23 Dec 2006

Sleeping With The Maasais

Tanzania_Life8The road was serene and picturesque. This paved road heading north towards Kenya was built less than a decade ago to accommodate tourism. Acacias and baobabs lined up on the left and right of our route and occasionally we passed by the Maasai herders and their cattle. We were driving along the Great Rift Valley that was originated in northern Syria and stretches all the way to central Mozambique. The Rift Valley has been a great source of archeological and anthropological discovery and the protected environment in several national parks house the diverse flora and fauna. The western rift of the valley is surrounded by some of the highest mountains and the deepest lakes in Africa and the scenic road along the rift offers a spectacular experience. 

It’s the weekend getaway on a Maasai Cultural Safari arranged by Kitumusote, an overnight trip to a Maasai Village and a sleepover at a Maasai Boma – an enclosed cluster of several huts within the Maasai village where a man lives with his many wives. This was probably one of the most interesting safaris since you’ll get to stay with an indigenous tribe for 24 hours and get to experience the way they live. I went with Kesuma – the Kitumusote founder, three of Kitumusote staff, and four other volunteers. I think all of us were quite nervous. The five of us are from California, Salt Lake City, Boston, and New York – the contrast that we were about to experience must be rather striking for each one of us.

We left Arusha at ten in the morning. Our destination was Lesoiti Village and the drive would be 3-4 hours long. We were aiming to be there for lunch which would be prepared in the boma. Before we left Arusha, we made a quick stop at Shoprite to buy some sugar and some tea for gifts to the villagers. It’s a gesture to thank them to have invited us to their home. The Maasai tribe speaks a tribal language called Maa. It is very different from Swahili so we tried to learn a few greetings en route to show respect to the villagers.

Standing tall in front of us were Lenyoro Mountain in Kenya and Longido Mountain in the northern tip of Tanzania. We were less than two hours away from the Kenyan border. Kenya is also home to the Maasai tribe and the Kenyan Maasai actually outnumbered the Tanzanian Maasai. They share close relationship and the governments of both countries agreed to keep an open border for them to preserve their cultural identity as one.

Of all African tribes, the Maasai is one of the best knowns to the western world due to the  greatest collection of wildlife in their territory. They have encountered close contacts with visitors who embark on safari in East Africa for many years. Maasai is also one of the most studied indigenous tribes in the world due to a unique combination of their indigenous culture and their openness to visitors that not only made them an interesting subject but also provided an easy access and array of possible collaborations with researchers and humanitarians. Their distinctive dresses, weapons, and bead jewelries were often shown in National Geographic. Today they are struggling to keep their identity and what remains of their land intact.

After two hours driving on the paved road we shifted northwest to the terracotta soil land. There was no paved road and technically there was no road. The driver was skillfully driving through trees and bushes. Occasionally a “wait” tree latched its fingers on the paint of the car. It is called the “wait” tree because the branches are full with needle-length spikes and often your clothes or skin will get stuck on it if you are not careful, and it will force you to wait, hence the name “wait” is from. We passed a number of glorious termite mounds with a couple snakes sun-bathing leisurely on top. None of us knew what type of snakes they are so we had no idea how poisonous these fellas are.

Amazingly our cell phone worked here in contrast to the intermittent service we would have driving along the hills of Highway 101 and Freeway 5 in California. Right around the village our service provider was seamlessly switched from Celtel of Tanzania to Safaricom of Kenya. I didn’t notice it at first, but Kesuma pointed it out since we had some interesting discussions previously on technologies in Africa. Coming from Silicon Valley and working in the tech industry, I’m probably the most technologically exposed among our weekend group. I’m right on the border of gen Y and gen X, which I took as an advantage for being able to relate to both worlds, although sometimes confusion is the more appropriate term.

