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What Do the Maasai Really Eat?

September 28, 2015 by · 22 Comments 

Life with the Maasai: Day 6 in Tanzania

Sun rises at the Maasai Village

Sun rises at the Maasai Village

Getting up at 2:45 AM is never fun, but sometimes it’s worth it. Day number six of my Discover Corps experience in Tanzania was absolutely one of those.

My hiking clothes were laid out, my camera bag packed. Breakfast coffee or tea were ready at 3 AM, and I grabbed a banana to go.

By 3:15 AM, my group boarded the bus because no one wanted to miss an up close and personal meeting with a Maasai tribe. The journey takes about three hours as the roads past Arusha are not the best. The last ten or so miles include hairpin turns that carve a path down a steep dirt road.

Herding Donkeys

Herding Donkeys

We arrive in time for sunrise; the awakening of the nomads. Traditional Maasai lifestyle centers around their cattle, a primary source of food. The measure of a man’s wealth is in terms of cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is respectable, and the more children the better. A man who has plenty of one but not the other is considered to be poor.

Our bus stops at the top of a plateau, near a tiny village containing 12 huts surrounded by prickly twigs woven into a fence. The huts are made from a mixture of dried cow dung, mud, and urine applied to a frame of intertwined branches.

Morning in the Village

Morning in the Village

Some Maasai approach us: tall , thin men in red and purple toga like outfits. In the distance, we see shepherds herding goats (no cattle as it’s the dry season and the cattle are far away). We hear birds chirping in the graceful acacia trees. We are invited into the village through an opening in the fence. Goats are bleating and milling around the interior.

Maasai Men Approach

Maasai Men Approach

I busy myself with my camera and then this extraordinary moment dawns on me. I am standing in a place that looks like a 3-D scene in the Natural History Museum. This is not a fabricated reproduction of a Maasai Village, this is the real thing and real people live here. I feel like I’ve emerged from a time machine, but the year is still 2015. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a juxtaposition before.

Women with many earrings

Women with many earrings

For the Maasai, life exists as it has for centuries. Many of these nomads have fought to retain their culture against the encroaching wishes of government and the outside world. These hills and plains are their ancestral lands and they sustain themselves by herding cattle, goats and sheep.

Debi holds the little goat

Debi holds the little goat

I watch as the women catch and milk goats. I find a young mother standing in a doorway with a young baby in her arms. Infant mortality is high and babies aren’t named until they are three months old. I see an elderly woman crouch outside her home. A few young men are distracted by my cameras, but the overall feel is one of warm welcome. I am even handed a baby goat for a photo op and the little fella feels so cuddly.

Maasai Woman and bab

Maasai Woman and baby

Maasai woman talks on cell phone.

Maasai woman talks on cell phone.

The women wear robe-like dresses wrapped around their bodies and are adorned with numerous necklaces and earrings. Some of the older women’s ear lobes hang down, extended from the weight of the jewelry over the years. Surprisingly, a few of the women have cell phones.

We leave the women and goats and prepare for a walkabout with some of the Maasai men. Hopefully, we’ll see some giraffe.

 

 

 

 

Beginning of our trek with the Maasai.

Beginning of our trek with the Maasai.

The group heads out over the dry, dusty surrounding hills. Everyone must proceed carefully as nasty sticker bushes were everywhere, about the only thing thriving in the harsh terrain. The ground is uneven and some sections contain layers of rock, leftover remnants of a volcanic explosion.

Those sharp pricker bushes.

Those sharp pricker bushes.

Lagging behind on the group hike.

Lagging behind on the group hike.

The Maasai frequently walk long distances, but I find it difficult to keep up to the pace. I want to take in the landscape, shoot photos, but have to watch where I am going. We ask the leader to slow down, and perhaps he thinks he does. But, the trek is too speedy for me. I lag a bit behind.

