I….hate…..road trips. Those four words are the four words I have used consecutively the most on this trip. Of course, the bus ride from Nairobi was three hours and then to get to the actual camp was another forty-five minutes. The forty-five minutes did fly by though, because we were practically on safari! We saw ostriches, gazelles, wildebeests, baboons, and zebras.
Upon arriving at the Maasai camp they dressed us in traditional “blankets” and asked us to join in a welcome dance. I’m sure if I spoke the language the dance would have been more interesting, but for me, it seemed all we were doing was dancing in circles, and shouting a lot!
Any-who, after the dance we got a brief tour of the area. We were the only visitors there so the place was pretty quiet. All the buildings are made from sticks which were covered in mud. There were three huts for the guests to stay in: two single ones, and a large double one.
We were staying in the double one, if you haven’t already guessed. There were two rooms, each with three single beds in them.
The rooms were connected by a small walkway right outside the entrance. There was no electricity, just a small battery powered light hanging from the ceiling. The only other source of light was the window, opposite from the entrance.
The bathroom was the only building not made from sticks and mud. It was a small, concrete building with a stick roof. One side for guys, the other for girls. The toilets were pretty much wooden crates with a lid – over a pit (which of course, doesn’t flush and isn’t exactly pleasant.) The shower was the exact same size as the bathroom, which was one metre wide by a metre and a half long. The water was hot though, because there was a natural hot spring close by. The water came out of a tiny tube and you stood on a wooden grate while you showered, so you were not standing in the water that had already been used.
Despite all the differences from back in Canada, we tried to make ourselves at home. We got ourselves settled into our mud-houses and had lunch. We had a cook named Albert and he made us a delicious lunch that consisted of pasta, banana stew, shredded cabbage, and a salad.
Also at the dinner table was hot water and African tea. After that delicious lunch, we went “pulli-pulli”. “Pulli-pulli” is Swahili for slow or relaxed. My mom and dad had a nap and I just lay there thinking about nothing in particular.
Now, the people who work here will say that the schedule is very flexible and quite “pull-pulli” but don’t expect it to be slow going – there is a lot to do that has been crammed into the 3 ½ days. Thus, after our nap, they were eager to get a move on. The conversation sort of went like this….(By the way, one of the Maasai working here was named Qweyla. He is one of the warriors.)
Qweyla: Good afternoon. Did you rest well?
My Dad: Yes, it was very comfortable.
Qweyla: Feeling strong?
My Dad: Stronger than before!
Qweyla: Let’s go!
So, as you can see, the schedule can be stretched a bit, but after you rest, you’ve got to get a move on! Thankfully, they took it easy on us and we did a hike that was a fair distance but not too bad. Qweyla grabbed his spear, because we are in the wild and there is always the chance of being attacked by a lion. Mary, another one of the Maasai working at the camp, came along with us.
Now, I’m going to explain a little about the history of the camp because Mary isn’t just another worker there. You see, the chief of the tribe, named Salaton, wanted to help some of the Maasai girls and widows. Maasai men can have as many wives as they like at one time but for the woman, once the husband dies, or if he leaves them, they cannot remarry. This is a problem because in many arranged marriages (where the parents pick who the daughter will marry – which is the Maasai custom) the girl might marry at fifteen and her husband could be seventy years old. Thus, when the husband dies she will be left widowed and has to live alone, unable to own anything, and is essentially powerless for the rest of her life. The reality is that she becomes shunned by the community. So, Salaton built a village for the widows to stay in, just a few meters away from the camp.
In this “widows village” the women are given some goats to look after. They also make jewellery out of beads and sell it to visitors who come to the camp.
We visited the widows village on our last day at the camp. I was really surprised by their homes, which are very small, dark and completely infested with flies.
There are no windows in the homes, which are built from mud and sticks. There is a small fire pit in the centre and a hole near the roof, for the smoke to escape.
Mary told us that if you leave the door open a little when you are cooking, it helps the smoke to go out the hole, but obviously a lot of it fills the home. We could barely see anything when in the house because it was so dark but we could certainly feel the millions of flies landing on us. There are so many flies because they also keep goats and sheep in the house at night. They have a little room for them in the corner.
The homes are built in a circle and in the centre of the circle of homes is an area for the cows to stay at night to protect them from the wildlife. This also contributes to the flies in the area because over time the cow dung piles up higher and higher in the centre. Connor went tromping around on it, not realizing that it was a pile of poo! Apparently the widows’ homes are the same as all of the other Maasai homes. I am so glad I have a nice house in Canada! Mary also explained how the children and animals are shared by everyone. She said that the children can sleep in anyone’s home and can eat there as well. So, if Sally doesn’t want to eat what her mom is cooking she goes and stays at another home that night!
The camp, or the little area with the huts that we stayed in, is a place where tourists can come and stay. They had originally thought that the visitors could stay with the Maasai people in their homes but they quickly learned that foreigners found that just a little bit too rustic! The fees visitors pay for the camp (which are massive) help support the Maasai workers, the widows, as well as the school that Salaton started.
In addition to helping the Maasai widows, Salaton also wanted to help save girls from female circumcision (female genital mutilation). FGM is a common practice with the Maasai people. It is believed the girls need to be circumcised just before the onset of puberty and this causes many problems in their lives. Many women that have been circumcised suffer from complications in childbirth and some even die. Salaton’s goal was to rescue young women before they were circumcised so they could live a better life and they could be employed by the camp or be sponsored to go to school. Salaton also rescued girls who were going to be married off too early, or others whose families wanted to trade them for cows (which is very, very common in the Maasai tribe).
