Monday, June 20, 2011

Masai Village

The next day we got into the van at 7am for an all day drive. The most incredible animal sight was the hippo and crocodile. We got out of the van and were guided down the river bank by an armed guard who pointed out crocodiles waiting for a kill and hippos pulling themselves out of the water for an afternoon siesta on the beach.

But the most amazing part of the whole Safari, for me, was a visit to a Masai Village. The Masai tribe is the most known tribe of Kenya, the ones you see on the Discovery channel with the bright clothes, jumping. They have learned that tourism is here to stay, so they may as well make money on the deal. For 1,000 ksh (1,000 shilling = 12 USD US Dollars) you will have a guide through their village, into their homes, and who will answer all your questions about their culture.

Young Masai men greeted us with a traditional dance, taking turns jumping, trying to outdo one another.

They make deep throaty noises that my dad and I previously thought were Didgeridoo (that Australian instrument you hear in Outback commercials). But it’s not. It’s their voices. When I get back to the States I will put up several videos of the Masai and all our other outings. This internet connection is weak and won’t let me upload videos.

Our guide took us to a group of women making jewelry. My mom and I squatted down near the women to get a better look. A woman making a necklace turns to my mother, hands her the necklace and thread, and shows her how to make it. Some Masai woman is wearing a necklace my mom helped make.

I looked around at the children sitting with us. “This is Africa,” I thought as I watched flies cover their faces, poking around the corners of their eyes. The children smiled and laughed through the flies, not even seeming to notice their presence. All except the little baby in the grandma’s arms who was crying his head off, his eyes so thoroughly covered with insects he couldn’t even open them. The flies are consistent because they own so many animals that live right with them by their houses.

I took pictures of the kids, then watched them smile and giggle as I showed them the pictures from my camera.

We entered one of their houses, rounded a corner, and could no longer see. Mom and dad both had on their prescription sunglasses, so they were totally blind. A Masai man hidden in the corner grabbed my mom’s arm and guided her to the bench below her. We all sat down opposite a fire, behind it a kitchen. To the right of the kitchen, a storage area. To the left, the parent’s bed. To the right of us on the benches, the kids’ room. The whole house was as big as my hotel room.

We asked some questions that our guide happily answered. The Masai are polygamist, move every nine years, eat mostly meat and few veggies, now have a primary school, and own a lot of animals.

The ears: Have you noticed, if you’ve seen the Masai, that some of their ears have those big holes in them, like someone took out their gauges? There is a reason for this. Since formal education has never been part of the Masai culture, it is a very new things for them. To meet this change, the Chief of each village decides who will be formally educated and who will remain cultural. Those who go to school keep their natural ears. Those who remain cultural get their ears “cut.”

One Masai flipped his open hole over his ear. He said this was so it did not get caught when he was hunting.

Another interesting fact about the Masai: After a male is circumcised, signifying adulthood, he must go out into the wilderness for 3-5 months and learn to survive. In his first year of manhood he must also kill a lion. The park rangers are trying to persuade the Masai to stop this ritual because of the dwindling lion population, but the Masai don’t seem ready to give up an age old tradition just yet.

They took us into the market area where each clan has their own little shop (most of their income is now from tourists). We were immediately swarmed by women offering jewelry and knickknacks. A man stopped me at a table and began putting bracelets on my arm, telling me to buy one.
I didn’t really want one since I know we are going to Masai Market in a few weeks, but since I was there I felt guilty (that’s their trick!).

“Gape?” I asked. How much?
“500,” he said. Remember, this is all in shilling. 80 shilling = 1 USD
“Hapana,” I said. No. “100.”
“For you, 400,” he replied.
I looked at him sternly so he would know I was serious. “200,” I said again.
“Ok, 250.”

The deal was made. 250 shilling = about 3 dollars. I’ll get my bargaining skills sharpened by the time we go to market.

Dad then tried to trade me to the Masai. The guide offered ten cows, but dad thought I was worth at least 15. Lucky for me the guide did not agree. So I got back in the van and we headed back to the hotel.

Since it had rained the night before, we had to drive through wet cotton soil, soil in which you sink, slip, and slide. Moses gunned the engine and shifted into high gear. Mud clods spun from the wheels into the window and we jumped out of the rut. Moses turns to us with a smile and says, “Four wheel drive!” Every time we hit a pot hole we thought our van was going to die.
Finally, on the drive home, it did. The clutch stopped working and we stopped on the side of the road. As we waited for another Safari van to help, a Masai woman wandered over to see what was going on and tried to sell me the necklace off her neck. Moses then started in second gear and drove us slowly, without shifting, to Narok, a nearby village where it took the mechanic 15 minutes to install a new clutch spring.

We then headed back to the hotel through the jittery, pot holed roads. Once there we met Babu Lonnie, a friend of Johnny and Kate Brookes, friends of my parents. You can visit their blog here to see what they do in Kenya to help orphaned/abandoned girls:


  1. Thanks Tarrin, Great job.
    Papa and Grandma

  2. I think you are worth at least 20 cows. Your Dad and that man don't know value when they see it. :-) love the stories. love you. - AP