2014, animals, bedell, Bedell Photography, Bend, Berkley Bedell, children, culture, Family, forest fire, High Desert Museum, kids, landscape, nature, Old mill district, Oregon, orgon, outdoors, people, photography, travel, wildfire
2014, animals, bedell, Bedell Photography, Bend, Berkley Bedell, children, culture, Family, forest fire, High Desert Museum, kids, landscape, nature, Old mill district, Oregon, orgon, outdoors, people, photography, travel, wildfire
It’s amazing to think of how much the world changes as time flies by us. With all the traveling I’ve been doing over the past few years I miss out on a lot of holidays and events. I do my best to get quality time in with everyone though while in the states, especially my sister’s 2 amazing kiddos, Ellie and Hudson. With every occasion I find myself amazed at how much they’ve grown and am forced to adapt to the new set of skills they’ve learned since my last visit. It is both extremely fulfilling and incredibly exhausting. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time though! Currently I am in bend for a 2 week stay – part of an almost 5 week road trip/adventure that I’ll be posting about shortly – beginning with Hudson’s 3rd birthday and ending with Ellie’s dance recital. If the past few days are any indication I’m going to need a serious nap when I get home.
“It’s my birthday!” Hudson proudly proclaimed as he greeted me yesterday morning – June 2nd – at my Mom’s house – my Mom is living in Bend for the summer and I’m staying at her condo throughout my stay. Ellie, it seemed, had trained him yell on the concept of birthday privileges and he was more than happy to take advantage of it. Hudson, Popo (Chinese for grandma) and I ran errands that morning which mostly entailed me chasing Hudson around the various stores we visited while he laughed loudly with joy. His coordination has skyrocketed since my last visit, just 4 months ago. He can run fast now! His laughter and expressions of pure joy made it more than worth the work it took to catch him though.
After lunch with Sami and Kelly, his parents, Hudson headed home for a nap and Popo and I back to her house to prepare for the party – yesterday was only a small party though with a much bigger event planned for later in my stay, or so I’m told at least.
Hudson woke from his nap with a big smile spread across his face as usual, at least in my limited experiences. Calmly playing in his room he asked me for help fixing his train tracks than proceed to show me all his favorite toys while instructing me to take a photo. “Can I see?!” always followed along with, “Wow, very nice!” Art school finally paid off! Eventually we made our way downstairs, waiting for Ellie to return so we could open presents.
Unlike any other person I’ve ever encountered Hudson had no desire to open his presents, instead preferring to play with his monster trucks. It was driving Ellie insane, almost to tears. She had to open the wrappings until he could glimpse what was contained inside before he’d finally ripe the paper off. Slowly Hudson managed to get all his gifts open, just in time for the arrival of his friend Roman.
The kids spent the remainder of the afternoon playing in the backyard while Popo prepared dinner. It was far mellower than I expected from a 3 year-old’s birthday, although I haven’t been to many. Hopefully the 2nd party remains the same.
For the past 3 weeks or so I have been in the Loita region of Maasailand. It’s been beyond incredible, with experiences I can’t even begin to describe. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend several ceremonies, which I will describe individually in their own posts, but wanted to share some miscellaneous photos as well. Enjoy!
2013, africa, agriculture, animals, bedell, Bedell Photography, bee, Berkley Bedell, cattle, children, corn, culture, enesampulai, escarpment, Family, iltorobo, kenya, kids, landscape, livestock, Maasai, maiz, mau, Narok, nature, outdoors, people, photography, travel
Perched high up on the Mau escarpment is the small town-center of Enesampulai, an area inhabited by mostly-Maasai farmers and shepherds, and the home of my friends the Mpoke’s. We had returned for what was originally supposed to be only a few days, but car problems brought on by the rough roads and extreme landscape altered this into an extended stay. I’m not complaining though, the Mpoke family is beyond hospitable and I had an amazing time up there.
