It’s not a new thing anymore; you open the newspaper or visit YouTube for the latest TED sessions and you know all about the horror of female circumcision. Not the most joyful subject but let it be the one thing that isn’t to be discussed with the Masai. A huge trigger for a writer like me. But let’s take a step back first. The circumcised lady was born a small, innocent baby.
The precious little human being was born in a warm nest of love, surrounded by the many arms of female family members. If you’re blessed with a strong health, growing up as a girl you might favour the Masai tribes. Can you imagine the infinite space to play on? The world as your arena to run around with your neighbours puppies and do head rolls in the greenest fields of grass you can ever imagine. At all times there are two arms to pick you up from the ground and embrace you with deep love and care. Sit down and crack the fresh fruits and meet your strong dad got you. No child needs money if you have all this. However, the high level of poverty is one of the many obstacles Masai girls have, to get an education. From their villages to the nearest school is an average walk of two to five hours, which is unsafe to say the least. And since the girl will become a member of her husband’s family after marriage, the biological family won’t benefit from any education. But if your mom is headstrong and she gets you into school, there is a change of 80% you will drop out after the age of 9. Then they are no longer allowed to stay in the same house as their father, and instead sleep in a separate hut. With the lack of supervision and the ignorance of the girls about the birds and the bees, they have a high risk of being disgraced by their family because of an early pregnancy.
Especially for the male readers I’ll briefly explain why the female circumcision is such an important detail in the life of a Masai woman: this is the moment where life changes! The ritual will take place when the girl is between 11 and 13 and immediately after she will marry the man chosen by her father, in exchange for some cattle and cash. Which is not a bad thing, considering their – very intriguing! – punishment system. If you accidentally put to sleep a married man, you owe the head of the village 49 cows. For a single man or a married woman, this is 39 cows and for the single ladies nothing over 29. A small fee.
93% of the female Masai have to live with the consequences and benefits of the old-fashioned traditions. She lives a nomadic but busy lifestyle joining her new family. Her husband’s other wives will bring her a support system, protection and some laughter. Together they will raise cattle and goats, build the fence around their village, construct their mud huts, cooking for the family, collecting firewood, give birth, supply water and make money by crafting jewellery. While doing all this they dance and sing loudly, something they love to show off.
The effects of modern civilization and western influence hasn’t completely passed them. More Masai man are now also offering their crafting’s in the larger cities. But even better would be to visit their homes and attend one of the shows the woman will most certainly give you. While exploring the countries wildlife, you can get to know the merry spirits of the Masai people. And.. it’s an ideal opportunity to buy the jewelry first hand.
In 1970 the current Sultan took over the empire. Threw his father from the throne, giving back hope to the population of Oman. He is at the top of the army and justice, gives positions to political figures. The man who stands above law and country. A dictator from the book. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
When I was told that I was going to live in Oman, the least you could say is that I was surprised. It is a Muslim country, located close to Dubai and my transportation to the office probably was going to be a donkey or a camel. I honestly didn’t know what more to expect. What do people do in the weekends? Do I always have to wear a hijab? Is it safe? Can I do business with men or will they look down on female business relations? I gathered my prejudices with the speed of a Formula1 racer.
Coming from Africa where people dance on the streets, no privacy is known and poverty isn’t unknown, you get dropped in the Middle East. It’s not unusual to park your car between two Lamborghini’s, walk into a shopping mall that impresses you more than the palace of Queen Elisabeth. High ceilings, white marble floors, people looking perfectly fine at all times and a guaranteed job for the local goldsmith. It is said to be impressive.
Oman is the most safe country I’ve ever been to. Not only the country but also the people are unbelievably warm. It is, like the Netherlands, a trading country. As a result that both are used to other cultures, but with the big difference that Oman receives foreigners with open arms. It did not take long before I had planned my first dinner at the home of an Omani family. The whole table was covered with camel meat, lobster soup and dates salad. The local people will do everything they can to make sure that you’re not missing out on anything, that you learn and understand their culture and it will soon come to your attention that all your prejudices are based on nothing. It will take little effort to build a life here, fully integrated into the community.
Still almost every day my jaw drops. The daily business is so different from what is known. I wanted to talk to strangers, taste the globe, inhale other cultures deeply, my world just a little bigger than the nearest neighbors. Who can tell me that my mission has not been successful?
