Don’t touch the cows!

If you do, the owner will kill you“. Brendan and I looked at each other in amusement and back at Amani; “You’re joking, right?” “No, the owner WILL kill you“.

Note to self: "Don't touch the cows"

Brendan had just instructed an ITIL course in Dar es Salaam. Amani was one of the very bright attendants, an amazing person on so many levels. When he heard that we wanted to present the ITIL framework to the Masai people, he told us about the five villages that his father had discovered in 2005. Amani senior, the District Commissioner for Karatu had found some 5000 people of his tribe that had been left out of the civilization, and Amani asked if we wanted to go visit them instead of the Masai. We were on a mission to document if you really could “Heal the world with ITIL” as the slogan for the itSMF conference in Oslo had touted. When the conference had asked for presentations last autumn, we sent a few lines describing a talk we could hold; “The African Case“.

The amazing Amani

We were to go to Africa and document if one could indeed make any real change in the world with an IT organization framework. You think we are kidding? Nope, and neither did they. They happened to approve our talk and we found ourselves equipped with a reason to go off to Tanzania for some real adventure.

Our original idea was to go to the most outback of places, a place where they hadn’t even seen a PC to give a talk on ITIL and see how the Masai would react. When Amani suggested an even more uncivilized place – off the civilized map, we jumped at the opportunity. We were to meet the Masai’s only fear – the Barabaig.

Off we went to the North, landing in Kilimanjaro International Airport and by Bus to the hotel in Arusha. Next day we went to Karatu where we met Amani’s sister, Teddy who took us on a safari at Lake Manyara.

Adventure in the wild

In the evening we had dinner at the District Commissioner’s house. Amani senior told us about his tribe, the Barabaig and their culture and history. Although they live side by side with the Masai, they compete for grazing land and sometimes they get into fights. The Masai have adopted a name for the Barabaig, which translated to English becomes “bad enemy”, giving an indication of who’s to fear. The history of the tribe is interesting and troubling and left us with an impression that they are tough survivors possessing qualities that are rare in the Western world. The Barabaig are many, but most of them have been swallowed by the Tanzanian culture. The village we were going to the next day was pure Barabaig, the unadulterated, the original.

"Barabaig" means "hitting the sticks"

Amani senior was an inspiring and very knowledgeable man, funny and with great initiative. What he lacked in temper, he would make up for in passion. His family supports some 200 kids in secondary school through their non-profit organization. And his son, our friend Amani, is engaged in a project to supply several schools in Dar with IT equipment. We heard of how this family donates a sizable amount of their salary and time to projects benefiting communities and were impressed with their creativity and dedication.

One guy must have missed this year’s Paris Dakar race, because if the District Commissioner’s driver had competed, he would surely have won.

We drove from the end of civilization and for four hours through the wilderness at crazy speed before we came to Endesh, one of the five forgotten villages. Amani senior had arranged for a school to be build last year – not by donations, but by encouraging the villagers to sell some of their cows to buy building materials and let them build the school themselves.

The school in Endesh

We parked outside the school building, the driver jumped out of the car, slaughtered a goat and we got back in to drive to the place where they fetched water every day.

The two hour trip back and forth to the water source gave the village cooks time to prepare the goat in our honor. As the first two white people in the village, we were more honored than they, and soon to be more humbled than ever.

The village elder went with us up to the top of the green and lush hill. He showed us the water and talked about the life of the Barabaig and the situation in the village where they have to walk some 15 kilometers every day to get to this spring. Knowing that the Masai traditionally had to kill a lion to become a man, I inquired; “Have you ever killed a lion?” “No“. We crossed the stream. “Have you ever killed a rhinoceros?” “No“. We got to a nice open space. Just to top it all; “Have you ever killed an elephant?” “Yes“.

Chief pointing to the water source

Uh? What??” “How?

He told us the story of when he was 14, equipped only with a spear, he stood some 7 meters away from an adult elephant. In an intense moment, he had launched himself sideways and while the elephant had flapped his ears and thus exposing an area of 3 inches in diameter where he could thrust his spear and penetrate into the brain. But only after snapping his hand and causing both ends of the spear to vibrate in order to get through the tough skin. Had he missed, he would have been dead.

Already at the age of 4 the Barabaig children are responsible for herding some cows. Together with other children between 4 and 12, they take cattle far away from the village to some decent grazing grounds only to return just before the sun sets. Once in while some Masai teenagers decides to steal some cattle from the kids. After taking the kids and the cattle many more kilometers away from the Barabaig village, they beat the crap out of the kids and run away with the cows. Several hours later the kids would perhaps have managed to crawl back to the village to report about the theft. The Barabaig warriors would then grab their spears and marche to the Masai to reclaim their property. And then some. To teach them a lesson, they take twice as many cows back. And then it’s war. Back in the olden days, this would end in a blood bath. Nowadays, the Tanzanian army will intervene, and at gunpoint order the factions back to their own villages.

The man with the greater achievements

It’s a hard life where only achievements matters. It matters not that a man is the most handsome, throws the spear the farthest or runs faster than the other in the village. Only achievements matters.

When a kid becomes a man, he will choose his woman. The ceremony starts and at the end, every aspiring man will proclaim the wild animals he has killed. And with every kill there must be witnesses. The first man may have killed a leopard. This would be trumped by two leopards, which in turn would be dwarfed by a lion which would be puny compared to killing an elephant. The man with the most achievements picks a woman first. And the man with the least achievements is left with the last woman standing.

It is all about achievements, about 100% responsibility, about no excuses and about pulling together as a tribe. Attitudes that are few and far between in the our society.

