We leave our lodge in the Serengeti National Park early in the morning, heading in the direction of Lake Magadi. Our jeep bumps over the unpaved road, clouds of dust obscuring the back window. But on either side of us we can see the steep sides of Olduvai Gorge.
We pull up at a Maasai village, a cluster of about 30 huts protected by a thorny fence. Parked outside the fence is a Land Rover with ‘AMREF Flying Doctors’ on the side. “I wonder if the Land Rover can fly?” I think to myself.
The sound of our engine brings a group of children running out of the village. We climb down from the jeep and hand out the sweets we’ve brought. I look up and see a woman walking towards us. “There’s Jacqueline,” I say, waving. We’ve known Jacqueline Lampe for several years, but as Director of AMREF Flying Doctors her work often takes her to Africa and this is the first time we’ve been able to catch up with her for a while.
“Karibu. You made it,” she says. “I’m glad we’re able to meet here and not in our office.”
She leads us into the village, the children still jumping around us excitedly. “We work with a number of nomadic groups in this area, such as the Maasai, who are often beyond the reach of public health services,” she tells us as we walk.
“How do you reach them?” Maarten asks.
“We adapt our projects to their lifestyle. We train health workers within the community and provide mobile clinics.”
As we walk through the village, we see women preparing the next meal and a small group of men discussing something more important than world politics. Jacqueline continues: “Nomads still live according to old traditions, some of which pose health risks. Female circumcision, for example, is a rite of passage that prepares girls for womanhood and marriage. It’s often carried out without anaesthetic and in unsanitary conditions.”
Jacqueline stops and turns to us, lowering her voice as if the kids can understand her: “As well as being extremely painful, the procedure can lead to immediate problems such as infection or difficulties later during childbirth. And, circumcision limits the woman’s sexual enjoyment and therefore limits the right to safe and healthy sex.”
One of the children tugs at my skirt. I crouch down to her level. She starts talking to me in Swahili, probably telling me she didn’t get any sweets. I give her a lollypop. She turns around and runs away.
Jacqueline continues. “Because most of our employees are African and know the local cultures and traditions, we’ve been able to find a solution to female circumcision.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“It’s an alternative ritual that celebrates girls becoming women without any physical damage. A health worker spends several days with the girls discussing health issues, like safe sex. As part of the ritual, the girls walk under a ceremonial arch from the village elders. The arch shows that the new ritual and the young women are accepted in the community.”
Jacqueline beckons to a girl who is making a bead necklace outside one of the huts. “Here’s one of the girls,” she says. “This is Miali. She can tell you more about the alternative ritual and what it meant to take part.”
Miali smiles at us but I can see she is not totally at ease. I turn to Maarten. “Why don’t you go and grab a latte macchiato at the local Starbucks?” I say. “This is girl talk.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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By Maarten Schäfer – By Maarten Schafer