Nevertheless, no matter how friendly people are, above all they are always correct, at the tip of their toes. There is a clear distinction between husband and wife, but who truly has the loudest voice? Women occupy top positions and the government has set up full programs to encourage this; equality between man and woman, poor and rich. The big difference with Westerners is that Omani men are sincerely convinced that they should take care of their woman. Which doesn’t goes unnoticed. Carry my groceries myself? Dream On. When I look for my car at one of the immense parking lots, I will always be asked for the license number, can keep calm in the air conditioning and the random person is looking for your car. Are you still standing in the outside heat? Then you will soon be given a bottle of water. Are you lost and you ask someone for directions? One will drive ahead of you to guide you to the destination, even though the journey is over 60 minutes. Afterwards showing your gratitude is not appreciated because as long as they are sure that you have everything you were looking for, they will be home peacefully. This applies not only to me, as a tall Dutch blonde, every woman may feel familiar with this indulgence.
On the other hand, one must request permission from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for marriage. A process that takes time and gives men the possibility to happily share their most person fish, where the Ministry will investigate if there is any progeny in the pipeline. Fortunately, this is no longer necessary when you get married to your second, third or so on woman. A one-time tax. Individuality is a luxury which is unknown. Everything is about the name of the family, the position of yourself, but also your father or brothers, the tribe you come from. If your last name has reached a peak position, egoism will no longer appear in your personal dictionary. Where you have to bear the consequences for the choices you make, this is a whole tribe of families who are confronted with the outcome of your discretion. You can get a prison sentence for showing affection in public and if you want to buy a beer you will have to apply for an alcohol license, a lost game for Muslims. As Omani you are not welcome to government buildings without the traditional clothing and given it’s a Sultanate, there is hardly a way around. Everything is controlled strictly with the perfect example that Skype or anything alike is forbitten. Nevertheless, one has generally nested between all the rules and traditions. Should you think this is tiring and do you believe that no person can put you under so much control? Just read on then.
Children are curious and there will be no father nor mother in dispute when their children ask why I don’t wear a headscarf. If I explain this, the parents encourage. Knowledge is power and little is more important than understanding why people are different. How the Western world looks at Muslims is a topic that people often want to discuss. They all have a common reasoning. Extremists are not Muslims and because of the lack of education combined with the endless freedom given to people, there is hate. They share the general fear and opinion about the Islamic State and can hardly live with the wrong image that has arisen worldwide about a person who believes there can be more between heaven and earth. For these reasons, there is strict control by government and community. The condemnation of people or cultural aspects is absolutely not appreciated and the indication of hatred or the intrusion of religious fiction is directly penalized, with endless examples. This turnaround happened in 1970. The Sultan installed himself on his cold throne and made this country a pleasant home away from home. He provided development and international relations, resulting in economic growth. Where his father had created a frontier between different tribes, Sultan Qaboos created cohabitation and made this a standard for everyone to pursue. Before 1970 there was an evening clock for women, people couldn’t leave the boundaries of their village, let alone the country. Military uniforms controlled the streets. Born in Oman or not, anyone who has researched Oman a bit longer than one heartbeat will understand that this dictator made the impossible possible. Thankful for his dedication and love for the country, everyone here will follow the wishes of their “Father of the Country” with all possible respect. Where my cradle was in a country that does not even remember its independence, over here a fresh wound was closed with surgical precision.
Today I escaped from all luxury and went camping. A tiny tent in the middle of the desert. A small oil lamp is burning behind me and the Milky Way seems quite busy. Idyllic and nostalgic I sit down on a sheep’s woolen blanket. Recently, I was able to sit beside Prince Charles and enjoy a concert in an opera building so beautiful that it would take your breath away. In the mornings I go sailing or snorkeling with dolphins. In the afternoons I go out for a barbecue in the mountains. Through my work, I get familiarized with people who guide me to places that will always stay unknown to most. But well, if the mountain doesn’t come to Mohammed…
Traveling through Kenya is so much more than just visiting different destinations, you’re going through a change in the deep and permanent ways of life. From the mountains to the beach, from the desert to the national park. From too much money to count to complete misery in such large amount. From new initiatives at world level to habits from back then. Where terrorism is highly feared, but Hukuna Matata the most famous word on an international level. Kenya leaves you speechless, which gives me new stories to tell.
