In an earlier post, I mentioned my goat, Veronica. Let me tell you about how she came to be mine.
Over the time I spent with the Canadian Field Studies in East Africa, I became good friends with Stephen Moiko, a Maasai fellow who, I met in 2004. In addition to having a traditional Maasai background (he is the second youngest of 27 in his extended Maasai family) Stephen has excelled in academics and is soon completing his Phd in Anthropology at McGill.
His family lives just outside Nairobi on a home site that was once part of his father’s traditional village. They are gradually acquiring various more modern amenities but still struggle with access to water and have outdoor latrines. Electricity is a convenience introduced to their home only 3 years ago.
I have stayed with this family several times since meeting them in 2004 and the many conversations I have had with Stephen, his wife, his mom and his kids have really helped me understand Maasai culture.
On one visit, young Dennis, a nephew of Stephen’s who lives across the road, was sitting with me in the living area as the solar lights were gradually dimming. He was about 12 at the time and intrigued by this muzungu from Canada.
Our conversation was limited and some of our time was spent sitting side by side in silence.
At some point we started talking about friends. “Who is your best friend?” I asked.
“Right now, you are.” was his answer. He took a Maasai bracelet that had been made by his grandmother off his wrist and gave it to me. “I want you to have this,” he said.
Then he said “And I want to give you one of my goats, too.”
I was flattered but didn’t want the boy to give me something so valuable to their family. “Thanks, Dennis but I can’t take it. You know I live far away.”I said
“Oh, you won’t take it away, I will look after it for you but it will be yours. I want to give it to you as my friend.”
The next morning he took me to the paddock and showed me the goat that was to become mine. It was a healthy young female goat with dark marks over the eyes. “She looks like Veronica Lake,” I said. “Let’s call her Veronica.”
Time has gone on. Dennis is now a young man, having just completed secondary school. Veronica looks a little old and tired but she has had a few kids over the years and Stephen’s mom can still point them out to me. Maasai herdsmen identify their animals by making a unique combination of cuts in their ears to show who owns them. Veronica and her progeny are marked with my unique brand – as part of the Moiko clan. When I visit the family, I always go out to the field to find Veronica and what remains of her extended family. Some of her offspring have, no doubt, become someone’s dinner.
I will always remember the generosity of this young Maasai boy. I still have the beaded bracelet and although I have been given many other beaded items over the years, this is the one that I wear when I visit Maasai communities in Kenya. And Dennis and his grandmother still notice with pride that it is his bracelet that is on my arm. The bracelet reminds us all of the endearing connection we have established despite our quite divergent backgrounds.
I suspect that when I visit them over the years, Maria will point out a goat that is supposed to be one of Veronica’s offspring. I won’t know if they are just humouring me or if it really is one of “mine”. But really, it doesn’t matter. We know that it is a little remembrance that will bond us and that is what is important.
P.S. How cool is this? As a result of publishing this blog article three days ago, my young friend Dennis has found me online and we have had a chat. He is now a young man, attending University in Nairobi. What a Christmas treat for me!!! The internet has shrunk the world beyond belief.