Enesampulai and the surrounding areas are an incredible sight and a huge contrast to the farming I had grown up around in Iowa. Instead of mostly flat fields tended to with tractors and other machinery the farms here are placed on slopes, many too steep to even think of using a tractor on, so all the work there is done by hand. Most o the fields had already been planted so I wasn’t able to see exactly how the work was done, but that didn’t prevent me from being amazed as I looked at the tall corn stalks in seemingly impossible places.
2013, africa, bedell, Bedell Photography, Berkley Bedell, cattle, ceremony, children, culture, Family, Inkopa, Kajiado, kenya, kids, landscape, livestock, Maasai, Mosiro, Narok, nature, people, photography, travel
I arrived to find a large structure of grass inkajijik (huts or homes) now encircled the ash-pit that less than two months prior had been the ceremonial fire used to consume a sacred wild olive tree at the start of the Elaata Enkeene. In a few days this ceremony would come to a close and like its predecessors, this manyatta would be abandoned and burned. Unlike before though, its inhabitants would not be constructing a new communal manyatta but instead would each head out on their own path – in modern Maasailand this meant returning to their own homes.
Elaata Enkeene – translated it means “the untying of the rope” – culminated in the events that transpired during that final week (Oct. 3-10) of the ceremony. Unlike the imanyat (villages) I had stayed in during my previous trip to Mosiro – at the beginning of the ceremony – this manyatta housed both districts of this group of the Maasai, the Narok and Kajiado, making it substantially larger than before. The most noticeable aspect though, was the structure of these homes. Built from grasses woven through wooden frames, the homes provided a much more organic feeling and were even difficult to spot from a distance. It truly felt like another place in time.
Prior to my arrival, on the morning of the 2nd, the Oloboru of the Irmeshuki age-set, Ole Salao, had placed three pieces of rope – one longer piece has three knots while the other two shorter pieces have only two knots each – into a ceremonial “pot” constructed of cow dung and mud, filled with cow urine. These were special pieces of rope (leather strap) that he has been carrying with him for over ten years, since the day that he received the title of Oloburo – a type of chief that exists within every age-set – and in three days he would never see them again.
The ceremony began with the participating elders, from the Inyangusi age-set (roughly 70-80 years old), laying down a cow hide next to the pot and blessing the branding irons that would be used to untie the knots. This blessing was performed by the two most senior elders and involved spitting toronkena (a ceremonial brew) on them, as did many other aspects of the week’s events. After the blessings were complete, two elders of the Ilkitoip age-set (roughly 50-60 years old) gently searched the pot for the pieces of rope, placing them on the hide as they did. Here the ropes would receive a blessing as well before another Ilkitoip elder untied the knots with the branding irons. The knots now undone and the two groups one, the women are allowed to enter the enclosure carrying with them special posts smeared with honey that they will use to destroy the pot and return it into the earth with the pieces of rope inside. Finally, cattle are moved into this enclosure, completing the return of the pot to the earth. Only once the pot in completely gone will this ceremony be completed and the manyatta dispersed.
One last event still remained though, a blessing for those of the Irmeshuki age-set. Nine young men were sent out to collect a special tree called Osinandei (podocarpus milanjianus) which would be used to create special bracelets for the men and necklaces for the women, called Entaleng’oi. Decorations they would wear throughout the day, then take home and give to their mothers as a blessing.
2013, africa, animals, bedell, Bedell Photography, Berkley Bedell, cattle, ceremony, children, culture, Elaata Enkeene, Family, Ilpurko, iltatuani, irmeshuki, kenya, landscape, livestock, Maasai, Mosero, nature, ntulele, people, purko, travel, untying the rope
Chaos filled the air as the 49 Irmeshuki – the current age-set of men between 25 and 35 years in age chosen by the elders now leading them – arrived at the location of the new manyatta, exhausted from the weight of the specially selected, ceremonial, Wild Olive Tree (Olea europaea) they had carried for almost 10 km on their backs, without a single opportunity for rest. The manyatta still remained split at this point – the ceremony represented the unification of the Kajiado and Narok sections of the Ilpurko (one of the 15 Maasai sections) Irmeshuki, completed once the flames made by the “father” age-set, Ilkitoip, have completely consumed the wild olive tree – and the final location of tree meant an extra blessing for that side. Regardless of the fact that the tree was being carried by members from both sides, young men and elders from the entire manyatta leapt to arms, swinging their clubs and staffs or pulling the tree in the direction of their side while the women threw cap-fulls of milk on their exhausted husbands and sons in the hopes of cooling them. The chaos seemed to completely consume the entire manyatta. Then, almost as quickly as it had begun the chief elders assumed control, the tree came to rest on the ground, and the combatants returned to their side of the manyatta, some licking their wounds while others boasted.
