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Facing the Lion: Growning Up Massai on the African Savannaby Joseph Lema Lekuton
Synopses & Reviews
After opening with a dramatic chapter about Lekuton's first encounter with a lion, the books covers his life from birth, through his early life as a cattle herder (starting at about age 5), his mischievousness, the way of life in the village (there was a nasty guy called the Pinching Man, who would punish kids if they were bad), school (including dealing with bullies), initiation, his time at boarding school, and his journey to America to go to college (he was so worried about not eating the right way that he went without food for four days. His first meal in the U.S. was at McDonalds. He still loves the place.) The books ends with a chapter about going home to his mother and the sense of being at home in two very different worlds.
Here are a few selections from the book:
During the middle of the night, I woke to this huge sound-like rain, but not really like rain. I looked up. The starlight was gone, clouds were everywhere, and there was a light drizzle falling. But that wasn't the sound. The sound was all of the cows starting to pee. All of them, in every direction. And that is the sign of a lion. A hyena doesn't make them do that. An elephant doesn't make them do that. A person doesn't. Only the lion. We knew right away that a lion was about to attack us.
Cows are our way of life. They give us milk and blood and sometimes meat to eat and hides to wear. They're our wealth: We don't have money; we have cows. The more cows somebody has, the wealthier he is. My mother has lived her whole life in a hut made of sticks and mud, and you could put everything she owns on the seat of a chair. She lives entirely on the cow. For her, there's something wrong with someone who doesn't have cows. It's just not civilized.
The hard thing is, while the ceremony is going on you're not allowed to move your body an inch. You can't twitch your eye, move your mouth. Even your fingernails have to stay absolutely still. There were three people there to support me. I sat on a skin on the ground with my legs spreadout, and one man held my back up strong. The other two men gently held my legs steady.
Not everything was gentle, though. My other mother [his father's other wife] was there with a club. My other mother loved me to pieces, but she stood ready to clobber me if I moved. That was her job, to make sure I wasn't a coward. My mom was there, too, but she's not as tough as my other mother. And the rest of my family was all around me, to show solidarity, and to make sure I didn't embarrass them.
Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton's first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton's riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.
During the middle of the night, I woke to this huge sound — like rain, but not really llike rain. I looked up. The starlight was gone, clouds were everywhere, and there was a light drizzle falling. But that wasn't the sound. The sound was all of the cows starting to pee. All of them, in every direction. And that is the sign of a lion. A hyena doesn't make them do that. An elephant doesn't make them do that. A person doesn't. Only the lion. We knew right away that a lion was about to attack us.
About the Author
Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton is a Maasai tribesman who grew up on the savanna of northern Kenya. He teaches eighth grade social studies in Langley, Virginia and holds a master's degree in International Education Policy from Harvard University. Each summer he brings a group of students and parents to Kenya to work on development projects that help his people.
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