It was almost two in the afternoon when we finally reached our destination. The Maasai people in this boma were expecting us. We were awed by what is in front of us. I think every single one of use has read enough information about the tribe and has seen enough photographs of the people and the way of living, but it was nothing like what was in front of our eyes. We were looking at each other and smiled groggily thinking: “Oh my God, are we dreaming or are we really doing this? Are we really in the Maasailand right now? This is so surreal!! What are we doing? Pinch me!!”  The van stopped right in front of the gate to the boma. A couple elders and a few warriors of the village were standing there for the unofficial welcome. Kesuma introduced us, we shook hands with them and we practiced the greetings in Maa that Kesuma taught us in the car. Their rough hands with thick calluses felt as if you were gripping a sheet of tree trunk.

All Maasais dress in bright red checkered sheet wrapped around their body and secured with a knot or a belt. Occasionally a purple or a baby blue piece was draped by their shoulder as an accent color, but the primary color is still the blood red cloth. A cloth of squared or striped pattern is also often worn as the top layer. Their footwear is quite distinct, made of a tire rubber cut open in a shape of a small boat with a set of x-strings attached to secure the foot. It is supposedly very comfortable for walking and lasts forever which suits their need considering the Maasais walk for hours everyday to tend their chores. Remember I mentioned earlier that Kesume at one point walked to his school for seven hours each way? That makes fourteen hours a day, at least…..

Lunch was served almost immediately upon our arrival. Maureen, Kesuma’s secretary, has spent the night in the boma to bring the grocery the day before and to cook for us. The food has been cooked with safe hygiene guidelines although I wonder how the questionable water supply can ensure its safety. Regardless I didn’t have any problems digesting the food. None of us did. What was difficult was trying to find an opportunity to swallow your food without taking along a fly or two in your spoon. Hundreds of flies surrounded our plates and we literally had to perform this funny upper-body dance ritual to get rid of the flies. And we only had a split second to bring the spoonful of food to our mouth before we had to perform the dance ritual again. Crossed our mind once if it would be better for us to take turn eating in pairs, while one is eating the other will guard your plate and perform the dance ritual for you. But then we thought that would be too silly and decided to go on with what we had to do.

Once we figured out how to deal with the flies, another challenge was how to swallow your food while a few toddlers were starring at you with hunger in their eyes and flies on their faces. We were hungry too since we haven’t had anything since breakfast this morning, but we were far from starvation. Food is scarce in the village and the main staple is always a type of carbohydrate without much source of protein, vitamins or minerals. Fruits and vegetables are not common for them. The children are malnourished and clearly bear physical symptoms of dry and scaly skin, bloated stomach, and underweight. Their limbs don’t scale to proportion of their head and their bloated stomach. I don’t know how old these children are but I bet they are a few years older than they look since malnutrition shaved off a few years of the physical growth in children. It’s a similar situation with St. Lucia’s children.

Ranked seventh in the world, Tanzania has 16 million of undernourished population. Famine strikes the sub-saharan African countries the hardest today, characterized by destitution and malnutrition with the highest mortality among young children. Famine remains a chronic threat in much of Africa, although Tanzania was not in the emergency status list, which was the case for Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. Last year FAO stated that 11 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia were in danger of starvation due to the combination of severe drought and military conflicts. The most serious crisis today is in Sudan’s region of Darfur where the supply of food was almost completely cut off due to the civil conflict.

After an awkward lunch, the women of the boma performed a ceremonious welcome dance for us. They put on beaded elaborative necklaces, earrings, and bangles. The jewelries are massive to the proportion of their neck, earlobes, and limbs. Big pierces on the earlobes are trademark of Maasai tribe. The more senior you are, the bigger the pierced hole is, which signifies that you have endured many years and have gained wisdom of life. The dance was a set of rhythmical up and down movements presented along the spellbinding vocal chants. The dance ritual went on for an hour and the women asked us to join the floor. To respect them of course we did dance with the group. It was pretty interesting and once you let loose, it was actually enjoyable and fun. We got to wear their neck jewelries too that were so large they almost covered our entire shoulder.

