Maasai Culture(part 1)

Hujambo!  Greetings!  I have survived week 1 here in Tanzania!  There is so much to write about!  Internet service is really quite poor and very slow, so it is teaching me about great patience. I truly want to give you a flavor of what I am experiencing here.  It was very nice to see my host family again, the same one I had four years ago.  They are well off by Tanzanian standards, so I am living in relative comfort on the weekends, in Arusha.

On Monday, I met at the Global Service Corps office to meet the other trainer staff.  They would be going to the rural Maasai village; it is about two hours drive north of Arusha, close to the Kenya border.  There are 9 African men and myself working in the little town of Longido.  This little village is all dust and dirt ground everywhere.  There are no roads or sidewalks, mud shacks for houses, and no water.  As we are just south of the equator, it is the winter season here in Tanzania which means it is very dry.  We are also up in the mountain region, so it tends to be cloudy and cool each morning when I awake. By late morning and afternoon, however, the sun is out very bright and it gets very warm, probably in the upper 70’s and low 80’s.  Then, in the evening, it cools down again.  By the way, because of the equator, we get 12 hrs of sunshine and 12 hrs of darkness, so it gets dark here around 6:30pm.  Remember, there is no electricity and street light so it is very dark.  I am totally amazed at how well these Africans can see at night in the total darkness without tripping or falling!  I use my torch (their term for flashlight) every night as we walk back from the restaurant around 8pm.

Our work is at a real Maasai tribe village about 10 km north of here called Kimokouwa village.  The Maasai are very much interested in education and improving their life.  They live in true, abject poverty and a very harsh life.  We have about 50 women who came the first day for training and they were broken up into 3 groups- 1/3 for HIV and nutrition (my work), 1/3 learning about bio-intensive agriculture (meaning learning to make compost piles and natural fertilizers), and 1/3 learning about chicken vaccinations.  Many of these women have walked over two hours to get to the village complex building where the training is being held.  In case you don’t know about the Maasai tribe, they are an indigenous tribe of Tanzania from thousands of years ago.  There are 120 tribes in Tanzania and the Maasai are the smallest, most “unusual” if you will.  Because Tanzania has fought to eliminate “tribalism”, this is the reason why Tanzania is such a stable and safe country. Contrastingly,  other African nations are constantly fighting due to tribalism.  In TZ, all tribes unite and live peacefully.

The Maasai are the ones that shave their heads, both men and women, so all women have shaved heads.  They are the ones who stretch their ear lobes and totally mutilate their ears with huge earrings and lots of necklaces around the neck, wrists and ankles.  They make beautiful beadwork, but their ears are hideous.  They wear simple colorful kanga wraps only sandals. They wear no underwear, no bras; don’t use handkerchiefs, no toilet paper, no paper towels, and no baby diapers, so you get the drift!!  They are extremely poor.  One thing I did not know is that the Maasai have their own language, which is different from Swahili.  So in training, when I spoke in English, one trainer translated my words to Swahili, and the second trainer translated the Swahili into Maasai language!  For example, “hello” in Swahili is ‘Hujambo’, but in Maasai, it is ‘Endakwenya’.  The Maasai are illiterate too, as they do not know how to read or write either.  Fortunately, there is now a primary school in the village where many of the children are getting some education.

John K.

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