This is Frances. I think. To be honest, I can’t remember. It seems like there were two guys named Frances though, and I think he’s one of them. At least, that’s his anglicized name. I think …
ANYway … whatever his name is, this guy is awesome. He is a Maasai warrior. I met him on my first trip to Kenya with 100 Humanitarians. Once we got to the Maasai village that we visited, he took me out in the brush to show me how the Maasai people clean their teeth. Tooth brushes and toothpaste aren’t available anywhere within less than a few hours’ drive, so they do what they can. There’s a particular kind of tree from which they slice off a green twig with their razor-sharp machete, then they simply chew on it. They also kind of rub it around on the front surface of their teeth.
It isn’t terribly effective, but hey–it’s what they have to work with, so they make it work for them.
After that little demonstration, Frances showed me his machete. According to him, it was worth about $100 American dollars. I winced, but I really wanted one. In the end, he wanted me to buy the machete, his rungu (a dancing/battle stick… they’re awesome!), and a necklace for about $350. Now … I knew they weren’t worth that, but I didn’t know exactly what each was worth. I knew I couldn’t get all three at that cost. If I remember right, I ended up with the necklace for $45.
Funny story … my last name has become a verb for those who went on that trip and have gone on subsequent trips. If you got “McCabed,” you got ripped off. Hard. Like … laughably hard. I’m okay with that. It really is kind of funny.
Here’s the thing though: yah, I got taken. Is that Frances’ fault? No. Is it my fault? It certainly is, but in all honesty, I know what that money does for their tribe, their village, their families … and in that moment, I simply didn’t mind.
You have to remember that, in that area of the Mara, the villagers see “mzungus” literally every day. A mzungu is basically an outsider who’s easily duped. No, a simple soapstone carving of some elephant is not worth $50. It’s worth *maybe* $10 if it’s intricately painted.
I haven’t seen Frances in well over a year. I have a lot of love in my heart for him, his village, his family, his people … And I have his rungu tucked away in my box of Kenyan artifacts that I’ve picked up on my trips. When I pull out that stuff and look at it, I remember him. I remember Kenya. I remember the incredible experiences I had over there–the feelings of unfettered love for a people who I had never met, and knowing that that love was and is reciprocated on their end. In the interest of fairness, Frances’ job is to sell me stuff. He did that. The common villagers, though … their job is to simply *live*. Survive. When we come to their village and help them set up a garden box, or provide them a goat or cow, their joy and gratitude is ELECTRIC. I’ll talk about that in another blog post down the road.
I really miss Kenya. I can’t wait to get back over there and see my friends. I hope that you’ll come with me on one of our expeditions. I can tell you these stories and experiences all I want, and you can read them and think, “Oh. Well, that’s awesome!”, but I promise you … there is no way to adequately do justice to the experience using mere words. You *have* to be there. Literally.
Come play with us in Kenya. Join 100 Humanitarians. Change your life. Only then will any of this make sense in any kind of meaningful way. 🙂
A Taste of Kenya and Alex Boye at Club 90 – Part One
A Taste of Kenya. Alex Boye. Seemed like a logical combination, right? Not so. When we decided to do the event, we reached out to two amazing performers, Cactus Jack and Jennifer Marco, who both suggested we reach out to Alex. I took a chance and emailed his people via his website, but didn’t receive a response. So, I just left it up to fate, and boy did fate intervene! A few weeks later, my friend Heather messaged me and said, “Will Moses be awake the night he arrives in the U.S.?” We had decided to fly Moses to the U.S. for a few weeks for different events and meetings that we were putting on, and it turned out that Alex Boye was doing a free concert the night Moses was arriving, and that she had free tickets.
“Yes, Moses will be awake, and will be there in a shuka!” Bless his heart, even though he was exhausted from 30 hours of international travel from Kenya, he got dressed up and we headed downtown to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. The opening act was a jazz band that put us both to sleep, but then Alex took the stage. I knew (KNEW) that if Alex saw Moses in his Maasai shuka that it would be game over. Except he didn’t see him. We didn’t know what to do after the concert and waited around for a bit to see if Alex would come out, but he didn’t. So finally Moses took the reigns and said, “He’s still in the theater so let’s just go in.”
