A Day in Masai Village: Patty-Cake and Two Women Tending Their Cattle
July 2018. Our National Geographic tour guide prepared us for our visit to the Masai Village in Tanzania even before we left the United States. We received an email that asked each of us to bring toys and school supplies for the Masai children we’d meet on our Masai village tour.
I decided to bring paperback books, crayons, and colored pencils. Jim decided to bring a soccer ball and plastic baseball and bat combo. Part of the anticipation of our Tanzania and Kenya safari was the day we’d travel to the Masai village to distribute those gifts and watch the kids playing baseball, soccer and unwrapping the books and other presents.
The Masai village visit was midway through the Safari, but our group was as excited about meeting the Masai Chief, the kids, and being included in a Masai warrior feast and dance exhibit as we were about the photography experience.
The day finally arrived!
Our four Land Cruisers began the long journey from our hotel to the village, arriving at noon. First, we observed the dance ceremony where six men displayed their athletic ability by seeing who could jump highest–a contest watched carefully by a group of Masai women who were watching for the most eligible bachelor. The man who jumped highest. Next, was the women’s turn.
Six young women, dressed in colorful garb, stepped forward and sang a solo performance that seemed aimed at the male dancers. The flirtation going on between the dancing men and singing women was plain to see. Finally – the event we were waiting for – the gift distribution.
The presents went into outstretched hands. There were shrieks of joy, yelling, and clapping. There were soccer matches, coloring contests, and bubbling, boisterous chaos happening in every direction. A group of kids came to me and asked if they could feel my blonde hair. Of course, I let them muss it up. I taught them patty-cake and gave them my sunglasses and reading glasses to try on.
I watched the children’s mothers watching their children interact with the Americans with a hint of disapproval – frowns, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows. Was it because their kids were so excited and thrilled by the presents? The novelty of American goodies, appearance, “stuff”? Would I feel the same if the situation was reversed? Had we hijacked the Masai culture with a soccer ball, coloring books, baseball bat, and designer sunglasses?
A young girl came up to me and asked if I’d take her to America where she could get a “proper education.” She told me she didn’t want to live the “Masai life” anymore. She wanted a future in America where she could get educated and “make something of herself.”
I felt what the tug of “The American Dream” must be like for a young girl who lived in a mud hut. The other moment I remember was watching two women sitting together on a hill. When I asked our guide what the women might be talking about, he said, “What all Masai women talk about. Their husband and their animals.”
He added they probably had the same husband and wasn’t that what most women gossip about? Their husband and their work? I said my friends talk about books, tennis, and politics.
Still, I wish I could have borrowed my guide and been in on the Masai gossip session.