Oltumo Maasai Project is a far distance from our core of supporters in Canada, and in general, quite a distance from anything beyond the local Maasai, the wild Mara, tourism, and a disturbing yet growing town built up largely to support the Kenyans affiliated with tourism. So, we wanted to share with you a little summary of life at the project, the things we do and deal with daily, and how they connect with the bigger picture.
Food - Enda
Mealtimes and food are at the heart of any family or communal living routine, and it is no different at Oltumo. We cook and eat three meals a day together, with breakfast being the potential exception. A loaf of bread in the oven in the evening to be still warm for the morning is key, or else we often make due with leftovers or fruit with coffee or tea. Porridge is an option, but the local porridge isn't the nicest texture for westerners, and oats are only found at supermarkets in Narok (120km away=3 hours) and are imported from overseas. A big lunch and dinner are crucial after our day of work in temperatures from 25-35 Celcius, so we take turns cooking each day and usually make some damn tasty meals from our limited options; tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cabbage, carrots, and red beans are the only consistently available vegetables locally.
It's Market Day!
Market day is on Tuesday, and it's quite a thing! We make a list in the morning and decide who wants to make the 6-8km walk to be in town by noon or so, perhaps get a “cold” beer or soda in town, then do the shopping and send the supplies back on a motorbike. For the locals, walking both ways is still common but there are also pickup trucks with dozens of Maasai loaded everywhere you can imagine and stuffed with sacks of food and supplies. The women go to buy food for the week and clothes, family necessities or kitchen ware if needed, while the men to sell and buy cows, goats, and sheep. As there is still no modern banking system for the majority of Maasai, the men selling their animals is where their money comes from, so the men go in earlier to sell then give money to their wives for shopping. The idea of a steady job is beyond rare, so a paycheck is not something many can rely on, therefore no animals means no money.
Most of the sellers of unique items are other Kenyans, but more and more Maasai women are now selling the staples of corn, beans, potatoes, sugar, rice, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, soap, and cooking oil. It really is that basic of a selection. Of course we purchase from the Maasai when we can, but for anything out of the ordinary (like fruit), we'll shop from other Kenyans.
Before Christianity was so common, the market day was the only day most Maasai went to town. Even now, many families only shop once a week for food! This is unfortunate as there is obviously no refrigeration here and so fresh vegetables are only really eaten within a few days of Tuesday, obviously affecting health. At Oltumo, we usually do another trip to town on Friday or Saturday to restock on basics and get us through till market day.
*I have just learned about charcoal fridges, and we will build one in the future at Oltumo.
Cooking Food- Tayada Enda
The cooking style we use at Oltumo is likely unique to the Maasai Mara and for definitely rare in the developed world. At Oltumo we used natural materials to build rocket stoves to cook our food. One stove heats the oven where we bake our breads, one heats two chambers for our pots and pans. A rocket stove is fueled with small pieces of wood and hardly produces much smoke at all. This daily use of these demonstration stoves is an example of how we are offering our ideas but not forcing them. and it's working! (Upcoming blog on our rocket stove evolution at Oltumo... yes, believe it or not people blog and join forums on just stove designs. It's quite exciting! )
Mama Oyie, our closest neighbour and a strong supporter of the project plans to build an outdoor kitchen at her home, become familiar with using it, then with a group of 4 women build these kitchens for other Maasai as a source of income.
The oven with bread is a great attraction, as no one can deny the convenience of bread in a busy schedule. For Maasai women who cook, clean, fetch water and firewood, milk the animals, and take care of the kids, oh and build the houses, any cheap and practical method of reducing energy inputs is greatly welcome. Our kitchen displays shortened cooking time, less wood and so less cutting and deforestation, less smoke, and the ability to pre and slow-cook meals like bread or red beans in the oven. Little changes, huge impact, and that's only the kitchen!
