WOMEN ARE THE BUILDERS IN MY VILLAGE - My Safari trip Discovering the Maasai Clan in South West Kenya

Stelz
Posted August 3, 2016 from Ethiopia
Were are the women..... At the Maasai Mara Village - South Kenya
With the Maasai Men
With the Maasai Men (1/4)

“Madam you ask too many questions!” He smiled and we laugh together. “You know, this has been our culture and practice for many centuries and we are fine with it.”

It is a beautiful day in the Maasai village. After 7 hours of driving, on what I consider to be one of the bumpiest road from Nairobi- Kenya, we finally arrived the Village of the Maasai people. We met with our guide for the day and he walked us to meet his community members. We are greeted by the son of the village chief (head of the community) and he asked us to pay an entrance fee of $50. I will later learn that this money will aid in the local school development.

Suddenly a group of young men dressed in bright red checker clothing arrived from within. We greeted each other and are told they are here to welcome us in the Maasai way with some tribal dancing, singing and jumping. We are told that whoever jumps the highest gets ‘the girl’ and pays less in dowry price i.e. 6 cows instead of 10.

“Interesting…” I say to myself.

It is beautiful music and very interesting dancing so I joined in and so does my husband. We learnt that the reason they are always dressed in red wraps is in order to scare the animals such as angry baboons etc.

The son of the chief handed us over to one of the sons of the soil who then take us into his parents hut. We all sat down to have a chat, there was hardly any space in this little hut and the only light is through a very tiny hole in the wall. I continue to gaze around and there was his mother sitting in a corner all colourfully dressed in traditional beads and clothing. At the centre of what is supposed to be the living room is a fire place I sat next to his mother.

Without much ado I broke the silence, “wow… Cosy hut!” I said with a smile. “Did you construct this for the family?” I asked the son.

“No,” he responded “my mum did.” He goes on “…you know, women are the builders in my village.”

My jaws sinks into my face, “really,” I reacted “so what do the men do?”

He carries on, “we the men are out guarding the village from the animals… you know we live in the wild if we do not protect the village from the wild animals then we will have no village.”

“How long does it take to construct a family house like this one?”

“It takes a woman 3 months” he replied.

Hmmmm I murmured.

He continues “I know,” he said “inside is not very spacious but it is manageable. There are 3 rooms as you can see,”

I am saying to myself “do you mean 3 sections? Oh well” I let him speak, “ rooms are for the mum and dad, 3 kids under 10 years and the next room is for the goat and sheep that we use for milking.”

The beds are elevated mud bricks with cow skin and when a child reaches the age of 10 years old, he/she moves out to live with the grandparents. The materials for constructing the houses are made of sticks, cow dung and mud and can only last for 10 years as termites starts to infest so mother must start again.

“Poor woman” I said to myself.

“So what is the stable food of the maasai people?” I asked.

“The Massai people cannot grow their own food because the animals will graze on it. Our main occupation is looking after our animals. We drink the milk and blood from the cows, sheep and goats. We do eat porridge and maize too but we have to trade our meat for these and others things that we don’t have.”

“What about the life of a young maasai boy and girl?” I asked.

“When a boy reaches the age of 15, about 40 of them from different Maasai villages go to live in the jungle for 5 YEARS! There, they learn the art to be strong and tough,” he answers.

“Do you have any clinics or hospitals?”

Hmmm, he smiles and said “No. Whilst in the jungle these are some of the things that we learn. We study different plants and their medicinal values which we use for treatment.”

“So how do the women give birth?” When we return from the jungle he continues, we teach the traditional birth attendants these medicines and equipment to use when women are giving birth.”

Whoa I am in complete dismay. Then I pop the next question. “Do you get circumcised?”

He laughed “that is just before we go to the jungle. You know,” he carries on, “the main reason, we as young men go to live in the wild is to become a ‘man’ after 5 years in the jungle one must kill a lion and return with the head to hang in one’s hut you are then respected in the community as a full grown man and ready to take a wife.”

Then, next to what is of most interest to me, “where are the women? I can hardly see any of them around” I asked.

“They are all outside behind the huts in the market. When we go out you can see them.”

“Can I also ask them some questions?” I hoped.

“No,” he replied, “I am your guide for today and you can ask me any questions. Besides,” he said “the women can hardly speak any English so you will struggle.”

I immediately know he doesn’t want me to question the women.

Chauvinist, eh? I murmured inside me.

So I asked, “So what about the school, then?

He smiled, “not everyone goes to school.”

“Do the girls go to school?”

“Yes. The Maasai culture is changing and slowly some girls are beginning to go to school.” He said

“Ok, so when do the girls get married?” I wondered.

“Very often, as soon as they become a woman they are ready.” He replied

I smiled and said, “I am going to ask you a very female question since you say that I can ask you anything. When the girls see their menstrual period what do they use?”

“Traditionally, they have things that they use,”

Like what?

“They use, reusable pieces of cloth and we have medicine that we give them for pains.”

With very little water in this jungle as it is the dry season I am saying to myself, “they wash with which water?”

Women and their trouble… God save us!

“One last question,” I said before we leave the hut. “Do the community still practice FGM?”

“What is that?” He asked.

“Do you do female circumcision? I said.

“Madam you ask too many questions!” He smiled and we laugh together. “You know, this has been our culture and practice for many centuries and we are fine with it.”