We pause at an overlook, and the Maasai spot fresh giraffe droppings. We head in a new direction as quickly as possible. We climb up embankments and down dry riverbeds. We trudge through fine dust so thick it feels like stepping down on fresh snow, but my foot disappears under a soft mound of dirt. At one point, I slip on a ledge but am able to keep from falling by quickly grabbing a tree limb. Thankfully, it was not one of those pricker bushes. Someone comes to my rescue.

Now, we ,too, spy giraffe and they are majestic, graceful creatures. They graze on tree limbs in the distance. We approach slowly and also see some zebra. Everyone in the group stays quite, totally mesmerized. We can hardly believe that African animals are roaming free about 200 yards away. I feel as if a National Geographic magazine has just come to life. It’s a pinch me moment!

A Giraffe near the trees.

A Giraffe near the trees.

Sadly, something scares the giraffe and they lope off, elegantly prancing. The zebras follow. Satisfied and smug, we turn around and head back as well.

Zebras in the distance.

Zebras in the distance.

The sun has risen higher in the sky and the temperatures are now much warmer. Hiking uphill proves to be an effort. My back has been bothering me and I stop and take a rest. The Maasai say to proceed, ” poli-poli, ” meaning slowly, slowly and that’s the way I carry on. I was so relieved to return to our bus.

 

A cool drink of water and a short rest, then I’m ready to join the group for the slaughter of a goat, a special occasion arranged for this day. Maasai women do not observe this ritual, but my group is permitted the privilege as a cross cultural exchange.

Suffocating the goat.

Suffocating the goat.

Two goats are brought forward, then suffocated by clasping hands held over their nose and mouth. This method does not cause any loss of blood which is one of the main foods in the Maasai diet. After the goats are dead, they are carefully sliced open and the organs removed. I am both curious and horrified. I’ve never witnessed a butchering before.

Beginning to butcher the goat.

Beginning to butcher the goat.

Some of the organs are removed and saved for grilling, others placed in a bowl. When the cavity is nearly empty of organs, a few of the Maasai men advance, bend down, cup their hands and drink blood right from the cavity. I had not expected this and it is rather shocking. I knew the tribe mixed blood with cow’s milk to drink, but the raw blood was unforeseen. I aim my camera and click the shutter, but try to look away.

Eating the blood and organs of the goat.

Eating the blood and organs of the goat.

Drinking blood from the goat's cavity.

Drinking blood from the goat’s cavity.

I scramble up the hill and join some of the women who were tending little ones or just sitting under the big tree. I start to photograph a small boy and he begins to cry. I stop, put the camera down, but he runs to the chief, his Daddy. This endearing moment becomes one of my favorite photo memories of the trip. You can feel the love and devotion between these two. This man, I later learn, is father to some 70 children.

The Chief and his child

The Chief and his child

I admit I notice, and try to overlook the children’s dirty clothing and feet. Water is nowhere in sight. Women must haul it back to the village (from miles away), so water is used sparingly. I understand.

Dirty Feet.

Dirty Feet.

My group is invited into the chief’s hut where he explains sleeping arrangements. Mama Simba acts as interpreter. He has 11 wives, each wife has a hut. There is a schedule for the wives to stay with the chief. Apparently the wives are not jealous of one another, but I have to wonder. The chief is much older than some of the women, but he is extremely charismatic. I can comprehend their attraction.

Village Women

Village Women

The village life consists of the chief and unmarried family members, those 70 some children. Only after the males have become of age and passed rituals, are they considered marriageable (between 30-40 years old). When they take a wife , they move to a new village. Marriage and having children seem to be a very important part of the culture. If a husband dies, there is no remarriage.

We take a lunch break, ours prepared and eaten on blankets, picnic style. The only Maasai food on our menu is the grilled goat. Some chosen tribe members come to eat some of our food afterward. They appear to like it.

Bead Work

Bead Work

The women bring out their bead-work and we purchase many of their items. They use the money to buy corn meal, rice and other supplies from a Maasai Market.

 

Attempting to properly throw the spear.

Attempting to properly throw the spear.

 

 

Then, we learn to throw a Maasai spear. The Maasai use the spear to protect themselves, not to kill in a hunt. The men demonstrate the technique: the spear is to land in a vertical position. We try but none of us can replicate the results, Maasai women never throw a spear, so they laugh at our attempts.

