Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Masai Maiden's Vision

"Trainee" the lapel name tag read. But despite the label, the young woman at the front desk of the Sarova Game Camp who assisted us in gaining Internet access exuded confidence beyond her stated position and apparent age. From time to time on our round the world journey we have had the opportunity to encounter people who, without intention or design, stand out for some reason or other. They consistently sparkle while the rest of us simply struggle to shine on occasion. It is as if they are called to be key participants in significant stories being written and lived out at the same time. Sometimes, these men and women are recognizable by their demeanor, the manner in which they observe others around them or carry themselves when interacting in a group. At other times it is the words they use, the unrehearsed expressions that evidence an unusual wisdom, or the insights and depth of understanding they gain while listening to others. Simply put, some people we have had the privilege of meeting are extraordinary.

The name of the "Trainee", as it turned out, was Peninah. Her English was excellent and she proved very helpful in our establishment of the necessary computer connectivity, while at the same time allowing us to quiz her on progressively more personal topics. What was she training to be? What did her training involve? What sort of education did she have? Where did she come from? What did her name mean? It turned out that Peninah’s mother had given her a Hebrew name from the Bible. It means, “pearl", something of great value that started as a mere grain of sand but by provocation created the unimaginable. Yet, she was a Masai, born and raised in the Masai village only a few kilometers away from the Game Camp. Each day after her shift at work she returned to live with her family in the traditional Masai hut, a likeness of which is shown below. That, in and of itself, seemed extraordinary. How could such a well-spoken, obviously intelligent, young lady working her way into the hotel management business, live fully engaged in an apparently outmoded culture. The Masai have notoriously shunned modern world ideologies and maintained their traditional practices and principles despite attempts by governments to convince or coerce them to abandon them. You see, the Masai have been for centuries brightly dressed herders of cattle, and have historically lived almost exclusively on a diet comprised of the products of such livestock. While not compliant with most modern theories of dietary balance, they tend to live longer and suffer less disease than many of their countrymen. They used to be notorious cattle rustlers based on their belief that all cattle had been given to them by God. Now they have become shrewd cattle traders instead, achieving larger and larger herds with constantly improved stock, all of which has created demand for more grazing territory, and the resulting conflict with the authorities. It has become a confrontation between the ways of the Masai warrior and the surrounding cultural juggernaut.

Rather than being caught between two opposing worlds, she has learned to accommodate both. She respects and largely shares her family's community values while understanding and adopting the necessary aspects of a larger worldview. But that is just beginning. As intimated by the name she was given by her mother, Peninah has chosen to accept the tensions between her own Christian faith and the naturalistic traditions of her extended family. But there is yet another cause for conflict: education. It is unusual in the extreme for Masai women, who live in a male elder government community and play an important role in the life of the community, to leave their family and pursue an education. Peninah did both. She completed a college degree in Western Kenya.

It seems that the extraordinary people we met in our travels these past weeks share some attributes. First, they have the vision outside themselves, and ability to see beyond what is, to what can be. It is a picture they carry in their hearts and minds, a vision of a better tomorrow. Secondly, they have a passionate commitment to pursue that vision and make it real.  Peninah has such vision which she is passionately pursuing. It is to preserve the culture and fundamental principles of her people, while at the same time promoting the benefits of education. Such pursuits present enormous challenges. But there is fire within that small frame of Peninah. And we have no doubt that although she is just a mere trainee at present, she will someday live up to her name and be recognized as a pearl of great value.


  1. How inspiring for young women - and men - everywhere!

  2. very interesting. thanks for telling us about Peninah. I didn't see the photo of the Masai huts.

  3. Peninah ''trainee''June 10, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Thank you so much Bob,i'm touched and humbled.