With only three days left of actual mission work, today began on a somewhat somber note. The team is realizing that our time here in Kenya is coming to a close. As we made our way from Naivasha to Maai Mahiu this morning, we sat in mostly silence. The journey from Naivasha to Maai Mahiu is a very beautiful 45 minutes. For the first half of the journey, Mouth Longonot takes up much of the view, though we have spied giraffes and zebras on many occasions as well. All along the road are various herdsmen with their mixed herds of goats, cows, sheep and donkey. The Rift Valley is mostly very flat with few trees or large cactus. Every now and then, you might notice a farm, but it’s mostly just native grasses.
Maai Mahiu was our destination this morning. We arrived at Ngeya Primary School at around 9am and, after a short meeting with the Head Teacher (I’d call her a Headmistress), we began our work for the day. Together with their Kenyan counterparts, the college students split into groups of four to travel to different classrooms to teach the students how to use the Osborne Library’s e-Readers. The Osborne Library is located on the grounds of All Saints’ Anglican Parish and boasts a collection of 37 e-readers, each with hundreds of books. We were asked to take the e-readers to school and to invite the students to the library.
Ngeya was an interesting experience for me because it was so different from the place I’ve called home for the past two years. At Bishop Seabury Academy (in Lawrence), we have about 180 students, no more than 30 in a grade level and no more than 18 in a classroom. Ngeya has 1,900 students in grades 1-8. Each classroom has more than 60 students in it! It was incredible to see… but even more incredible, there are only 30 staff who teach/manage these 1,900 students! Today we focused on the older students starting with the 8th grade and working backwards to the 6th. All the students were eager to learn about the e-Readers and figured them out even more quickly than the college students could teach!
After we ate lunch, we made our way out into the Maasai Mara, the area of the rift valley where the Maasai tribe lives almost exactly as it has for thousands of years. The Maasai, herdsmen and pastoralists, have resisted much of the modernizing influence of the West which has changed the lifestyles of the predominant Kikouu and Luo tribes of Kenya. Maasai are notable for their colorful clothing and beadwork.
We went to meet with some Maasai and to learn about how they construct their homes, “Manyattas.” Together with a few members of the community team, we constructed about one quarter of a manyatta. A skeleton is constructed from long thin sticks tied together with natural fibers. After the skeleton is constructed, a goo of cow manure, water, dirt and concrete is plastered onto the outside of the skeleton until it is smooth.
I’ve been in Kansas since I was in fifth grade and we have a lot of cow dung, but I had to travel all the way to Kenya to have an excuse to play around with it. It sounds disgusting, but I actually had a good time being shown by the Maasai women how to apply the paste to the manyatta. Of course there were the requisite jokes about knowing how to handle shit and how other members of the team would make sure to tell the bishop that I knew my shit.
Today was a day of extremes. In the morning, we spent time in a small city at an overcrowded public school and in the afternoon, we traveled out away from civilization to interact with a people who have existed in basically the same way for thousands of years. Kenya is constantly pulled between these two philosophies: how do we honor our heritage while honoring our culture?
It is a question that many of us ask. When does modernization become problematic? When does a death-grip on tradition actually endanger you? Walking the line between innovation and tradition is difficult. It is even a challenge that modern Christendom is facing.
Is it possible to “modernize” a 2000-year-old religion? Does modernization make us lose something or does it help us to understand our context better?
Modernization is surely responsible for allowing us to meet our Kenyan brothers and sisters in Christ… but Tradition (specifically the 1662 Prayer Book) allows us to worship God together…