September 2019. Tanzania, Africa. My mornings in Africa almost always felt like morning in a Land of Make Believe–the sky would be either a brilliant splash of oranges, yellows, and blues or a backdrop of soft blue with an overlay of wispy, white clouds rolling past. The air felt slightly heavy like it does just before a rain, and from my perch, on the wood deck, I could smell the earthy mix of grasses, dry dirt, and musk that reminded me of my days as a young girl when my father took our family for a farm vacation in Wisconsin.
For a day in Africa, the opening act began in mornings so quiet (except for a speckled bird that had a wild whoop-whoop call that reminded me of a percussion instrument) and peaceful. I’d often stand on our wood porch and look out over the breathtaking view, wishing to package the scene to take home. Then there were the spontaneous, goofy moments: a monkey prowling through a biscuit tin left outdoors—a creature with a big footprint that meandered through the campsite last night. With our tent that had two layers zipped up, top to bottom, we didn’t hear our visitor, nor did he (she) decide to visit us. Two nights previous, we camped next to a hippo pond and heard grunts and groans and splashing all night. I kept one eye open almost all night, hoping one of them wouldn’t decide to climb the hill next to our tent and pay us a visit.
Hippos are Africa’s most dangerous animal. With a single chomp, they can cut a human in half.
Day four of our safari (arranged by our National Geographic tour guide) our itinerary began with a half-day visit to a Masai village. At breakfast, just prior to our visit, Jon gave an hour lecture on the Masai culture, Masai history, and what to expect from this unique experience. Like many in our group, I took notes during the lecture. I learned this: Masai people have lived in southern and central Kenya for centuries, and because of that, many people believe they are all Kenyans. Not true. There are over 800,000 Masai in Tanzania. They like living in open fields and around game reserves. Cows are important in Masai society as a measure of a person’s wealth and as their primary food source. The number of cows a man owns plays a role in their marriage, and (by the way) a wealthy man can have more than one wife. In marriage, women are usually much younger than their husbands–sometimes by thirty years.
The women in the group whistled long and low. Oh really? It got worse.
Women are not allowed to remarry. Women are expected to build the family home–a hut called (Inkajik) created with mud, sticks, grass, and cow dung.
“What!” one of the most outspoken ladies interrupted. “Cow dung? Women’s work! And if I don’t like the guy, I’m hitched to no divorce court! This is a bad deal for us, girls.”
“It gets worse,” Jon said. “The women have to milk the livestock, supply the village with water, and you know what’s coming,” he said with a sly smile, “they do all the cooking.”
The breakfast crowd exchanged glances that signaled either astonishment or amusement. Our group had spent three days riding in a Land Cruiser photographing majestic animals, breathtaking scenery, bumping through rivers, streams, and narrow roads, and enjoying a full course dinner under a tree that overlooked the vast plains of Africa.
Now we were headed into a culture and people who ate cow meat and drank blood. Down to a person, we looked forward to this experience that would be like no other. A chance to meet and talk to people not just from a different culture. From a different time long ago.