It started to rain so we had to wait around for the rain to stop before we could go hiking. We all nested under the canopy that sheltered our meal table. Soon the water bunched up at the center of the canopy, weighed it down heavily that the rooftop almost touched our heads. We poked it with the Maasai walking stick before it takes down the entire canopy. It was a lot of fun and cheering, much like my childhood playing outside in the rain and thumping the puddle so hard to see who can create the biggest splash. Although shy, we found the Maasai people like to laugh and to be happy. The most memorable sight for me was to see their faces when they laugh because then you can see how we, as humans, should truly laugh with the entirety of your facial muscle, no holding back, thus reflecting the laugh from your heart and soul inside out.

Once the rain stopped, Kesuma and three other warriors took us on a guided walk around the lowland bushes to learn about Maasai traditional medicine and a hike up the nearby hill. It was too much information and detail for me to retain but I did remember a few significant trees for the Maasai. Barks of Ficus were chewed to treat chronic wounds and to alleviate thirst which explains how they survived long droughts for centuries. The Maasai used acacia barks to flavor their meat soups and milk which lower their cholesterol level and provided them antioxidant properties. For their teeth cleaning the Maasai cut one end of a small branch of a particular tree and create a bristle to brush their teeth and clean their gums. The result: their teeth are white and beautiful. Kesuma and his troops introduced us to some fragrant herbals as well. The aroma was so distinct and powerful that it stayed on you as long as a perfume spray. There was one particular smell that I favor, a blend of jasmine and lavender and it has this sharp quality like mint when you put the leaf close to your sniff buds. We were tasting some wildberries too, the color of the ripe ones were bright orange otherwise dark green but at both states the wildberries were sweet and juicy.

We were walking on grassland when we left the boma. Gradually the grassland transformed itself to muddy terracotta paths and then to ankle deep puddles of rainwater remains from the night before. Soon the bottom of our pants was covered with brown red patches, our socks were no longer white, and our snickers were blended with our socks and now look like a pair of brown solid ankle-high hiking boots. Along with the mud paste, we could feel our skin retains quite a few spiky foliages and every time we took a step, we earned a surface scratch. I wasn’t too careful in the beginning and within the first 30 minutes managed to gather a few cuts on my palms as I was using the wait trees as support. They were minor but enough to worry me for a second, then I remember that I’ve taken a tetanus shot before I left so I should have some defense built in against potential infections. After that I tried to be careful but it slowed me down significantly, especially considering I’m not a hiker, and I was already behind as is. Lemeyan, the warrior whom we called “the male model” because he could absolutely walk the runway of Fashion Week in New York wrapped in Armani suit, was being kind to stay behind with me and Danielle. Danielle was slow not because she is not a hiker, but because she wore her flip flop and forgot to change. Poor girl was walking without socks. I didn’t even want to look.

Eventually I reached the top of the hill with the rest of the group. The dusk crept in and the twilight hues enveloped the horizon in slow motion. The view was absolutely mesmerizing and brilliant although the hill is not that high, but you could see the flat grassland of the Maasais miles and miles away decorated with a few bomas here and there, and at last your view was stopped abruptly at the backdrops of Lenyoro and Longido mountains. Somehow the combination of dark orange color with bright and somewhat smoky green came out harmonious to your eyes. It was almost picture perfect, I just have to make sure I’m not in it!! Just right before dark we started walking down and back towards the boma. Going back was easier and faster, I guess because we knew our path and there was no more guessing of what we were about to step on. However, our interesting day was far from its ending, as a matter of fact, it was just about to get more interesting.

