Marisa’s Experiences Traving to Maasailand

Marisa is an avid volunteer with women’s health organizations both in her community of Philadelphia, PA, and abroad in Kenya. Globally, she works to improve the lives of women and girls in the Maasai tribe with Maasai Rising, by raising money to pay for girls’ secondary school education and advocating against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

28TH JAN 2013: Jambo from Kenya!

I have no idea where to begin. Let me start with some random observations thus far:

When Chief Joseph and family says that there is a lot of wildlife roaming around their home, they really do mean that you will see giraffes all the time! In fact, driving home from the airport we almost hit one that was in the middle of the road. We did hit a rabbit soon after. Or as Samson said, it ran into the tire.

Speaking of rabbits, they are for eating, not for going, “Aww can I pet one?” Same for puppies. Just kidding! They are for both petting and for defending the property.

I do not have any natural goat herding skills. I woke up yesterday morning to Joseph saying, “Marisa. Take this stick, go outside and when I let out the goats, make them go right.” Me: How? Joseph: Yes. Me: No, how? And then a ton of goats came my way and definitely did NOT go right. Maybe they could pick up on my lack of goat confidence. A young boy without a stick had to help me, which proves that the power is not in the stick.

Marisa in MaasailandRiding everywhere on the back of a motorbike is one of the coolest ways to travel.

When Rose, the house girl, says that you are eating fresh goat, she means that the goat was just slaughtered that day. Joseph said that he would show me how to slaughter one, if I wanted. I politely declined.

My natural goat milking skills are just as weak as my natural goat herding skills. Maybe they just aren’t my animal.

I shouldn’t be too offended when Rose’s 2 year old, Dalton, screams when he sees me and calls me “Poison Lady” in Swahili. I’ve been called worse.

31ST JAN 2013: “FGM”
Joseph and Cecilia asked me to speak to a class of girls about FGM and I am both nervous and excited to do it. They told me that the girls are very open about talking about it so I look forward to being able to speak candidly about the horrific procedure. To prepare further, Joseph lent me a book about FGM and, if anyone knows me, I am a fainter. I don’t know why, but I pass out easily from the sun or from hearing or seeing gross things. Well, I have to be laying down when I read the book because the details are so horrifying that I start to pass out and need to put the book down.

Marisa in MaasailandI know that the girls already know that FGM has many negative health consequences (immediately- sepsis, shock, hemorrhaging, insurmountable amount of pain and long term, like pelvic inflammatory infection, recurring UTI’s, infertility, complications during childbirth, psychological trauma) but I don’t think that that knowledge alone prevents parents from circumcising their daughters. It is such an important part of their culture. It represents a girl becoming a mature adult. Without the procedure, no one will marry her and she will be an outcast in her own community. If a girl isn’t married, and can’t get an education to be able to support herself, then she has no future. Joseph said that pretty much every girl that I meet in school is or will soon be circumcised. It is illegal in Kenya, but it still occurs in secrecy.

While I am no expert on FGM and eradicating the phenomenon, my opinion is that we need to target the male population and teach THEM about the repercussions of FGM. If they refuse to marry a girl who has been circumcised, and if parents of boys refuse to allow their sons to marry a girl who as undergone FGM, then it will be a way to end the practice. It is also necessary to have a practice that can represent what FGM means in the culture, without the mutilation. For instance, in our culture the menstrual period represents woman-hood, technically. I know that concept seems dated, but it is true. What if they began to celebrate a girl starting her period as her transition to adulthood. I know that I will ask the girls in the class to think of alternative ways to mark the passage to womanhood. I will report back some of their ideas!

3RD FEB 2013: “All My Single Ladies”
I went to visit a safe house today where girls who are orphaned, cannot afford secondary school, are at risk of FGM or being married off (hopefully one of the other and not all of them at once) can safely live while they go to secondary school. I went to learn more about this particular safe house and to hear proposals they want to make to Maasai Rising. One problem that they have is that there is no steady source of food for the girls. They rely on random donations from local churches and sc
hools and are requesting that we help pay for food. After our meeting I went outside to play with some girls and they all started singing “All My Single Ladies.” So thank you globalization for bringing Beyonce to a small village in Kenya.

