By Sheila Gabeya
You know what they say, “a road trip is not a road trip until you make a wrong turn.” Well, our day began with no reason to fear anything but good fortune.
Indeed, after the amazing gathering with WVD friends in Nakuru the night before, the team heads off on the second leg of their road trip. They’re told trip to Naroq should only take two hours and in fact, it begins with ease and optimism. Zebras and antelopes grazing on the side of the road keep everyone busy as Zack our driver keeps his eyes on the road. They are scheduled to meet at 11:00 a.m. with Michael Sayo, a Maasai leader who has invited them to come and share information about vasectomies with his community.
Everything is positive until unknowingly they turn left when they should go right and while Jonathan naps in the backseat, they realize they have lost their way. Worse, refusing to ask directions, they soon find themselves smack in the middle of Maasai land! And even worse, they’re not actually going to Naroq but an entirely different country called Kajiado
Pretty soon there is no phone signal, no signposts and only nameless roads that are actually riverbeds. The good news is they are getting a first-hand view of life in this remote part of Kenya. The bad news is pretty soon no one is happy, but it is Jonathan, in particular, who loses patience fastest. A New Yorker who moves fast and talks faster, he demands to know how two hours has turned into a half-day trek. He does not realize that the Maasai, a traditional pastoral society, do not count time, as does he.
There are neither houses nor stores along the way, just young men guarding their livestock and so we ask that they be our guides. Soon we realize that each guide rides along for 30 minutes before asking to be let out of the car. Here English is not spoken and Swahili is a distance second language to their own mother tongue and after this happens a few times, we all begin to wonder if we are not being used as local Matatus (buses in Kenya) to help the Maasai manage their livestock rather than tend to our own needs.
Finally, we get a phone signal and Michael Sayo, the man of the hour, picks up. Happy to hear from us he comes to pick up in his car. We wait another hear but finally he appears. It is now 3:30 p.m. our two-hour trip has turned into a seven-hour trek. We are stressed, but now grateful to have finally arrived.
Michael Sayo is a name well known and celebrated in Maasai land. As a young man, he had stood out as more studious than the average Maasai and the community voted to provide him finances so he might pursue his education. But unlike others from his community who having received a proper education never return, Michael has taken the obligation he feels for his community very seriously.
Michael was born into a family of 35 children, which is a lot even by Maasai standards, but not the most by his own admission. His father brought him up in poverty such that at a young age he knew he would do things differently. Today, with his education he has had the benefit of traveling abroad to study. Now his foundation, Maasai- Mando, brings solar energy to his village, a vehicle to ease transport to the nearest town center and a promise to dig a borehole to address the community’s biggest challenge; water.
Michael says vasectomy is something new to the Maasai community but he has every confidence that it will be adopted. He gives an example of how customs once alien, are now common amongst the Maasai. He has already started sensitizing the Maasai about family planning and vasectomy. Michael, who is already a father of two, wants to get a vasectomy after his third child. Aware of his own influence, he knows that this will encourage other men to do the same.
To capture the scene Silas launches his drone. Not surprisingly, it causes a stir as people from surrounding compounds come to have a look. Full of interest, they ask the team what their mission. This is the chance for everyone to hear about vasectomy and family planning. When Michael speaks people listen and he does not mince his words as he says he will use the newly built but not yet operational health center to start sensitization of family planning and vasectomy among his people. It is a long road before these communities embrace the idea of men and family planning, but with Michael as a leader, it is closer to reality than it might seem.
Michael, the WVD team, and the Maasai people do not want to part but the sun is setting over the hills and as darkness starts to fall, everyone sadly says goodbye and the team heads out leaving Michael with a huge but accomplishable task ahead. Having forgotten about earlier troubles, the WVD team have had the most powerful experience by far.
Who said wrong turns were not worth it? Thank you, Michael Sayo, and all the Maasai people for reminding the WVD team about perseverance!
Donate to build a sustainable vasectomy outreach program in Kenya! We’re looking for $35,000. Will you help? https://igg.me/at/rrp0V1ZxLSw
About the Author: Sheila Gabeya is a 25-year-old Ugandan writer and photographer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She will be documenting World Vasectomy Day triumphs and challenges through her pictures and storytelling.
Photo: Sheila Gabeya