Showing posts with label Maasai. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maasai. Show all posts

Thursday 24 October 2013

Different tribes

Somewhere in Tanzania there is a boy working long, tedious hours as a night watchman. Scraping together his meagre wages, he has managed to save up for a school uniform. This boy is clever, but he comes from a poor Maasai family. Whereas primary school is free in Tanzania, a place at secondary school costs about £120 a year for a day student. Our night watchman has a dream: he wants to continue his education at secondary school.
Students at Eluwai Primary School, Tanzania
The children at Eluwai primary school in Monduli
Credit: Josi Hollis

I was told this story the other day while I was having coffee with a couple of teachers from Tanzania, called Fred and Hermann. They were staying with my neighbour, Janine FitzGerald, who is a trustee of Serian UK, a charity that promotes education for sustainable ways of living in Tanzania. Via funding from the British Council, Fred and Hermann have been visiting the UK to learn about British teaching methods at  schools in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool.

Thursday 18 July 2013

River dancing

Last weekend I found myself in an airless marquee watching my daughter perform with the Henley Festival Youth Orchestra. As I sat perspiring, alongside rows of other dutiful and sweaty parents, I realised that I had become part of a community. To add to the pathos of the moment, the orchestra broke into Gustav Holst's accompaniment to I Vow to Thee, My Country, a tune that never fails to stir, in my case, a latent kind of patriotism.

Henley Festival of music
Boats gliding past a floating stage...
The last time I felt so embedded in a community was during my school days, when singing allegiance to one's country was a common event during morning assembly. My twenties, living in London and New York, were the wilderness years: I preferred my independence to dwelling within a cohesive, social group. 

Now I have my own family, however, I have gravitated back to community living. It makes sense on so many levels, practical and otherwise: we share lifts, look after each other's children, monitor our neighbourhood and provide support in times of emotional upheaval. To some extent, we are motivated by self-interest, but we are also united by a sense of fellowship and shared values.

Community spirit in Western cultures is said to be dwindling. Populations are more transient and families more fractured, while communal institutions, like the church, have lost their influence. Certainly my anthropologist neighbour, who often visits Tanzania, remains impressed by the Maasai's strong sense of community, in spite of their poverty and lack of resources.

Here in Henley, our community is undoubtedly based upon privilege and wealth, but also a shared sense of pride in the place we live. In the space of a fortnight, our small, picturesque town, nestled in a bend of the Thames, has hosted the famous rowing Regatta and the Henley Festival of music. These two events attract visitors from around the world, but also bring the local community together in a bonanza of boating, picnics and dancing. 

Saturday night at the Henley Festival this year felt like a cocktail party of Gatsby-esque proportions. Friends mingled on the grassy banks of the Thames, against a backdrop of music, sculpture and roving street performers. Beyond this, boats bedecked in fairy lights glided past a floating stage. It was a night of hedonism for sure, but perhaps having fun together is the secret ingredient of any thriving community. In days gone by, carousing townsfolk danced around the Maypole. In Henley last weekend, we boogied with DJ Ben Zaven Crane.

My daughter's youth orchestra is funded by the Henley Festival Trust, a not-for-profit organisation committed to inspiring young people and supporting those with special needs. It is a nice example of an institution that promotes social projects in a host of different ways. A community has to stand on many legs and artistic expression is not the least of them. So, where once I sang for my country, now I vow to thee, my community, entire and whole and perfect down by the river on a summer's evening.


"I absolutely loved this book and will miss the family that I became so involved with over the past few days. I hope Emma has another book in the pipeline!" -- Annabel at CountryWives 18 July, 2013

I welcome reviews of my book on Amazon!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Maasai dreams

It is not every day that you open your front door to find a Maasai teacher on your doorstep. About a month ago my friend Janine brought round a guest to meet me: Metui, a visiting teacher from Monduli in northern Tanzania. 
Maasai students at Eluwai Primary school, Tanzania
Metui's students at Eluwai Primary School   Credit: Josi Hollis

It was pouring with rain and Metui, tall and lean against the grey sky, stood wrapped in layers of colourful shuka cloth. He looked overwhelmed by our very British deluge. Juggling our umbrellas, we shook hands and set off to visit a local primary school.

Metui had come to the UK on a grant to learn about British teaching methods. His own school in Tanzania - the Eluwai Primary School - caters to 400 children with a staff of just seven teachers. He and his colleagues drew lots to come on a visit to the UK. Metui won.

So chance brought him to a wet schoolyard in Henley-on-Thames on a Thursday lunchtime. The school secretary showed us around, pointing out elaborate artwork by the children, lunch menus, a bank of computers and a science laboratory. An encounter with some of the children in the library finally broke through Metui's reserve. His eyes alight, he joked with them and answered their stream of questions.