What was I getting into?
Over this past summer I spent a month living in a Maasai village in Tanzania as a photographer for a local non profit organization. Little did I know that month would be a life changing experience for me. As I was preparing to go to Africa, I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had seen pictures and watched documentaries of Africa, but there really is no way of preparing yourself for an experience like that. I have lived in Japan and Korea for years growing up, so I have been exposed to other cultures, but Africa has a magical vibe to it when you think about the origins of humanity and all of the animals that are there.
The village I for the majority of my time was outside of the city of Arusha. We drove about 40 minutes on dirt roads that get washed out during the rainy season until we came to a clearing where the road forked in two directions. There was a perimeter wall made out of thatched leaves that had bushes planted serving as an extra layer of cushion around the wall. I was shown to my tent and I dropped off my stuff, took my camera and went exploring the area with some of the owners that visit the area regularly.
Along the trails children were tending to livestock. When they saw us, they would call to each other and let them know that the "mzungus" were here. Mzungu is a Swahili slang used in reference to white people. It basically translates to "someone who wanders without purpose". I was told that it originated from when the Europeans first came to Africa and they didn't know there way around and would get lost, so they just wandered around in circles trying to navigate the land. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but it makes for a funny story. Anyways, the children started coming out of their homes to see us, but they always stayed their distance from us for the first few days.
On our second day there, we were invited to a celebration. We were told that tribes from all over the area were coming to celebrate the circumcision of a group of boys in the local tribes. This ceremony is a special time for these young men because it is a rite of passage for them to become seen as Maasai Warriors in their community.
The Maasai are known for their dancing. The men gather in a circle and test their strength and stamina against each other by jumping as high as they can. This can be a friendly competition but it can also be done to impress the women that are also circled around the group watching the dancing going on. During this time everyone is singing and dancing while the two men in the middle square off against each other.
This was one of the first times that I realized that I was not only in Africa, but I was immersed in the culture. It was amazing to be in the middle of this celebration and be surrounded by hundreds of people dancing and having a great time.
I don't know how long we stayed there for the celebration, but I know that after we left, the party kept going well into the next morning. I was told that the boys that were going to be circumcised were not allowed to sleep for a few days prior to the event because they needed to be totally exhausted when it happens, so that it is less painful for them. In their culture, if they flinch or show pain during the procedure, they can be ridiculed by their community and seen as less of a man.
I don't normally sleep very good here at home, even though I have a nice comfortable bed. But something about sleeping out in Africa is so peaceful and I got the most amazing sleep, even though I was sleeping on the ground with a thin sleeping mat. It could also be that I was out in the sun for the majority of the day and working almost 16 hours a day.
We had the opportunity to tour a "boma" or a traditional Maasai family dwelling. We got to meet the family and spend some time learning about how they build their homes and how they cook.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope that you enjoyed reading about my time with the Maasai. They are such amazing people.