A Maasai Village Close Up

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
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Trip End Feb 04, 2012


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Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27, 2011 – Day 7

Daniel, a Maasai village elder, welcomes us as we dismount the Land Cruisers. On the way to the village, we get our first pictures of Mt Kilimanjaro (the tallest mountain in East Africa). All our previous efforts had been blocked by fog or low clouds.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

The Maasai welcome us with a dance. Daniel explains that if we visit any Maasai village and they fail to welcome us with a dance, r-u-n! Here, we get both a dance and a prayer to grant us a safe journey.

Daniel's village has 189 people from four families. Maasai are polygamists. Men can have as many wives as they can support. Wealth is measured in livestock, especially cows. The Maasai diet consists of cow blood, milk and meat.

Daniel speaks to us in the center of the cow corral. While in the corral, the cows do what comes naturally which, in turn, draws clouds of flies. I, of course, pick this day to wear shorts. To say I had difficulty standing still would be an understatement. As I gyrate to my version of the zombie stomp, several of our Maasai hosts show us how they make fire by rubbing hard and soft wood together and throwing a spark into dried grass and cow dung.

The Maasai men make the fire; Maasai women build the houses. That’s right, groups of women come together to build huts made of wood, reeds, mud and cow dung. Once dry, the cow dung makes the walls water proof. In past years, the roof was constructed of woven grasses and reeds only. Today a layer of plastic sheeting improves water proofing greatly. Each house takes 5 to 6 weeks to build and can last 5 to 7 years with regular maintenance. 

We are introduced to John, the son of the village medicine man. John will be assistant medicine man until his father dies. He shows us a pharmacy of herbs and tree barks the Maasai use to treat different illnesses and conditions. Actually, it is very interesting.            

Next, we are divided into groups and taken into Maasai homes. Beth & I go with John. He leads the way into his hut with me immediately behind. Dark doesn’t even begin to describe the next 60 seconds. Had John not taken my hand and led me to a seat I would surely have stepped in the fireplace… which, of course, is in operation 24 hours a day.

Beth sits next to me and immediately begins mumbling she is having an attack of claustrophobia. The smell of smoke is overpowering. The good news is even the flies have fled. We stay long enough to be polite. As we get up to leave, I realize John’s child is asleep right behind us. It was so dark we never knew he was there.

Back outside, each couple is assigned to a warrior who escorts us to an area where the village has laid out their wares for us to consider buying. Beth and I want to be supportive. We plan to buy at least one item from each blanket display. As we move down the line and choose what we want, our selections are entrusted to our warrior.

When we finish making our selections, all the items are laid out in the dirt. Our warrior takes a twig and scratches his opening price on his forearm. Too high! I counter. We go back and forth. Eventually, we compromise. I wasn’t unhappy with the outcome but I would have preferred to buy one piece at a time from the artist who made the item.

In the end, we walk away with high quality items: bead decorated necklaces, bracelets and collars; hand carved bowls; ebony statues; elephant and / or giraffe hair bracelets; ceremonial masks; and even a bowl carved out of Kilimanjaro lava. The prices were comparable to hotel gift shops.

We return to the Amboseli Serena for breakfast and a nap. This Serena is among the oldest hotels we visit but I love it. The rooms are small but comfortable. The food is excellent. I ate the best roast duck I’ve ever eaten. The Serena staff is superior.

I actually had a Serena gardener volunteer to clean our shoes after we returned from the Maasai village. I was outside trying to locate a "tool" to dig the cow manure out of the deep cleats in my walking shoes. That’s when I heard a cheerful, “Jambo, may I assist you, sir?”  

What I like most about the Amboseli Serena is the veranda. Very old style – very cool. The view is of grazing elephant and gazelle. Maasai warriors circulate among the guests ostensibly to keep cookie stealing monkeys at bay. We have a chance to talk to these men and to learn more about their culture.  

We’ve been going hard. Our next function is a 3:15 PM meeting followed by our final Amboseli game drive. That game drive produces more of the same…elephant, zebra, wildebeest, etc. We are not unhappy. But, we are focused on finding leopard and more cheetahs.

No matter, a mediocre day in Africa is better than a day most anywhere else. We eat dinner with Susan and Debbie. Both have fantastic senses of humor. We laugh ourselves half sick.
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