Our trip to Tanzania wasn’t all game drives and luxury lodges (though I have plenty more to share on that front); it was a truly well-rounded itinerary that exposed us to local culture through art, food, and most importantly, introduction to people. The Maasai people are commonly seen throughout Northern Tanzania; as we drove through the country and even small towns, their signature red cloth punctuated the landscape. We passed many Maasai villages, made up of straw and mud huts called bomas, and as we traveled, we learned about their marriage practices (where men can have multiple wives), their cattle raising (which is where their wealth lies), and some of the challenges they face in our modern world. Part of our program was then spending part of a day in a Maasai village to learn about daily life and customs.
Upon our arrival, we met the village chief and learned how he battled a lion to earn his standing in the village. The chief, Lbulu, was well-regarded and quite progressive, working toward education and opposed to female genital mutilation, which is an ongoing practice in Maasai cultures.
We also met the village elder on the right. It’s hard to tell by looking at him, but the man on the right is 99 years old!
After our introduction, some of our group went with the Maasai men to kill a goat, which our group bought for the village. I decided not to participate and instead wandered around and met a few adorable children. When the goat was killed and the men drank the blood (blood and milk make up much of their diet), our group was split in two; the men went off to prepare the goat for barbeque and the women were each welcomed by a Maasai woman.
This woman was my guide for the morning. She greeted me and brought me to learn the art of basket making, one of the ways Maasai women pass their days and a way that they earn money. I was terrible at it, but it was interesting to learn! Some of the other women in the group made beaded jewelry.
And then we were all dressed in vibrant red cloth and beaded collars for singing, dancing, jumping, and activities like carrying sticks on our heads and thatching a boma roof.
Jumping and dancing are a huge part of Maasai culture, and we were moving for quite some time. I’m still processing some of my video, but I will share the songs at a later time. It was loud and boisterous. The Maasai are a physically expressive people, and there was a lot of them holding our hands and touching us. If I am being honest, it was a little uncomfortable for me. It was really hot, and we didn’t entirely understand what was going on due to language barriers. The woman I was paired with was pretty aggressive about holding my hand, even when I tried to let go, and shy or not, there was no way I was getting away without dancing in the circle. . .
As bad as I was at basket-weaving, I was about 100 times worse at carrying a giant stick on my head. I didn’t feel great the day we visited the Maasai, and being that we were standing for several hours and it was in the 90′s, I was not at my best when this stick was placed on my pounding head. I opted not to climb on the boma to help thatch the roof, but I was super proud of the other ladies with me who did. After we finished our activities, we went inside a boma, which is basically as simple as it looks from the outside. There was a makeshift wooden wall creating an area for a bed and a fence that cuts off the area where the animals stay. Yes, animals come right inside the hut for the night! The floors were mud, and it was incredibly hot inside. The walls were decorated in interesting paintings which were fun to look at, but to be honest, I couldn’t wait to get outside.
Our final activity at the Maasai village included optional consumption of the goat that had been killed earlier in the morning. I decided not to have any, since the poor goat was baaing for its life when we arrived, and instead I went to look at the spread of jewelry the women had out. They do a beautiful job of creating crafts, which helps to boost their economy and gives them a small connection to the outside world.
Our day with the Maasai then wrapped up, and after an intense morning I think we were all a little relieved to go. The Maasai people were very welcoming and warm, and their culture and way of life are interesting, but it was definitely extremely different than what we are used to. Spending the morning in the village was outside my comfort zone, which is a place where the best learning takes place. I am glad that I experienced everything that we did that day, but there were definitely moments of anxiety along the way!