Meeting the Maasai

Africans talk about their culture in visit to Cortland Junior-Senior High School.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer     
John Sakuda, Susan Nasserian, center,  and Jane Nkitoria perform a song and dance for Cortland Junior-Senior High students Thursday. The group spoke about customs of the Maasai in Africa.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Three Africans adorned in colorful traditional dress brought their Maasai culture to Cortland Junior-Senior High School by way of song and jewelry.
John Sakuda, Susan Nasserian and Jane Nkitoria gave five 40-minute presentations in the Large Group Instruction Room on how the Maasai people live.
Luann Rottman library media specialist for the high school, helped bring the Maasai to Cortland.
“The Maasai are working hard to preserve their culture,” Rottman said. She said she hoped the students gained an appreciation for another culture.
Sakuda said the Maasai are nomadic people located in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
“We are the only ethnic community permitted to move from one country to another,” Sakuda said.
Sakuda said Maasai males are given a host of responsibilities early in their lives. At 3 years old, a Maasai boy has to tend to goats, at 10, his responsibility grows and he tends to sheep. At 12, he is outfitted with a shield, sword and spear; he is expected to protect cattle from wild animals.
One of the biggest tests in a male Maasai’s life comes at the age _of 18.
“At 18, he must kill a lion to prove that he is a man,” said Sakuda. “He doesn’t kill a lion, he is not a man.”
The man also cannot marry if he fails to kill a lion.
Sakuda said that a group of five to ten 18-year-olds go off to hunt lions.
Nasserian said Maasai women work harder than the men. She said a Maasai woman’s day starts at 4 a.m., and the women walk for approximately eight hours a day, which translates to 10 miles a day, for water.
“Women are responsible for building the house,” she said.
Nasserian said houses take four months to complete and are made from sticks, mud, grass and cow dung.
“The women collect cow dung and use it as cement,” Nasserian said.
The women also do bead work for two hours when all the day’s chores are finished, which usually is at 8 p.m.
Sakuda said a Maasai’s traditional diet includes meat, milk and blood from cows. He said the blood is used to replace milk in times of drought. Sakuda said they receive more aid from the Kenyan government, such as corn and rice to supplement their food and usage of blood.
Rottman said this isn’t the first time the Maasai people have come to the school. Sakuda has been to the school three times, including Thursday, Nasserian has been twice and Nkitoria came for the first time.
There was a request from the audience for the Maasai to speak in their language; instead, the students were treated to a song. Sakuda, Nasserian and Nkitoria sang a traditional Maasai song. According to Sakuda the song is usually sung when young men come back from killing a lion. The song was accompanied by rhythmic jumping.
Heather Wilson, 15, said the Maasai culture “is different but cool.”
Although Heather said “the blood they drink is kind of gross,” she someday would like to visit a Maasai village.
Amelia Wade, 16, said she thought the Maasai culture was interesting. She was impressed with the women and their way of life.
“They do a lot and they are humble about it,” Wade said. “They live a simple, but difficult life.”
Sakuda said the Maasai is made up of 12 clans. He said a Maasai village is home to approximately 5,000 people. The village is erected on 100 square miles. He said Maasai children do not attend school until they are 9.
“The children start school at 9 because they should no longer fear wild animals,” Sakuda said. “You see a giraffe, you say, ‘Hi giraffe, I am late for school.’”
Sakuda said that Maasai children learn to speak three languages, Maa, which is there language, Kiswahili, which is there national language, and English.
Nasserian said her education stopped at the eighth grade when she was a child because she could not afford to go to high school, she has since resumed her education and is in the 10th grade.
Sakuda said that grades one through eight are free and 9 through 12 cost $400 a year.
Although, both Tanzania and Kenya have national governments, the Maasai people have their own system.
“We have our own government,” Sakuda said. “We are governed by a council of elders.” He said the elders are men who are age 55 or older.
Bob Edwards, a global studies teacher, said he respects the lifestyle of the Maasai people. Edwards said the Kenyan government is trying to develop land owned by the Maasai.
“They seem like a very happy people who are concerned that their lifestyle is being impeded on,” Edwards said. “They live one of Africa’s most visible lifestyles. They have been so visible the last 10 years they have been promoting their lifestyle and not immersed totally in Kenyan lifestyle.”
They use the revenue from jewelry made by women and paintings by men to help pay for an education and well digging.
“This is going to help pay for school fees for women and children,” Nasserian said as she sat Thursday in front a colorful beaded jewelry and pictures of zebras.
Rottman said she bought a necklace for her daughter and a few bracelets.
“I think it is very creative,” Rottman said. “It is a very ambitious undertaking for these women to have something that is theirs.”
The jewelry is made from beads, which are imported from India, shells and leather. The prints are made from banana leaves and carvings are made from wood.