Anna’s Story:

28TH JAN 2013
Last night a young girl named Anna walked to Joseph’s house to ask for help. She is an orphan, and her brothers are trying to sell her for her dowry. She doesn’t want to get married but doesn’t have a say in the matter. She is currently staying with Joseph until he can figure out what to do next. He went to talk to her brothers to try and talk them out of it, but he said that it wasn’t that successful of a meeting. He and I are going back today around 5pm to talk to them again. If they are adamant about selling her, then she will continue to stay with Joseph until he can find her a safe house to stay in. I will keep you posted as soon as possible about the outcome of Anna’s situation.

31ST JAN 2013: “Anna Update”
This is in response to the previous post about a young girl named Anna who came to Joseph’s house because her brothers want to marry her off to an older man. Joseph and I went to talk to the brothers to dissuade them from forcing her into marriage. She wants to continue going to school but her brothers can’t continue to afford to pay, so he will sell her to a man who was asking to marry her.

Here is the family background: Their father had five wives but he recently died. I also think that the oldest son’s (and Anna’s brother) mother also recently died, leaving them with little money. When we arrived, he had just returned from the market to sell one of his goats to be able to feed the family. He has a wife and a very young child himself. He is now in charge of the family, though everyone consults with each other as a unit for big family decisions. Anna’s opinion on the matter of marriage is not sought. He has to pay for his younger brother to go to school, and the oldest sister is also in school. He is continuing to pay for her education because his mother worked really hard to get the sister this far in school. He has no skilled job and the family is very poor. A 40 year old man came to him and asked if he could marry 16 year old Anna. Marrying Anna off will give the brother one less person to feed and care for, in addition to now getting her dowry, which will be in the form of goats and cows.

We saw Anna on the way out as we were leaving. She looked very happy to see us and admitted that she was very frightened of the situation because she doesn’t want to marry. We shared a room together the night that she came to Joseph’s and while we don’t speak each other’s language, she seemed very sweet.

Unfortunately, I do not think that Joseph talking to them will make much of a difference. The family is poor and cannot afford to care for her anymore. She cannot afford the tuition to go to school. And unfortunately not every girl can be supported by outside organizations. The boys told Joseph that they will make their final decision soon and let us know, but I am not optimistic about this one.

3RD FEB 2013: “Great new about Anna!”
If you don’t know who I am referring to when I say Anna, check out my previous posts and read up. I wrote two things about her so far. In a nutshell, she is 16 or so, wants to continue going to school, but her family is poor and they can’t afford it. As a result (and this is a very common situation) her brothers want to marry her off so that they have one less person to financially support, in addition to receiving dowry. Anna didn’t want to get married, wanted to continue with school, and came to Joseph’s hoping that he could help.

There is nothing that we can say to change her brothers’ minds about marrying Anna, so I am going to her house some time next week to fill out an application so that Maasai Rising can sponsor her through secondary school! She won’t need to get married and will be able to finish school. According to a girl that I met here, Esther, the older sister of a girl that Maasai Rising sponsors through secondary school, once a girl makes it through secondary school her family won’t try to marry her off because they know that she can make it in life. By sponsoring girls through secondary school, the girls won’t need to be married off (and circumcised before doing so) and can get a good education.

I’m excited to fill out the application with her!

6TH FEB 2013: “Great success!”
Anna and I officially filled out her application to receive sponsorship through secondary school! I also met up with two other girls and the three of us worked together to fill out the application. All thee girls are extremely smart and sweet and Maasai Rising is so excited to be part of their journey through secondary school! All three girls were about to be married off to older men, and one girl, Silvia, was days away from being circumcised and then immediately married. Now we hope to help these girls get closer to their dreams of finishing school and working towards professional goals.

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