Unmarried men parade

Unmarried men parade

Men begin chanting

Men begin chanting

Finally, it is time for the dancing. The unmarried men lead a parade into the center of the village (the goats were moved out). The men stand to one side. The married women file in and stand opposite. The men chant a song and the women answer.

Women answer back

Women answer back

The unmarried woman enter and stand in the middle. When they answer the chant, their heads seem to rock forward and backward. The men answer back and then jump very high in the air, showing off their strength. The women chant in sing-song again. This continues until the unmarried women move closer to the men. It looks a bit like a starring match. And…then it is over.

Unmarried women approach the men.

Unmarried women approach the men.

 

Our time with the Maasai is also over. We have a long drive back to home base in Moshi. I think back over the day, a day of surprises I never forget.

A memorable day with the Maasai.

A memorable day with the Maasai.

To read about my earlier adventures in Tanzania, please click here: https://bylandersea.com/2015/09/discover-corps-volunteer-vacation-in-tanzania-continues/

Disclosure: My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.

Discover Corps Volunteer Vacation in Tanzania Continues

September 19, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Dawn Rises on Day 4 and 5 in Tanzania

A mysterious thing often happens to me around day three or four on a trip to a foreign country. After a long flight, I arrive weary, but relieved, then edge my way through passport control and hopefully pick up my luggage. A door opens and I face a swarm of locals holding signs. The huddled mass feels rather intimidating. If I’m in a third world country, I hope I see a sign with my name on it.

I board the transportation provided, and my eyes fly back and forth like I’m watching a tennis match. To the right I see and think “What’s that building?” and to the left, “Who are those folks and what are they doing?”

Looking out the window of a bus in Moshi.

Looking out the window of a bus in Moshi.

Day two seems to speak to our differences. “Hmm, look at the woman carrying bananas on her head. I wonder how she does that?  Did I just see a coffin maker displaying his products at the side of the road?”

By day three, I have embraced and accepted the differences and begin to notice our commonalities. Children go to school, workers head off to their jobs and people gather at mealtimes. We dress and perform activities in different ways, but we are all one.

Rau Village children ready for school.

Rau Village children ready for school.

By day four, I feel much more at home in my new location. I even begin to think I know my way around. “Oh look, there’s that big, beautiful abandoned home, we turn left here. There’s the fitness center next to the fast food joint.” When you get to know the people and  make personal contact, you get much closer to life and how it is lived where ever you are.

And so it goes with my day four in Moshi, Tanzania. I know the route our Discover Corps bus driver follows to school. I feel I belong here and I’m excited to be discovering a new culture. Yes, travel is getting closer to understanding others and this is the reason I love to travel.

Public School Students in Level 4

Public School Students in Level 4

Volunteer School Projects

Michelle, her daughter and I enter the classroom and the students stand up and in unison say, “Good morning teachers.” They are so adorable: smiling and ready to get to their work.

The week’s lesson continues to focus on the family tree. The students draw their own family tree, naming their parents and siblings. We discuss the words: mother, father, son, brother and grandparents. They understand and complete the assignment in English. They appear proud of their work and I feel we break through some barriers.

However, I am having problems – with names. Is that sibling your sister or brother? I get it wrong and the students and I laugh. And, of course, I’m surprised by the large number of children in some families. A few of the students even add nieces and nephews as their older sister or brother has already married and had offspring.

Free Play during Teacher's Tea Time.

Free Play during Teacher’s Tea Time.

At 10:30 am, all the teachers stop for Tea Time in the school office. This tradition dates back to the days when the British ruled the country, and it’s nice. However, I ‘m surprised that this period becomes free outdoor play for the kids. That being free time without supervision. This approach would likely cause a lawsuit in the States, however, it works in Africa. No one runs into the office with injuries or complains about any playground confrontations.

A quick change of clothes allows the volunteers to begin work on the classroom renovation. I start by rolling paint onto the new ceiling boards. We use old pieces of wood, rocks and branches to construct a platform to keep the boards off the dirt floor.