When we arrived at the boma, we were rushed to attend the goat slaughter ceremony. It was already a bit too dark since we spent too much time on the hill (and as well because I was a slow hiker and everybody was being kind and nobody blamed me). The ceremony was to be performed outside the boma and hidden behind the bush so no one from the boma could see us. The warriors were not allowed to eat the meat if it had been seen by a woman, but somehow foreign women are excluded in the taboo. All of us are female and we were fine to be their spectators. The ceremony was actually performed especially for us today. Danielle and I stood in the front rows while Janice, Allie, and Colleen stayed hidden a few steps behind us. They were somewhat appalled by the sight of the killing and the skinning of the goat. Everybody has her strength, and in this case, Danielle and I were the front runners. Danielle was committed to drink the goat blood as part of the ritual. I was almost absolutely positive that I would skip that part, but hey, I’ve had spiders in Cambodia before, so who knows?!? I gave myself a little room for a change of heart, just in case.

Lemeyan is the leading warrior in this ceremony. There were about five or six warriors altogether besides our drivers and Kesuma. The goat, whom I’ll refer to as Billy the Goat for the sake of making the scene a bit more intimate, was tied to a tree and it bleated non-stop until it was released. The warriors have prepared the leafbed to lay Billy on. Lemeyan was holding all of Billy’s four feet and another warrior twisted his neck and killed him in an instant. No pain, no blood, no noise, no mess. We hope Billy didn’t feel any suffering leading to his termination. Lemeyan then put Billy down on the leafbed while another warrior was sharpening a pair of machetes.

Lemeyan made a small incision on Billy’s skin and then tore up the skin vertically on his right rib cage. He (Lemeyan that is, not Billy) clenched his right fist and made repetitive punching moves aimed towards Billy’s rib cage. As he was pulling Billy’s skin off, he used his fist as a dull butcher knife to separate the skin from the flesh. The rawness of the pinky flesh started to grow larger and larger at the steady pace until Lemeyan completely skinned one side of Billy. Then the same process was repeated on the other side. Soon Billy appeared as sleeping naked. Well, it wasn’t over yet for the goat. Lemeyan was holding the sharpened machetes now. He cut Billy open and all of Billy’s internal organs were put out for show, much like a biology class in motion. Kesuma’s cell phone rang a few times in between the steady incisions and what an interesting scene to see a Maasai man talking on a phone surrounded by five other Maasai men in the middle of goat slaughtering event. Lemeyan had made sure that the blood was contained in the center bowl of Billy’s rib cage, out of which he scooped the red thick and slimy liquid with his two hands and offered it to us. I declined and Danielle accepted.

Kesuma held out Billy’s liver under my nose and the smell of fresh blood climbed up my nostrils fast. I politely declined the sumptuous offer as well. Kesuma didn’t push me and ended up taking a bite of the liver himself since nobody else was interested, that was none of us the mzungus. Kesuma had the first pick because he was the leader of the warriors so he got to enjoy the delicacy before anyone else on the scene. If I were offered the opulent meal and beverage five, seven, ten years ago, pretty sure I would have accepted it. I realized as I grew older, my sense of adventure dropped significantly. I was no longer the extreme gourmand, and by the time I retire, I probably will settle only as extreme and exotic as PB & J sandwich and Mac & Cheese.

When the fate of Billy came to the final stage, we all returned to the boma while the warriors were cleaning up the crime scene. Soon Billy remains would be roasted. Our dinner was ready under the canopy, and we thought, what a proper sequence for the evening, heading for your dinner after staring long at the slaughtering. We were quite hungry yet the appetite was gone. Among other things there was a pile of fried chicken on the table that remained untouched. Although short, we all turned to temporary vegetarians for the night. Rice with greens, fried plantains, beans, and fresh pineapple accompanied by the muggy smell of cow dung made up for the chicken platter. The warriors offered us the roasted goat to accompany our rice, but we had no heart to touch Billy after all, not after what we’ve done to him!!