John and I had traveled in Mosero – a small town outside of Ntulele – 4 days prior, at the onset of a ceremony that will last 4 months, Elaata Enkeene “The Untying of the Rope,” and event that begins with the merging of the 2 sides of the Ilpurko Irmeshuki age-set and ends with the Olaguanini (division chief) passing his power down to the Olaguanini of the following age-set, thus signaling his transition into retirement. For me, this meant 3 days unlike any other I’ve experienced in my life.
Our reception was anything but welcoming as we arrived first at the Narok manyatta – the 2 sides live in separate manyattas until the 4th day, when they merge as 1 and will remain until the close of the ceremony. I was perceived as a tourist and while John was both a member of the age-set and of the community, an unpleasant experience with a tourist in the past had soured them towards outsiders. It took some time, but John was able to argue my class and explain the work that I’m doing here, and quickly it changed from “no pictures” to “take more!” The Narok Ilkitoip Olaguanini, Ole Lesaloi, an extremely spirited and enthusiastic man, quickly took charge, guiding me through the manyatta while pointing and yelling “picha picha!” (picture picture) His energy was pure entertainment, increased by his persistence in explaining everything to me regardless of the fact that I couldn’t understand him. As the days passed, Ole Lesaloi would continue to be a great friend and teacher, as well as endless entertainment.
The time had come to move on though, so in the company of several elder we made our way to the larger Kajiado manyatta. Just like its companion, it was a simple manyatta made of homes built from plastic sheeting wrapped over wooden frames, forming a circle around their cattle enclosure. Its location was truly the most remote of any location I have visited in Maasailand, providing me with the strongest sense of what it must’ve been like in the old days. It was beautiful.
The following morning I awoke at nearly 5 am to prayer/blessing from the most senior of the chiefs which was soon followed by a sight I couldn’t believe. The manyatta, in its entirety, would soon be disassembled and packed onto the backs of their Isirkon (donkeys) to be transported to a new location a short distance from the Narok manyatta. Mostly conducted by the women, the process proceeded with a speed and efficiency that I could’ve never imagined. I saw in that moment a heritage that transcends generations, a tradition that is so ingrained in their blood that no thought is necessary in its success. Meanwhile, the paramount chiefs had taken up their roles at the entrance to the soon to be abandoned manyatta. As leaders, it was their duty to bless their people, their community, and ensure that transition was without mishap. Using a mixture of ash and milk – I apologize but I am not currently aware of the name, but as soon as I can I will post it – 2 elders painted an arch across the forehead and a dot just above the breast. They even insisted that I receive the blessing as a new friend and member of their manyatta, a huge and humbling honor. By 11 they were off, headed to their new home, and John and I unfortunately had to make our way to some prior engagements. Our absence would only last a day though.
We returned on the 3rd day to the newly established manyatta, just 100 yards from its companion, with a special treat, a huge merino sheep to be feasted upon, a gift from the young Kajiado Olotuno (another type of chief). I had seen several animals butchered in my time here, but this was definitely a unique experience for me.
As the work began it became clear that no one had a proper knife with them, all carrying their Olalem (sword) instead, so I offered up my knife to be used. My knife received countless compliments and praise, something that never ceased to entertain me. The men in charge quickly yet carefully removed the hide until they reached a point where the artery could be easily accessed; this is when the first of the many new experiences began. Puncturing the artery, they used the hide – which was still very much attached to the body, about 4 inches below the puncture – to trap the blood, which was then transferred to either a mug for attending member to drink of a pitcher for what would later become munono. As the level of blood became too low for the cup to be useful, they choose to use their hands to scoop up and slurp the blood, finding the clots to be especially delicious. I was offered my “share” of the blood, but decided I wasn’t quite ready for it yet.
