A few days ago I was lucky enough to stay in the home of one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Emmanuel is part of the Maasai tribe in Kenya. After becoming the first person in his village to attend university, he returned home and built a school so more Maasai can become educated and improve their lives. He’s currently building a health clinic and adult literacy center on the school grounds, and ultimately wants to build four more schools. Emmanuel doesn’t draw a salary from the school, and provides safari tours as a way of subsidizing the school and earning a living (www.karmakenya.com).
In fact, the school is operating at a pretty severe loss because many foreign donors pledged to sponsor students and then reneged when it was time to pay. Rather than kick out the students, Emmanuel just works harder at his second job to make sure the school stays afloat. While I was there, Emmanuel told me a few stories that I thought were just fascinating.
Amongst the many topics we discussed, I asked him about how he saves for retirement (trust me, it gets interesting). He said that his long term plan is to build an eco-tourism resort near the Maasai Mara game park on a 60 acre property he’s purchasing in installments. When I asked how he could afford to buy 60 acres of land, he said that he paid for half of it with cows. My next question was how did he get so many cows, and that’s where the story gets good.
As it turns out, there’s a big Maasai ceremony when you turn 9 years old. At the ceremony, they pull out one or two of your bottom center teeth, and if you don’t cry, then everyone at the ceremony gives you a cow. Apparently the Maasai tribe used to commonly suffer from lockjaw, and the only way to get medicine into your mouth was to knock out a couple of teeth. These days lockjaw is less of a problem for them, but the tradition carried on. Emmanuel didn’t cry at his ceremony, and so he got seven cows.
Then a few years later, there’s a male circumcision ritual followed by 3 months of seclusion. When he returned from seclusion, there was another ceremony where he received seventeen more cows. Over time, his 24 cows reproduced, and eventually he had a large herd that could use to purchase the land.
Tomorrow I’ll share another short story about Emmanuel’s family. If you or anyone you know is planning a safari vacation, I urge you to consider Karma Kenya. Emmanuel is an incredible guide and a fascinating and generous person. Plus the majority of the profits go to the school, so you can feel extra good about yourself. His nearly completed website is www.karmakenya.com. Be sure to check back tomorrow for more stories and on Monday for an update on the water kiosk project.
Also, check out more photos of Emmanuel’s school by clicking on the Flickr album on the right.
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