Through the Eyes of the Maasai

To start discussing this crazy weekend that I had, I have to go back a couple of years ago in Italy. I was travelling with some other Canadians in Rome and we ran into (guess what!) more Canadians from Vancouver. It was three of them: Michael, Andrew, and Alex. Later on in the trip, I was able to hang out with these new friends for a day in the South of Italy. However, I had no idea of where they worked in Canada or what they were even doing in Europe, but I noticed that everywhere they went, they would film and capture whatever they did on video and they were very much interested in not only the touristy side of Italy, but also the local community. I became curious and since we had gone our separate ways, I couldn’t ask in person so there was only one way to find out: through Facebook, of course! I looked through Michael’s profile and was surprised when I found out that he and Alex are rather famous travel-bloggers on YouTube and Facebook, and in fact, Michael is the founder of a company called Global Degree.

Global Degree, which began in 2014, is a program that allows students to travel the world while completing a university degree through online courses while also participating in improving communities around the world. Before starting the program, Michael had the aim to travel to every UN nation in the world in 60 months and he had already traveled to 100 by the creation of the program. At the time when I met them, they were travelling to every country in Europe and Andrew had actually been able to join them after he won a video contest from Global Degree where whoever won would get to travel with them in Europe (everything payed for!). While they traveled, they would film interesting events during their journey and put together a video at the end to post on social media.

Fast forward to before I left for Kenya: I was at home in Abbotsford scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from Michael saying it was time to visit every country in Africa and coincidentally he would be in Kenya at the same time that I was going to be there for my internship! I messaged him and told him that we would definitely have to meet up in some way or another. I learned that he was going to be travelling with his girlfriend, Devon, who is also a travel-blogger from Alberta and who has the same mission as Michael of visiting all the UN nations. She is the founder of Women of the World, which is a travel community blog.

About a month into my internship, Michael reached out and said he would be in Nairobi for a couple of weeks. He had been in Tanzania climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro! That same weekend I was planning a trip to Lamu and had bought my ticket and accommodation was all set up. However, the same day that I had set everything up for the trip, Michael randomly sent me a message saying he had gotten a huge sponsorship to visit one of the Maasai villages called Maji Moto for four people on the same weekend that I would go to Lamu. The trip seemed jam-packed with cultural activities! They would do hiking with the Maasai warriors, witness warrior training, visit Widow Village, swim in hot springs, and watch a goat sacrifice, among many other activities. Of course, I was very jealous that I would not get to attend this trip because of my trip to Lamu, but little did I know that booking a trip to Lamu had not been the best idea, after a talk with Cherie who explained that the Canadian government advises not to travel to Lamu County. She encouraged me to join Michael, his girlfriend, and another friend Alex from Montreal to Maji Moto village and I could not say no, since it sounded like an amazing opportunity. I told him I would join, and we also planned to go to Hell’s Gate the weekend before (which was great).

The day that we would leave for the village came and after a few hours on bus we arrived to Narok. We were welcomed by Susan, an American expat who runs the Maji Moto Cultural Camp and is married to the Maasai tribe chief, Salaton. She had come to Kenya in her younger days and never went back to America. Salaton was born and raised in the African savanna and traditionally left his family at age 14 to begin his warriorship where he lived in the wild African bush for over 7 years. He was forced to fight wild animals to protect himself, sometimes even killing lions, leopards and buffalo with only his spear. Salaton became the cultural chief of the village but was always known as one who possessed spiritual knowledge and blessed with spiritual gifts. Once we reached the village, other staff who were also Maasai people danced and sang around us and offered us shukas, which are the typical blankets of the Maasai people. There were a couple of other travelers visiting the camp from Colorado who were school music teachers and were currently living in Shanghai. We got set up inside the manyattas (compounds of houses made from sticks and mud) and had some lunch, cooked by a warrior named Sinti. The manyattas in Maji Moto are spread out over miles of land at the foot of the Loita Hills and about 3,000 people reside there. The showers were amazing since the water is supplied from the nearby hot springs meaning that we never showered in cold water! In fact, the name of the camp, Maji Moto, is based on that spring and means “hot water” in Swahili.

