Africa is home to 43 different tribes and 44 different languages. One of the most commonly known of these tribes (but by no means the largest) is the Maasai Mara people.
We had the good fortunate to be able to spend 4 days with some of the Maasai people in the Magi Moto area. Magi means water and Moto means hot or fire. And, yes, there was a hot spring right beside our camp.
To arrive at the camp we took a local bus from Nairobi to Narok, which took about three hours. We were greeted at the Narok bus station by Salaton, who is the chief of one of the Maasai clans. Salaton spoke excellent English, although he explained to us that he cannot read or write because formal education is not part of the Maasai culture. He learned English when training as a warrior and, as chief, has had the opportunity to practice it because he has been invited on several occasions to speak at different fundraising functions in Kenya and around the world. He enjoys sharing his culture with tourists, and especially with children.
We climbed into Salaton’s very large jeep and headed toward camp. After about 20 minutes the asphalt ended and we bounced along on a rut-filled dirt path. At this point we started spotting various wildlife in the grasslands stretching out from both sides of the vehicle. There were zebras, gazelles, antelope, wildebeests, and even a couple of ostriches, all grazing in the grass and completely oblivious to us traveling through, despite being mere steps away.
Finally, the jeep pulled to a stop in a treed area and we climbed out. In front of us stood a row of 7 or 8 Maasai people, dressed in their traditional clothing. Salaton informed us that we should shake hands and say “Suppa” (which means hello in the Ma Language). The boys, on the other hand, were to bow their heads, as a sign of respect, and the adults would lay a hand on their heads as they passed.
After our greeting, we were each given a Maasai blanket to wear, symbolizing us becoming part of their family. These blankets (known as “ ) are traditionally worn all the time by the Maasai people. We later learned that it was during the time the British occupied Africa that they taught the local people how to weave cloth out of cotton. Prior to this only animal skins were used. When the Maasai people wore the white cloth however, they found the animals were either afraid of them or hurt them. Later, when the Scottish arrived, they showed the people how to dye the cloth various colours and patterns, which is whey the traditional Maasai blankets resemble the Scottish tartan pattern.
The next part of our welcome ceremony was a chant/dance where we were expected to fall into line behind our hosts and do our best to follow along. As part of the dance one of the men would step into the centre of the circle and jump as high as possible. Then he would step back into the circle and another man would take a turn. One of the men signalled Caleb and he took his turn jumping in the centre, followed by Connor, and then Clay. Fortunately for me, the jumping component was not something the women partake in! The men perform the jumping ritual to impress the women. Apparently the man that jumps the highest, gets the woman!
Mary, one of the Maasai women who greeted us, showed us around the camp. We would be staying in the mud huts that had been created for visitors. The camp apparently was created 8 years ago, when some visitors came to learn about the Maasai people and had the idea of assisting them (both physically and financially) with the building of a school. I was curious as to whether or not the people would be worried that giving the Maasai children an education would undermine their culture, but Salaton explained to me that because 85% of the Maasai people are uneducated they can easily be taken advantage of. Sometimes people try to make deals with the Maasai to get their land, and since the Maasai don’t know their numbers they are unable to determine if the deals are fair. Also, some of the cultural practices such as female circumcision are known to be harmful and unhealthy but without education it is difficult to convince the Maasai people of this.
So, some people from Poland donated money and came to build a school. The Maasai people thought they could perhaps have them stay in their homes while they were there, but Maasai homes are very, very small. They sleep on stick mats in one corner and the goats sleep in another. A fire is started in the middle of the room and there are no windows – just a small hole cut out of the top for the smoke to escape. The walls and shelves are a combination of cow dung, mud, and ash. (The ash helps to keep away the termites.)
The result is a very dark, fly infested, smoke-filled home – not something that the visitors would find very comfortable. So, it was decided to build some mud huts. They were quite pleasant, with a small screened window, wooden platforms with mattresses on them and a simple shelf for our clothes, made from sticks and poles.
There is no electricity in the area but at night they would come and place a battery in our huts and the toilets to power small LED lights. Also, they would light candles and place them in paper bags weighted down with sand, and line a path from our hut to the outhouse.
The bathroom was a simple outhouse, but water was carried from the hot spring each morning and used to fill a jug so that we could wash our hands. Also, the warm water was placed in a large reservoir up on a platform and a hose ran from it into a small shower enclosure so we could have a warm shower. If you wanted a shower at another time you needed to give the some advanced notice so that the tank could be filled.
A cute little dining hut and a food preparation area completed the camp buildings. Salaton employed a chef when there were visitors and he and his helpers did an excellent job of preparing delicious meals.
Caleb and Connor have done an excellent job of explaining what we did while at the camp so I won’t go into further detail about that here but I just wanted to share how much we valued this experience. Caleb said to me, after our night in the bush, “This is something I will never forget, even if I get Alzheimer’s!” and I think we all feel the same. The Maasai culture is so different from our own, one cannot help but be intrigued. It is amazing to think that there are people who still live this way in 2016. Although we were only able to stay for a four short days, this was an experience we will treasure for a lifetime.