Saturday, November 11, 2006

Africa Revisited..........

Ah and here we are again. This blogging every day thing is really getting hard. Derek came home from New York today. This should be the last big, long travel by him for a while. Thank goodness. I am not cut out to do this on my own.

I am going to do one more Africa post and I PROMISE that I will post the charities. I need to do it justice, and in order to do that, I need to have more than 3 minutes in a row to write it........

During one of the days at the camp, we went to the local Maasai village. Everyone that has been to Kenya or Tanzania has done this, but it was still cool. The Maasai are very interesting. They are a tribe that is at odds with the modern world. The are the one tribe in Kenya that have resisted change. They still wear the traditional red cape, their children don't stay in school long and they are always running into trouble with the Kenyan Wildlife Protection Agency for killing lions. In order for a boy to become a man, he must kill a lion all by himself. They carve out a club, about as long as your arm with a bulb on the end to do this with. Killing lions is illegal so that is a problem. The Maasai claim that since they have been forbidden to kill the lions, the lions have gotten bold. They now put doors on their houses for the first time in their history. A few months before we visited, a lion had entered the village and gone into a house and killed a child. Only one house in this village had a door. The hut of the chief.

The Maasai still hold onto the old traditions of wife sharing, FGM and other things that a modern society doesn't approve of. One of their main food sources is cow's blood mixed with milk. They believe that all cows on the earth belong to them, the owners of the cows tend to disagree............. this is just one example of how their ways are at direct odds with the way the rest of the world works. Because they are so unchanged, they now have a booming business in the tourist trade. They used to not allow anyone to take their picture (they are the ones that thought it would steal their soul) but now they will allow you to come to their camp and ask anything you want, take all the pictures you want and generally have the run of the place (you can even stay overnight if you want) for the price of 10-20$ per person. Then they make you go to their little market and buy stuff from them. The fun is in the process and the bickering. Ironically, with all the money that they get, they still are very poor and have the lowest rate of school attendance and the highest child mortality rate and HIV contract rate. It is very difficult to go against tribal culture. There are lots of tribes in Kenya, but a few major ones. I have friends from some of the other tribes and while they retain much of their ancient custom, they have basically assimilated into modern life. The Maasai are unique that way.

If you look closely, the short guy, the second from the right,
is holding a lion club in his hand. He is wearing all maroon.
You can see the rounded part of the club on the left of his hand.
Now, go kill a lion.

When you first arrive at the village, the young warriors come out to meet you. They do a traditional dance and have a jumping contest. The young men wear wigs that have long braids down the back and always have lots of beads and jewelry on (the colorful beads that you see are traditional Maasai beadwork). They also have little tin disks attached to their jewelry that make a little tinkling sound when they move. This little girl was peeking from her dads legs, but you can see the beads and disks.

When they dance, the make a very low, guttural and clicking sound in rhythm together. The day we were there, the other white man in the village was filming the warriors. He kept stealing my good vantage points to take pictures from. After talking to him for a few minutes we found out that he was with Steve Irwin's company, filming something for one of his projects. He graciously allowed me to get the good vantage points for the rest of the dance. Nice guy. He also gave us tips on how to haggle and how to not feel too intimidated.

After the men finished the dance, they did the jumping contest. It was CRAZY how high they can jump. The Maasai are tall and angular anyway, but the jumping was pretty amazing. The little boys stood in a group behind the big boys and had a similar contest. These tiny boys could jump much higher than I can. It was sweet to see them copying the big boys.

Look ma, no pants!!

The kids also had seen enough Mozungu (white people) that they knew what to ask for. "Give me some candy!" "Give me some money" "A quid, a quid" (that is the slang term for a British pound coin). Little stinkers. They did the things that all kids do. They were playing and arguing with each other, teasing the dogs and crying a lot. Most of the big kids had a baby that they were wearing. They all had distended bellies (not enough food) and flies in their eyes and faces that they didn't bother to swat away. We asked them to sing a song for us and they sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes". It was funny to see them doing the actions with their naked little bums. It was like bizzaro Primary.

They offered to take pictures of us (for a very small fee.....).

After the boys did the dance, tried to get us to trade them our watches and played with our cameras; the women came out to sing. It was beautiful to see them, but also very sad. Life is hard for these women. They do all the work, and I do mean ALL the work. They herd the animals, they build the houses, they have babies every year. The death rate among women is very high. I can see why. You would think that the guys who are trying to club a lion to death at the age of 14 would have a higher death rate, but that isn't the way it is. All the women had children hanging on their skirts and most of them were pregnant. I was struck by how beautiful they were and how vibrant the colors that they wore looked against the greens and browns of the Savannah.

These girls were copying their moms.

The Maasai market is like the Walmart of The Mara. Every stall had the same types of things. Carved wooden figures, wooden masks, animals and salad tongs. There were salad tongs everywhere!! They kept assuring us that they made everything and that it was all authentic. Salad tongs? My friend Julie challenged them on it and said "salad? You guys eat salad? What kind of salad?" The answer was "milk and blood salad".

I loved the beaded things and got some fun stuff. A young-ish boy was assigned to each of us. There were about 100 stalls. When we saw something we liked, they carried it for us. They even picked things out for us that they thought we would like. By the time I was done, I had 4 or 5 guys trailing me. They learned my name pretty quickly and loved to use it. "Rebecca, Rebecca, PLEASE, look at my brothers stall". "Rebecca, you will LOVE this". "Rebecca, bring your children this machete, they will love it". I am sure they would.

My "carrier" boys. The one in the middle won the jumping contest.

We were worried about being fair and buying things at each stall. Apparently it didn't really matter, they split the money equally at the end of the barter. When I was done gathering all my stuff, they put it on the ground in the middle of the market.