We went back into the auditorium and saw Alex and crew cleaning up the stage. As we walked towards them, suddenly Alex saw Moses and it was like everything went into slow motion as he yelled, “MAASAI!” and jumped off the stage. The next few minutes were a blur, as we met Alex and made arrangements for Moses to join him in filming a video the next day.
Moses Masoi and Alex Boye
I had mentioned A Taste of Kenya to Alex and he thought he would be out of town for it, so that pretty much ended that conversation, but we still had the next day to look forward to. I think Moses was in a shuka more during those first few days in the U.S. than he is during a month in Kenya, but he was a great sport about it.
The next day we met Alex at a drum shop in Salt Lake to film the video. To my knowledge, it was never released to the public, but it was a really fun morning. After we wrapped up, we talked and brainstormed about doing another video where Alex would be able to wear the traditional Maasai clothing, and agreed that we would text and set a date. Little did we know what was going to be in the works over the next few weeks!
When people ask me why I went to Kenya in the first place I smile and say, “Peer pressure.” Before I got on the plane in March of 2015, I had no desire to go to anywhere in Africa. In fact, there was a list of about 50 countries that I planned to visit BEFORE ever setting foot on the continent. However, I had a group of friends who had been to Kenya a couple of times and after listening to them ramble on about it for about two years, I decided it might make a fun girls trip.
I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.
I remember the first day in Western Kenya when we went to visit families after attending an Anglican church on the property of the guest house where we were staying. The music had pierced me to the core, so I was already in a reflective and contemplative mood. Walking down the road I said to my friend, “I just…I don’t even know how to explain what I am feeling about all of this.” She said, “I know. They don’t need us. We need them.”
That phrase has stuck with me ever since, and is often said in different variations by the people who have since gone to Kenya with me. When I returned from Kenya with my DNA completely rearranged, I made it a matter of intense prayer and reflection and kept asking, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Then one Sunday a few months later I was getting ready for church and literally a voice that I can still remember today said, “Go start a group on Facebook called 100 Humanitarians. I’ll let you know why later.” So I did. Right then, on my phone, with no clear picture of what it was supposed to be. I invited some friends who I thought might sort of be interested in it. Turns out that it wasn’t my friends who were interested, but strangers. By the end of 2016 I will have taken over 50 people to Kenya, and I only knew 6 of them prior to all of this starting.
The voice has never come back, but inspiration and direction and nudges have replaced it. When the ideas come, they come fast and furious, and are always bigger than I could possibly imagine. Each trip has a completely different feel, and it’s never like I am learning something for the first time, but more like I am remembering that it is what I am here to do. Many people who have come with me feel the same way. It’s like we are finding each other and combining efforts. Some people have come and gone. Some have taken on the projects that have called to them in Kenya and are running with them at the same rapid pace. The collaboration has brought unbelievable miracles.
Every. Single. Day.
Now, we have over 1300 people in the 100 Humanitarians Facebook group. We have a list of over 100 people who are already planning on going to Kenya with us, and more contact me daily. We have built out a core program that we call “Business Boxes for Families” that provide a cow, a goat, 5 chickens, 3 garden boxes, 10 trees, Days for Girls reusable hygiene kits, and mentoring and education on how to turn it all into a sustainable business.
We are in the process of building the Emparnat Cultural Center on the Maasai Mara with guest houses to provide opportunities for people around world to be a part of our Families Mentoring Families program, where we teach what we know, and learn what the Maasai know, to build a bridge between the cultures.
But most of all, we have built a culture around 100 Humanitarians that is rooted in Love, Trust, and Voluntary Cooperation. Everyone who is a part of what we are doing is there because they choose in and find what it is that calls to them, whether they are on the team in the U.S. or in Kenya.
