I have met a lot of interesting cultures over the years, but the Masai seem to stick out in my mind. They are one of the last remaining primitive tribes in Africa, and despite having some very curious traditions, they are very warm and welcoming.
My first meeting was an invitation from the women of the nearby village. They had been taught how to grow vegetables, and the garden they created in only one year was remarkable. Everything from tomatoes to cabbage, corn and onions were being nurtured into colossal proportions in this fertile land, shielded by sturdy fences from elephants, wildebeest and many other typical neighborhood creatures. As I arrived, the women greeted me with a welcome song and when I demonstrated my talent at creating some of the same vocalizations, they rushed at me with laughter and screams of “mzungu masai,” or “white masai” – for those of you not fluent in Swahili. It was an incredible morning punctuated with the women wanting to give me a gift of a giant head of lettuce. One I had to unfortunately decline, but the moment was extraordinary none the less.
After leaving the garden, I headed to one of the family corrals, where I had the chance to meet some warriors and go inside a manyatta. The small, smoke-filled hut had me instantly claustrophobic yet still fascinated, although I was not going to drink the chai tea with goat’s milk being offered. The entire village had turned out to meet the visiting mzungu, and I was overwhelmed with their welcome, but the finishing touch was when I was presented with a traditional beaded bracelet as a gift.
These are uncomplicated people. They do not measure time with a watch or show much emotion. They are content with their existence and fiercely proud of tradition and customs. They live a meager existence and yet are some of the most resilient people on our planet. Most importantly perhaps, they measure success not by bank accounts and big houses, but by family and herds of cattle and goats.
Reprinted from my blog at a national travel magazine