“Experience is The Best Teacher”

Copy of Keith Valley School AuditoriuSusan Naserian Nketoria

While in Maasailand I hope to interview some Maasai women and feature each of them on The Bucks Underground Railroad during March–Women’s History Month. Susan is the first of five.

My initial meeting of Susan is in May 2005. She, along with Daniel Salau Rogei are special guests at a Meet and Greet in Peace Valley Park hosted by Phyllis Eckelmeyer. It’s at this event I purchase my first piece of Maasai jewelry. Susan doesn’t speak a word as she snaps the bracelet around my wrist. Nine years later, that quiet demeanor I witness blossoms into a confident and knowledgeable woman–born from her experiences of speaking in front of hundreds of people about her Maasai culture.

Beaded jewelry becomes the means by which Maasai women form their own micro-finance company: Olorien/SIMOO. Susan’s compound is the meeting place where as many as thirty women regularly gather to create traditional and contemporary pieces of jewelry. In addition to the income from their jewelry sales the women raise chickens to sell eggs at the market. Extra vegetables are also sold at market. Now when Susan travels to Bucks County she brings jewelry created by women from the co-op. She keeps a ledger of all sales so that the money can be returned to each specific woman.

Olorien also partners with HairZing, an American company owned by Francesca Kuglen and Hollie Montgomery. The women support female crafters in developing countries by offering their products for sale on Hairzing’s website. The partnership with Olorien becomes more solid in 2008 and 2009 when the two executives travel to Kenya in order to meet with the women and assist them in ways to improve the marketing of their jewelry.

We at MCEP were aware that Susan traveled to Washington DC last June; but we had no details. Now as I interview her and ask about her 2014 visit, there’s a backstory to her representing the Maasai culture from the Olosho oibor village at the Smithsonian Festival 2014.

“For forty-eight years, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has gathered people from around the globe on the National Mall to celebrate the best of the Group photo at 2014  Festivalhuman spirit.”

So begins the introduction on the Festival’s 2014 website about this event. Kenya and China will be the featured Nations where their cultures of “… song and story, movement and craft in tow, exemplars of traditional genres demonstrate practices that continue to resonate in our modern world.” This picture is of the Kenyan and Chinese participants also from the 2014 Smithsonian Festival’s website.

Susan’s adventure begins when a Kajiado County Cultural Coordinator (the County where Olosho oibor is located) comes to interview the singing group in her village. Susan is a member of this group and they are one of three Maasai singing groups from different regions that will be interviewed. All the singers travel to Nairobi for a second audition at the Sports and Culture House. As each singer is interviewed individually, Susan’s responses are noticed. They ask about the jewelry she wears and she thoroughly describes the meaning of the colors and designs.

Susan is asked to return to Nairobi, minus the singing group. She is asked to talk about aspects of her Maasai culture. She describes her jewelry, the tasks of building manyattas and Maasai wedding ceremonies. She shines brighter than the brightest star in the dark Kenyan sky! Her multiple travels to Bucks County are proof of what results after speaking many times before hundreds of students and academics at schools or colleges, and to professionals at organizations. These life experiences of her visits to America as well as her ability to speak  distinctive English and having a valid Visa are the perfect resume that eventually take her to the 2014 Smithsonian Festival.

Susan speaks warmly about her two weeks in America. The Festival ran from June 22 until July 7. Each day from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. she joins other Maasai on the Mall surrounding the reflecting pond. Each of the Maasai are sheltered in a separate tent and available to describe their unique cultural knowledge to tourists. Other Maasai representing their culture at the Festival include a woman and man storyteller, a musician, a carving artist, a weaver and a hair braider. The participants enjoy an outing to Williamsburg and when I tease Susan by asking if ‘room service’ was most fun, she giggles instead of answering my question. She keeps in touch by cell phone with the hair braider–having made a lasting friend from her trip to America.

Susan and Francis’ two sons Ezekiel and Amos mentioned in my previous post, The Compound in Olosho Oibor Village are continuing their education–one at a prestigious boarding school, the other in his first year of college. They represent the next generation that will continue the legacy of their Maasai culture.