In the school

We returned to the village and people started to gather in the school. Actually, they started to crowd the classroom. And we were faced with the challenge to present ITIL to the attendants. I had drawn a map on the blackboard to show where we came from. The District Commissioner shook his head; “The don’t know what a map is”. I commenced by trying to explain that the country of Norway was very far from Tanzania. Again he shook his head; “They don’t know what a country is. They don’t know that they live in Tanzania“. I then tried to explain how many days it would take to drive from our place to Endesh. Another shaking of the head; “They don’t have that concept of time“. I gave up; “It’s veeeeeery far that way“… I pointed.

On Change Management

We talked about responsibility and about Change Management. We asked about their greatest challenges in life. Interestingly enough, processes and ITIL was not on the top of their list. Rather it was: Water to the village, medicines, schooling and better communication between the villages (they had apparently seen cellphones). Processes? Nah. They where into 100% responsibility. And that trumps Business Process Management any day of the week and twice on Mondays.

Their attitude humbled us. We realized that they have more to offer the world than the richest country on the planet. So we decided to make a trade: We supply water to their village and they supply attitude to Norway.

Back in Norway in March we made our talk at the itSMF conference in Oslo. Apart from emotionally moving the attendees, several decided to pitch in. We announced that 20% of the course fees for our standard (hell, it’s way above standard when Brendan delivers it) ITIL Foundation would go toward the Endesh water project. It will cost anything from USD 70K-700K. In return, we will get one of their toughest warriors to Norway to teach 100% responsibility to our business community, on radio and TV and hopefully to the members of Parliament. The first warrior with excellent achievements that learns to speak good English will visit us for a few months. And we will be getting the best deal.

When Endesh gets their water, they will be able to utilize the school all all year around as then they won’t have to travel far in the dry season for their cattle to graze. And the government will not so easily treat them like dirt if some politician decides to claim their land for some new project – like they did in the late 60’s, almost throwing that part of the country into civil war.

This trip changed us both. Brendan and I will never be the same again. We will go back. And we will help Endesh get their water supply. And we will get a dose of their attitude exported to our part of the world.

Want to pitch in? If you are in for some serious adventure, raise your hand. Or better, leave a comment to this blog post.

25 thoughts on “Don’t touch the cows!

  1. Wonderful adventure, a place where simplicity is the way of life. Where one do not have to look for lost OT abilities. There,the so called “unsophisticated, simple, uneducated” tribe have that ability. Ability not have been lost. Thank you!

  2. Wow wow wow. Lots of smiles, some chuckles, and an out-loud laugh or two. Then I got to the part where you describe your “deal” with Endesh. You really think big, don’t you? And to boot, you’re a great story teller!

  3. Geir – you amaze me.

    I love reading your posts.

    You’re an inspiration on so many levels.

    Your passion for living is contagious!

    Thank you for communicating.

    1. The only disadvantage of the most interesting Geir’s posts is that one really have to make enough time for reading them in their whole. I’m yet to do so 😉

    2. I must second BeFreeNow’s sentiments completely.

      Thanks for letting us into your life, Geir!

      Keep us updated(and I know I don’t need to tell you that!)

  4. Re: Be Free Now

    He really and truly is. He passion to live, create, and yet not “become” but simply “be” is a lesson that I have learned being in his presence.

    Happy to call him my friend

    1. Thank you. But please do not idolize. Simply let yourself be inspired to greater actions – actions that helps you fulfill your potential.

      1. I am good with that. 🙂 Thank you for showing me that things can be done the way you do them. You are inspiration.

  5. I just posted this over at Marty’s blog, but it belongs here just as well. It well describes any and all of the folks who led the way and declared their Independence of “that church”. So here it is!
    Sly is one of the best funkmeisters of the 1970s.

    I added the name “Dave” to the lyrics in one place. I’m sure y’all get the allusion.

    SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
    “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”

    Lookin’ at the devil
    Grinnin’ at his gun
    Fingers start shakin’
    I begin to run
    Bullets start chasin’
    I begin to stop
    We begin to wrestle
    I was on the top

    I want to thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin

    Stiff all in the collar
    Fluffy in the face
    Chit chat chatter tryin’
    Stuffy in the place
    Thank you for the party, Dave
    But I could never stay
    Many thangs is on my mind
    Words in the way

    I want to thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin

    Dance to the music
    All nite long
    Everyday people
    Sing a simple song
    Mama’s so happy
    Mama start to cry
    Papa still singin’
    You can make it if you try

    I want to thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    (Different strokes for different folks, yeah)

    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    Flamin’ eyes of people fear
    Burnin’ into you
    Many men are missin’ much
    Hatin’ what they do
    Youth and truth are makin’ love
    Dig it for a starter, now
    Dyin’ young is hard to take
    Sellin’ out is harder

    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    I want to thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    Thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin
    I want to thank you falettinme
    Be mice elf agin

  6. Cultures can enrich each other and infuse each other with spirit.

    Here, from Africa, is the Kyrie of the Catholic Mass done in 100% pure Congolese musical style.

    Use earphones or good speakers, as otherwise the deep bass notes and quality of this music will be lost!

    1. Looks like maybe Youtube changed their protocol for embedding videos (again). I used the url but it didn’t embed the video. I wish they’d just leave it alone! I’ll try their “Share” link, which says it will “share or embed the video”….

  7. Hard to imagine anyone surviving under such harsh conditions. He was probably less scared killing an elephant than I was catching a 1 cm junebug.

  8. I am truly inspired by this story.. Amani is becoming a role model to me, Great people!

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