Kitchen life is basically the hub of our existence as Oltumo. We gather there, have meetings, talk, play cards, chess, or backgammon, design, plan, experiment with foods and the rocket stoves, and welcome visitors. Anyone who has stayed at Oltumo may very well have their strongest memories from this little area which has organically evolved over time to become a functional, comfortable, and inspiring space at Oltumo Maasai Project
2015 Oltumo Kitchen
2016 Oltumo Kitchen
For those of you who know me, (Steve) you will know that I'm not exactly a strict or necessarily time-influenced person. This quickly becomes quite apparent when one stays at Oltumo, and yet, to my great satisfaction, work still gets done! There is an info wall with our weekly plan outlined and some basic details to help one look at a task and get to work. It is useful, but often just a talk over dinner and/or breakfast does the trick as well.
My belief in management is to provide a deeper understanding of the bigger picture, then break it down into focus areas and how they all connect and influence one another, then find which areas are of interest to the worker or volunteer. If they both enjoy and understand it, then all should go well and more often than not will exceed my previous plans or expectations. It must be noted that volunteers request to join Oltumo and that if I sense no correlating passion of the person, then I may very well decline their request to join.
Local and sustainable resources
Resource collecting is one job I often send volunteers on who have just arrived because it gives them a chance to explore the area, meet the kids out at work with the animals, and get out of the site for a change of scenery. Plus, we who have been here longer have done our share of hauling heavy wheelbarrows and honestly it's nice to get a break! Here's a little list of resources we need collected and how they help the project in so many ways, the point worth emphasizing is that simple tasks are not just simple tasks..
Process: Take the wheel barrow, gloves, and a machete to go and collect as much fallen wood as you can. The women cut and collect the trunks and main branches so we collect the leftovers essentially, unless they are too thorny and/or would be too annoying or hazardous to use in the rocket stove. The round trip usually takes one hour, and that wood will last us about one-two days of cooking 3 meals for an average 8 adults, a loaf of bread, and several pots of water for tea and coffee.
Enjoy the scenery while you're at it :)
Collect stones and sand:
Process:Take the wheel barrow and a shovel to go and get as much sand as you can carry. Remember that it gets heavier as you go! For rocks go to the river and pile them up on the edge then load them up after. If you have help, one can push the wheel barrow and one can pull a rope tied to the front. However, we may just spend the $20 and rent a donkey and cart for the day.
Either way, enjoy the scenery while you're at it :)
Impala, hyena, all types of frogs, insects, incredible birds, warthogs, zebra, the vibration of a heard of wildebeest running past, and the occasional lion are all heard at night from our tents at Oltumo. It's quite a feeling to be lying in a dome of plastic and think there's only a 5-6 foot tall fence and plains of grass and shrub between me and the wild of Maasai Mara! But then again, they do get closer than that, just not the big ones; ants! It truly is insane how many of them come out after the rains stop. Tents raised 45cm from the ground on wooden platforms, not safe without a regular addition of ash around each leg.
But ya know, other than the ants sleeping here is pretty nice. Although not if it rains horizontally and penetrates our $20 tents... not raining inside, more like sweating profusely. It's a tricky challenge this intense rain we get. So far so good though, there may have been more damp nights than desired for some volunteers, but I never actually received too many complaints about it. We have such wonderful volunteers :)
So build a roof and a floor, purchase a $20 tent, a $18 mattress, $4 for sheets, $4 for pillow and case, $12 for a warm blanket, and we have accommodation! Not perfect, but suitable for now. Growing rain and wind protection is in the plans.
Growing the Gardens
The Maasai are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, and therefore never grew any food for themselves. The idea of farming is very foreign to most of them, but the times are changing and most can't doubt the benefit of having a garden at home for the family. However, most don't really think they can do it because of a lack of water and protection from animals, on top of the lack of education and/or culture of gardening.
At Oltumo, our philosophy is to lead by example and demonstrate techniques for the Maasai to adapt to change if they so wish. If they wish to adapt in ways we are promoting, then we can help them with training through experiential education, inspiration and support.
Pemba is the man responsible for the gardens and does most of the work, then volunteers at Oltumo help us to maintain and develop our gardens. As described before, we utilize local materials all that we can, and this requires labour. Edging materials, organic materials, mulch, manure, sand, rocks, so many supplies are needed for quality garden preparation, and our volunteers are responsible for much of what we have collected.
The gardens we started last year were also quite the experiment. Overall successful, as we produced potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, green onions, tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, local herbs and greens, beans, pumpkins, squash, dill, coriander, sorghum, corn, and sunflowers. However, they needed many adjustments and we needed help to make them happen.
