Adventures in Kenya with Dr. Williams

 
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The past three years, I have been privileged to travel to Kenya with Calvary Road Ministries to work with the beautiful Maasai people and their livestock. We travel in June to escape the hot Texas heat to the cool, fall-like weather of the Kenyan winter. Kenya is located on the equator and ranges in elevation from sea level to 17,000 feet. It has terrain ranging from tropical forests, to rich farmland, to drought-ridden semi-arid regions, to beautiful savanna filled with National Geographic-worthy wildlife. From DFW International Airport, it is a nine-hour flight east to London followed by an eight-hour flight southeast to Nairobi, Kenya. From there, we travel west out of the city down into the Great Rift Valley, a massive rift in the Earth stretching 3,700 miles from the Red Sea in Lebanon to Mozambique in South Eastern Africa.

As you drive down the escarpment into the Rift Valley of Eastern Kenya, the temperature begins to rise and the terrain becomes arid and full of thorns. This is where many of the Maasai tribe of Kenya call home. The Maasai live without electricity or running water in traditional houses made of mud, branches, and grass or newer houses made of plywood with sheet metal roofs. Most do not have cars, but many have cell phones that they must take to town to charge. They dress in bright colors of red and blue and are known for making and wearing beautiful jewelry out of beads. They eat mainly goat and corn and despise pork and fish. They do not really care to eat anything too sweet and their favorite drink is chai tea with fresh cow’s milk heated over an open fire. Their daily lives revolve around one of their biggest passions: their cattle.

Each Maasai family has their own herd of goats and their own herd of cattle, and the boys and men spend their days herding their livestock to wherever the grass is growing and wherever there is water available. One of their aspirations is to accumulate as many cattle as they can, which provides their family with income and is a sign of honor for their family. When a family needs to send their child to school, they will sell cows to pay for the tuition. Whenever a man finds a woman he wants to build a family with, he negotiates a dowry of cows with the woman’s father. The only time a cow is butchered for food is when a big family celebration or community events occurs, such as a wedding or the christening of a new church or school occurs. When droughts occur, forage and water become scarce and the cattle become too weak to stand up to eat or drink. When this happens, Maasai will bring in grass and water and take turns supporting the cow day and night when it is too weak to stand. Their compassion toward their cattle is heartwarming and admirable.

Before we start our work for the day, we gather together, and with the help of an interpreter, we teach the Gospel using Bible stories on a decorative cloth and we pray. In generations past, Massai history and traditions were passed down orally because they were unable to read or write, so telling and listening to stories comes naturally to them. Kenya is becoming an increasingly Christian nation and religion is encouraged to be taught in classrooms. Every Sunday, Maasai families walk for miles to the nearest church where they gather together for hours to sing, dance, and worship together. The people who are hardest to reach have been the young men who spend their days herding cattle, so we are able to come out to the bush where they are to fellowship with them.

Working cattle with the Maasai is a little different than working cattle here. There are no trailers, no horses, no hydraulic squeeze chutes, and no lassoes. Because they work so closely with their cattle every day, they can herd them into holding pens made of thorny limbs cut from mesquite-like bushes and run them through an alleyway made of wood boards and nails. On a busy day, we can vaccinate over 3,000 head of cattle for diseases such as Anthrax, Blackleg, and Lumpy Skin, which cause cattle to suffer and die. If we find a cow that is sick or has abscesses then, all the Maasai begin to yell and point out the animal in question until some brave volunteers can catch the cow by the horns and by the tail and restrain it while we treat it with antibiotics. Over the past three years, we have vaccinated over 27,000 head of cattle.

We come each year to accomplish three things: 1. To vaccinate and treat their cattle for infectious diseases so that they can be healthier. 2. To spend time in fellowship with people who could not be more different than us, but at the same time could not be more similar. And 3. To let them know that we love them because God first loved us. Each year I come home after two weeks of being away from my family, job, and country that I love only to start counting down the days until I can be back with my friends in Massai-land once more.

John Williams, DVM