Debi paints ceiling boards in Tanzania.
Debi paints ceiling boards on her volunteer vacation in Tanzania. i Photo courtesy of GypsyNesters.com.Sadly, this building was donated to be multi-purpose room and cafeteria, but there are no funds to finish it.

 

When finished with the ceiling boards, we painters join the others working on sanding and cleaning the classroom walls. Someone from the Discover Corps team runs out and get air-filters to cover our nose and mouth. This is very gritty work, and we return to home base coated in layers of fine dust.

Our young Discover Corps volunteers help scrub the walls.

Our young Discover Corps volunteers help scrub the walls.

Afternoon

Back to our compound for lunch and much needed showers. We enjoy a short rest period before the afternoon agenda. I’m trying to disconnect, but  I wish for a WiFi connection as I want to share photos.

Kilimanjaro Wizards Arts Group

Kilimanjaro Wizards Arts Group

Lucky for us, the afternoon offers more dancing entertainment, apparently very different from what we saw yesterday. This time the dance troop comes to us. Mama Simba also arranges to bring the previous days’ Chagga dancers to the lively performance. The Chagga ladies look almost sedate without their costumes.

The award winning Kilimajaro Wizards Arts Group sets up drums and a marimba. The men wear striking neon pink outfits and hats. The two females dancers wear white tops and the pink floral shorts. Like birds, I think, the males are more colorful than the females.

Dancing Man

The Dancing Man

Female Dancers

Female Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as the dancers start moving, all that comes to mind is the song Shake That Thing. Whoa- these girls can shake their hips faster hula dancers at warp speed and more forcefully. They perform two numbers before needing a cool down period and break for a costume change.

Watch the short video to see their amazing movements.

Meanwhile, the group leader explains that the next routine will be reenactment of a traditional hunt. Men will portray a hunt with their bows and arrows, a kill, slaughter, and feast.

The Men begin the Hunt.

The Men begin the Hunt.

The male dancers return wearing only bottoms and have painted chests and faces. It is easy to follow the story along, but then a dramatic surprise happens. The men carry in a bowl that’s on fire and begin eating it. Wow! I can barely believe my eyes. These wizards are indeed consuming fire.

 

 

 

 

The Fire Eating Wizards

The Fire Eating Wizards

The ensemble finishes with more of their traditional style dance, the frenzied hip swinging style, but this time the men and girls wear grass like skirts. We give our best round of applause and shouts for this fantastic troupe.

Shake that Body

Shake That Body

Thankfully the electrical power does not go out until after dinner. (We’re getting used to flashlights and lanterns.) Mama Simba gathers us for a meeting. I am so impressed that she wants honest feedback already. She asks, “What do we like, what changes need to be made?” The Discover Corps team aims to please.

We don’t ask for much — just for the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to clear for photography and for the power to stay on.

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Day 5

Believe it or not, the next morning I am called out of bed before breakfast. I run down the road to a spot where you can shoot a photo of the famous mountain without cloud cover. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and quite a majestic sight. And, we even have electricity for hot water. No doubt, Mama Simba has connections in high places!

Off to school and another lesson on the family. Today the children read a story and are asked to answer questions. The questions prove difficult involving in-laws and aunts and uncles. They struggle and I completely understand. I doubt American kids their age could do any better.

There must be elves in Tanzania like there are in classic fairy tales, or more recently the ones I’d run into in Iceland. The classroom walls are spackled. When did those amazing do-good little people get this job accomplished? Turns out, Mama Simba has deep connections in the community, too.

Working on the ceiling project.

Working on the ceiling project.

The volunteers go back to cleaning the classroom and prepping the walls with an undercoat of thin paint. The ceiling project proves arduous, and the floor is now being torn up; to be redone and paid for by the school. The problem is, the dust causes difficulties for us to begin the undercoat. We find ourselves reciting, “It is what it is.” We have to accept that the project veers off course and so be it. Whatever we accomplish will be better than the earlier condition.

