In a far away corner of the Loita Hills, close to the Forest of the Lost Child, I came across an unexpected sight. A large, and impressively modern school with very low teacher to pupil rations, creative teaching techniques and good facilities. I wondered how such a place could be built in an area where schools are so normally run-down, over-crowded and under-resourced.
Poking my head into one of the classrooms though I came in for an even bigger shock. There, sitting at a table among a class of local Maasai children, was a white European child . A white European child whom, it turned out, spoke fluent Kiswahili and Maa (the Maasai language). Not just that, but he could imitate any animal as well as the Maasai, use a bow and arrow and was totally absorbed in the local culture. What made it more impressive was that he wasn’t alone. His two sisters (one older, one younger) were just as half-Maasai. When I first met the older sister she was busy sharpening her machete on a rock.
It turned out that their parents had moved to the area and, on discovering that there was no real school, had set to work with a group of other local parents creating one (they actually didn’t initiate the idea and half-a-dozen local children were already being privately tutored, but they have certainly boosted it to the current impressive levels). Today the school that started with six pupils now has over 140 pupils in seven classrooms and offers a schooling environment far superior to that of the local government school and it was all created for less money than the government school.
But it was the three ‘white Maasai’ children that fascinated me. One of the girls has a stall at the local market where her and her friends sell fat, oil and all else that fills a Maasai market. They said they only visit the UK once a year now and they prefer life here where they can have “more freedom”. And it seems things in Europe don’t always make sense to them. On first seeing a gravestone in a church last year the children (aged 11, 9 and 6) had to ask what they were and apparently seemed disgusted by the idea. When I asked one of the girls what she would like to do she quickly said, “Go to an English wedding. I have only been to Maasai weddings”.
This is one of the remotest areas of Kenya where foreigners are rare indeed, but when I asked some of the local children if they found it funny having European children in their school and as friends they looked at me like I was crazy for asking. “No. It’s normal” said one. Which it isn’t really, but I’m glad they thought it was!
For more on the school and associated projects see www.redtribe.org