Nina Müller decided to immerse herself in the Kenyan culture and opted for an unusual step: For a year, she left civilization behind and moved to the Samburu in Kenya. Nina shares her experience of living with these true warriors.
Staying with the Samburu in Kenya
It is my first day in Samburu country and I am eager to learn about this foreign culture.
“Supa de , serenake?” The locals and theirs questions flock to me. However, I only understand the word train station and I smile awkwardly, imagining how nice it would be to understand the language, have a conversation and exchange ideas. After many unanswered questions and much more answers from me, mainly limited to a smile, I can see a manyatta (a Masaai settlement) and look in that direction. Suddenly, a woman called Old Susan invites me into their stay with various hand gestures that suggests, “Come to my house, I want to show you something!”
Old Susan has a somewhat dated Samburu mother, who clearly has many stories on the wisdom of life. I am curious to see how the interiors of a Samburu family home is going to look, and I am keen to discover how they spend each day, especially without flowing water, a proper roof over their head or any electricity.
Entering enthusiastically, suddenly Old Susan cries out a warning. Bang! I suddenly understand as I quite violently hit my head off the red clay of the entrance. The entrance doors of the manyattas are so low that you have to bend down, almost typical of an Asian greeting, in order pass into the Samburu abode. Inside it is dark, very dark, and my eyes have trouble adjusting. But no, something else is amiss, what is it? They begin to burn.
It is the smoke of the cow dung that hangs in the air. It is also making breathing difficult.
I wonder how the architect has come up with this design? A low door, no fireplace, small windows and even then hardly any space, not to mention a roof crafted from straw, mud and cow dung, which surely cannot endure rain!
I find myself feeling a little haunted and out of my comfort zone, thoughts of Germany running through my head. But the reason I came was because I wanted to get to know another culture. So I just step back – or more like stumble – into the present and try not to think about the life I have left behind in Germany.
I sit on a small wooden stool with three legs smeared with food residues and dirt. My eyes are acting slow and I see a little bed in the corner, which is covered with cowhide and grass. On the hearth in front of me is a smoldering branch where stands a coal-black pot without a handle. Old Susan leans forward and blows so hard on the smoking branch that this again catches fire and in a flaming rage lights up the whole Manyatta.
I can see my surroundings properly and suddenly feel like a little alien who has landed in another world.
Jewelry of the Samburu in Kenya
The walls are terracotta and in a box next to me lay chains in a beautiful dark red, blue and white. These chains I know from photos I have seen of Kenya. Old Susan gestures to these chains, pointing to her old wrinkled hands that is also adorned with one of these really beautiful pieces of jewelry. It’s my turn to wear them. The piece is hard and sturdy and only has a small metal hook as a closure. What a feeling these cold beads have on my sweaty skin! Old Susan speaks to me again and I can only answer her with questioning eyes.
She puts her hand on my head and says a few times: “Ngai , Ngai Ngai …” She spits and rubs brown chewing tobacco that is like a sticky broth lovingly into my hair. The fact that this is a kind of blessing, and “Ngai” means God (of course I only learn this much later), is sweet, more respectful than disgusting. I want to remove the chain, it’s uncomfortable and pressing tightly to my neck in a smile. A sense of honor spreads through my body.
I had been given a real Samburu chain!
Old Susan shows me how to make typical tea with fresh goat milk and we drink together from rusty old metal cups. The tea is sweet as sugar and tastes very sweet.
The time flies by. Even though we cannot communicate, we have a connection to each other and laugh many times! It is getting dark and before the hut I hear a murmur and whisper. Old Susan takes my arm and leads me out.
A Stomping Night
It is the youngest village men who have gathered in their traditional clothes in front of Old Susan’s hut. They hold thick wooden blocks in their hands, the so-called Rungus,which they use for defense. The men knock them together, and older men instead use their walking sticks, to create a concert that sounds like the beating of hearts. After a few minutes one of the younger men begins to sing. His deep voice is interrupted by the singing of young girls who are standing on the edge of the gathering. Together their voices form a choir and the blows of sticks and the clapping of hands become instruments.
This singing of the warrior suddenly no longer is being experienced in only my ears. It hums and vibrates throughout my body. It makes all my hairs stand on end. A feeling of security and deepest intimacy spreads out in me and I wish to sing and even dance with the women. Suddenly the ground begins to tremble, as if a herd of hoofed ungulates are galloping through the Savanna. I look around, a little afraid that I am about to feel the horn of a cow in my back. However, after a short while, I see the reason for this earthquake. The Samburu men, the so-called warriors, are springing into the air and landing back on the ground with a solid stomp.
The singing, dancing, laughter and celebrations go on until late into the night.
A Home…is Friendship & Trust
So my first day of my year-long stay in the Samburu district of Kenya comes to an end.
I have learnt two basic properties of the Samburu in Kenya: friendship and trust.
A year on, Old Susan is my African grandmother and the singing of the Samburu continues to fascinate me every time. The Manyatta became my home and it did not take long before I felt very comfortable in the dark cave-like structure. Even the roof turned out differently than I had initially expected: it does protect against rain. Fetching water from a watering hole and using candles to light the evening became commonplace for me and after a while I no longer missed electricity and running water.
My year with the Samburu is a special part of my life story. I get goosebumps just thinking of singing with the Samburu!
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