Afternoon

This afternoon allows for our first free time and those that want, are bused into town. We discover a supermarket. I love shopping for groceries and sundries in a foreign country, and this is no exception. The store overwhelms me. It contains a vast array of hardware, books, supplies and food like a super WalMart, just with limited variety. Eggs are not refrigerated and they don’t have one hundred flavors of yogurt.

I buy some items to give to my local family when I visit next. Sugar, rice, soap and a bag of chocolate candy for a treat.

We also find an Internet Cafe and joyously reconnect with our world back home. The cost for an hour of access is somewhere between 25 and 50 cents. In our minds, the best bargain in town.

After dinner, Mama Simba prepares us for our outing the next day. We will meet members of a Maasai tribe and spend time with them in their Maasai village. We must leave at 3:15 AM sharp, so breakfast drinks and toast with peanut butter will be ready at 3. I can’t wait. Everyone to bed.

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If you missed the beginning of my trip, please read: https://bylandersea.com/2015/09/off-to-africa-with-discover-corps/

Disclosure: My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.

Off to Africa with Discover Corps

September 14, 2015 by · 4 Comments 

Discovery Corps Experience Tanzania Part 1

Days 1-3

Oh, the stories waiting to be shared from this trip. So many, that I will split the blog into numerous posts so I won’t bypass any of the fascinating activities. I hope you will follow along.

Discover Corps Logo

The adventure began as a desire to visit Africa and a passion to do something meaningful to celebrate a momentous birthday. Discover Corps Tanzania provided the answer, and proved themselves far beyond my expectations.

Their website claimed their program could ” Recharge your spirit by discovering a country through its people. ” I liked the idea of immersing myself in a different culture while giving back, engaging in hands-on cultural workshops, and connecting with fascinating people. I can honestly report that my trip accomplished much more than that. I thank Discover Corps for awakening me to volunteer vacations and all they have to offer.

Day 1: Arrival

I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport in the evening following a day and half flights and was joyously met and transported to the Discover Corps Home Base in Moshi. My new home in the village of Rau was a secure gated compound. The main area included a covered open-air lobby or common area perfect for meetings and dining. Eight bedrooms spoked off the lobby, four on either side plus the director’s home at the front. The kitchen sat across from my bedroom.

Discover Corps Compound

Discover Corps Compound

We were offered a light meal by lantern light (the power in Tanzania often goes out) and I then went directly to bed. I was expecting a cot or college dorm-like setting but my room contained a queen sized bed with mosquito netting, a private toilet, shower and sink and daily maid service. Sweet Tanzanian dreams played in my sleep except for the interruption of loud crowing from a nearby rooster.

My bedroom in Tanzania

My bedroom in Tanzania

Day 2: Orientation and meeting our local family

Next morning, Mama Simba, a dynamo of a program director, again welcomed us with more warm hugs. We were given an orientation to our volunteer work and told  how to dress (women must wear skirts while teaching), and a reminded to conserve water by toilet usage message.

Mama Simba reminds us to conserve water.

Mama Simba reminds us to conserve water.

Our group of twelve US citizens included a family with two teenage children, two mother/daughter combos, a husband and wife team and two single women, me being one of those. We introduced ourselves and told our personal stories.

A basic Swahili lesson followed. I remembered “jambo” but the other greetings would take a while to sink in. I’m just not good at foreign language.

Immediately, the group bonded over our passion to help the school and our keen desire to experience real Africa.

Later that afternoon came out first opportunity. Neighbors from the village arrived for a meal. Before eating Mama Simba asked everyone to speak briefly and we learned how different families made their living. We each greeted “our local family” with the best Swahili we could muster. I was assigned to Justin, a tour guide, his sister and his elegant but aging mother. We dined together with Lyngrid, the other solo traveler, and then carefully made our way down the rutty dirt path to their house.

Dining with my local family

Dining with my local family

The family maintained a home compound with some 20 members living in connecting buildings, called houses in Africa, but would be considered shacks in the US. Justin’s Mama had a reserved chair and she was proud to have us visit her home. We were the first white people ever to step inside.