I try preaching the doctrine of the ills of FGM but looks like it was falling on deaf ears and he quickly changed the topic by saying, “let’s go out and see the women in the market so that they can sing for you guys!”

We quickly got out from the hut and walked to the market. There, the women were busy selling all handmade jewellery, craftwork and village delicacies. The kids were playing around. Our guide introduced us and again we had a beautiful welcome song from the ladies. They all looked happy we took some photographs bated each other goodbye and it was time to heard back to our camp. I slept in my tent my mind wondering about all the things I have seen and heard that afternoon and I knew that it will be a long journey back to Nairobi.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 13

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Drew Dakessian
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Hi Stelz,

This was such a beautifully written story! Your narrative voice is really appealing and obviously this subject matter is both fascinating and significant. I do think it's important to try to bear in mind that the practices of other cultures can sometimes seem odd and even wrong to us because we come from different backgrounds and therefore view the world through different eyes. 

Stelz
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Thanks MissQuoted for your comments. I agree with you there are lot of cultural differences out there in the world that we must recognise. Cheers

Julie Collura
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Stelz,

Thank you for sharing your story. I have visited Kenya, but have yet to see the Maasai Mara. It is a goal of mine.

Best wishes,

Julie

Stelz
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

You're welcome Julie. The Massai mara is such a great spot and I must recommend anyone who has the chance to visit. Very aunthentic with such natural beauty in the wildernesse that one only see in the Discovery channel I suppose.

cheers

Tan Ching
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Yours have the pictures and video clip from youtube, thanks for sharing your story.  I like the graphics accompanied with your typed out detailed story.

Stelz
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Thanks PohChing glad you enjoyed reading my write-up on the Massai Mara

Tan Ching
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Great to read it.

Courtney Randolph
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

This was very eye opening. I have a passion for creating awareness around sustainable menstruation solutions in places like this but I have never known where to start. I started a campaign on my birthday last year but it went nowhere. I cant wait to travel to Africa to see things for myself as you have done. Did you use a tour company?

Stelz
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Hello Pynk thanks for your comments. I can assure you that travelling can be very educative whenever we travel we are bound to find and learn new cultures. The Massai mara is an authentic clan. They are worth visiting.

Menstruation is one thing that we all care about as women and creating an awareness around sustainable solutions will be great. You just have to keep trying. l used a tour company. Most hotels in Nairobi can arrange this for you. cheers

Heather Ley
Aug 12, 2016
Aug 12, 2016

Dear Stelz,

Thank you for sharing your experience. Not only were you able to engage in a positive intercultural dialogue, you are also now sharing it with many of us. It lets the intercultural communication and understanding continue!

It is a beautiful thing that you and the "guide" were able to partake in a conversation that could be forward and honest. You were a true listener and inquisitive. You enlightened us about another culture through your own piece. I also think it was a beautiful thing that you could challenge and question practices without causing him any offense and knew when to accept his answer. They may practice FGM now or other worrisome feminine hygiene practices. But as the "guide" mentioned "the Maasai culture is changing and slowly some girls are beginning to go to school," I hope this will also come to include other future changes. Positive changes that allow their important culture and traditions to continue to thrive while simultaneously promoting the health and well-being of all of those within the clan!

Stelz
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Thank you Heather for your great comments.

Caillou
Nov 14, 2016
Nov 14, 2016

Stelz,

This is a fascinating and eye-opening experience. I praise you for your boldness and outright curiosity. Your questions enabled one to get an insight of the Massai cultural practices. 

There were certain aspects of the Massai culture that caught my interest. The empowering spirit of the women who constructed their own homes. This puzzled me because I come from  a West-central African countrywhere typically men are engaged in construction activities, even in our villages or mine to be precise. 

Once again my scope broaden when i visited Ethiopia. I was surprised to see women in construction sites wearing safety helmets, trousers and boots actively involved in constructing houses not selling food to builders like what happens in my home country. In my country this is typically a man's job as construction is considered manual and energy-intensive. Another point of interest in Ethiopia was the aspect of women cleaning the streets and the handling trash publicly. I was amazed when I witnessed this because of the stereotypes I had about the different tasks men and women carry out  due to my primary environment. 

Traveling makes a difference, broadens our scope of reasoning and changes the stereotypes we hold on to. 

I am hopeful of the positive changes still to happen in the Massai clan. What bothers me most in this Massai issuei isthe aspect of menstraul hygiene. I could imagine the kind of reusable pieces of cloths the women use and how they are being kept.  Considering the scarcity of water in the village which puts the women at risk of contracting diseases and increasing their mortality rates. 

I appeal your humanitarian efforts by making provisions for the distribution of sanitary pads. Also educating both the women and men folk on the benefits of using sanitary pads and the devastating consequences of using re-usable pieces of cloths in a water-scarced region.

Though the aspect of sustaining the provision of free sanitary pads remains a question, I believe little baby steps could create an impact and open avenues of greater support in the future.

Cheers,

Caillou

Malee
Mar 25, 2017
Mar 25, 2017

Wow Stelz your interaction with that man says a lot. It irritates me that he wouldn't allow you to question the women (even though very obviously he could have interpreted for you) ... and then he side stepped your FGM question like he's a paid politician! I still think that it is amazing what you are doing. You seem to get around your area of the world a lot and reach out to the people there. This is very encouraging to see! The world needs more people like you !