He started a school for the rescued girls so that they could receive an education. We went to visit the school on our final day at the camp. The students performed songs, dances and poems for us.
They seemed very happy to be at school. The girls who are rescued board at the school because they cannot return to their families. There are also some needy boys who attend the school as well.
Mary, who works at the camp, is one of the girls Salaton saved her from circumcision.
He found a sponsor so she could attend primary and secondary school and she now works at the camp, giving back to her community. She wishes to go to college and study community development, but in order to do so she will need anther sponsor. So, as you can see, just by going to this camp, were helping multiple people and employing others in need.
Anyway, back to the walk. Mary and Qweyla led us through the valley and up a hill to a big rock. Once we climbed up the rock we had an amazing view of the prairie, the hills, and the wildlife.
We stayed up there for ten minutes or so, then made our way down the other side back to camp. When we arrived back at the camp, dinner was ready and waiting for us. Qweyla just said, “See, very pulli-pulli!” Dinner was a traditional Kenyan meal consisting of a potato and bean stew, an avacado and tomato salad, and delicious creamy coleslaw. As we found with all of our dishes, Albert never disappoints when it comes to food.
After dinner we were taught one of the most, if not the most, important thing to do to survive – make a fire. That might sound easy to you but I’m talking about making a fire using only nature. And I’m not talking about rubbing sticks together for hours; no, I’m talking about making a fire in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Everything used in this process comes directly from nature’s extensive selection of materials. The only thing you need that’s not directly from nature is a sharp knife, and even that can be crafted from nature’s supplies. Here is the step-by-step process we followed:
Step 1: Go into the forest and find a log and a stick that is very straight and roughly a centimetre thick. If possible, the thinner stick would be best if it was red cedar. If red cedar isn’t found where you live, try to find straight sticks that aren’t still living. Unless you can find fresh red cedar, made sure whatever other material you use is already dead. (If possible, the best material for the log is also red cedar.)
Step 2: With the knife, peel off the bark and the green layer from the stick so you leave a ‘barkless’ stick that is now ¾ of a centimetre thick. With the log, carve a small wooden plank that is about one inch wide, four inches long, and half an inch thick.
Step 3: Using the tip of the knife, place the knife on the plank and spin it to drill a small hole near the edge of the plank. This hole should be just as wide as the width of the stick and about two millimetres deep in the centre of the hole. On the same side as the hole, cut a groove into the side of the plank right beside the hole. This groove should be just deep enough to reach the hole so if you look through the groove you should see the inside of the hole.
Step 4: Place the end of the stick into the hole made in the plank. It should fit perfectly. If not, you need to adjust the size until it does.
Step 5: You know that gesture you make when your hands are cold and you rub them together quickly to create heat? Well, that is about to come in handy, cause what you do is put your palms together with the stick in the middle, and then make that gesture.
This should result in the stick spinning back and forth, thus creating friction between the stick and the plank. This technique works on the same principle as rubbing sticks, except this is a whole lot faster and more efficient. Eventually, the friction caused between the two pieces of wood will cause heat. Soon that heat will be so hot that it actually burns the plank.
Step 6: When you start to see smoke do not stop spinning because you must continue until the burnt parts of the plank get shredded and fall down the groove you created. Keep going because eventually a small pile of smoking, burnt, shredded wood will appear at the base of the groove. Soon enough a spark will come flying out and that is when you can stop spinning the stick.
Step 7: The spark will land on the burnt pile of wood and then you need to transfer the whole pile of shredded wood onto a sort of birds nest. This nest is very small (maybe three inches wide) and made from dry twigs, bark, and shredded wood. You gently blow on the spark so it turns into a flame and lights the nest on fire.
Step 8: Finally, place the nest under a tepee layout or in a log cabin layout and continue blowing until the cabin or tepee sets fire and I’m sure most of you know what to do from there. We got a rip roarin’ fire going. We asked if they roasted marshmallows at fires. The obvious answer was no and Mary said that they roast meat over the fire instead of sugar puff balls. Yep, most people here don’t even know what a barbecue is! I was actually impressed by that because cooking your food this way is much better for the environment than our gas guzzling propane powered cooking machines, aka barbecues.
After the fire we got ready for bed, which was quite an adventure on its own. There are two sinks that we could use, one under a tree which had what looked like toothpicks sticking out of it, and one under an enormous cactus tree.
We took the one under the cactus tree because the cactus looked cool and was less spikey than mr. prickley-pine over there. So, here we are brushing our teeth, staring up at the cactus, admiring its complexity.
Little did we know that this particular cactus species is highly poisonous. If you puncture its skin it will release a white, milky substance. If this liquid gets on your skin it can cause serious rash and pain. Even worse, if it gets in your eyes you go blind permanently. Its’ raining while we’re brushing our teeth so the rain is dripping off the cactus tree. Oh dear! Maybe this wasn’t so bright! We learned that we should always learn about everything before touching it.
We all returned to our cabins thankful to still have our vision and got into bed. Hallelujah, there were bug nets over the beds. As we found however, they don’t do much good if all the bugs that annoy you just fit through the tiny holes in the net. It did keep the spiders away though so I felt the bug net was totally worth it. We got to sleep OK and we made it through day 1 safe and sound.