Tears of sadness and joy overflowed my eyes many times as I read Among the Maasai by Juliet Cutler. Her writing is so vivid and absorbing that, as a reader, I related to her every step of the way, as she told the story of her two years as a young teacher in Tanzania at the Maasai Secondary School for Girls. Maasai people are strong and proud, and that comes through as she introduces us to the Maasai students she taught as well as their families and her colleagues.
She starts the book in a compelling way: by juxtaposing her own eagerness and fears of the unknown as she, as a twenty-five-year-old American woman arrived in Tanzania to start her teaching job, with those of a Maasai girl who at fourteen defied her father to leave home for a girls’ boarding school. She traces the emotions of both as they entered an unfamiliar context, stepping outside what is comfortable. “I felt like a scared animal that needed reassurance,” Cutler admits. She takes you to the lush cool greenness of a mountainside, behind the eight-foot-tall thorny hedge that protects the girls’ school, and into a mud-and-dung hut where a mother offers to give away her new baby daughter.
By the end, which reveals a surprise, I felt I knew her and her students personally and had benefited from her insights:
- Education has the power to transform lives and can do much to alleviate poverty, particularly for girls.
- Helping others and empowering others are not always the same thing.
- Americans who want to help in Africa should first listen, then empower local people to address the issues they identify – and not become “white people charging to the rescue with their own solution.”
- No matter who you are or where you live, you have the power to make a difference.
Cutler has remained connected to the Maasai people as an advocate and fundraiser for twenty years, and all proceeds from the sale of this will support causes that uplift Maasai women and girls.