Celebrating Women’s History Month with Maasai Women

To realize the role of Maasai women in their community, you must understand that this indigenous tribe is based on a patriarchal culture that limits women to specific roles. The men are the decisive leaders and the property owners, proud mostly of their livestock which in their  culture is just the same as money. More cows mean more wealth to the man. The women own their jewelry and the milk, dung and urine from the cows. Although the women build the manyattas from the cow dung and urine, manyattas are also considered property that is owned by the man. However, compared to cultures in some other parts of the world where women are severely reduced to be less than dirt on the ground, I praise the forward thinking of the Male Leaders in the Olosho oibor village who support their women and thereby are uplifting the entire community.

Women’s History Month is a celebration about advances accomplished by women everywhere; therefore I will write about five Maasai women from the Olosho oibor village who’ve made a difference. Know that behind each of these women there are hundreds of other Maasai men, women and children who are benefitting from the accomplishments brought about through Susan, Sarah, Veronica, Leah and a second Susan. Each of these Maasai women will be featured separately in an upcoming post.

Before you read about these Maasai women, I introduce you to three other ladies from Bucks County, PA–USA– who are instrumental in helping the Maasai:

Marker in front of American BandstanPhyllis Eckelmeyer:

Cofounded MCEP in 2004 when she first met the Maasai on the Hamilton Train Station platform.
She listened to the struggle occurring in their village of  Olosho oibor. Phyllis could not possibly envision the impact that would occur to the 5,000 Maasai in that village when she vowed, I want to raise money for a well. Seven wells are now strategically placed across this “village” that covers land nearly the size of Bucks County.




Jennifer Ellsworth:

The other co-founder whose corporation, Frog Pond is the non-profit tax exempt umbrella for MCEP.

This past December 2014 Jen traveled to Olosho oibor during a business trip. On her return to America she shared her observations that became a guide for our February 2015 Kenya itinerary.



?????????????????Alice Sparks:

A teacher and long time friend to Phyllis. Alice came on board in 2004 and currently administers the education program for MCEP.

She tracks our American sponsors who donate funds so that children can continue their education from primary all the way through high school. And I can’t forget: Four (4!) Maasai young adults are now attending local colleges.



Women’s History Month! Stupendous!


Return to the Motherland

?????????????????Today, February 19 I travel to Kenya, East Africa—the Cradle of Civilization. This is my fourth Sojourn to the Motherland and my second to Kenya. In my other two Sojourns, 1999 carried my soul to Ghana where I walked inside the dungeons that imprisoned my African ancestors. In 2000 I rubbed  my hands across finely carved blocks of stone that created the Egyptian Pyramids.

I will travel with Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Alice Sparks. We form the volunteer triage for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). For eight days we will live in the Maasai village of Olosho oibor–a village that is thriving because of the generous financial support from thousands of adults and school children in Bucks County and beyond.

When MCEP was founded in 2005 the goal was to raise funds for the drilling of a well that would bring potable water to the Maasai. Seen below at left is the first well–Christy’s Well— named so for its generous benefactor. This well was drilled in December 2005. It continues to bring potable water to the 5,000 Maasai living in Olosho oibor. A film crew accompanied MCEP Co-founders Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Jennifer Ellsworth to this drilling. A half hour documentary, QUENCH is completed and will be distributed to schools and other supporters of MCEP.

Ten years on–

7-2005 *There are now seven wells sited across Maasailand.

*One hundred Maasai children are benefitting from education sponsorships.

*The Maasai have installed pipelines and cisterns that carry water from the wells to schools, greenhouses and infirmaries.

*Maasai women have established a beading co-op that brings additional income into their households.

I’ll journal while in Kenya as blogging might be impossible with our busy itinerary. We’ll tour the wells, the schools, the greenhouses and meet with Maasai who have been instrumental in many of these improvements. We are also excited about the prospect of filming elder Maasai women while they retell ancient and indigenous folktales that have been carried down from previous generations. The Maasai language is not written down; and from these oral stories we will print children’s coloring books, similar to one we printed in 2011 titled The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel.

What’s on My Bucket List for Kenya? 1) Inhale the scent of Africa as soon as I walk outside of the Nairobi Air Terminal; 2) Rise early one morning to milk a cow; 3) Feel the burden of carrying a jerry can on my back filled with water; 4) Visit the Market in Ngong Hills; 5) Walk the earth in the Rift Valley; 6) Attend the Maasai Sunday church service; 7) And everything else to absorb this last half of Black History Month 2015 while I Sojourn in Kenya, East Africa.