The visit to a Masai village today was a highlight of this trip. When we have driven around, it has been clear that the Masai feel rather apprehensive about tourists like us. Their children run to greet us, smile and wave, but the adults don't like it when we take their pictures. I can't say that I blame them, especially if they believe that we take a bit of their spirit with us when we do, This made us appreciate our visit to a Masai village even more. The Masai have been used to being top banana. They believe god put them on earth to own cows and if you have a cow, it's theirs. This take on the world has made them fierce, war-like and feared by other tribes. It has also caused them to be unreceptive to modern ways such as education, medicine, mechanization, etc., so at this point in time they are considerably more primitive than other Tanzanian or Kenyan people.
The village we visited today is fortunate to have a forward thinking chief, who is dragging them into a modern world he barely understands himself. His eyes were opened when as a young man, he worked at a lodge such as the one we have been staying, hauling water, hauling luggage, serving guests. This exposed him to the idea that there are many things his people could be doing with their lives rather than following around cows. He returned to his village and asked the elders, all men of course, if he could speak at the next council meeting, an unusual request from a young man. At the meeting he suggested that the village needed to start sending all its children to school. The elders all thought that this was a terrible idea, but when word got around to the women, the men caught hell. The men said, "If you send the children to school, you women will have to tend the cows in addition to your other chores." Since Masai women already do most of the manual labor, they couldn't do much more. Men without much to do were assigned the cow responsibility.
One of the reasons we like traveling with OAT is that they give some of our trip fees to villages such as this and the chief confirmed that our financial support helped him to get the school off the ground. This relationship made the village much more receptive to our visit today. A professional event planner couldn't have done a better job of showing us what their lives are like and helping us to participate in them.
I was adopted by a young woman who lead me around by the hand and seemed to think that I was game for anything. We climbed up a ladder to the roof of their hut and spread thatch over a hole that had been made by the strong winds last night. Then she had me mucking around in the mud/cow manure mixture that they use to form the exterior walls. I was the only one off us who had this honor. When she spread the goo, it adhered smoothly, but with my bad technique, it crumbled in my hands. After that job she worked very hard to make my hands manure free, even digging under my finger nails with a twig. Then we sat together and wove a basket. This job was much more suited to my talents. Then we got in a line to carry things. Most of my colleagues got to balance a branch on their heads. I got to carry two gallons of water, heavy stuff. I was allowed to hold the bucket with one hand, but by the end of the walk, I must have been two inches shorter.
Then we were dressed in Masai garb, which was luckily one-size-fits-all, cloths wrapped around and tied at the shoulder. We women got to wear beaded necklaces the size and firmness of dinner plates. The dancing and singing began. When the men sang, we jiggled our shoulders to make the necklaces bounced up and down. The dances for both sexes involved a lot of leaping in the air, arms pressed firmly at our sides.
After those festivities, we broke into male/female groups and asked each other questions. This was tough going since everything needed to be translated, but the ladies had many questions for us and I could have asked many more.
At the end we exited through the gift shop. These days the beadwork the ladies sell earns an income that rivals what the men earn with the cows. I bought some pieces from my teacher. Every time I look at them, I will remember the wonderful day I had with the Masai.