When Juliet Cutler is only twenty five years old, she and her then boyfriend Mark left the United States to begin a two year teaching position in East Africa. What the pair quickly learned however was that a two year contract would turn in to a lifetime dedication.
Juliet arrives at the Maasai Secondary School for the Girls in Tanzania eager to meet her new students and to teach them to read, write and speak in English. What she doesn’t realize is the profound lessons her students in turn will teach her, about life, culture, and the dangers of being a woman in Maasai Land.
In a time where ‘white saviours’ on mission trips to impoverished countries are common – people searching to “make a difference” by imposing Westernized cultures or beliefs without stopping to contemplate the effects on the local community, Juliet’s journey is a stark contrast. She is simultaneously empathetic while recognizing her own ignorance as to what “making a difference” really means.
Many Maasai traditions would be terrifying to suggest in Western culture in todays world. Rituals such as female circumcision, forced marriages and mandatory expulsion from school for women who become pregnant, regardless of the circumstances.
And yet Juliet approaches these traditions with cautious respect and with the intent to learn, she says;
“I’d decided that instead of espousing my own opinions, I would work to give my students the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to decide for themselves how they and their culture should or should not change.”Among the Maasai – Juliet Cutler (p. 112)
Through working alongside local teachers and community members, Juliet gains an understanding of the culture, and acknowledges that just because it is different, does not make it wrong. All the while, she instills courage in her young female students to challenge the rituals and traditions that they deem outdated, and encourages them to create a community that they would proudly raise their own daughters in.
At the end of her two year teaching position, Juliet leaves Tanzania completely changed and eternally grateful for the time she spent – but the journey does not end there. Years later, after reconnecting with former students and making several return trips to Tanzania, she wrote this book.
It was not until she interviewed a number of her former English students for the book that Juliet realized some of the horrific challenges that they each had to face, all while still showing up to school, determined to learn.
Nearly twenty years after her first trip to East Africa, this book was published. The most spectacular thing about that? All proceeds from the sale of Among the Maasai support education and safety for Maasai girls.
It is difficult to capture the wonder that is this memoir. I was truly moved by the honesty, the bravery, and the courage of both Juliet and her students.
Juliet’s powerful storytelling skills left me in tears, otherwise feverishly underlining paragraph after paragraph. I could not recommend this book more. It is inspiring, educational and absolutely critical. Every woman should read this book.
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Reviewed by: Annie