A bonfire was lit up for us after dinner. The temperature has slowly dropped and it’s rather chilly this evening. We sat on the wooden stools around the fire to stay warm. If you close your eyes, the cracking noise of burning woods transported you home, sitting in front of the fireplace under a blanket with the aroma of cinnamon and mint from your spiced chai, except there was no blanket, your socks and bottom of your pants were damp, you’re shivering, and you were holding an almost empty bottled water.
After sitting motionless for a while, part of it because we were worn-out and partly because we were still trying to absorb that this day was for real, the warriors performed another ritual of a warrior dance. If the dance ritual in the afternoon was performed entirely by the Maasai women, this one was performed entirely by the warriors. Again, we the mzungu females were excluded from any restrictions and we were even asked to dance with them. At times I wonder if they considered us as the third gender, not male nor female, therefore we were allowed in scenes where both genders of the tribe experience exclusively. This dance was slightly different than the women’s dance. If the women’s dance was performed by jumping on alternate legs, this was done by jumping on both legs simultaneously. If we were chanting in the afternoon, we were humming in the evening. I think I made a sound much like a monkey in the loo, even my teammates confirmed that. Well, as always, I considered it as a rare skill and I should be proud of my special talent. Some of the warriors were very talented in jumping high and they appeared as light as feathers. They apparently had a lot of practice for this type of cardio exercise while we were out of breath in exactly two minutes. I wonder why there was no jumping machine in the cardio section at the gym – this beats stairmaster and treadmill any day. We could’ve called it “jumpmaster” or “jumptronix” or “jump-til-you-have-a-heart-attack-and-roll-your-eyes-out-machine”.

Once they ensured we were completely drained, they allowed us to sit by the fire again. This time they wanted to sing a few folk songs for us and to explain what they mean. The warriors stood around the fire and started humming their chorus and then the melody was sung in Maa. The rhythm was hypnotizing in serene serenades. One song was sung after another, and in between they explained the purpose of the song, not just the meaning. Each song was utilized at a much deeper level than the way we do our songs in modern civilization today. The songs were the means of ritual, often used to provide a universal message or to persuade the tribe to stay connected. The songs were tools for them to pass the tradition from generation to generation. Each song carries a complete story and an important moral message for its audience. Histories, norms, beliefs, urban legends; they were all depicted in Maasai’s folksongs.

In return, the warriors and the children now wanted us to sing some songs from America. For a second we were trying to find a victim among us to carry this task but then we realized that was one walk of shame that we couldn’t avoid. After the warrior’s stunning performance, we didn’t have much appreciation for our squeaking voice. We were a bit frivolous though and ready to humiliate ourselves. Finally we sang children songs since we didn’t remember any other respectable songs appropriate for the occasion. Or even if we knew something, we were slow to admit it to avoid singing alone. Yes, I’m not proud of our childish behavior either!! Our selections were Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. It couldn’t be any more lame than these but we were caught unprepared. Then they asked us for the meaning behind each song. My peers translated literally, but then I thought we’ve got to at least give them the fine prints between the lines so our songs could carry a bit more weight. So I got creative and dramatized the message of each song. Soon enough everybody understood what I was doing and joined in the effort. So to us that evening and to one of the Maasai Bomas in Lesoiti Village, Itsy Bitsy Spider sends a message that someone should persevere in life while facing vertical roadblocks, Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars talks about how majestic the universe is and therefore we should cherish it and not devour it, Mary Had a Little Lamb was about loyalty in friendship and together dare to take risks. I’m curious what we told our children back home about these songs. At the end the Maasai people were happy with our singing and storytelling and we were happy that they were happy. We would’ve hated to disappoint our audience and we were somewhat proud that we didn’t completely choke on an unexpected recital. (by the way, I’m sure at least half of you recited those lyrics just now!!)

We retired to our tents soon although it wasn’t even close to midnight yet. Our bedtime had shifted since we were here. With no television and occasional power outage in Arusha, 10 pm was the average bedtime for all of us. I shared tent with Janice, Danielle with Allie, and Colleen by herself. It’s been raining on and off today and some drops made its way into our tent through the tent flap and gathered on to a small puddle and managed to wet the bottom of my sleeping bag. Janice’s was pretty dry.

