Shortly after, the bus would lose a wheel and we would have to stop in the middle of the Savannah for almost three hours until a mechanic arrived. How old was she? There is no way for us to guess right the age of people in Africa. One day they are kids, and the next month they are adults; then, after having children they age very fast.
Maasai life, Kenya
During my stay in Kenya I was able to know more about how the Maasai life was. Going from Nairobi to Maasai Mara by public transportation was a great experience by itself. After two whole days of safari in the National Park, I stayed four more days just to walk around and engage with normal Maasai people out of the tourist circuit. Just walking around the countryside, getting close to Maasai villages and talking with people of the tribe, I got to learn some good and some bad things related to mass tourism, Maasai traditions and culture. With this photographic documentary I try to share some of them.
I had only been in Kenya for three days and I was excited about all the new things around me. I went from Nairobi to Maasai Mara by public transportation, and on this old bus I sat next to this Maasai woman. I spent about half an hour “talking” with her, and people asked me what we were talking about if we did not share a common language. Well, you speak with gestures and using your imagination. The fact is that she talked to me without stopping, and I listened to her with attention without understanding a single word. Only trying to get to know her name took five minutes, and I got it wrong. Some hours later I asked the bus conductor to act as interpreter between both of us. The woman said that she liked me because I looked like a cheerful person happy to be there, and I had been very educated by listening to her, so she thought I was a good person. I asked her if she liked to be photographed and she said no because she thought the flash was bad for health, like X-rays. I asked her if I could take a photo without using the flash and she agreed while laughing non-stop, shy, and asking why I wanted to take a photo of an old woman like her. I took the photo with the bus in motion. Shortly after, the bus would lose a wheel and we would have to stop in the middle of the Savannah for almost three hours until a mechanic arrived. How old was she? There is no way for us to guess right the age of people in Africa. One day they are kids, and the next month they are adults; then, after having children they age very fast. I saw this man under the “Mrefu Cafe” sign during a short stop to fix a punched tire on my way to Maasai Mara At the entrance of a Maasai village a truck with vegetables stopped and some Maasai women were buying some avocados In that village I saw the first Maasai children of the many I would see during the next days There I met Alex, the guy to the right, who took me to his house were he lived with his old father, mother and 2 brothers. He somehow pushed me to buy a Maasai blanked like the ones they are wearing, I paid $10 USD, which is a lot of money in this area Alex father was very old and had a lot of children (I remember 17). When Alex sold me the Maasai blanket, the father was the one who took the money. Maasai are very patriarchal I was walking through the countryside with Alex, when I saw three Maasai women carrying water jars with the help of their heads. We approached them and I asked my companion to explain the women why it was so interesting for me to see them doing that, as in my country nothing similar exists. They laugh a lot about it, and I guess they understood my sincere curiosity and interest in taking a photo of them, so they agreed. I took the photo of her while her friend giggled and looked away, probably thinking they were not doing anything special carrying those 5 gallons jars of water for a few miles to their village every day, feeling just like ordinary women doing a task that all women do there. Obviously I had a completely different perception of the event. Different cultures, different perceptions. Probably they would perceive expending $2000 in a camera as the most crazy thing ever. She was also carrying water A kid works as shepherd, taking care of his goats A Maasai girl I met along the way with other kids In one big Maasai village, obviously dedicated to grab money from tourists, a lot of Maasai guys tried to make me pay money to visit their houses. Instead of that, I went around and found this other young man playing cards This is the entrance of the village where they tried to get my money but, after much talking, they understood I was not looking for the touristic show. One of them told me: “give me your camera and I will take a photo of all of us”. I agreed. A few hours later, I would meet again the guy who has his arm over me, and I would invite him to drink tea and eat something Maasai warriors sometimes have this kind of hairstyle Alex waited for me in Sekenani town for some hours while I visited the school. He had accompanied me the whole way (because he wanted to), but he was expecting me to give him money on top of the Maasai blanket I had already bought. Foreigners means money. When he saw me again after my visit to the school, he would not leave me go again until he got his money On the way back it started raining a lot, so Alex and I got into a Maasai bar. There we met another 2 Maasai I had met hours before and had been very nice to me, so I invited all of them to have tea and eat something. Also