Owner of Northwoods nursing facility —

Highgate Management faces neglect charges

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Attorneys for the company that owns Northwoods Extended Care and Rehabilitation Center pleaded not guilty in County Court Thursday on charges of neglect and falsifying business records.
If convicted, Highgate LTC Management LLC could lose its ability to participate in the Medicare program, the state Attorney General’s Office said.
Highgate, which owns seven facilities in upstate New York, was indicted on three counts of second-degree falsifying business records and six counts of willful violation of health laws, misdemeanors. Five Northwoods employees were arrested on similar charges in January after a hidden camera allegedly caught them failing to provide necessary care to a comatose patient.
The corporation also owns Northwoods at Hilltop in Schenectady County, Guilderland Center Nursing Home in Albany County, Northwoods at Moravia in Cayuga County, Northwoods at Nyack in Rockland County, Northwoods at Troy and Northwoods at Rosewood Garden, both in Rensselaer County.
Because the corporation that owns the Cortland facility is run by a board, there is no one person facing jail time, said the Attorney General’s office. However, if convicted, the corporation could receive financial penalties and be banned from participating in the Medicare program.
Following the arraignment, Highgate LTC Management attorney David Rothenberg supplied the Cortland Standard with a written statement that says, in part, “Northwoods is innocent of the allegation in the indictment and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Northwoods notes that the New York State Department of Health failed to find any patient harm or wrongdoing by the facility in its own investigation …”
The letter also contains a statement from Tim Wade, the company’s interim CEO.
“The first reasonability of Northwoods Heath System is to provide a safe environment with high quality care for our residents and we take all allegations by the Attorney General’s Office very seriously. We have conducted our own investigation and continue to take steps to ensure our policies and procedures are followed and regulatory obligations are met,” he wrote.
Neither Wade nor any of the corporation’s board members were present for the arraignment.
The indictment alleges that employees neglected a patient at the Northwoods’ facility on Kellogg Road from January 2005 through March 2005 by failing to apply necessary creams to the patient, failing to change his positioning every two hours and neglecting to perform range-of-motion exercises.
“Certain employees of Northwoods who were responsible for the patient’s care, acting within the scope of their employment and in behalf of the defendant, willfully failed to comply with the patient’s care plan …,” the document says.
In addition to the health violations, the indictment also claims that two employees falsified business records on which they lied about providing necessary medical care.
“Judy Abreu-Boswell, a certified nurse aide employed by Northwoods … acting within the scope of her employment and in behalf of the defendant, and with intent to defraud, made false entries in the Nurse Aide Flow records …,” according to the indictment.
The indictment also claims that Mary Kenyon, 40, of Cortland made similar false entries.
Bosewell, 24, of the Bronx, Renee Fulmer, 31, of East Freetown, and Kenyon along with Therea M Loy, 50, and Steve Nadeau, 39, both of Cortland have been charged with numerous counts of first-degree falsifying business records, a felony, and willfully violating health laws, a misdemeanor.



2007 county budget:

Draft plan would fund projects

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With the county in relatively strong financial shape, County Administrator Scott Schrader’s tentative budget for 2007 calls for the county to take on a number of capital projects, while also keeping property tax increases in line with the inflation rate.
Under the proposed $108 million budget, which was distributed to legislators at Thursday’s session, the county property tax rate increases 3.9 percent to $14.98 per $1,000 of assessed property value from $14.41 per $1,000 this year.
The total tax levy in 2007 would be $24,999,750, an increase of $1,292,756, or 5.45 percent, over 2006.
Proposed spending under the draft budget will increase by about $7 million, although the bottom line spending of $108.8 million in 2007, up from $91.9 million in 2006, is significantly higher due to a new requirement that the county include in its expenditures the roughly $10 million in sales tax revenues it will pass along to municipalities.
The proposed budget includes no cuts in services, Schrader told the Legislature, and for the first time in years, it calls for funding capital projects laid out in the county’s 20-Year Capital Needs Schedule.
Since it was developed in 1995, Schrader said, the schedule has either been ignored or the county has borrowed money to fund the annual improvements it calls for, Schrader said.
“In previous years, if it wasn’t funded by state or federal aid, it just wasn’t done,” Schrader said. “Now because the county is in stronger financial shape, we’re able to fulfill the wishes of the Legislature.”
The budget calls for about $1 million to be spent on rehabilitating seven county roads along with the Highland Road Bridge and the Mayberry Road Bridge, Schrader said. It would also fund the purchase of a number of vehicles for the Highway Department, although two large pieces of equipment — a wheel loader and a rubber tire excavator — with costs totaling about $450,000, would need to be bonded for.
Schrader’s budget calls for using $2.3 million of the county’s $8.9 million general fund balance to help with expenses, he said.
The county has a total fund balance — including reserve funds from various departments — of $13.8 million, Schrader reported, putting it well within its goal of maintaining a balance of 10 percent of the total budget.
Without the added $2.3 million from the general fund balance, the tax rate would have risen approximately another 10 percent, he said.
Still, Schrader said he was hesitant to use too much of the fund balance to help lower taxes.
“It’s not something the county can continue to do because the money’s just not going to be there if you try to do it year after year,” he said.
After going through departmental budgets with department heads, the proposed budget cut about $6 million from original budget requests, Schrader noted.




