Maasai Life

I am Jennifer Chiappardi, one of the photographers at Penn Museum.  I am currently working with Kathleen Ryan in Kenya.  The team was recently excavating in Laikipia.  My children, Sara and Zac, and my niece, Beverly, have joined the team to travel to Maasai land.  Berverly is 16, Sara is 12 and Zac is 7.  On this trip they have the amazing opportunity to learn about Kenya, and will be concentrating on the Maasai way of life.

We visited a typical Maasai school, named Elerei school, in Loitokitok.  The students were as wide eyed and excited as we were.  They were thrilled to meet our team.  Kathleen Ryan, Paul Mitchell, Erika Hoffman, Louise Hansen, Paul Kunoni, Kamande, the children and myself.  After introductions some of the children rushed to shake our hands.  They were mostly interested in the opportunity to meet and touch, Sara and Zac.  They were very excited to meet children their own age.  They found Zac to be quite fascinating.  He was getting so much attention he started to believe he was famous.  The maasai children’s hair is kept very short.  Beverly found many children stroking her long pony tail.  They brought us gifts of tomatoes and gave them to Sara.

We learned a lot about their school.   There are over 500 students at this primary school. Children from kindergarten to Class eight attend school here.  They call each grade a class, such as grade one would be called class  one. The typical school day starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 5p.m..  Children from kindergarten to Class 3 leave at lunch time.  The rest of the students stay until 5p.m..  They have classes in math, science, social studies, english and swahili.  Class 7 and 8 were asked to forfeit game time and return to their classroom so we could talk with them.  The children on our team noted how they would never return to their classroom as eagerly as these bright eyed maasai children did.  The maasai students crammed into benches behind desk and were very curious about us. They met us with wider eyed stares as we asked them questions but their response was silence.  Gloria, a very brave 8th grader, was the first to stand and answer some of our questions.  She stood up very quickly bowed her head as she introduced herself and told us what chores she had to do in the morning before coming to school.  She spoke so quickly and softly I could not understand her.  I did not ask her to repeat herself for fear she would be too embarrassed.  Eventually,  each child in Class 7and 8 introduced themselves and told us what occupation they would like to have when they are adults.  Gloria wishes to be a journalist.  Many of the children wish to be doctors or nurses, some wish to be lawyers, pilots, or teachers.  Two students wish to be the president while one particularly amusing student in the back would like to be a tourist.  Well, Is there any better class room then the world?

When it was there opportunity to ask questions they were most interested in our educational system in the U.S. and the types of food we eat.  In Kenya they have free education for primary school, through 8th grade but high school cost quite a bit of money.   They were amazed to learn free education is available to all students through 12th grade in the United States.  They do not offer lunches to the students at the maasai school.  They have to bring lunch from home or not eat at all.  The teacher told us many students do not bring food with them.  Sometimes during the drought one of the charity organizations will deliver food to the school.  The teacher told us, ” If they see green leaves on the trees food will not be delivered because they believe the families have enough food.  Unfortunately, many families still do not have enough food to send lunch for their children.”.

At the end of our visit we had our opportunity to present the children with gifts.  They were so excited to receive note books, pencils, crayons and stickers.  I have to say their favorite was the candy the children on our team passed out to them.  Kathleen was speaking with one of the teachers outside.  She could hear the shrieks coming from the class room and knew the candy was being passed out.  They students asked us if we could bring balls with us when we come to visit again.  They showed us their balls made of string and told us how much they enjoy playing games.

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  • Mary Martin

    Jen….This was a magnificent post…with really good photos….
    Thank you.
    Mary Martin
    U. Arts