All of the people who's stalls I had taken an item from gathered around me along with the 5 "carrier" boys I had picked up. Apparently it was time to haggle. This cannot be done quickly. Even if you are in a hurry and you just want to pay them for their stuff because it is getting late and your driver is freaking out because you need to get off the Savannah and back to the hotel before curfew. Doesn't' matter. Not even a little bit.

I bought this knife for my dad........

We started out by them asking me what I would pay for the stuff. I had been warned by Clive, the Croc Hunter's guy, to start low. I had a huge pile of stuff so I added a few dollars. I said "5 dollars". The outrage and disbelief was palpable (but all part of the act). I had humiliated them and might as well just spit on their mother's grave. Did I think that their women just had all the time in the world to make this stuff? They wanted 200$$. My turn to be outraged. Didn't they know I had kids to feed? I worked for free to educate the children of Africa about Slim Disease (HIV /AIDS). I was not one of the Mozungu they may have seen before that was made of money. I came back with 20$. "Noooooo, can't you see the orphans that we have to care for? Can't you see how poor we are?" was the cry. Throw in some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I pulled out my secret weapon. I flashed a picture of my kids. I also had an "orphan" that I was caring for. I took him into my home and am raising him as my own. How dare they throw THEIR orphans in my face. Those cold hearted salesmen didn't care (even though they loved that I was getting so into it). I took things off the pile, I got up and walked away. The more I overreacted, the more they loved it (I had watched some others do it before me and figured out the game). It was pretty fun, especially because I didn't really care if I got anything. The best part of the whole haggling thing was that we were doing it in both shillings and dollars. They would say something like "I will give you all this for 150$ or 5,000 shillings". This is where it was to my advantage that none of them stayed in school. 3,000 shillings was about 40$. Ha!!! I decided that I could live with that and tried to close the deal (plus Naftali was getting antsy). "Nooo, Rebecca. It is ok, I promise, it will be ok" "Just keep going". They were trying to reassure me that in the end I would get all the stuff I wanted.


I was getting a little bit frantic because we had to go and I just wanted to be finished, but that wasn't going to happen. They had to confer with each other and finally came back with another reason why they couldn't possibly accept anything less than 100$ or 1,000 shillings (about 15$). Deal!!!!!!!

I got so much stuff. I got a bunch of stuff for presentations I do here in the US, and all kinds of weapons for my dad. He collects knives and spears. I got pretty beads for my girl and myself and some fertility gods (which worked because Nori was in our arms about 3 weeks later!!). None of it was something I needed, but it is so fun to look back at the stuff and remember the process of getting it.

They are talking about what I got.......there was lots of counting and conferring........

It was the only part of the trip that wasn't really work. Part of our group had a meeting with some government officials for a few days and the rest of us went on the little safari break. I am SO glad that we did.

If I don't manage to get the charity post done tomorrow, I will tell you the story of the balloon ride and breakfast with killer bees. Yes. Killer Bees!


Miriam said...

The lion killing stick is so... teeeny! The swiffer I use on spiders is WAY tougher than that.

This is wonderful!

Third Mom said...

Stunning photographs, and an awesome story - thank you! And thank you, too, for the link - I've got you back, and am glad I found you. I'm looking forward to keeping up with your adventures

Susy Q said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susy Q said...

Visiting the Maasai was one of my most memorable and eye-opening experiences. Yes, and it is absolutely amazing how high they can jump!! My brother Kristian tried for weeks to get as good as them...he's not there yet though.

Your pictures are great- I wish we'd taken more!

Bek said...

Krisitian, I didn't even try to jump.

As for the "orphan" part of the trading. I need to clarify. They orphans they were referring to (or at least the one the called over and made stand beside me with the big eyes) was the child they had introduced to us earlier as the daugther of the chief. She is the one peeking out of her fathers robes. I am sure their really are orphans that they do care for, but that kid was an orphan as much as mine I played it. I didn't mean any offense by calling my son an orphan or by insinuating that they weren't carring for kids....

Anyway, I loved all the colors.

Third Mom....Here is a great blog resource for those with intl or transracial families. She really cuts it to the core. She also is fair and openminded. If you want to know more about many other adoption resorces, go to her blog. She is a great place to start.....

Fizzle said...

Beautiful, beautiful pictures, Bek. What an amazing experience. I wonder how much of tribal living the Maasai will be able to retain when opening their doors to tourists, etc.

What an amazing experience.

Bek said...

That is an interesting question, Fizz. I think that they view it as a way of keeping their values. They are at such odds w/ the government about their practices, they see it as a way of keeping them safe.

Many Maasai go to the cities to work and live, but when they go home they always put on their red robes and jewelry. It is like living two lives.

I am sure that some of it is slipping away (especially when they knew how to work the digital cameras and didn't want our watches because they wanted a Tag Huer or Swatch........). But I think most are trying to find the balance between both worlds. Frankly, they are dying so fast they need to do whatever they can to keep their people healthy and alive.........

Hearts of Hope said...


I am trying to reach you about our trip to Africa in 2007. Your e-mail keeps bouncing! How can I contact you?

Hearts of Hope Adoption Ministry

wendysue said...

Amazing Bek. I LOVE the colors. . .so vivid against their beautiful skin and the background of africa.

That Lion club is WAY too small, Wow!!

AzĂșcar said...

I miss haggling for everyday stuff.

You are a good haggler! Perfect method!

Suzie Petunia said...

I'm a terrible haggler - they would have hated me! Sounds like an amazing time.

angie said...

This was a very interesting post! I want to go to Africa someday and these pictures of yours are beautiful! Thanks for all the info. Also, your kids are so cute!