Overheard in Sanya Station

A friend of mine recently showed me an Instagram account that made me laugh out loud. It was called “Overheard in LA,” or something of that sort, and it basically posted quotes that individuals had heard other people saying on the streets of Los Angeles. They all are  borderline ridiculous, and it’s funny to hear the quote without the backstory. Heck, in LA it’s probably funny to hear the quote even with the backstory. The quotes are things like, “My dog and I decided to become vegetarians,” and “It’s like hot yoga outside!” You know, LA things.

The more I read LA quotes, the more Tanzanian quotes seemed  to stand out. Weird situations are in abundance here in Sanya Station, the Maasai village I have called home for over eight months, which is a guarantee for some  interesting sentences, either overheard or directed towards me in a conversation. So although a few are summarized, and a few are translated, and some are edited for the sake of a family friendly blog, here you have it, the first ever “Overheard in Sanya Station.”

“The cow slaughtering will be behind the toilets at 5am if anyone is interested.” –Fellow American residing in Sanya Station regarding the activities for O’Brien Day 

Mid June marked a popular holiday here in Sanya, known as O’Brien Day. It’s a celebration of the incorporation of the O’Brien School, but more than that, it is a time where a big piece of the village gets together to perform skits and plays, dance, sing, and eat that cow that was slaughtered behind the toilets at 5am. Those who know me well understand a paper cut makes me squeamish, so I was not able to attend this particular ceremony, but the killing of a cow is huge part of the Maasai culture. The cow is killed with a machete, and the blood is traditionally drank by the men straight from the cow’s neck for strength and vitality. The skins are stretched and used for blankets, and the meat is used for a celebratory meal (and I mean all the meat.) Needless to say, this girl had to find a different toilet to use on O’Brien Day.

Preparing for the feast .  Cow obviously not pictured.

“I know a guy who has sugar if you are willing to pay.” – A Tanzanian friend regarding finding sugar in the midst of a shortage.

For those not yet up to date on East African politics, Tanzania elected a new president last year. This guy, Magufuli, is a stickler for the rules and recently began to enforce certain laws that had been casually overlooked in the past. This means import laws (such as permits required to import sugar) were now being enforced, and our sugar wasn’t coming into the country as easily as it had been in the past. This led to sugar less restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores (and brought a whole new meaning to the phrase Sugar-Free.) The only way to get sugar was if you knew someone who knew someone who could sell you sugar in a back alley or a basement at a morbidly high rate (think 400% of what was normally paid.) This led to pocketing sugar packets from coffee shops and less than sweet tea in the mornings.

“Cows die. Education does not.” –Director of a High School, in regards to what a boy should tell his father who encouraged him to quit school to tend cattle.

Grazing, herding, and caring for cows, sheep and goats has been the way of life for many Maasai and Tanzanians for as long as anyone can remember. The transition from herding to education has been a slow, challenging, and representative of the delicate balance between culture and advancement that we constantly see in our world. A student begins to understand the paybacks of staying in school and creates new ways of thinking (for example, the benefits of fewer children and the dangers of FGM). With new perspectives come new opinions that often conflict with what the family as practiced for centuries. A student at school has less time to tend to the animals and new ideas on equality and human rights. It’s a tightrope. The balance is this: culture is beautiful, but so is the ability to choose to pursue heritage, education, or whatever mixture of the two each individual may desire.

Bringing the animals home for the evening.
Pastoral Communities

 “Is it appropriate to wear my ngati to the club?” – American counterpart in regards to what is appropriate “going out” attire.

 I was Face Timing with my sister recently when she stopped me mid-sentence to ask, “Is that a giant giraffe on your dress?” And it was.  I also had a dress in full zebra print that I often wore with my elephant scarf. The brighter, more colorful, wilder animals or conflicting patterns you can fit in one outfit, the better. It’s wonderful and I wish America would start trending this way. Maasai clothes in particular tend to be brightly colored with magnificent patterns. The square fabric that the Maasai women tie around their shoulders, neck and waist is known as an ngati. If its chilly you can tie the ngati over your head like a hood. If it’s warm, you tie it around the waist like a belt. ngatis can carry babies, hold vegetables, wipe tears and block wind. The only real problem with ngatis are so great, we need to moderate how often we wear them. Bars didn’t make the list.

Colorful kongas and ngatis
Traditional Maasai Clothes

“Did someone forget to tell America that we are all the same?”-Maasai woman and school translator in regards to the recent police and civilian shootings.

 It’s strange to explain complex issues in their most basic form. She had seen me on BBC reading about the recent occurrences these past few weeks; from Dallas to Baton Rouge to Minneapolis. “Why are they killing each other?” she asked, a voice completely unaware of the race games or underlying issues America has dealt with from before the country began.

“People in America are sometimes afraid of people who are different than themselves,” I tried to explain to a woman who I called my best African friend. Who let me sleep in her bed when I got scared alone at school one night, who loved Rihanna and who had grown up in the exact opposite hemisphere and atmosphere that I had been raised.

“Who forgot to tell America that we are all the same?” she asked, still incredulous to the fact we had shot at each other for a different color of skin, where we were born, where our parents took us to church or what a last name may be. “Who’s job was it to tell America we are all the same?”

I thought about that for awhile. Maybe it was Obama’s job. Maybe it was the Pope’s responsibility. Maybe congress? Dalai Llama? John Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, J. Cole? Maybe it was my job. Maybe everyone was supposed to be held responsible.

I’ve heard a lot of things around Sanya Station lately, and wherever you live I know your ears and eyes and mind have been bombarded with messages: both direct or overheard, so I will try and keep it simple. If you hear one thing from the words on this page, let it be this: darling we are all the same.





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