With the blood finished, the cleaning proceeded and I was introduced to yet another sight foreign to me. Using a knife, they would scrape the thin layer of fat still attached to the skin then slurp it up, again something I wasn’t quite ready to attempt. Pleased by the fact that I could watch and photograph this all without a single look of disgust, they beckoned me over to take their photographs and laughed with delight when I showed them the results.
Their “challenges” continued, attempts to see how brave of an Olashumpai (white person or outsider in Maa, Mazungu in Swahili) I was really, and so I finally gave in, deciding to eat a section of the kidneys raw. John ensured me that they are “very sweet” – Kenyans use the word sweet in English as a replacement for delicious – but my feeling I otherwise. The outer section was actually quite nice, but the inner part tasted a bit like a blood clot. My hosts however, were impressed with the effort. Meat continued to flow as it was cut and roasted, very deliciously I should add, much like a feast around the camp-fire at any National Park until the final dish presented itself, Munono. Munono is a very special dish for the Maasai and a delicacy. In fact the mention of it seems make most Maasai men salivate with hunger. It begins by cubing the meat then frying it in the fat or grease until crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. The most important step though, the final step, involves adding the blood to the fried meat for a final stage of cooking. This occasion was the 2nd time I’ve had munono but by far the best, I can honestly say that it is something I very much enjoy.
Our bellies full, we returned to the manyatta – the slaughtering of animals and roasting of meat only takes place within the manyatta during very special ceremonies, this not being one of them – where the air was full of joy, conversation and song. The most senior of chiefs and the director of this event had arrived by this time, and his presence was clearly felt. After conducting his rounds, he called me over to talk, with John as our translator. The power of his words was more than apparent and before long I noticed that all the young men of the manyatta had encircled us, hoping to hear the wisdom of his words. Many things had happened during our time there, things we had gladly assisted in – John and I were the only ones present with a vehicle – including the birth of twins from a young woman we had been transporting. Our presence/assistance along with the birth of twins was considered an incredible blessing and he proceeded to place upon me a much greater honor than I deserved. Like before, I was very humbled yet incredibly gratuitous. From that point on, I was told, I am a member of their community and no one will oppose me presence. It’s actually very hard to explain the emotional impact that had on me.
That was a very powerful night for me and had only just begun. Even with our limited communication skills, I was able to sit down and enjoy a lively conversation with a group of elders, laughter filling the air. My favorite event of the evening though, aside from my talk with the chief, was when I found myself surrounded completely by almost all of the Kajiado Irmeshuki men, involved in a Q&A session, the member with the best English skills at the helm – although his English was very “broken.” John didn’t appear until well into this session, finding everyone overcome with joy. I was unfortunately the source of their laughter, but in a way that I knew and he felt necessary to reassure, was in a sign of respect and general curiosity. Our lives in America are even more strange to them then we find theirs. It was a conversation I could’ve carried on for hours, but they time had come for song and dance. For the remainder of the evening few were granted sleep as the neighboring manyattas, 2 groups that by morning will be 1, celebrated with song until the sun rose and once again the manyattas were packed up and transported to their new home.
Kibera Fruitful is a great organization that helps kids in Kibera – the largest slum in Kenya and the second largest in Africa – find a positive outlet. The performances they put on for us when we go to visit are always a treat.
2013, africa, Aitong, animals, beadwork, bedell, Bedell Photography, Berkley Bedell, cattle, children, culture, Duka moja, Family, food, game drive, Ilkeekonyokie, Ilpurko, Inkopa Olmaasai, kenya, kids, landscape, Lemek, livestock, Maasai, Masai Mara, NAi, Nairobi, Narok, nature, outdoors, people, travel, wildlife
Well, it has been quite awhile since of posted anything – due to a variety of challenges, including spending the last 3 days in bed due to a nasty bacterial infection – but a lot has been going on, so I’m going to do my best to share it all without going on for too long.
