Our final boma stay was in the village of Eluwai, where our guide Musa lived. Unlike the other two sites, we put up our tents less than 50 feet from the Maasai huts. We were submersed within and surrounded by the daily tasks of the Maasai life. The goats and cows grazed alongside our tents, the children walked to school on the dirt road in front of us, and the elders drank tea in the shade of the acacia tree. The intimacy of this environment as well as the smaller size of the boma allowed us to connect more with the people and feel at home. I was continually amazed by how comfortable this environment became and how much I preferred it over the chaos of Arusha. The village emanated a sense of peace, tranquility, and relaxation that was felt by all.
A running joke among our group was that we were a blessing everywhere we went, for we brought the rain with us. It was the dry season in Tanzania, but it rained 10 of the days we were there, including 2 days in Eluwai. Unfortunately the rain and extremely muddy terrain prevented us from herding and milking the cows and goats with the warriors and mamas. Thankfully the rain held off the following day so we were able to conduct the orpul ceremony.
Orpul is a traditional strengthening ceremony that takes place in the bush, away from the bomas, and lasts around one month. During the orpul the Maasai eat large amounts of meat and drink a medicinal soup concocted from the roots of 99 medicinal plants and the innards of a goat or cow. The Maasai attend orpul at least once every year and particularly after a circumcision, a fractured bone, or the birth of twins. We were able to partake in a very abbreviated version of this ceremony.
The orpul begins with the suffocation and butchering of a goat. The organs were removed and used for the medicinal soup or roasted and consumed. The blood of the goat was collected in the abdominal cavity and drunk by the Maasai. Many of us chose to participate in this event as well and drank small portions of the blood from our guides hand. By no means were we forced or expected to do this. I chose to participate because I wanted to experience every aspect of the orpul in order to fully appreciate this tradition. The orpul ended with us eating the goat meat that was roasted over the fire and drinking the medicinal soup that was made. I appreciated the opportunity to witness and participate in this traditional Maasai ceremony. It was one of the most direct and involved cultural experiences we had on the trip.
After supper that evening the village members came to our campsite and led an esoto, traditional singing and dancing. The small Luther House was crammed with thirty or more people chanting and jumping to the beat. The mamas in the village gathered all the girls and gave us beaded collars to wear while we danced. We were expected to bend our knees and move our shoulders in a way to make the collar move up and down to the beat. The smiles on the mamas faces were contagious and filled me with great joy. I realized in this moment the power dance has to cross cultural divides and unify people. It was such a powerful moment and a great way to close out one of our last nights in the boma.
Education and Conversations
On our final day in Eluwai we visited a local preschool and secondary school. The preschool was held in a small church building and the only supplies they had were a large blackboard and some chalk. The 3 and 4 year old children walked by themselves quite a distance to attend school each morning. At the secondary school we talked with the form 4 students and asked them about why an education is important to them. Their answers were telling and exemplified their great appreciation for the gift to attend school, as almost all were first generation students. Visiting the schools and learning about the poor quality of education in Tanzania made me so grateful for the quality education I have received and encouraged me to appreciate and take full advantage of all the opportunities Luther College provides.
We met with the women of the village after lunch and engaged in conversations with them about the life of a woman in the Maasai culture. We learned about their roles, daily tasks, marriage expectations, as well as the changes to women’s expectations that are taking place, especially as a result of increased education. The women in turn asked us questions about the roles of American women, the marriage process, and family sizes. It was interesting to see that they knew as little about us as we knew about them. Through this conversation we were able educate each other on our own cultures.
The most important lesson I learned from the Maasai
Our time in Tanzania was filled with countless lessons and experiences that will shape our lives at home. I learned to slow down and take time to value and appreciate the simple things in life such as my family and friends. The Maasai people have very few materialistic items, but they are some of the happiest people I have met. They were not consumed by Facebook, keeping up with the latest trends, and having the newest iPhone. Their life was simple and revolved around their family. As I dive back into the chaos of spring semester and the stress of school, I hope my memories of Tanzania will remind me to take time and appreciate all the simple things in life that make me happy.