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While on safari in Tanzania I had the unique opportunity to hang out with a Maasai man and get a glimpse into their world. It was an eye-opening experience, one that has left me with mixed feelings.
Meet the Maasai
Throughout Kenya and Tanzania, I had the pleasure of meeting many Maasai people. Smiling, cheerful, Maasai people. There was Dixon, our knowledgeable guide at Encounter Mara. David, our ever-smiling server who went out of his way to teach us a few Maasai words, and the guards that kept us safe at night at Chaka Camp.
Along the way, we stopped at a Maasai market and passed many Maasai children herding cattle and singing songs. Throughout it all, we were told that the Maasai are proud of their culture, heritage and that they practice the same lifestyle as they did 100’s of years ago. A nice change of pace as the indigenous people in almost every other country I visit (including my own) are to conform and in some ways, have lost their ways because of it. So all of these things about the Maasai sounded great and all of these things gave me tremendous respect for the Maasai people.
Then I visited their home.
While staying at Isoitok Camp just outside of Arusha we were taken on a medicine walk and visit a boma, which is a traditional Maasai home. We left our extremely cosy and comfortable tent at Isoitok Camp and met up with our walking Maasai guide.
Along with the camp dog, our Maasai guide collected us from our posh accommodations and took us for a walk. Along the way he explained how the Maasai people have been using what the land gives them to cure everything from an upset stomach to fertility issues. Seriously. They use the bark from every tree for something. He even whittled a toothbrush for us. It was crazy and fascinating.
As we wandered along I couldn’t help but feel that every tree had a purpose, which brought up the question of existence and how we live. I won’t get too deep here but it was interesting to think about, especially when we are so far from that concept.
After our engaging tour, our walking Maasai guide took us the 100 meters or so from our camp to the neighbouring Maasai boma. As we walked our guide explained that the boma’s consist of a house for each wife (Maasai are polygamists by the by) with an area for livestock in the middle and fencing all around. He went on to say how the houses are built with a combination of woven sticks and cow dung. It was all so primitive and completely fascinating. Then we walked in.
The adorable children greeted us as we walked through the gates and we had to touch their foreheads as a sign of respect. Our guide then took us to meet the wives who were wearing beautifully colourful outfits and with homemade jewellery. This was all awesome but I couldn’t concentrate because of the swarming flies. My God the flies.
Now I have to point out I grew up in the Northwest Territories in northern Canada where flies may have well been our territorial bird. I had also already experienced flies in Africa. They are a part of life and not something to stress yourself with – but I just couldn’t take it.
I tried hard to smile and pretend they didn’t bother me but it was no good. Erin was pondering homemade jewellery and asking my opinion. I looked at the Maasai lady than to the baby slung on her back. There were half a dozen flies on its head and about a dozen more swarming around. “Good. Great. Just pick one.” I muttered in an effort to speed the process along. I felt terrible for feeling this way but it took all my strength to smile and fake enthusiasm. We paid the Maasai lady and thanked her. The flies were now fixating themselves on her helpless babies eyes.
We continued on to the house where our guide again explained how it is constructed and that it is only done by the women. He then asked if we wanted to go inside. “Sure!” I quickly replied, again trying to speed things along and thinking it would be a break from the bugs. We crawled in and sat in the dark and dank living room – which was the whole home. Nothing more than a place to cook and a corner to sleep in. Oh, and flies. Our Maasai guide was talking but I couldn’t get past my thoughts of wanting to get out of there.
I am a terrible, terrible human being.
After our short visit, we went to a nearby community centre where our walking Maasai guide let us know it was built by donations and that they will turn it into a school if more funds come in. It felt like it was a push for money but I think this was my own guilt of how comfortable and easy my life is. Again, I was told several times that the Maasai people are very proud of their way of life and how they choose to live it. I, more than most people, get that and completely 100% respect that.
So why did I have such a hard time seeing it?
I was down on myself for these thoughts and feelings. The Maasai people are respected, and not suppressed, and are not told how to live their lives. This should be applauded and not felt sorry for. At least that is what I told myself after taking a long hot shower and slipping into my large bed not but 100 meters away from the fly-filled-cow-dung-hut I had visited earlier that day.
What a wonderfully odd world we live in.