ARRIVE A VISITOR, LEAVE A FRIEND
The spirited dance routine of the Maasai men began without much time to set up my camera equipment, and as soon as they finished their performance, the women had already stepped up to sing in their bright red and yellow costumes.
When we started to chalk out our trip to Kenya, we jotted down activities that would give us a truly authentic experience. Even though due to exigent circumstances, this first visit ended up being a short one missing out a few interesting places, one activity we refused to compromise with was the chance to interact closely with people from the Maasai tribe. That opportunity came about in the form of an invitation from the Oseki Maasai Mara Camp.
You might visit the place as an afterthought. You might squeeze in a quick tour here in between a day of safari activities there. No matter how you get to be a visitor to the Maasai village, when you leave, you’ll leave as a trusted friend.
They appear bright and colorful in their traditional clothing, red, yellow, purple, and blue, that contrast the green and brown of the landscape around them. The men carry long spears, as we see them standing tall and proud. The women, with their beaded earrings and intricately designed scarves, attend to the needs of their children, who for their part, seem to perpetually dart around fueled by some endless supply of energy. These are the Maasai people, the oldest inhabitants of East Africa. The Maasai are widely distributed within the countries of Kenya and Tanzania. But for the traditional Maasai population, every single one of their needs is met by their cattle possession. Not only do they drink the milk and eat the meat of their domesticated animals, they occasionally drink the blood as well..
IN THE VILLAGE THAT TIME FORGOT
Since the Maasai do not use electricity, or even candles, or have any windows inside their house, it was predictably pitch dark inside. A clearly out-of-place technology came to my rescue as I turned on the flashlight app on my cell phone, which gave just enough light to grope my way around the one-roomed house. I was told that it was the women’s responsibility to build the structures of these houses, otherwise called bomas, with a framework of timber poles that subsequently get locked in place by smaller branches. The entire structure was then covered with a potent mixture of grass, mud, cow dung, urine, and ash, something that explained the warmth I felt while inside the house. I estimated the area inside the house to be no more than 200 square feet and standing no taller than about seven feet. This is how the Maasai tribe has lived for many centuries, their carefree, semi-nomadic lifestyle spanning much of what now comprises the famous national parks of Kenya.
A high point of the visit was meeting Ole Lepore, the village chief, a burnt sienna gentleman who, despite being at the ripe age of ninety-five, was standing tall and proud, and to my untrained eyes, could very easily have passed off as thirty years younger. The old man – I was told – had four wives, and had fathered thirty-five children, with all of the male siblings still living in that same village (the women got married off to neighboring villages). He didn’t speak any other language – not even Swahili like all the others – besides their traditional Maasai one, and had never resorted to any medicines outside of the traditional ones found in the region. My mind immediately veered off, imagining the near-endless sociopolitical drama the old man must have been witness to during his protracted life. How real the scars of colonization must be, how unbearable the pains of integration into a globalized society, and how heavy the births of nations and deaths of ideological ideas must have hung on him.
Yes, in those long and twisted veins of his must flow the purest of Maasai blood.