Maasailand and other experiences

Monday, January 12 - Tuesday, January 13

For four days we have been treking across scenic lands of the Maasai. The views have been breath-taking and changing constantly from the rocky and canyon-like Great Rift Valley to the lush and green vegetation of Maasailand. We all agree that this part of our program has allowed us to unplug and disconnect from the distractions of technology and social media.

Our experience in Maasailand has really allowed us to identify and discuss some of the major forces causing the culture change of the Maasai. It has been liberating and relaxing to be able to sit down and take in your surroundings with the only distractions of swatting an occasional mosquito and conversing about our experiences with the people in front of us.

We have completed our first boma stay at Mbgarangati boma. Our time there has allowed us to see first hand and gain insight into what forces have been driving this culture change. One force in particular is the adoption of Christianity. Mbgarangati boma is unique compared to other bomas due to its size of 200 people; the majority being Christian.

Sunday morning and afternoon we spent five and a half hours in a Maasai church service. The service was spoken mostly in Maa, but the sermon was translated for us. We were all amazed by the energy and power the Maasai choir exuded with their rythmical stomping and dancing.

Before the church service I was curious to learn and see how Christianity would fit within Maasai culture. Even after the service I still felt that my questions were not fully answered. However, later that night we were able to sit down with the elder of the boma. Through our discussion he articulate that while the adoption of Christianity has led the Maasai to shift away from their traditional religious practices, it has provided the Maasai with a source of hope and strength to turn to when faced with difficult times.

In a sense, Christianity for the Maasai has been able to enhance and strengthen their traditional religious and cultural beliefs because they have been able to make connections between their traditions and what is written in the bible.

The following morning we packed up camp and headed for our next destination, Oldoniyo Leng'ai Mountain. It had rained the night before leaving the road particularly muddy in some places. One of our vehicles got stuck in the mud, but after some skillful manuevering of our drivers we were out in no time.

We arrived in the late afternoon and had some time to unpack and settle in before the next day's activities. In the morning, local Maasai guides led us on a short hike to the base of Oldoniyo Leng'ai where we participated in a traditional religious Maasai ritual. Along the way we joined in on a ceremonial call and response. Reaching the base of the mountain we were arranged in a circle as the local Maasai guides continued to walk around us singing in Maa and sprinkling us with water and milk from ceremonial kalabashes (containers made from hollow gourds). We were instructed to take with us blades of grass that had been blessed with the water and milk to give us good luck and success.

Afterwards, it was explained that this ceremonial practice is the end to a larger pilgrimage that happens once a year. Maasai from all over walk from their home bomas to Oldoniyo Leng'ai. They come to honor and praise their black god asking for his blessing. When the Maasai depart from the mountain they believe all their bad luck will be left behind.

Only a small percentage of Maasai have actually adopted Christianity leaving the majority of Maasai to still hold true to their traditional religious beliefs. This has led to a divide between the Maasai, and even though it is not a hostile divide each side believes the other to be in the wrong.

Later that afternoon our local guide led us on a hike. After forty minutes of criss-crossing the river and climbing the rocky sides of the gorge, we arrived at a series of waterfalls and rushing water. We spent some time walking through the falls and swimming in the swirling water. As we stood in the water gazing up at the rising mountain sides and green overhanging trees, we were all greatful and astounded to have a chance to be in Tanzania experiencing the beauty and uniqueness of Maasailand.

Thursday, January 15- Saturday, January 17

We have arrived in Karatu, a small town just outside of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Although we left at six in the morning, we were driving through the crater all day. We saw tons of zebras and wildebeasts along with a few elephants, a mother lion and her two cubs, and at a very far distance a white and black rhino.

In the afternoon our local guide, Killing'ot, lectured to us on conservation and the tension between the establishment of national parks and the local Maasai people. Before the establishment of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maasai people lived within the crater, but now they have been moved to outside the crater and are not allowed to graze their cattle within the crater.

Many Maasai tribes have been forced to leave their ancestral home lands due to conservation. Recently in November of 2014, the Tanzanian government was accused of backtracking on a deal to not sell Maasai land near the Serengeti national park.

Initially, the deal was to evict 40,000 Maasai pastoralists to turn their land into a big game reserve for the royal family of Dubai. Earlier last year the Maasai were told the government had backed down on the deal, but now the Maasai feel betrayed and the security of their lands in uncertain.*

This is a major source of tension and conflict for Tanzania. We have learned so much about the situation the Maasai are currently in with regards to conservation, but unfortunately solutions are hard to come by and in some cases seemingly non-existent.

The following day, we left Karatu and headed for Esarunoto Emaa preschool. We were able to sit in on the class and watch as the kids sang songs with their teacher in both Maa and Swahili. On the walls hung many hand drawn posters of numbers and English words.

From the beginning, the goal of the preschool has been to give a good base of education to young Maasai children in order for them to suceed in primary school. We were able to speak with the teachers and leaders of the school board.

They all spoke proudly of their work and the progress that has been made. Already, they have seem improvements within the education of their children. Now more than ever, young Maasai children are ready and prepared to enter into primary schooling.

We presented the teachers with the funds we had raised along with other school supplies and soccer balls for the children. We spent the afternoon playing with the children outside, kicking around a soccer ball and giving infinite high fives. Despite the language barrier, we were able to make so many memories and connection that will be impossible to forget.

*The Guardian, Sunday, 16 November 2014

The group at our tented campsite