The swales and ditches were dug during a drought when very little organic matter was in the soil, the result was that the water just sat stagnant. Also, erosion and deposits of silt and clay were an issue, so we decided to add stones to much of the passive irrigation system. They did help erosion, also reduced the pooling water, but over the year began to fill with clay and became almost useless. As the problem often is reveals the solution, useless was actually good thing because we also needed more rocks for other projects, and the surrounding roots had grown so much that they would serve as erosion prevention as well as allow the water to sink into the earth! All this work needed to basically be undone and the rocks re purposed, which we couldn't have done nearly as efficiently without volunteers to help.
This is and example of the energy-intensive process that starting a Permaculture-based project can be, and how crucial it is for us to have the amazing help that our volunteers provide.
Permaculture Design Time
Permaculture is more about design than actual work at the start. How does this make sense? Well the idea is that we've been working quite hard for centuries yet somehow are far from creating any kind of truly sustainable, regenerative, functional, mainstream system that compares to that of the Earth's systems which sustain us all. I'll add that it is a matter of perception as to whether there actually are multiple systems on Earth, or if Gaia theory is correct and the Earth itself is one living organism, and that it's a very worthwhile point to ponder :)
During our days and nights at Oltumo, the discussion revolves mostly around the project. The topics cover the absolute basics, like how to best deliver grey water from our sinks to the banana circle and garden or the placement of trees and how they will affect the land in 20 years. Then to the abstract and contemplative issues of cross-cultural interaction, tribal life and its transition to modern structures, and the most appropriate ways to move forward with our plans and actions as a conscious development project.
We have been designing the old-school way, through discussions, lists, and drawings or sketches on paper. For the Maasai, drawings and lists are not even a consideration, but talking and discussion is cultural and so we encourage their input on the new ideas we are presenting. The reason this is so important is that respecting wisdom and knowledge of local people is absolutely crucial. This doesn't mean we have to take everything that the the local Maasai say as 100% truth or the best information available, but it is to be considered as a valuable resource that must be respected. There have been and will continue to be countless bits of knowledge that are truly valuable and worth learning from the Maasai. How fortunate we are to have this local wisdom resource for our project.
I also have a collection of books and pdfs, videos and links so they have helped us a lot in our process despite the slow slow internet. As I write this blog I am in the process of digitizing all of these drawings, maps, lists and mindmaps. I have some days in Nairobi before I fly, so I hope to get a lot done and begin the work on forming our Master Plan for Oltumo. If you are interested in what that actually is, check out a nice little video on it here, Rak Tamachat Master Plan, which was created by Terra Genesis International LLC. I am confident that with the continued support and idea inspiration that volunteers and connections provide, Oltumo Maasai Project will have a master plan by next year that can be used as a model for how to transform a single-function borehole or well into a thriving community project.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming Design blogs! There are many in the works...
Inclusive Discussions and Planning
Women, Kids, and Water!
Oltumo is a well project. In fact, I work hard to get the accurate name of Oltumo Maasai Project to become common use rather than Oltumo Well Project, which is how we started and obviously water is still the major draw to our project.
Every morning between 7-8 we become aware of this when the sound of water falling onto the bottom of a jerrycan becomes regular. Women from as far as 2 or 3 kilometers will use the well in the dry season. We have a log book and about 20 women are signed up to have paid 50KSH ($0.5 USD) per month, and then they likely have children accompanying them, bringing the number of regular users up to 60 or so. We actually will have to raise the fees for water if we hope to accomplish our goal of saving the communities money to replace the pump and solar panels themselves when the time comes. This is the only way to true self-sustainability, but will be discussed more after we can prove to them the money is being saved for this purpose.
It's nice to have so many friendly and lovely Maasai women coming to Oltumo to help us start our day. Sometimes we share chai or coffee, let them try our bread which is always to their approval, and exchange some smiles while Pemba or Salaash or George talk to them. And the kids...always the kids...
We hope you enjoyed this summary of our daily existence. You're also welcome to watch this video of a tour we made of Oltumo. It's very descriptive, with past, present and future all discussed as we walk around the site.