Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Friday, July 16, 2010

Living like a Mama - Heather

Tuesday was our first non-program day. Relaxation, however, was not in the schedule. We were up by 7 and on our way to the boma where the Maasai live by 8:00. Once there, we were paired up and handed over with one Maasai woman, or “mama” to live with for the next two hours. My partner and I greeted our mama, who welcomed us into her home. We stepped through the dark, narrow hallways into the 4 x 4 kitchen/living area and sat on kitis (stools) as she took our bags. She did not speak any English (and we, of course, could not speak Kiswahili), but we tried our best to communicate. We told her our names, and she introduced us to her 3-year old daughter, Mandi. She then asked us if we wanted tea, or “chai,” which we attempted to refuse as kindly as possible, for fear that we might get sick from the water. Next, we stepped outside the hut, and began the process involved in the main reason we had come: to fetch water. Our mama grabbed three empty containers, and we began our trek to the water source. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a small stagnant pond, and my partner and I were immediately grateful for not accepting the chai. As our mama walked into the middle of the pond, pitcher in hand, a herd of donkeys walked passed us and straight into the pond, which they drank from and relieved themselves in. Our mama came out of the water with full containers and wrapped a leather strap around the two largest containers (about 10 gallons each). As she grabbed the first large container, she walked past my 6’3”, 200 pound male partner and placed the strap around my forehead like an oversized headband, with the container hanging on my back. She placed the second large container on her own head, and handed the one gallon container to my partner. I walked back to the hut with her in that fashion, trying hard to keep my balance. Once back at her hut, I was then given the pleasure of doing our mama’s dishes as my partner idly watched from his kiti with a smirk. Of course, I didn’t mind helping out our mama, especially since it is females who fetch the water and tend to all household needs in the Maasai culture (this was a learning experience, after all).
The rest of the time spent during these last few days have been dedicated to academics. We have been given a crash course in public health research, being introduced to organizational tools such as conceptual frameworks and CSPro, a computer-base program. We also had the opportunity to learn about local health care in Kimana Kenya by touring a nearby health clinic. The impact of limited resources on the clinic was clear, but the staff was clearly dedicated to their clients. Ahead of us, we have two more presentations, one on a questionnaire we developed and another on research indicators. This past week and a half has been highly academic, but soon we will start our work in the field.


  1. Heather, your experience seems amazing! I feel like im there with you!

    Can you post some pictures I would love to see some of this!

  2. So I wonder if the water is filtered or boiled before use?

  3. Wow, your experience with your "mama" is fascinating! That is truly a hands on experience.

    I also wonder what the process is to filter or treat the water before use.

    Can't wait to hear more!