I am traveling in northern Tanzania on a paved road about
30 miles from Arusha. Suddenly I get a flat tire. After putting on the spare, I
discover that it too is flat. I wave the next car to a stop and send a written
message for help to the nearest gas station. It is about 1 pm and the burning
tropical sun beats down on the semi-desert Maasailand. Except for the paved road
there is only wilderness for miles in each direction.
After a few minutes a young Maasai boy about 12 years old walks up. He is
herding cattle. He tells me that his name is Casimir. He peers in the fully
loaded car and examines all the packed boxes.
"Is it food?" he asks hopefully.
"No, only books."
Casimir is disappointed. He must be very hungry. All day
long he sits in the glaring sun watching the cows graze on short tufts of grass
and small bushes. Like many Maasai boys he doesn’t go to school, partly because
the nearest one is 32 miles away. Also there is still a tradition that Maasai
boys should herd cattle as their fathers did. While I am waiting a good number
of cars and buses go by. A white sedan races past, then the driver abruptly hits
the breaks. The car backs up until it is opposite mine. A cheerful Asian in his
early 30’s leans out the window and asks, "Do you need any help?"
"Thanks," I answer, "but I’ve already sent word for help
to a garage in Arusha." So with a wave of his hand the driver sets off.
After the roar of his engine fades away I relax in my seat
and wonder about this friendly man who has just left. He stopped and wanted to
help. Yet in many places in East Africa his presence (and that of other Asians)
is no longer wanted.
A few minutes later Casimir’s father, Leo, comes by. He is
a tall, stately Moran (the name given to Maasai warriors) and is very curious
about my car. He examines the outside carefully, tapping his walking stick
against the door. After we talk briefly he asks if he can sit inside.
For more than an hour Leo and I, sitting side by side in
the front seat, discuss his large herd of cattle, the crops and Casimir’s future
schooling. Then he says good-bye and walks off towards Namanga in the opposite
direction from Arusha.
Almost three hours after I had sent word, a car from an
Arusha garage drives up. We put on a good tire and I am ready to leave. By this
time Casimir has told his shepherd friends about the “mguu mbovu” (Swahili for
“bad tire”). So four more herd of cattle munch grass in the adjoining field and
five young Maasai boys watch them.
I wave good-bye and drive off to Arusha. On the way I
think of many things, but mainly of Casimir asking for food but finding only