The Family House

The Family House

Lyngrid and Justin-1 Me and the kids-1
While Mama and Sister spoke Swahili, Justin acted as interpreter. His English is fluent, and in fact , he impressed us with the ability to also converse in French and some Spanish. These skills help him get work as a tour guide.

Extended Family

Extended Family

Grandchildren

Grandchildren

I asked Sister to show me the kitchen and she laughed, then took me outside to a fire pit. They have no indoor cooking facilities and no running water. One water source for the extended family and an area for doing laundry. The family also keeps one goat to eat trash.

Family member doing the laundry.

Family member doing the laundry.

We met other members of the multi-generational group and I enjoyed taking their pictures. My family treated me so warmly and I was honored to be in their presence.

They walked Lyngrid and I back and the Discover Corps home and we joined the participants chatting about our day. Everyone was ready for an early bedtime.

 

Day 3: School and a Coffee Plantation and Dancers

Happy School Children

Happy School Children

Day three began early. We arrived to at Longuo Primary School, about 10-15 minutes away, by 7:30; the official starting time. The entire student body assembled outside to welcome us. We listened as the sang the national anthem.

We each introduce ourselves to the gathering of students and teachers. I told the children I lived near Mickey Mouse in Florida and that seemed to garner some chuckles and smiles. The students marched off in song and we followed into the office.

Exterior of the School - mural painted by previous volunteers.

Exterior of the School – mural painted by previous volunteers.

We were welcomed by the staff and I met the teacher that Michelle,  her daughter and I would be working alongside. Our students are in level 4, similar to grade 4.

We toured the school property which cries for help and support. The cafeteria consists of a single woman who cooks for all 425 children over an open fire. She boils up corn meal and beans. Sometimes she had a little rice and just a smattering of meat to add to the pots.

Only one water source supplies the school, a pipe coming from the garden area. The children bring empty containers from home, fill them and water the plants or carry it into the classrooms. Some tiny tots haul the heavy water containers home if needed. The toilets facilities broke my heart and did a number on my sense of smell. Sorrowful.

 

You want to fix everything but need to understand that you can’t. One classroom was chosen for the Discovery Corps volunteers to refurbish. We were to clean and paint it, but decided the ceiling most come down and be replaced, as well. We later determined the cost and chipped in the extra money needed.

The Classroom before we start our renovation.

The Classroom before we start our renovation.

Jeff tears down the ceiling-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Afternoon:

We returned to our compound for lunch. Afterward, we boarded our bus and traveled a short way up the mountain to a small coffee farm. The people from the area around Mt. Kilimanjaro claim the name Chagga.

Chagga Dancers

Chagga Dancers

As we approached the farm, we could hear drum sounds and a group of colorful Chagga dancers popped out to greet us. Tanzanians know the word ‘welcome’ and use it very often.

A beautiful dancer

A beautiful dancer

We watched the costumed  performers, mostly older women jumping and chanting with wild abandonment. When they stopped for a much needed rest, we toured the adjoining coffee and banana fields. The two plants work symbiotically; the banana trees provide shade and moisture for the coffee bushes.

Coffee production is a long, slow process. While farmers get many banana crops per year, coffee ripens just once , if lucky, twice a year. The beans turn red as they become ready to harvest. They are handpicked, then washed, and set out to dry.

Ripening coffee beans

Ripening coffee beans

The dried beans are mashed in a large wooden mortar and pestle. I tried my hand at this and you need to pound with some force. Afterward, the smashed beans are shaken through a sieve and only the inner bean remain.

Pounding coffee beans

Pounding coffee beans

Next, the beans are roasted and stirred over an open fire. This is hot work because the beans will burn if not stirred. After cooling, water is boiled and the coffee brews. It tasted good and robust, but not as strong as it looked.

Dancers Perform

Dancers Perform

Before we left the Chagga dancers performed for us again. I loved their happy faces, big smiles and joie de vivre.

Chagga instrument

Chagga instrument

 

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Disclosure:  My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.

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