As we brushed our teeth and chatted about our unbelievable experience today, Janice and I were looking at each other and we started laughing uncontrollably and we couldn’t stop until we cried. We were saying to ourselves: “Did we just do all of these or have we been dreaming?” The day seemed so dreamlike and remote from our reality, yet the noise of the warriors dancing and jumping outside was real and it lasted until the wee hours past midnight. Those warriors were sure some party animals and they were a happy bunch to entertain visitors.

None of us thought that we would be able to sleep that night. Janice and I were ready to chat with each other if we couldn’t sleep. But our exhaustion soon took over our excitement and anxiousness, and we slept through the night before we knew it. I woke up at dawn and saw the sunlight slowly shadowing a few holes on the tent and the zigzagging brightness lied vertically where the zipper shut the flap closed. It took me a while to remember where I was and I stayed still while I was trying to bring my mind to the right time and place. Janice and I woke up around the same time, the noise already started outside, not an excessive one but the one that showed the daily activities have already begun.

It’s day two of our cultural safari and we survived the night and the interesting highlights of the agenda; from doing the warrior dance after last night’s dinner and slaughtering a goat, to wandering in the bushes to do our “business” and hope for the best that the snake wouldn’t be around our marked territory. The morning air was slightly chilled and fresh, well, if you put aside the cow dung smell from the Maasai walls. Today we would mostly spend the time with the elders for some cultural education talk and with the women of the tribe to learn their artistic craft in making intricate beaded jewelries. Our breakfast was great and the flies were not yet around. They would be back though when the day gets a bit warmer at around lunch time.

After breakfast, Kesuma made a goat skin ring bracelet for Danielle. It was made from Billy’s skin that was still moist. I wasn’t sure what part of Billy it came from, but the skin has a natural curve to fit the wrist and it was carved right on the hand. It basically have to be worn all the time. The skin will dry in a day or two and eventually it will break loose and then you can no longer wear it. For the warrior it’s a sign of courage, and for Danielle and other mzungus who have gotten it, it shows the courage as well. Kesuma offered us too if we wanted one. Billy’s skin up close and personal did not look too inviting and to imagine being skin-on-skin with Billy was quite far-fetched from our imagination, especially when we have to be attached to it for months or could be years if it never breaks. We decided we would wait to get just the beaded bracelets or rings later with the ladies.

Once Danielle was bejeweled, we sat down with the elders of the boma to exchange some dialogues with them. Kesuma translated our conversation from Maa to English, from English back to Maa, and so forth. We sat on low 3-legged wooden stools that were surprisingly comfortable. We didn’t have enough for everyone so a few of us had to sit on top of some plastic drums. The elder who was speaking to us was about 90-years old. His face was lined with wrinkles of wisdom, his eyes often gazed through the horizon, and his face was full of history and recalled moments. He was very concerned with the future of his tribe, he said. The impact of globalization has changed many things for them through the course of his lifetime. Their tribe has gone through some hardships and so far they have survived. That doesn’t mean that they are experienced and skilled now to battle another series of hardships. The challenges evolved as well and they have to face new problems that they have no way in knowing how to deal with. The fact that his tribe is better known to the world now created another problem. Other people expect openness but with it came the threat of dilution on their traditions, especially for their younger generation. One obvious example is the lack of respect from the youngsters to the elders since they have been exposed to some outside values. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a direct impact that was done consciously, but through a medium of society i.e. Tanzanian people in general, who acted as the middlemen to transfer these corrupted values to their tribe. The tremendous gap between the 21 century of the world out there and their life within the boma provided an opportunity for their young people to misunderstand the outside values and therefore apply them in a wrong way. Although to the outside media it seems that the exposition and the access to their indigenous tribe was a positive thing, he was afraid that was not entirely the case for them. At the high level, keeping their identity intact so they can protect themselves the way they have done it for centuries is what they must preserve. He doesn’t mind the young Maasai generation to seek comparative experience out there as long as they remember that at the end of the day, they should return to their roots and help maintain and preserve their fragile environment.

