lay below, hidden by the trees. I marveled at the beauty of the scene, at the scented blossoms on the grey thorn trees. At the same time a sense of self-preservation dictated fixing the rear-view mirror on the undergrowth behind me, to watch for animal movements. I so wanted to capture that scene and my feelings of wonder, gratitude and praise, to be able to share them with you, to let you know of what you are now part, as we begin our new venture in Maasailand.
On the feast of Pentecost 1984, Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe and Sister Noeleen Mooney, as well as a team from the African Medical Research workshop in Dareda, arrived in Loolera . The team borrowed time from other activities but since living under canvas now was the only option for us, the erection of a pre-fab house was a priority. Four weeks later, in place of densely-populated thorn bushes, the house was erected. An outer kitchen was built using locally-burned bricks. The mud from ant hills is the most suitable. Multipurpose rooms and an outside latrine were added. Before Sister Noeleen went off to her own mission, the second member of the permanent team arrived: Sr. Lelia Cleary. By coincidence, Geneviève, Noeleen and Lelia, less than a year previously, had handed over a well-established hospital to local Tanzanian Sisters.
The Medical Missionaries of Mary had been invited to south Maasailand a number of years previously to establish a mission among the Maasai, to work with them in the provision of basic health care programmes. MMMs visited the area selected. They had traveled through trackless wastes from some 320 km away - the same distance that the people in this district would have to walk to the nearest hospital. It is also the shortest route to our post office! This deprivation is slight when I think that the people pay anything from 120-200 pounds sterling to travel to a bedded dispensary fifty km away in the mountains. Even then there is no doctor.
We know that it is a great honour for us to have been invited to live in Maasai country. This is endorsed by the welcome we received and the constant attentiveness of the Maasai warriors. Within a fifteen km radius there are over fifty bomas with approximately sixty family members in each. The boma is a circular compound with a few houses where the Maasai live. There is an outer circle of thorn bushes to protect them and their cattle. There are innumerable little sandy tracks and paths crisscrossing everywhere and it is very easy to get lost. The vegetation is thorn trees that all look alike. Getting lost is not advisable because lions, buffalo and elephants are among the many animals that inhabit the locality.
Half a mile from our boma there is a great open watering place for the thousands of cattle, sheep and goats. There is a domestic water point here, too. The water flows down the mountainside from a spring. The open place is the centre for everyone's life. Here the people meet and the elders gather. The warriors come with their cattle and goats. The women and children fetch water for the home for cooking and other domestic needs.
What are we doing here and what was I doing up the mountain? A cow had broken a leg in a ravine and had to be slaughtered. We were asked for the Land Rover to bring the meat down for sale. The market was about a mile from where I was left with the spear protecting me from the lions. When the warriors returned with the meat, they brought me a third of the cow's heart, beautifully cooked. That was considered a very big honour, and was delicious, too!
We are beginning with everything. It entails hope and prayers for wisdom, treading gently with great sensitivity in an area where there are incredible needs and boundless possibilities. We are blessed in having a local man with third level education to work with us. He brings our team number to four. We hope that he and others who are already terribly keen to join us may be the basis of a health service here that will continue after we have moved on. We are struggling with the intricacies of the extremely difficult Maasai language.
There are so many exciting things: the first antenatal clinic to be held in the local school; mothers of six children having their first antenatal check; our first twins born, the first call to a boma to help a mother with a retained placenta; the grateful father who gave Sister Lelia a goat as a gift. There are sad things, too. The other day a young boy came, blind in one eye and with damage already beginning in the other. We have started a health survey and have begun by visiting each boma to acquaint ourselves with people's felt needs, expectations and their health picture. So far the biggest problem expressed is to be the need for medicine for the cattle, sheep and goats. The last 'weekly' dip for the latter was done nearly eight months ago. The reason for this: no medicine and no transport. Who can pay for transport to the nearest town?
In the evening as the sun sets behind the mountains and as the cattle pass by, their bells tinkling around their necks, we review the day's events. We are very grateful to all of you who have made our coming here possible. To date we have not met any children under five years of age who have completed their vaccinations. Only about five or six children in the whole area have been registered at a clinic. We hope this will change over the coming months.
This article was contributed by Sister Ruth Percival.
MMM handed over our programmes in Loolera in 2003.