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Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite
Among the Maasai by Juliet Cutler is a memoir recounting the two years the author spent living and teaching in Tanzania at the end of the 1990s. Arriving with preconceived ideas and expectations, nothing was as she had imagined. She describes her feelings of being ‘on show’ with her white skin making her very conspicuous, the shock at the levels of poverty, the comparison with the society in which she had grown up. While there were mental challenges to adjust to, there were also practical problems too – a shortage of water, no internet, lack of familiar foods and necessities, the dangers of the local wildlife. Traveling with her fiancé, Juliet taught at the first school for Maasai girls in East Africa. The Maasai are a partly nomadic tribe spread across Kenya and Tanzania and are often viewed by other tribes in those countries as primitive. It had taken years of negotiations to set up and run a school.
Like many young people traveling overseas to third world countries to work among the disadvantaged, Juliet’s wish was to help educate and uplift the lives of the young girls she was employed to teach English. Fresh out of college, with little experience, she had no idea what to expect. This book is beautifully written and should be on the prescribed reading list for all schools to create an understanding of a culture that is so often misunderstood. I could relate to her experiences, applaud her soul-searching and her questioning of whether foreign aid is a blessing or a curse. She understands the fine balance between imposing a different culture and gently easing young people into the modern world. Encountering practices such as FGM, child marriage and girls sold for a few cows was a culture shock and in Among the Maasai, Juliet Cutler shares her sorrows and triumphs with the young girls she grew to love, conveying the idea that Africa will always remain with her. A wonderful book; it made me laugh and cry as I feverishly turned the pages. A book written with love which showed such empathy. I loved it. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars.