Ol Malo



More from the diary of Julia Francombe.

Tea is immediately boiled on the fire. Children squeeze on to the bed next to me and they all want to shake my hand. Children fascinated by my watch and my hair, they feel my blond hair, and what I’m wearing.

No-one passes without greeting – lengthy and well thought out. They ask “How is your grandmother? How are your family?” They discuss the rain and the livestock; all the important things in life. Most importantly – am I all right? First rays of light and the singing echoes; goats and sheep - white and splodgy; women milking the cattle, singing. Little girls milking the goats, the goats’ legs hooked up between their knees.

The manyatta is circular, with a brown thorny bush surround; you see the brown shades of the houses. Lots of interesting textures: cracked ochre mud on the roofs; smooth grey patches of the cow dung; incredible patterns. The walls made from sticks filled with autumn coloured leaves. Brown and orange cow-leather sheets on the leaf-upholstered beds. Dust from the ground, gusts of wind and grey smoke. Sharp sunlight makes patterns through the windows of the houses. Yet, when all around is brown, as a red, hot sun rises you see the people. Colourful, smiling faces; snotty-nosed children holding out their hands, bare feet, little ragged clothes from cloth ripped off the corner of a mother or brother’s shuka. Always laughing. Girls giggling; women and men stopping a few feet away, for the lengthy greeting - sometimes looking in the opposite direction. This is not rude, this is their way. Moranis, proud, walk by and stop. Turning they call my name. A smile breaks on their faces. They are amused to see me there and they begin the lengthy greeting.

As the sun becomes hot, the elders walk from their beds in their warm huts and find the cool of the shade, and sleep again. Women busy sweeping, using branches freshly cut; helping each other pile water containers onto their backs, holding leather straps to collect up firewood along away; leaving the manyatta, lines of colourful fabric flowing behind. Some children herding; other, smaller ones pestering their brothers to make them a toy: in this case, wanting to imitate their elder brothers, they want a wooden bow and arrow. The sun is hot. We shelter in the shade of the outside cooking area. Mothers in houses close by constantly check on their guests – us - and bring us tea. An elder wanders over. Squats. Fly swat in one hand: flicking the cow’s tail from ear to ear; leather stick in other hand. Spitting brown tobacco in-between his feet intermittently as he greets. Asks what we are doing. Tells me I’m always welcome, and offers some food. He says that if tea is my food his wife will bring tea often - if that is really my chosen food. As the sun passes overhead the boys return. Seeking the cool of their mothers’ houses and some food. They gather around, laughing, amused at everything. Although almost warriors, the younger ones with their high-pitched giggles. Chunks of sheep-fat melt over an open fire. Children seeing to the fire, placing wood and copying their mothers blowing; rice soaked and washed is added, then the beans. Cooked and turned, cooked and turned. More tea is brought. Always careful to thoroughly wash the cups and pots even though the water is brown. The proud mother of the house, Mama Askofu, attends to her children from her seat, the side of her bed. The women come in and out to see what we are doing. Boys in the house. Some sleep next to me, others gather and joke.

The sun is low, the cattle on their return, trails of dust. Cattle, sheep and goats follow their herders in, the Manyatta turns white. Milking and singing. Close to the warm houses, huddled around outside fires. Smoke billows inside.

Always smiling and laughing, despite the day spent in the harsh, brown environment and hot, hot, hot, dry sun. This colourful warrior tribe never fighting or arguing over what little they have. Issues are discussed for hours around an open fire in the centre of the home, with the sky, light of the moon and stars above. Proud family values.

After their small feast it is time to sleep now.

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