Home, but missing Tanzania.
I have been home for almost a week now and I have spent a great amount of time reflecting on my time in Tanzania. I have learned so much about Tanzania, the Maasai, and the great tension that exists between the Maasai and the conservation efforts. Living near or within the Maasai boma (a group of huts surrounded by a livestock kraal) provided the opportunity to interact and engage in conversation with the local Maasai. Through conversation with these people as well as our three local guides, I gained a first-hand experience about the life of the Maasai and the challenges they face to preserve their culture. Since being home I have found it difficult to put into words all that I learned and how this experience has changed me.
I apologize for the lack of updates throughout the trip, as we were without internet for the last two weeks of our trip, but would like to share with you now some of the highlights from our weeks in Maasailand.
We met our three guides in Arusha and I remember being shocked by our guide Leboy’s shuka. It was the first time I had seen a distinguishable Maasai and it was a bit exciting. Reflecting back on this moment is quite comical now as we too dressed in Maasai shukas and were surrounded for two weeks by the Maasai. It is interesting to think how this once foreign image became so familiar.
Our first of three boma stays was spent in the very arid village of Mbarangati. Throughout our time in Mbarangati we began our conversation with our Maasai guides (Killing’ot, Leboy, and Musa) about the challenges the Maasai are facing as well as the conservation efforts that are taking place. We learned about the challenges of the WMAs and how their intentions of providing the opportunity for wildlife conservation efforts to coexist with the Maasai habitation are good in theory, in practice they are not successful because of great corruption that exists within the government.
One of my favorite moments in Mbarangati as well as the entire trip was attending church on Sunday. While the service was conducted entirely in Maa, it was interesting to see how similar a Maasai Lutheran service was conducted to the First Lutheran Church I attend at home. The church choir was amazing and filled the church with a great sense of spirituality. They sang and danced with such passion and joy, it placed a large smile on my face and made me dance along in my pew. I was amazed by the power of the choir and their ability to help me connect to God. Christianity has greatly impacted the Maasai in Mbarangati and provided them with a sense of hope. Elias, an elder in the boma across from our campsite, told us during a conversation one night that Christianity has provided another avenue of thought for the Maasai, beyond their constant concern for the wellbeing of their livestock. The opportunity to attend church was the first time I had recognized that despite the great differences that I had thought existed between me and the Maasai, there were really not that great of a difference between my life and theirs.
Sunday afternoon we travelled to Ketumbeine to visit the Napok Women’s Development Project that was established by a woman from Minnesota. Maasai women had approached Bethany, the director of this project, to help them establish an outlet for their beadwork so that they could raise money to send their children to school. At the bead project we met the mamas who invited us to dance with them. We circled around them, jumped around, and shook our shoulders to the beat of their chanting. Each of our faces were filled with giant smiles as we engaged in the cultural experience of Maasai dancing.
Our time in Mbarangati introduced us to the Maasai and the life within a boma. We stayed in the old church across from Elias’s boma. While we interacted with the Maasai in this boma, they were infrequent and brief. Our next boma stay would be much more intimate so the gradual exposure was appreciated.