The real Masai life

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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Nakuru
October 13th 2011
Published: October 11th 2011
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This isn’t a touristic Masai experience at all… but this is the circle of life where life and death is happening on a regular basis, and you have to struggle to survive… like Darwin said: “The strongest will survive” and this is how it goes in middle of the Savanna. The conception of “living” isn’t existing because you have to survive and taken wrong path could lead you to death. Living takes a lot of effort and you’ll understand that nothing is easy in middle of Savanna where wild animals are going on instincts and trying to survive as well. So it wouldn’t help to talk nicely and friendly, and get a compromise with a lion or an elephant in the middle of nowhere… you are just a small human being and a tasty bite for the dinner.

The life in a real Masai village is completely different than ours… and what you see in a touristic Masai village doesn’t show the reality either. We were lucky enough to spend a whole week in a Masai village in nowhere (20 km to the closest town, Narok). It isn’t easy to get there since no roads, no paths and just the bushes and Savanna around you. How funny it would sound but we took a taxi to this village and “pole pole” (slowly slowly) we arrived to this unique place.

Imagine a small village (max 15 people) in middle of Savanna and the children are running up to you and bowing the head (in respect of the age), and you’re supposed to touch the head and we needed to bow to the older people in a show of respect. In this village there is no water (you have to walk to the closest water stream two kilometers), no power, living in a mud hut or it is called “manhattans” as well. This is simple life and you’ll think many times what are you doing where the first day but gradually everything will become so familiar and normal that you won’t care anymore how clean you are, how do you look or what do you eat… everything will be based around surviving this day. You’ll see the amazing sunrises since the goats and donkeys will wake you up and follow the sunsets with the wild animals sounds since they are waking up for the night. In the peaceful Savanna is hard to miss the Africa tornado and they are taking everything what is on the way… but according the Masai people so they aren’t so big because they are taking “just” the roofs of the huts. We did experience many of them but one was just few meters from us in the village and everyone run into the huts. Believe, they are quite powerful and dangerous in our opinion.

In the village was four mud huts and every hut contains two-three small rooms where fits just a bed (every bed has a cow skin). The hut is done from wood and cow “crap” and it is quite hard work to build it. Between the rooms you’ll see a small kitchen with a real fire and a small window above the kitchen. Just the main door exists and only the one window for the whole hut. Since there isn’t a chimney in the hut the smoke is remaining inside and you’ll hate the smell but after one-two days it won’t bother you at all. These huts have been a slide smaller before so it is the biggest difference what has happened in this village under 100 years period. Every hut has life expectancy about 10 years. Well we cannot stand upright now either and for us it seems really small huts. The village has a surrounding fence which is made from dead branches and the animals have own fence in middle of the village which is made from the straight wooden tree trunks.

The man is the head of family and everyone has to agree with him. They are trained from small boys that they have more power than a girl. The boys are forced to live in the savanna by themselves for a two years period (18-20 years) and survive the wild life. Of course they have a leader with them but they are building own sheds to sleep in and often they are sleeping on the tree leaves which makes more comfortable. The boys have to provide the food in some way in middle of nowhere. It is really important that they would learn to hunt and a guy has to kill a lion before the marriage and if he doesn’t so none will marry him. A group of 20 boys have to kill a lion, and the first who will spare the lion is awarder the price of kill, receiving the skin. The second who speared the lion receives the teeth and the third the tail. Actually in this way many young boys are dying because the lions are winning the struggle. The man who has survived the struggle can get marry happily (of course the parent’s choose with who he’ll marry because they have to pay to wife’s to be parents). If a man has many animals so he can get marry few women but it did sound too complicated these days. He wears typically a red-checked “shuka” (blanlet) and carry a distinctive balled club which is made from the olive tree. A Masai is investing in animals and it is his bank – if he needs to buy something, he can sell an animal. Well he is spending the days with the goats, making the spears or arrows, sleeping in the shade with a spear and knife beside him… just in case the wild animal would be awake and hungry during the day. His responsibility is making sure for the family security and protects the animals from the wildlife in Savanna. A Masai often hang around with other Masais and share the stories about the life. It doesn’t sound like a hard work but when the wild animals are around the family needs a protection so than he is necessary. On the Friday/Saturday evenings all Masai men are gathering together from different villages while we in the Western world are going out for a dinner or a drink.

