Samburu Softening

Samburu softening

I sit deep in a Samburu hut which is built of twigs, old cloth, ripped cardboard and random debris because the current lack of local grazing area has pushed the cattle too far away for dung to be feasible as covering. The head of the family sits watching me. His face closed, he observes without any affect or emotion. 

From the outside, the four foot tall structure looks tiny, but inside there are three areas, and a cook fire in the far end of the entry. The couple and babies sleep in one cattle-hide lined compartment, young people in the other. The men rest their heads on triangular pieces of wood, but a woman my age confesses to the pillow I spy in a corner. 

The women have built the home, clean the area, tend the goats, cook the food, bear and care for the children. The men sit in deep, serious discussion, debating matters of state. Yet they are the rulers of the roost. 

Light from the entry turns the regal face before me a beautiful tone of deepest bronze, and lights it so I can use my phone. I show him his portrait and feel a slight thaw. Then I flip the camera to selfie mode and place it in his hand. He stares at it, shifts it about and finally sees his own face staring back. I gently reach for a finger on his other hand and feel the muscles release. Together, we push the large white button, but our jerky motion moves the focus. I try again, then push the playback button. His face eases a bit more as he looks at his image. 

Soon he has the concept, and is satisfied with the results. He grins hugely when reviewing, but prefers a serious self image. A baby wanders in and is soon part of his scene, followed by a young child. Now the doorway is blocked by observers, but it's hard to explain why it is now so dark he cannot shoot, and the crowd is too thick to clear. 

The chief stands up and walks off with my phone, bestowing a view of the image on his court. He is beaming when he returns the device, and holds my hand for a long moment as I say "Lesere," in farewell. 

"Ashoalei," he says, the word I have just learned means thank you in Samburu.