I asked Kesuma if the elder wanted to ask us as the young generation coming from what’s considered the most advanced nation. He wanted to know if we are facing the same problem with our young generation in the US. I wasn’t the best person to answer that since I grew up in different places and have moved around too much to be able to draw a linear comparison. But from my perspective, the challenge of keeping the next generation abreast of existing values and traditions is the same for both worlds though under different circumstances.

We spent the last hour of our short life at the village with the women of the tribe trying to learn their beading craft. They get their bead supplies from Kenya. The beads are microscopic, made of colorful glass and quite slippery to handle. Each color represent different thing in life. The design, color, and placement of beads in a piece of jewelry is crucial for a Maasai because it can tell a story or represent a history.

Enkimeita (belt), Imankeek (necklace), and Olokesana (skirt) are three pieces of clothing that are decorated with beaded ornaments. Three colors hold a ritual importance among the Maasai: white, red, and dark blue (or black). These three colors have similar meanings to other peoples of eastern Africa. Red is associated with youth and red ochre mixed with fat was used as body paint on brides, initiated young men (moran), and participants in ceremonies. Livestock blood was shared by participants during important ceremonies and is considered a source of life and energy. White is connected to the protective qualities. It is smeared around the eyes of people enduring trials of a moral or physical nature, as well as by diviners. Dark blue or black (both colors have the same names in Maa and often interchangeable) is the color associated with seniority and also God. Dark blue beads of a special kind on necklaces are worn for prayer by elders.

These principal colors, in particular black and red, also refer to certain Maasai social and religious values, such as the existence of a Red and a Black God and the two main clan divisions, the Red Ox and the Black Cow. It is possible that the combination of colors found on nearly all Maasai beadwork today which has become their signature is an evolution of the basic triad of red-white-blue, in which green takes the place of blue, and orange of red.

Glass beads on necklaces are strung onto thin commercial wire. The rows are linked with recycled plastic spacers, which were once made of cowhide. The Maasai women describe this work as the “coiling” of colors, which refers to the former coiling of iron wire directly around the neck of the wearer by a blacksmith. Today they still coil iron wire but not around the neck anymore, instead around the wrist. Each necklace has a distinct name, according to its specific pattern or color. All necklaces are worn in a precise order, according to size, color, and patterns. Smeared with a mixture of sheep fat and red ochre, they are worn for singing and dancing by young girls and young married women, whose rhythmic movements make them flap up and down. Earrings and bangles are also common jewelries for Maasai women. Their symbolic meaning is not as strongly implied as a necklace, but the color significance still applies.

We were ridiculously slow in this beadwork and we wouldn’t be any good bread winner doing this. A few of the Maasai ladies were a bit itched seeing how clumsy and uncoordinated we were, and you could see their impatient face as they were trying hard to restrain themselves from interfering the affair. The beads kept slipping from our hands, especially when the day got warmer and we started to sweat. When we finished our craftwork, the ladies closed the loop for us and gave the beaded bracelet to us as a farewell gift and reminded us that each color represents a value in life, therefore they wished us a safe journey and the brightest future like the colors of our bracelets.

11 am on Sunday morning we were on the road again. The drive back to the compound in Arusha was quiet and we were exploring our own mind trying to make sense of what we have gone through and learned in these past 24 hours.

It’s a hell of a weekend!!

P.S.: We had a stop en route for our picnic lunch. We were served box lunches and I had a taste of Billy from the whole leg piece that the villagers packed for Kitumusote staff. A couple bites were all I had for three reasons. First, you need a side dish to go with goat meat and there wasn’t any other than my tough sandwich bread. Second, there was no refrigeration in the village, so I figured two bites were the most I should take in case I didn’t get along well with Billy. Third, I grew to love Billy, and it wasn’t easy watching him go down that way.  <sigh!!!>

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