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Quality time with the Masai

Original post made by AnnaMirsky, another community, on Mar 1, 2013

One of my major goals for this trip was to visit a local Masai tribe, interact with them and buy some jewelry. I had already seen them in town, wearing their bright red-and-blue checkered cloth and carrying large sticks as staffs.

Today, I went with my friend Jamie to visit a real Masai village. We drove for a while then walked into the desert. The village was comprised of round mud houses with grass roofs. There were goats, donkeys, stray dogs, a few toilets built by volunteers and a well. They also had a round "corral" made out of spiky bushes (I think I may have seen something like this in Survivor). The "gate" was a ball of spiky branches they used to seal the animals in at night. This keeps the cattle in and also protects them from wild animals. Some thorns are as long as my pointer finger.

We met Masai men and women with kids. I gave the kids candy and stickers and we brought a bag of sugar for each household we visited (a sign of respect and goodwill). When we walked up many women took off their necklaces and put them around our necks. They saw I had large holes in my ears and adorned them by shoving wide bead and wire earrings into them. They invited us to buy some jewelry and we gladly did!

One man said he would marry me. I asked how many cows he could offer (the culture here still uses a dowry system and the Masai use cows because they are herders). He offered 2 cows, which is a low. I spoke to my dad tonight, the cows would go to him after all, and he said I shouldn't settle for less than I was worth!
Not everyone is friendly for the right reasons though. As we were leaving there was a group of women and kids on the other side of the village. They said hello and waved me to come over. They seemed friendly, thought my stretched ears were very cool and we seemed we hit it off. I usually wait a little bit to know there is a connection before asking for someone's photo. So I asked and the lady said she wanted money, for food for the baby (she was breastfeeding). This happens on the street, some people don't like their pic taken, but I guess I didn't expect it at the village, especially after all the other exchanges were good.

I told her that I gave all the kids stickers but she still wanted money. I was also after some great photos so I decided to give her a little money, but she said that was only for her and she wanted more money to have her baby in the pic. I told her I didn't want the baby in the pic. We went back and fourth and I told her to give me my money back (a bargaining technique I learned while traveling). At the end of the whole thing I did get the photo of the both of them but it wasn't a very pleasant exchange.

For the way back we decided to save a little money and hire a "tuk-tuk". This is a three-wheeled mix between a motorcycle and a car (one tire in the front and two in the back, partially open with a back seat bench and roof. When it finally arrived after being lost for a while, our guide and Light in Africa coordinator, Paulo, wanted to try driving it.

I thought, "OK, he will practice and then the real driver will take over, I'm not getting in this tuk-tuk. I remembered the travel clinic said the major cause of injury is auto accidents!" Paulo practiced for a while and then announced that I should get in because he was going to drive for a while. These are dirt and rock roads in the middle of the bush and we aren't going very fast. I was still unsure but considering the lack of options, I prayed, gave Palo a hard time for a while and got in. He did reasonably well and went slowly. He has been taking driving lessons for a car and this was a really good experience for him.

Knowing how to drive a tuk-tuk is a valuable and highly marketable skill for him and an asset to Light in Africa. It was one of those times you just give in and go with the flow. Thinking of how things are back home, I could hardly imagine a taxi driver allowing their passengers to drive the car (especially if it was their first time). But this is Africa and things are different!

Comments (1)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by juniperk
a resident of Gemello
on Mar 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

yes, with the all the markup that the local merchants charge on Masai Jewelry, there is no doubt that it is cheaper to travel straight to Africa and buy them directly.


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