The women’s position is to take care of home and children. She is staying in the hut most of the time and cooking. Of course it is impossible to cook without water and she is going few rounds to the water stream with 20 liters water on the head. The back of the women isn’t healthy looking at all… and the small girls are trying to get the water (just smaller amount 5-10 liters) with the mum as well. They are walking through the bushes by themselves and it doesn’t look really secured in our eyes. The water is brown/grey and it is still drinking and cooking water for them. Actually, we are still surprised that we didn’t get sick there but it is some advantage that the food was super hot when we ate. The Masai is eating two-three times per day… well it depends on the mood maybe. The morning begins with a cup of tea (chai tea) which includes goat milk, water, two-three food spoons of sugar and some tea herbs. Well this doesn’t sound healthy at all but it gives you lot energy to start the day and during the day you’ll use the energy for sure. If you are lucky enough so you’ll get a slice of chapati (similar to pancake) which is really filling and you don’t get hungry until the lunch.

Well Diana wanted to try to cook on the fire but it wasn’t her cup of spoon since it was really hot on the plate and you are supposed to turn the chapati with your fingers and a spoon. It was absolute hot and the spoon was flying to the aches. Everyone had a great laugh about it. For Chris’s attempt trying to cook was more successful, and the girls were really surprised to see a man cooking the food and his lady just sitting beside him and doing absolute nothing. The girls loved it but the man didn’t like it at all… that he is showing a bad example for the girls… Of course the girls would cook and men would do absolute nothing. We did explain that in our culture the home duties are divided equally but we got a glance like we did fell down from a moon. However, the lunch remained of rice, potatoes and sometimes beans. It is really filling food and keeping you full for a longer while. After the sunset is time for a cup of chai by the fire… sitting, talking and drinking a cup of chai. The dinner is quite late, about 9pm so it is eating in the dark and you’ll get a plate of ugali (a staple made from maize or cassava flour, or both) and some stew which will include beans, cabbage, potatoes and/or rice. Often you’ll eat by your hands and the first step that you’ll wash your hands. The lady brings a bowl and water jug, and you have to hold your hands over the bowl while she pours water over them, and later she is going to the next person. Make sure that you’ll eat with your right hand since the left hand is used for the toilet in East Africa, and it is really impolite to use the right hand to touch or eat with it. In some villages it is a bad sign to give away a present with the left hand as well. We have notice that if you’re leaving some food on the plate so it means that you have been satisfied with it. Like you see it is quite a lot to know and the mum (all married ladies are called for a “mum” in Masai village) in the family has a lot to do since the food is the main duty for her. Of course she needs to do the washing, milk the goats, take care of children etc. Actually, in the evenings they had really nice and cozy in the hut. The mum is sitting with kids and telling some stories. The husband is outside and talking to his friends. Well a Masai woman you’ll recognize if she has magnificent beaded plate-like necklaces and big holes in the ears with some nice earrings. It isn’t used for the daily life but to the bigger occasions.

We had a great insight in the daily Masai life and we were a part of it. Actually it is really strange feeling to wake up in the sunrise and to hear the wild animals to go to sleep for the hot day. The night was quite cold and in the day time it was absolute boiling hot. The village has six dogs which is guarding under the night and one dog was sleeping two meters from our tent all the time. We felt a little more secure than to be by ourselves but when do you hear a dog barking when you can be worried which happened few times per night… some wild animal is close to the village. Well it doesn’t need to be a wild animal but it could be a person that the dog doesn’t recognize. A night we did see a person running flat out to a hut and four dogs after him… well this person did arrive to the village after sunset and the dogs didn’t know him from before. It was a hilarious view and than we did understand that we were quite safe until the dogs are around us. Many times we did see the dogs chasing the hyenas in the Savanna or other wild animals. One night Chris did sit by the fair with the kids and try to communicate with them… and the dogs were chasing the hyenas as usual when suddenly he heard a mum screaming loudly and the children run into the huts… and just few seconds later other mum was doing same and the other children were running flat to the hut.. and there Chris was sitting alone with a big question mark – he didn’t understand what he did wrong. When he looked to the left and he did understand what it was wrong – well 20-30 meters away two big eyes were glittering in the darkness… a lion eyes. The dogs weren’t there so it wasn’t a lot choice… just try to go to the tent to sleep and hope for the best…there Diana was listening to the hyenas laughing noise (which is really fun by the way). Chris couldn’t put together the eyes the night and luckily it was almost the last night in the middle of nowhere. You can forget to go to the toilet (which is the bushes) in the night time if you don’t want to take a suicide. Actually one night Diana really needed a toilet and she walked just five meters from the tent when she heard the hyena behind the mud house.. well she did fly in the tent back like she came out, and zipped up the tent. It is better wait 1-3 hours before the sunrise than to risk be a dinner for the wild animal.