because Alex didn’t eat anything in the whole day while he was waiting for me. In the bar they had not seen a foreigner ever, and the around 20 Maasai that were inside there were amazed by my presence, just looking at me and talking among them, laughing like crazy. Good times. The next day I went again to the village of one of the guys I had invited for tea. He talked with the chief of the village and allowed me to visit it without having to pay, just as a friend. They showed me one of their houses inside. Women were cooking something This Maasai old woman was sitting at the entrance of the house A few hours later I saw her again outside the village, getting ready to cut some wood Walking outside the village with my new Maasai friends, we saw some women waiting their turn to fill jars with water. One of the Maasai who was with me asked permission to use my camera and I gave it to him. He took this photo (probably I would not have been allowed to take it, but he knew the women…) This Maasai woman was breastfeeding her son when I arrive to her little village, and I did not feel too comfortable taking a picture of her in that private moment (at least, private from the point of view of a Westerner). She was with another Maasai woman who also carried her baby, so I stayed with her for a while talking about the jewelry she was wearing, waiting for the woman in the photo to finish breastfeeding the baby. Then I approached her and took a couple of photos. Maasai women do not usually allow people to take photos of them, at least not without asking for money in exchange. I guess they thought I was a funny or nice foreigner, or more likely they thought I was going to buy them some jewelry later (Maasai often make this kind of colorful jewelry to sell it to tourists). The case is that they did not ask for anything in exchange. The Maasai warriors are seen in the West in fond or romantic way. We’ve all seen their awesome photos on National Geographic, jumping with their spears in the endless Savannah. But what do we know about the Maasai women? It is hard to imagine that they still practice female genital mutilation to the women of their tribe. The Maasai tribe is sexist to the extreme: it is common for men to beat their wives, who are said to be of less value than the cattle they own; women have no say in tribal or family decisions; women contract marriages and have children at a very young age and not by their own decision: they are said with whom they have to marry. How wrong are sometimes our stereotypes? By the way, many of these Maasai I am talking about are Christian, which would open a new discussion about all those stereotypes about how Muslim treat their women. I met this young Maasai women in Sekenani village. He was very beautiful, happy, perfect skin, nice smile… A pity that we couldn’t communicate The next day I paid a Maasai to take me to a village supposed to be very nice and outside of the touristic circle He was the rider who took me there. He was using a stick to clean is teeth, the way Maasai use to do it Mpopongi Maasai village, Kenya. This post is aimed to cause controversy. I arrived to this village after a long motorbike ride with a Maasai I paid after another foreigner told me about this nice and small village out of the tourist circuit. Once there, I was invited to have a cup of “chai” (milk tea) in the house of the Maasai family of the woman in the photo. The main room was covered by the smoke of the wood on fire and it was difficult to breath inside, so we stayed at the doorway drinking a cup of tea that I didn’t even finish Sitting there at the doorstep I took this photo, with the warm colour sunlight entering the house and lighting up her face. The walls of the house were covered by hundreds of bugs of all kinds, no joke. It was difficult to believe that people could live there. Hours after I asked another Maasai about it and he confessed that in some villages they could have meanings to improve their living standards but they keep houses like that because it is the only way to attract tourists. The husband of this woman was “rich”, as he had a Toyota pickup, a lot of cattle and a good brick house in the nearby town of Sekenani (I was told later by a friend who knew him well, and I saw the Toyota pickup but never imagined was his) After the tea and the short conversation I gave him the equivalent to $2.5 USD, which is more than what a regular Kenyan gets in a full day of work. The man looked at me in a bad way, turned around and went away. Didn’t even say thanks. Lessons learned here: 1, I took photos of the woman but had to give money to the man. 2, because of mass tourism arriving to places and throwing lots of money in exchange of just a show, cultures get perverted and people greedy. 3, people arrive to Africa and start giving big amounts of money (in African standards) to people who not always need it, like in this case, in part because we have the stereotype that all Africans are poor and need aid. That can be very wrong too, as aid not well directed can have harmful consequences to the lifestyles and expectations of people. Maasai shepherd taking care of the cattle Leaving Maasai Mara. Woman carrying a lot of Maasai jewelry This Maasai man wanted to try my sunglasses. Of course, he asked me to give him the sunglasses… they always ask, why not? I met his Maasai pretty woman months later in Lamu, while working with Afrikable, an NGO helping women in risk of social exclusion