The wind blows across the vast rolling plains of the Masai Mara, it is occasionally broken by a lone acacia tree. The grasslands have been a sanctuary for a wide variety of animals that call the Mara home. The Mara can be a very hostile region for humans with water being scarce and the constant threat from hippos (hippos cause more harm to humans than other animals as they are territorial), elephants, lions and leopards.
The only tribe that have beautifully coexisted with the wild in the Mara are the people from the Masai tribe. The image of a Masai walking across the grasslands with a red blanket or shukha with miles misleading nothingness around is quite haunting and powerful. On our trip to Kenya we made sure that we could visit a Masai village.
We reached the Mara later in afternoon after an eventful and bumpy ride down a dusty kaccha road. We had packed boxes of lunch which we could not finish and our driver recommended that we save the food for the kids in the village whom we planned to visit that day. We passed a couple of villages in the Mara and finally stopped outside a cluster of mud huts that had been built around a circle. The children filed out of the village and a few men and women came forward.
One of the men who was the chieftains son spoke English and said that the men were out for the day but we are welcome to visit. The Masai villages that are open to tourists charge a small fee upfront for the visit which we were more than happy to pay. It also makes sense as tourism is a main revenue source in the Masai Mara and also why would you open up your homes and way of life to strangers every now and then besides the Masai have very little to go by. The chieftains son introduced himself as John and his friend Moses and said we are welcome to his village.
The women gathered around and sang a traditional welcome song which was quite sweet as the kids distributed and wolfed down the food that we had brought. John then proceeded to show us how to light a fire using his sword as base and wood but the wind kept interfering with his plan. He then invited us into one of the huts which was pitch dark inside save for a fire which was being used to keep warm and for cooking though there wasn’t much cooking that day.
There was a raised platform inside the hut on both sides which was covered with a straw mat and used as a bed. Since it was dark inside John used the flashlight on his mobile to illuminate inside the hut which came as a surprise but then again why not. We also found out during our safari that Airtel had excellent range in most parts of the wild Masai Mara but just not enough in my living room.
John told us that the village was made of two families and that a Masai man typically marries after he reaches the age of 30 and they are polygamous. Women generally marry as young as 15, he then asked us our age and pointed to another lady with a young one tied to her back who he said was my age. We then went out side to look at the cattle which the Masai pride themselves with. As many as 40 cows and sheep were grazing away on the grassland. John looked at us and asked how many cows we owned, the embarrassing answer was none. He seemed very amused by the answer. He then in jest offered 10 cows for my toddler.
The Masai drink the blood of cows along with water as sustenance. The Masai are proud warriors and pride themselves over hunting though the Kenyan government dissuades them from hunting and in case a wild animal kills livestock the government offers a compensation. Our guide asked John where the lions ‘simba’ was that day and he casually pointed over to a stop on the plains. The Masai definitely are one with the land they live in and many of them also act as safari guides to the tourists. The women also make bead jewelry and other souvenirs to be sold to tourists who visit though bargaining is a expected by everyone. The Masai have embraced the good that tourism brings them while remaining true to their origins.