The next to the last time we heard from Msee, he told us he’d come to our house in the Rift Valley within two hours. He never showed up. This was unusual. Normally he calls and and says, “I am here.” And I ask where is here? Then I hear a tapping, turn around, and he’s on the porch looking in the window.
Anyway, the last time we talked, a couple of weeks later, he told us his phone had run out of charge while he was on a trek to re-capture his stolen cattle somewhere up in Kenya. Right after he told us he was coming to visit, Kenyans (he says) took his cows. He walked for nine days, always following the trail of gossip that flows through the far reaching Maasai community.
We first met Msee sitting at the dinner table at India Howell’s house in Arusha, Tanzania. He was her night watchman and, as a young Maasai warrior, perfect for it. India lived on the Thieves Highway and there was plenty of work.
Msee loved to turn out all the lights, wait a while, let the thieves sneak in, and then flip on the siren which sounded like a ship’s horn and come charging out of the bushes running like a madman with his spear straight at the quickly dispersing crowd.
It took us a while to get Msee to believe that he shouldn’t actually kill anyone. But scaring their pants off or even capturing them was OK. That was eons ago.
Since then, we’ve made a movie with Msee. Msee has moved up the chain from Maasai warrior to elder. He helped inspire us to record the Loruvani choir, so we put him on the CD cover. He has increased his wealth in cattle many fold, even though he loses a few now and then to raiders. And he has moved to the head of the line in his village as the new chief. He says his village has about 2000 residents, but no one knows for sure.
In Msee’s area, almost no children go to school. They’re occupied tending goats until they’re old enough to herd cattle. But Msee plans to change all of that. He realized several years ago both that the old ways are comfortably attractive and that no one can succeed without modern skills. Thus was born Esilalei School. It teaches children of the steppes, children who would normally grow up to be herdsmen, modern day survival skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Msee himself is the English teacher.
Take a look at the movie Msee helped us make. You’ll see Msee in front of the lens. On the camera side, he was quite an indispensible organizer in Maasai Land. At one point, we told him, tongue in cheek, to get some cows to moo. He picked up a pitch fork saying don’t worry, don't worry, and went for the cows. We, envisioning blood and a stampede, started yelling no no no no No No NO NO NO NO NOOOOO. Right before he reached them, he scooped up a bundle of grass and waved it in their faces.