Agreement releases Wheeler Ave. cats for adoption

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — An agreement reached Thursday will allow the Cortland County SPCA to begin adopting out 241 cats that the city seized from a Wheeler Avenue home Sept. 1 as soon as Monday.
The agreement was reached in Cortland County Court between the attorneys for the city and for Purr Fect World Inc., the owners of the cats that and are being kept in the former Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 281.
It was also decided that Purr Fect World would pay $46,000 for the past and future care of the animals, with a deadline of Nov. 2 for payment. If the money were not available by that date, the ownership of the animals would be forfeited to the SPCA, and Purr Fect World would have admitted that the city was justified in filing criminal charges against the nonprofit organization.
Purr Fect World must supply a bond for $32,000 that would be held in an interest-bearing escrow account until a criminal case against the organization is resolved. At that point, if the matter is resolved in favor of Purr Fect World, the organization can reclaim that money.
If it is resolved in favor of the city, then the city will claim the money in order to cover the costs that were incurred by the city throughout this matter, which city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano estimates are above $70,000.
Another $14,000 will be given over by Purr Fect World to the SPCA for the ongoing care of the animals. That money would be accessible by the SPCA until the last cat has left its custody, and the money that is expended will be kept by the SPCA.
The attorney for Puff Fect World, Eileen Walsh of the Syracuse-based Sugarman Law Firm, emphasized in court that the agreement was not an admission of guilt, and she said afterward that progress has been made to “do something positive for these cats.”
The agreement is the result of negotiations that were held over from a nearly three-hour session on Oct. 19, as well as further negotiations early Thursday afternoon that took the place of a hearing that was scheduled for 1 p.m.
The city had requested that Purr Fect World supply a $105,000 surety bond for the past and future care of the animals in a pending civil proceeding under state Agriculture and Market law.
At the request of both of the parties, City Court Judge Thomas A. Meldrim adjourned the hearing that was scheduled for Thursday until Nov. 22 out of respect for the negotiated agreement.
Had the hearing been held, the court would be required to determine if the city was justified in seizing the cats in a Sept. 1 raid, executed under a search warrant.
If the court had ruled in favor of the city, the money would have also had to be posted within five business days, but the cats would not have had to be released for adoption.
Approximately 104 of the cats also need to be spayed or neutered before they can be adopted out, said SPCA Executive Director Kathy Gilleran. As part of the agreement, Purr Fect World will also pay for these procedures for those animals that are healthy enough.
The SCPA’s rates for these surgeries are $45 for a female cat, $55 for female’s that are in heat or pregnant, and $25 for males.
City Corporation Counsel Larry Knickerbocker said those costs would not be included in the adoption fees for the animals.
Gilleran said the adoption fees for the cats could be as low as $10, but that interested individuals still need to submit to the organization’s normal screening process. The normal fee is $85, and includes the costs of spaying and neutering.
“We don’t want to diminish the value of the animals, and just say ‘Here, take a free cat,’” Gilleran said Thursday afternoon at her office at the SPCA’s shelter on McLean Road.



Cayugas take over Harford water company

Staff Reporter

HARFORD — A couple in Harford has sold their bottled water company to the Cayuga Indian Nation for $250,000, the nation announced Thursday.
Ed and Lura McHale have sold Harford Glen Water, at 331 Creamery Road. The transaction includes an undisclosed amount of land, a plant consisting of almost 5,000 square feet and a house.
The couple started the business, which has five employees, in an old ice cream plant on Creamery Road in 2001.
The company taps deep underground water and blow-molds bottles ranging from 8 ounces to 5 gallons in size, said Gary Wheeler, a liaison between the company and the Cayuga Indian Nation.
The company sells the water under the name Deep Rock Aqua and Wio and will continue to do so. It will also sell custom private labeled bottles of water, such as the Hampton Inn label it has on bottled water sold at the Hampton Inn in Ithaca.
Wheeler said the five current employees will keep their jobs. He said he hoped more jobs would be added, but none in the immediate future.
The McHales could not be reached for comment this morning about why they decided to sell their business.
Clint Halftown, Cayuga Nation Council member and chief executive officer of LakeSide Enterprises, the nation’s business arm, said the nation purchased the business to diversify its business interests.
“This purchase is part of our economic plan to expand and diversify the nation’s business interests,” he said.
The Cayugas have two electronic gaming halls in Union Springs and Seneca Falls that have been closed for over two years.
Wheeler said the nation has purchased the plant also because it truly believes in the quality of the water it taps.
“What attracted us to it was the quality of the water,” he said. “The quality of the product was such that once even you or anybody or an objective person tastes it they realize how pure it is.”
Wheeler said the Cayuga Indian Nation sells water from the company in its gas stations and convenience stores. The company also sells to retail businesses throughout the state.
Syracuse attorney Daniel J. French, who represents the Cayuga Nation, said the nation will not seek tax-exempt status for the property. Harford Supervisor Ray Marsh said this had been his only concern about the transaction.
“All I wanted to be sure of is they would still pay taxes and I was assured they would,” he said.