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Later, we visited Widow Village, where women who had previously faced at-risk situations would reside there, supported by the Maji Moto community. In the Maasai culture, young women are often married to older men, which means that they will become widows sooner (“Maasai Widows”, n.d.). The Maasai culture also does not let women have the right to own property, so when they become widows they end up with nothing left, not even a home or a means to live. They are usually very young also, thus it is difficult for them to find a way to make ends meet. Typically, the women are uneducated and are not able to find employment, which furthers poverty for themselves and families. The camp was initiated in 2007 by Enkiteng Lepa, on Salaton’s property, as a way to give hope to the women through peaceful living and work opportunities. Here, the women perform traditional dances and songs for tourists, make and sell beadwork, care for livestock and offer charging services for cell-phones of locals through a solar grid system.

In Canada, we have something similar to this where services are offered to women who are experiencing very difficult challenges due to violence, abuse, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. There are shelters in the downtown Vancouver area where women can go to for a secure and safe place for support, a place to sleep, and medical help. There are counselors and advocates who help the women overcome their challenges and find positive opportunities in the community, such as work and referrals to other services.

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After the visit, we made a campfire, watched the sunset and went to sleep in the huts. The next day we hiked for four hours on the hills to a lookout point which was beautiful. After that, we came back and visited some school children, where we sang and played games. The day after, we visited Enkiteng Lepa School which was built in partnership with donors and the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp. The school’s motto is “Don’t exchange girls for cows, give them an education”, which sounds funny at first but makes sense in context. In Maasai culture, the groom gives the bride’s father a dowry of cows (which is the local currency/measure of wealth). Maasai girls are often married off at a young age because their fathers wish to receive this wealth earlier rather than later. Thus, the school aims to promote giving girls an education and advocates against early marriages.

Another component of Maasai tradition that the school advocates against is female genital mutilation (FGM). Although this practice is illegal in Kenya, it is difficult to regulate and therefore still practised in some communities. FGM is very different from male circumcision because there are no medical benefits (for example, research has found that male circumcision can decrease the risk of sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV transmission [Tobian & Gray, 2011]). Rather, it puts females at high risk for serious medical complications and chronic pain. One of the conditions that parents must agree to in order for their children to attend Enkiteng Lepa is that they will not subject their daughters to FGM. I really admire the school and the Maji Moto community’s dedication to respecting Maasai culture while still striving to eradicate harmful traditions such as FGM.

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Afterwards, we walked over to Opul Bush Camp where we would sleep that night. It was a camp with leaf beds (we would be sleeping outside!). In addition to the beds, there was a cute little goat that was brought over by the staff. However, none of us had any idea that this was the goat that was to be sacrificed that night. In Maasai culture, the goat is killed by suffocation (blocking its airway). I was amazed at how peaceful the killing was – I had expected something far more gruesome and violent. After the goat is suffocated, it is carefully skinned. In particular, the skin around the neck is used as a vessel for the blood, which the Maasai drink directly. Alex, Devon, and Mike were brave enough to try it! Alex and Mike even ate raw goat kidney! After the blood is consumed and drained, the skinning continues. Eventually, the goat’s limbs are detached. The process resembled a science class dissection once the internal organs were also separated. I admire that the Maasai people eat or use every part of the goat. Western cultures can learn from this, because we’re often too picky about what we eat – for example, only eating certain body parts.

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The process of sacrificing the goat is also much more environmentally sustainable and ethical than the process by which many North Americans/Westerners obtain meat. Animals like cows, pigs, and chickens live in cramped and unsanitary conditions while they are, more often than not, pumped with hormones. Subjecting animals to such a life is far more unethical than what is practiced in Maasai culture. Also, in contrast to the Maasai people, not many of us know where our food comes from.

We roasted the goat meat and had a feast. Later we went to sleep under the stars and woke up the next day ready to pack up our things and head out back to Nairobi. This was an incredible experience and I am very glad that I was able to be a part of it! I am excited to tell my family and friends back at home about how interesting and amazing the Maasai culture is.

References

Maji Moto. (n.d.). The Maasai Widows. Retrieved from http://majimoto.org/projects/widows/

Tobian, A. A. R., & Gray, R. H. (2011). The Medical Benefits of Male Circumcision. JAMA : The Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(13), 1479–1480. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.1431

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