Steam Bath on the Savannah

The sound around a water tank is more than half full jerry cans, talking woman and braying donkeys. You also hear the buzzing bees, who quench their thirst in the puddles around the tap. Due to the increasing drought the flora and fauna are changing. In the past this valley counted numerous beehives. On command of their queen the worker bees flew off and on to all the flowers. The Samburu used the honey as a cure for infections and as ingredient for the local honey beer. Due to the drought there are fewer and fewer flowers. The effect on the end of the chain: less honey beer is being drunk. The local market on Wednesday is a good indicator of what is and what is not being used anymore. Three moran are walking with a stick circled with a kind of dark gum. The warriors are circumcised last week. A painful but important happening during the life of a Samburu man. The stick is covered with ‘silalei’ a type of chewing gum which helps against the pain and smells nice as well. Somewhere else on the market we hear about ‘lansaramat’ a plant which grows in the highlands, about 200 kilometres further north. The roots of the plant are supposedly effective against malaria. We do not need the plant (jet), we are still healthy. On our way back from market to manyatta we discover aloe vera in the fields. Apparently it can resist the drought, but drought is not the only thing that is endangering them. The greatest danger that is facing these plants is probably the Swiss company which bought patent on all the aloe vera in the land of Samburu. The world of legal claims, tailored suits and courthouses seems so far way here. The Samburu do not know of patents on their knowledge of nature. They rather share instead of protect. Experienced warriors take the young boys with them, mothers teach their daughters (in law) how to cook. When we arrive back in the manyatta, we visit the neighbours. The sounds of shouts and shrieks betrays that we enter the childcare. Nalparakuo Lendolkujuka, a young female of 23 years old, looks after the nine children of this manyatta. The other females are at the market. One of the youngest children has troubles breathing. We are getting a real life demonstration of the Samburu nature drugstore. In a small, dark hut, Nalparakuo prepares a steam bath for the boy of barely 1 ½ years old. On the slopes around the manyatta grows ‘lakirdingei’. The roots of this plants provide a cure when boiled. The damps of the broth are effective to colds and infections. We are impressed by Nalparakuo when she prepares the medicine. We are, besides the efficiency of the ‘lakirdingei’, just as much awed by this young woman. She has everything under control. The manyatta is her base camp, the goods around her like an expedition kit. Faultlessly she prepares the steam bath, full of love she comforts her child. The steam bath on the savannah appears to be working. The boy stops whimpering, breaths more freely and falls asleep on the back of his mother. Nalparakuo waits patiently, but alert on the arrival of the other women. Satisfied we are wait with her. With Nalparakuo among them, the future of this group of Samburu seems more promising. Diederik Veerman

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