A few days ago, my field assistant Wilson decided that I needed a Maasai name. I had been given a Swahili name (Jasmini) my previous summer and figured it was about time for another name. The last Maasai I had stayed with had almost named me horny cow after my attempts at hippo vocalization mimicry and I only hoped Wilson would be a bit kinder. “Nasha” he told me. It means rain and you came with the rains, so that will be your name. So my life as a Maasai began.
Today I met my field assistant’s family. His entire family lives within a few miles of camp and five little mud huts converge around a huge boma (or corral) for the cattle. Each house contains one small portion of the family: a house for Wilson and his wife and child, a house for his brother’s first wife and another for his second, a house for the sister, and one for the parents. Cows, goats, sheep, and dogs weave in and out of the area and at night the livestock gets moved into the boma for protection from lions.
Upon arrival at the house, we quickly discovered that Wilson’s two- year old daughter was terrified of me. I have experienced this before. I am a foreigner and my glowing white skin can come off as a little scary for a small child who has never seen anything like it. So despite attempts at friendly hellos, the tears would flow and the screaming would start and I decided I had best just leave her alone. Wilson’s wife decided that as part of my Maasi training, I should milk a cow. This also proved difficult as the first milking cow I approached ran away from me as well. Apparently it isn’t just children that don’t like Mzungus. The second cow seemed a bit more willing and even let me walk up to it. In the excitement of actually making it near the animal, I pet it gently along the side. Looking around at the various Maasai family members, I could tell this was not how one was supposed to treat a cow. I pulled my hand away and was given a small teakettle to catch the milk in. Now I’m actually not a complete milking virgin. In fact, I milked a cow as part of orientation my first day in college (so I’m an Aggie, sue me). I had some hope that this might not be completely humiliating and was quickly proved wrong. As I grabbed haphazardly at the udder, I desperately tried to squeeze out some milk. To make things more complicated a calf was trying to do the same thing with much relish and greater success on the other side of my cow. I would squeeze and squeeze and could literally feel the milk move. . . back up into the udder as I pulled it downwards. Finally a young woman came to my aid and was hastily showing me what to do. I daresay it took a while, but I did get the hang of it eventually and was making real progress when the cow kicked the bucket (or kettle) and knocked half the milk on my shoes. A few more squeezes and I had noticed that I was being watched by the whole Wilson clan. I figured they had had enough of a show for one day. So hands soaked in milk and the kettle nearly empty and I gave up. Everyone asked if my hand was tired. “No, just wet,” I would reply.