07-10-2020 by Freddie del Curatolo
She has a natural elegance and what's more, she appears in traditional dress, with bracelets and tribal accessories that make her an iconic figure to admire.
But it is enough to look her in the eyes, to observe her proud look and her hospitable smile to understand very well that Cecilia Siamanta Rono is certainly not a female figurine ready for a ceremony.
Even her family perceived this many years ago, when it was unthinkable that a young maasai could leave home without being betrothed, let alone to study and try to make a career.
He even took a plane and flew to Italy to perfect himself.
Today Cecilia is 40 years old and is the first woman to run a Lodge in Maasai Mara, the Saruni, as part of one of the most ambitious and successful natural and animal heritage conservation projects.
A goal that is not only a personal gratification but is an example to all the young Maasai women who in these years have acquired awareness and want to conquer deserved spaces, fighting for their rights.
The example of Nice Nailantei, the woman who has become the world's spokeswoman in the battle against genital mutilation and became UN ambassador, has certainly opened the way for other girls who wanted to show their communities that they are ready for a life different from the one they have always had in mind.
"I was lucky - Cecilia tells Malindikenya.net - my father was a conservationist and worked in tourism. The most a woman could aspire to in those days was to become a teacher. After secondary school I asked to continue my studies and to attend a college in Nairobi to study front-office and hotel administration and he and my "extended" family supported me (I lost my mother when I was 11, my father had 3 other wives and I had 32 brothers and sisters). Thanks to a scholarship offered by a British woman sensitive about women's rights, my independent life began".
In 2000 there was also Cecilia's first approach to Italy.
"Almost instinctively, in college, I chose Italian as one of the foreign languages - explains the manager - at that time tourism from your country was among the first in terms of number of visitors and certainly knowing the language could have been a point in my favour. So much so that as soon as I finished my studies, I learned that Italians were building a lodge in the Mara North Conservancy and were looking for staff".
In reality, the professional figure that the Saruni Mara was looking for was that of a masseuse, but Cecilia was very happy to be able to enter the world of hospitality even from below.
"I showed up for the interview without the presumption of being more than they were looking for - remembers the woman, who today is mother of 5 children - and also thanks to my smattering of their language, they took me. The SPA was not ready yet, so I started with the laundry and the cleaning of the suites. I have always blessed that "gavetta", because working in the first person in every department of a structure in the savannah today gives me the chance to get to know its aspects and problems.
What I didn't know was that a trip and a 3-month stay in Stresa, in the wellness centre of a prestigious hotel, were waiting for me to learn the trade".
Here is the example ceremony for many of his peers: no longer in the showcase for an early wedding or for ancestral rites, but a sign of an awareness that has led to a change of mentality.
"In my small village, Ngerende, a bull had its throat cut and my father showed me to the whole community, telling them about my journey and why I moved to such a different world. It was a moment of great pride for me and for him too".
On her return from Italy at Christmas 2004, Cecilia was not only able to run a wellness centre, as well as perfecting her Italian, she also experienced the professionalism of a 5-star hotel on Lake Maggiore and learned to move around in every department.
"Italy has left me with the memory of the seriousness of my colleagues and their kindness and willingness to teach me everything - admits the General Manager of Saruni Mara - as well as the indelible memory of pasta, pizza and especially risotto. I was also impressed by an episode: one evening I went with my colleagues to the theatre in Milan.
There was a show of Zulu dances and rhythms of a fantastic South African flokloristic group, very beautiful but also unpublished for me.
My colleagues were looking at me like "don't you know these songs, these dances? Yet they come from your country!". I was really amazed at how many Europeans have the idea that Africa is like one nation or even one tribe. I believe that the task of Kenyan tourism, also in terms of marketing, is to make our uniqueness known".
At Saruni Mara a few years after the Italian internship Cecilia is already a director in pectore: she opens and manages the boutique where she brings together the craftsmanship of the Mara North Conservancy communities, then in 2008 she is transferred from her "cousins" Samburu and joins in staff training for the opening of the luxury lodge in the Samburu region. In 2013 she became Assistant Manager at Saruni Samburu. Finally, in 2016, the peak of her career, when she is called back to Mara, this time to direct it.
Including and then praised by her tribe, appreciated by the company she works for, the last step for Cecilia was to get herself accepted by her male colleagues, especially when they became her subordinates over time.
"I can't deny that initially I felt a little suspicious - she explains - never a real hostility, but a sort of jealousy, especially from the new employees. But when everyone got to know me and saw my path, which beyond sex is also an example for them, they always supported me and we became a united team, without anyone worrying about whether a man or a woman will make a career. It's nice that it's one of us, Maasai or Samburu, and that his job is complemented by his love for this land and his passion for preserving its beauty, which is his main resource".
This is why Cecilia is an example not only for Kenyan women but also for those who approach conservancy projects through collaboration with local communities.
"For this the MNC will always have to thank Saruni who has led our conservancy to be considered a model - admits the manager - continuing to search for opportunities and collecting proposals, requests to support families and promote their activities, from breeding to handicrafts. Being able to do this through something beautiful and stimulating like the tourist offer is the greatest satisfaction".
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