On the 24th of July I conducted my first interview since my return, a little over 2 weeks go, with Noltapati and 2 of her grandchildren, Immanuel and Unis. They were both pretty young and a little insecure with their English so I had to call on the services of Richard, a Masai Mara University wildlife management student doing his internship in the camp, to help translate their Swahili into English. It was quite the spectacle, listening to the same story in 2 different languages before it reached my ears in English and I was able to understand what had been said. Luckily I record all these interviews so I will be able to have someone fluent in both Maa and English go through them with me and ensure that too much wasn’t lost in translation. Haha, I still laugh when I think about it.
Noltapati told me many stories, including a tale of why the hyena walks the way it does, which I’m working to type up and post on the Inkopa Olmaasai link on my blog. Th most interesting thing that occurred on that day though, was the discovery that these young Maasai didn’t actually understand many of the Maa words their grandmother was using. It seemed that their grasp on traditional Maa was pretty limited, further illustrating the importance of this project.
The following day, the 25th, we headed out on my first real game drive of the season, traveling from the Musiara gate in the NW corner of the Mara to the Olumutia gate, the furthest gate east. The Mara was quite the spectacle, with wildebeest as far as the eye can see, filling the distant landscape like rocks along the hills. combined with the extreme dryness of the grass, it was a Mara I had never before seen with my own eyes.
This took as, eventually, to Narok town for some meetings, then to Duka Moja on the 29th to meet the family of our young friend Evans – a young boy who has been helping out around the camp to learn the skills necessary to get a job at a top camp. His family lives in the Ilkkekonyokie division of the Maasai which meant i had a lot f questions about the differences between themselves and the Ilpurko – where I’m based out of – and after a quick tour of their home I was given the opportunity. I think they got a kick out of my curiosity, not originally aware of the project I’m working on, and were more than happy to answer my questions as best they could.
What had initially been intended to be short stop over quickly turned into a full day once we realized that they had butchered and were roasting n entire goat in honor of our visit. This had been the first time I had had meat roasted in the Maasai style in quite a while, it was very delicious. After dinner we were given some Maasai soup which was quite interesting, a mixture of innards and fat cooked for hours in boiling water then combined with boiled herbs, a tree root on this occasion. It wasn’t the most tasty thing of the day yet not all together bad.
Departing late we arrived in Nairobi late, where we have remained since, returning to the Mara on the 6th, I hope, to began planning the remainder of my travels as best we can fr the next 6 months.
It’s been 6 months since I’ve seen the little ones, I can’t believe how much they’ve changed! Ellie is becoming more and more “girly” every time I see her, and her vocabulary and intelligence continue to explode. Hudson’s sturdy and stable on his feet and running all over the place, it gets hard to keep track of him. He’s talking now too, a lot actually, which is a lot of fun. It’s really incredible to watch how his little mind works. He’ll ask “why” to the responses I give him at times, then wait for my reasoning and follow through with it. I honestly didn’t expect him to be this aware by now, it’s awesome!
I arrived on Friday and have spent the last 3.5 days trying to keep up with Hudson and Ellie, it’s exhausting yet a lot of fun. We went to gymnastics on Saturday and celebrated Hudson’s birthday yesterday (Sunday). I can’t believe he’s 2 already. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s ridiculously hot in Phoenix right now, so we had a pool party. That kid really loves to play in the water, or “wa wa” as he says it, refusing to leave the pool even after he started to turn blue unless he could keep his feet in the water.
The sun and the exercise seemed to take it out of the kids and I thought they were going to crash. Hudson seemed especially exhausted and if it weren’t for Ellie, I doubt the presents would’ve all been opened. But then the cake arrived and they went into overdrive. Hudson on a chocolate high is pretty hilarious.
It’s not hard to tell today that Hudson had a great time on his birthday yesterday, he’s definitely running at half speed.