Every morning and late afternoon we went for a walk with the goats to the Savanna and helped them to get the better leaves of the trees. We really enjoyed our morning walks (2-3 hours) in the Savanna since we had our Masai with the knife and spear with us. The sun isn’t too high and the temperature is lower as well. Our Masai did teach us how to brush our teeth as well. There is a tree that it is possible to chew on it and it becomes a tooth brush. Diana got to learn how to shepherd the goats a little bit which was necessary few days after arriving. Once a mum goat and her two kids were lost (they were really slow all the time since the kids quite young) in the savanna and our Masai we went to look after them. Chris, a younger boy and Diana did stay with other 150 goats and promised to take them home. Well it was going good until we did turn to a valley which divided in two parts. Somehow Chris and the boy were on one side and Diana did stay on the other side. Diana did turn up to some bushes with 50 goats which were running everywhere. She tried to “drive” them but she had just a beginner drive license for it, ha ha.. Well it wasn’t funny for her and she did know that the home is up the hill but where exactly she didn’t know. She was panicking and the goats were walking slowly into own direction so she told them to get her home. Some children were passing the bushes and they have never seen a white Masai with so many goats probably so they did stop and looked and admire her for 5-10 minutes… and of course laughed. She did say “supa” (hey) and walked pass them but actually she thought to ask them to take her home. By Dianas mind was passing many different thoughts about the wild animals in the Savanna… she took a bigger branch in case… and if won’t work she would give a goat than. Luckily after 30 minutes panicking Chris did turn up and he has a better direction understanding in the bushes than Diana since it is first time in the bushes for her.

In the day time (between 12am – 3pm) was a nightmare. It is boiling hot and no shade at all. Of course you can sit in the mud hat which is smoky and hit in different way, or sit on the entrance of hut but the flies won’t leave you alone (after few days you won’t notice them anymore), or sit in the sun and be sunburned, Chris’s face was bright red after day one. After few days we did realize that the best option to sit in the bushes under the tree close to the home.

The evening we did spend with the children when they did arrive home from school. It was really nice to teach them our childhood’s games, try to talk and just play with them. They are really appreciating the time with you and willing to touch your skin, cloths, hair and the things you have. Everything is interesting for them. These children don’t know what it is behind the borders of Masai village and they know just own environment. When they don’t know and it is impossible to miss it. They don’t have any toys or games, and when the children got a teddy and a ball from us, they were absolute amazed what it is and how it works. Actually they were really curious what it is inside this ball or teddy, and these toys didn’t last long time.

They are used to play with each other, with dirt and branches. Of course they are a big help in the household as well. It was really painful to watch when they are taking the goat poo and throwing on each other, they don’t think it is ugly or impropriate behavior at all, and just a fun game since they are laughing loudly. The faces are full of many different emotions and the most common emotion is happiness. These children see this behavior of own mum when she is cleaning the barn with the hands without some equipment or globes. It is a “normal” behavior! The hygiene of people and especially the children have no limits at all. They are extremely dirty and changing the cloths every few days but it takes few hours before they are in the same stage again. About a proper shower isn’t an idea to talk because it isn’t excising and they are taking a short wash of the face, legs and arms in the stream of water while they are picking up the water. You are coming in the contact with these children and you are getting dirty as well. They are touching you and you have to accept the fact or just avoid it. After few days it became a normal behavior and it didn’t bother you at all. When they did see you brushing your teeth or hair they were looking with full surprise eyes – what it is and what they are doing??? Some children in the village have never seen a “mzungu” (white) before and they can admire you for hours. They do fight for attention and everyone wants to come in the contact with a white person of course. Sometimes it became really sad because you don’t know to who you’ll give the attention. But some children cannot accept the fact that they don’t get attention from you now and begin to be aggressive as well. You have to make sure that they would respect you because if you let them to govern you, they will do it.

The animals are the most important thing for them and they are surviving on it. We got to experience the kids’ birth and deaths, the goats’ castrations, how the dead kid (goats baby) is sliced into pieces and given to the dogs, and the kids’ separation from the mum goat for the night which is horrible to see the scream. This is the circle of life and it is going on same things every day.

The Masai culture is really interesting and we are sure that it is so much more to get know and experience but one week gave us a taste of their lives. This unforgettable experience has changed us in many different ways and we did increase our knowledge about this tribe and about ourselves. This will remain imprinted in our minds for a long time.

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11th October 2011

From a regular reader
Once again a great blog and the pictures are like I am traveling with you two.
12th October 2011

That is about all I can say....WOW !!! What an experience of a lifetime ! You both will have so many stories to tell about all of this. Keep safe....and there is no baby yet. Love Mum xxx

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