Saturday, October 3, 2009

108 Sun Salutations

Three years ago, I spent a semester in Tanzania with the School for International Training. While I was there, I did a three-day homestay with a family of Maasai, the traditional pastoralist people who believe all the cows in the world are theirs by divine right. Here's an excerpt from one of the emails I sent home in March of 2006:

They dressed me in traditional Maasai garb; long blankets draped over the shoulder and tied at the waist, and lots of beaded and metal jewelry. With my hair in braids, one of the other students told me I looked like Pocahontas. I felt a little ridiculous, but mostly fabulous. I used my outer blanket to carry jugs of water over my head and played with the kids under a tree, hoping all the while that the warriors who stopped by would take me dancing when they left at dusk.

On Wednesday night, my last night of homestay, my yeyo put one of the big beaded collars over my head and showed me how to shake my shoulders so it jingles the way the young Maasai girls do. My papa beckoned me to follow and with three of the girls from neighboring bomas - all from around 8 to 11 years old - we set off across the sandy hills to where the warriors, who had returned home with their cattle now that the rains had come, would dance with the girls who might eventually become their wives or mistresses. 

It was a walk that will always stand out with complete clarity in my memory, though it felt surreal at the time: the silhouette of my Maasai papa with his blanket wrapped around his shoulders and fembo walking stick in hand, navigating with only the moonlight softly illuminating the land to guide him, the three little girls in their head wraps, their necklaces tinkling as they walked, the approaching lightning flashing silently, still too distant to hear the thunder, and behind me, the faint red glow at the summit of Oldonyo Lengai. 

As we entered the boma, the layered chanting of the warriors and the high-pitched responses of the girls started and I was swept into the dancing. Warriors would stomp forward and whip their blankets under a girl's chin as a sign of flirtation. Several did it to me and once it coincided with a lightning flash that showed the whites of his eyes inches from mine. They're not messing around. Girls would disappear with a warrior for a time and then return, giggling, and jump back into the dancing. Loud thunder signalled the arrival of the storm that had been threatening, and the dancing was cut short so that we could walk back to the boma in the pouring rain. I fell into bed next to sleeping little Monica, sopping wet and deliriously happy.

Those were the craziest three days I'd ever experienced. Sleeping on a cowskin with my host mother and her three children, a volcano erupting ten miles away... man. It was epic. 

Me and my little brother, Troima, at his boma by Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, March 2006.

At the end, along with the rest of my American classmates, I was given the opportunity to ask a group of women questions, and they were astonishingly candid about any number of topics, including circumcision. Many of them regarded it as a normal rite of passage and didn't seem to feel too strongly about it, but there are women out there who want something else. They were all very young when it happened to them, and there was no alternative in order for them to become women in the eyes of their culture.

I think it's important to respect unique cultures like the Maasai and the traditions that make them so distinct, and also to respect the rights of young girls who historically have had very little say in their own fate. I don't think I can emphasize enough how important it is for these girls simply to have THE OPTION to pursue a different path. 

So, this coming Saturday, I will be participating in the Houses of Hope Yoga-thon in Central Park.  From the website:

"The organization is run by Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman, who has been working to end FGM for over a decade through education and the development of an alternative rite of passage for young women... Agnes has built two safe houses where young women live, are educated and do not face pressure to undergo FGM. There are plans to build 6-9 more houses across Africa."

I feel like this is a small way I can create a little more good karma in the world. Thank them for the amazing experience, you know? And I love yoga. It's all one big win!

If you're interested in helping me support this awesome cause, go here (or, better yet, create your own fundraising page):

No comments:

Post a Comment