As 100 Humanitarians expands, we focus as much as possible on two things: mentoring and sustainable economic development. It’s about people, not projects. It’s about connection, not coercion. And it’s working.
The Story of 100 Humanitarians International by Heidi Totten
The Mau Forest is a really beautiful area of Kenya, and on my second trip during a very rainy and muddy day, we drove up to visit Tenkes School. When we got out of the jeep, we were greeted by about 15 elders who were on the board of the school. They gave us a tour of the school, and showed us two things that really had an impact on me. First, the desks. There were just not enough for the students, and they were sitting 4-5 in a desk.
There were three classrooms with about 300 students at the school. Each classroom had about 6-8 desks, so most kids were sitting on the floor. Or standing. Can you imagine learning while standing all day? I committed to figure out how to raise funds for 15-20 more desks at least for the school. Turned out that was the really easy thing to do – raise funds. The hard part is cutting down trees and planing wood and building the desks. They don’t have Home Depot down the road with perfect planks for building. That’s the thing you really learn in a developing country quickly; just how unavailable resources are that you can easily get in the U.S.
Next on the tour was the kitchen that volunteer parents use to cook for 300 students each day. Children had to bring their own firewood, or they would get caned or beaten. A typical lunch would be ugali, which is similar to a corn polenta. Kenyans also drink African tea, and so that is often what the students will have. The Mau Forest can get very cold, because it is at a higher elevation than the Maasai Mara. This kitchen was falling apart pretty quickly, and didn’t provide shelter for the cooks when it rained. So my second commitment was to rebuild the kitchen, and we held the event A Taste of Kenya to do just that.
One of the objectives of Tenkes School is to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation through education. These men were very aware of the issue, and were very enthusiastic to share with me how they were working to stop FGM. This was the first time I had experienced that in Kenya from men, and it was really powerful. We spent several hours with them discussing their challenges.
It was a few months later that the kitchen fell down after severe rainstorms in The Mau. We coordinated efforts with the school, and on our first official expedition to Kenya we were able to visit Tenkes School and help build the final desks (we ended up donating 20.) The kitchen was rebuilt, and lunch was cooked for our team in the new kitchen.
The new kitchen was built with two rooms, so that a teacher would be able to sleep on one side. We had lunch with the students and school community, and were invited to eat goat with the elders who were on the Tenkes School Board.
We also planted 75 trees at the school as part of our reforestation project, because trees bring in water, but also provide firewood for the community as they grow. It was a wonderful day at the school and the impact on our team was tangible.
I remember how I felt, after 40 hours of flying and 5 hours of driving to the Maasai Mara. I felt like I had been run over by a safari jeep, and I didn’t look much better. And yet, I was so happy, when we drove up to this scene. A whole group of Maasai celebrating my friend Edith’s housewarming party. It was a few days later that I dubbed the tree in this picture Edith’s “Wisdom Tree” and it has become a symbol of home in Kenya for me over the past few years.
Meeting Mama Helen
It was also where I met Mama Helen, who is my Maasai Mum. Actually, I had met her on my first trip, but it was briefly. It’s amazing all of the things that are so meaningful for me now that were launched on that day. We ate, celebrated, and I was able to hug friends I had met six months earlier.
This was my “scouting trip” after starting 100 Humanitarians in July 2015. At the time, I just wanted to see what was possible to create. I decided to spend two weeks just immersed in the tribe and the culture while waiting for insight and direction. Little did I know how important this tribe would become in my life.
So many tender moments came out of that day. I also met my Maasai Dad, who I had the blessing of knowing for a year and a half before he passed away in June 2017. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Maasai, but whenever I saw him he held my hand and hugged me, and sometimes that is all it takes to create a bond.
How do I even put into words my experiences in Kenya? It has been my refiner’s fire. It has changed me to the core. My ability to share my heart and the miracles I have experienced will be limited, but it is my honor to serve alongside the people of Kenya, and I will do my best to honor them.
– Heidi Totten, Executive Director of 100 Humanitarians International