When you visit the Maasai villages – which are the most traditional tribe in Kenya – the interpreter tells you about their way of living. For example about the fact that many men have an average of five wife’s and thereby taken into consideration that the woman is doing all the work; from taking care of meals and children to building the “houses”. They explain how the men learn to protect their cattle from lions, hyenas and all other wildlife. After a first slaughter you are to be seen as a real man. Interesting theory. Even more interesting is how these men win over the lady’s to become their wife. Of course, this depends on your wealth and what you are willing to pay for the woman in question. You’re allowed to be married as soon as the woman is circumcised, which takes place immediately after the first menstruation. But personally I was even more intrigued by their punishment system. If you accidentally murder a married man, you owe the head of the village 49 cows. For a single man or a married woman, this is 39 cows and for the single ladies nothing more than 29 cows. A small fee. The fact that they are housed on Kenyan land does not mean that you are hold responsible by the law of the country. Culture is still leading and the tribes govern politics, the future, the business world and everybody’s private life. But if you think it’s all underground, you’re wrong. That applies to (too) many subjects in this country. For example, people told me that they were transporting ivory, which political personalities are responsible for importing drugs, about the illegal ways they used to ensure they were able to fulfil their current position. Mothers rent out their babies to beggars, clean drinking water is just known in the cities of the richest tribes and houses are built of clay since 70% of the country’s population still has to live off one dollar a day.
For me, the everyday life is kind of bizarre. I recognize the faces of business relations in newspapers, I meet the entire crème de la crème of this country, yesterday I sailed the sea, tonight I will go on safari and at the time of writing I’m staring at a beautiful lake full of flamingo’s enjoying my African wine. Happiness is easy to define. One finds happiness in small things. A smile, a song, a word. And then you know you’re blessed.
The splendour is indescribable and endless. The creators of Lion King where inspired by Kenya for good reasons and to behold the migration with hundreds of thousands of animals crossing the border between Kenya and Tanzania is something no human will ever forget. Safari’s will never be boring and to run into an elephant over here is just a little bit different from your local zoo. Wherever you are, the rest of the world will slightly disappear from your memory. Sharing this experience brings new friendships and together we jump from one overpopulated pub to another, all trying to get familiar with the horizontal dancing style. The weekends you spend in nature are a yin / yang to daily life in Nairobi, both of which can be a relief. Toilets don’t grow on trees and hanging in a dark wooden cabin with moths starting a boxing contest with your femininity, my crappy apartment in Nairobi suddenly isn’t so bad at all.
A new start is about to come, it won’t take long or I will again find myself in a whole new storybook. Right now half of my mind is still in the Netherlands, I got my sight focused on Kenya but I can’t wait before I can smell the flavours of a completely new destination. Although this country isn’t perfect, in 1963 a little diamond was born.
Turn your back to all what you know and what is familiar, to live and not just to be.
Being strong and calm until the final second, when your mom gives you a big hug which says so much more than the word goodbye. That was all I needed to completely collapse, feeling like I just wanted to fall to the ground, grab my mom’s leg and overwhelm the airport with an enduring cry of “MAMAAA “. Of course, as elegant as possible I splashed a single tear from the corner of my eye. And so I went.
The first rung taken and Madrid de las Rozas has been good to me. It was a desolated little village at the boarder of Spain’s capital city, but with 29 degrees Celsius and not to forget about the remarkably well-dressed men, it wasn’t that bad at all. Interesting enough, it seemed that 99% of Spanish people do not speak or want to speak any English. And even though they should be able to understand easily that I am absolutely not able to say more than a jolly “hola” (which doesn’t even sound like that), we continue to chat further, after which I kindly nod and say my goodbye, completed with a ridiculous wave. Every time again. It took a while before I found the way towards the hotel. But later on when I had made it to the office it became a productive visit. My colleagues were very kind and I enjoyed meeting them in person. A fun day you could say.
At the time of writing I’m on my way to Nairobi, counting over 16 hours already. Kenya gazes at me. I gleam back.
Ps: If you could think of any activity for my Kenya-bucketlist, please don´t hesitate sharing via the reaction section below! I will try to follow up on all of them and keep you posted. So let me know.. what will I be doing the coming weekend?