IN BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE BOOKS ARE SOLD April 5, 2016
Excerpt from Mile 46
17 May 1988, Kipapei’s boma
Things are really depressing around here. Naserian was bitten by something, we
aren't sure what, but her arm has been swollen for three days now. Sintamei has been bleeding for over a week, and Kimutai won't give her money for the doctor, so she's really upset. I feel sick but the real problem is that we are out of water, no rains forecasted. It
feels like death. Because I'm sick, I can't drink chai or milk. My head feels like it is going to explode.
The Tanzanians Kimutai hired to do grunt work are being belligerent. One of them is telling the rest of them not to listen to the women, especially the mzungu (me). I never ask them for anything, anyway. And they're trying to convert Santamo, Kimutai's eldest son, into a "real" Maasai. He hasn't been going to school, disappeared for a few days, and has been wearing dirty shukas. There's something going around, and the children are sick, dirty, covered with flies, and vomiting everywhere. Naserian's husband gave her a black eye. I think I'll stay in bed today and maybe take some codeine.
I should go to the doctor, but I dread the matatu ride out of here. "At least the Maasai don't smell." That's what Kimutai said. He said the Kambas really smell "here," pointing under his arm. He claims Maasai don't have any body odor. This is supposed to make me feel better about getting into an overcrowded, shock absorber-less car with strangers on top of me and feeling me up and putting their packages on my head while I feel like I am going to die. Kimutai also said that if a large pack of Kikuyu just happened to kill a Maasai (unlikely, as by Kimutai’s estimate it would take fifty Kukes to kill one Maasai), they would send the Maasai's penis to Japan for medical analysis. He says it's big money.
Another sensorial note: If I never hear another donkey wail it will be too soon. It's as if they're bellowing for their sorry, ugly lot, but the irony is that their bay makes them all the more hateful and pathetic. Everything cries in Maasailand, except the Maasai, who have their own miscellany of curious noises.
The donkeys wail while the flies buzz a perpetual hum; the goat kids keen while the children vomit. Every night, the boys from the next boma come from miles away to watch themselves sing in front of the mzungu’s mirror and into my cassette.
Mile 46: FACE TO FACE IN MAASAILAND
In this unique exploration of African culture, author Joni Binder revisits journals she wrote at twenty-one while living with a traditional Maasai family on the outskirts of Kenya. The homestead where she stayed in took its name from the closest designation of civilization—a cartographic mile marker emblazoned with the words "Mile 46." As both witness to and a part of the rhythms of a proud but disenfranchised family, Binder lived as the Maasai live, in a dung hut and on a diet limited to cow’s blood and milk—and, in celebratory times—meat.
Her photographs of these alluring people, their daily lives, and their sacred rituals are interwoven with journal entries from that time and juxtaposed with contemporary writing that exposes her current, more worldly and ripened perspective. These thoughtful journal entries and stunning photos speak to the timeless qualities of the Maasai, a people that has retained its traditional rites—including male and female circumcision, warrior brotherhoods, and polygamous
marriage—in the face of an unrelenting torrent of Western influence.
Chronicling the author’s attempts to reconcile her respect for her hosts and their beliefs with the Western feminist perspective to which she was accustomed, Mile 46 is an intriguing, thoughtful, and rare snapshot into the everyday life of Maasai people written over the span of nearly three decades and with a mindful sensitivity to the cultural differences that both bring us together and set us apart.