July 25, 2004
Another Sunday rolls around, and the crew is off at Magadi. I took our guests to the Site Museum to show some of the stone tools that John and Alison have recovered, and to give them one last tour before they head off to Nairobi later today.
This morning we were visited in camp by quite a few local people. They requested lifts in a vehicle to get water, to visit a local medical clinic, and to get to a hospital a little further away. We're happy to get these requests since over the years we've built a good relationship with the local Maasai. We use their land for our camp and excavations, and they know we're willing to help them with our vehicles and to give a drink of water or other assistance as they walk on the plain below our camp with their livestock. In general, the Maasai don't really think much about our work. All of that digging in the ground has nothing to do with the Maasai passion for tending cows, sheep, and goats. Maasai friends and passersby sometimes visit our sites, watch us work, and then move on. But two of the local people have taken a special interest in our work, and when they began to help with digging and accompanying our crew back to camp, I hired them. They've become great friends, and it's great to receive their welcome every season we return to Olorgesailie. Even when we're not here, these two men walk around the basin and look for fossils. When we come back, they'll point these sites out to me, and we'll often dig there.
Sometimes our relationship with the Maasai can be a little more complicated. The woman who owned the land on which we camp is a good story. After her husband died in 1987, she became very interested in how we were using her land. For many years, she would come by camp, catch my eye, and gesture that she saw everything that went on here. We worked out an agreement, signed by the local chief, myself, and stamped with her thumb print - and this enabled us to pay her camping fees for building our research camp in the same spot year after year. She became known as Mama ya Kampi, or woman of the camp, because she was always here to make sure that we weren't doing anything wrong. Gradually, a wonderful trust developed between her and our camp - due to growing familiarity and her realizing that she could rely on us for help. She came to camp frequently just to greet me, shake hands, and we would stand face-to-face looking at each other for several minutes - she didn't know much of any Swahili and I knew only a few words of Maa (language of the Maasai). I was sad when I heard the news last year that she had died. Last July, her sons came to me with a letter she had dictated on her death bed, translated by a relative into English. The letter was to me, and it introduced her sons. She asked me to continue our camping agreement and to treat her sons well. She invited us to come to her land for many years to come, and she said that she was thinking about us and thanked us for our kindness over the years. It brought tears to my eyes that she thought of our presence here even to the end of her life.