A visit to a Masai Village

Our truck which took us to the Masai village
Our truck which took us to the Masai village
Masai child
Masai child
Chifu Lazara
Chifu Lazara
The children were very thin
The children were very thin
Masai woman who caught a lift into town with us
Masai woman who caught a lift into town with us

We should be grateful for what we've got

 

As my class are currently doing a unit of inquiry on Law and Order which covers rules and government systems and such-like, I thought it would be a great idea to look at Tribal Law in Tanzania.  Specifically, Masai Law.  Our school has a community and service activity called Hard Labour.  A few weekends a year, older children volunteer to spend a weekend building something like a classroom for a school in a MasaiVillage.  When I mentioned my idea about going out to a Masai village, the Community and Services Coordinator immediately suggested the village where the Hard Labour team had built a one-classroomed school.  Apparently, the school had a good relationship with the chief.

Getting hold of the chief proved to be quite difficult, as there’s no electricity or phone lines in the village, dropping him a quick email was out of the question.  His main wife does come into town from time to time to sell Masai beadwork.  So, we hatched a plan to send one of the school drivers with a letter written in Kiswahili to give to someone who might know someone who might see her and pass on the letter.  It all sounded quite vague and I wasn’t too sure it would ever happen.  However, over the weekend, the wife contacted the Community and Services Coordinator who contacted me to say we were most welcome and we could go.  It was a bit like playing that telephone game we played as children!  Anyway, Monday morning, I quickly drafted a letter to the parents, booked the school truck, as the bus would not be able to drive on those roads, and organised the children to bring in foodstuffs like flour and rice that we could give the Chief as a thank you and some kind of a tribute.  Thursday was going to be the day for the trip.

It poured with rain Wednesday, and I was terrified that would ruin our travel plans for the Thursday, especially if the rain decided to hang around for a bit Thursday.  Luckily, I was told that even if it pours with rain here in Moshi, it will be dry as a bone in the Masai lands as it never rains there.  Thursday morning and the gods were smiling down at us.  Slightly overcast, decidedly chilly, but no rain.  The truck had a roof, but open sides, which meant if it was raining, they’d have had to pull the tarpaulins down the sides, cover us completely, and I’d have to spend close on two hours sitting on the back of a dark, stuffy truck with 20 over-excited children.   Not something to look forward to and a sure dampener to the spirits. 

To get to the village, we drove through Moshi town and then through the miles and miles of sugar cane fields belonging to a huge sugar company.  Although dirt, the road was okay, not too dusty in the back of the truck, but very noisy as the kids sang the same bus trip songs you hear all over the world.  As we left the sugar cane fields, not only did the landscape start to change to a much drier one, but the road started to deteriorate, until it was no longer a road but a beaten track.  We bounced around, bumped our heads on the roof, narrowly missed being decapitated by errant thorn tree branches which sometimes managed to find their way inside the truck, and generally got shaken around.  However, despite a few bumps and bruises, everybody escaped serious injury and the kids all took it in their stride.  One of my parents works for the Seattle Times and is on a year’s sabbatical in Tanzania with her kids and husband, and she brought along her really expensive Nikon with it’s ultra-long lens, which put my little Samsung to shame!  We passed the odd few trucks, almost scraping sides on the narrow path, and ate each other’s dust.  We drove over a rickety wooden bridge spanned across a very scenic river, with crocodiles basking in the sunlight on the river banks.  Each little village we drove through, became more rustic looking than the one before it.  One of the villages had no electricity, a combination of traditional huts and brick one-roomed houses, but the centrepiece of the village was a lapa with its thatched roof and a pool table inside!  In the middle of the African bush, a pool table!  But from then on, Western influence on the villages became less and less.  The riverbeds we passed over were dry and dusty.  The road, such as it was, disappeared completely, and we just drove through bush and dry ground.  The chill in the air we had felt in Moshi was gone, and we all shed our warm tops as the sun’s warmth started to bake us.

Finally, we arrived at the village, and I was very relieved to see the Chief standing next to the bar/shop/post office.  We had tried to call the cell number his wife had given but hadn’t been able to get a response.  I’d sent a text message in Kiswahili, but no reply.  So, basically we had taken a bit of a flyer doing the trip, but we’d been assured that the Chief would probably be there as it’s not like he goes anywhere.  Before you get excited hearing they had a bar/shop/post office, don’t.  It was basically an empty building with chairs around for people to sit outside.  The Chief was nothing like the superbly handsome tall muscular specimens of Masai manhood I had perchance noticed in Moshi when I was getting my Pajero fixed.  He was old, probably pushing sixty I’d say, and he walked funny with his old bandy legs.  He had the most amazing teeth that protruded and jutted out horizontally at the same time.  Very un-chieflike in appearance, no feathers or lion skin, just his tartan Masai cloth wrapped around him.  His eldest son quickly appeared, with the same protruding teeth, so genetics must be strong, but luckily his teeth were vertical.  We were directed to a big tree where the Chief had his chief-seat and a few other chairs around him for his son and wives.

Women, many still young girls, carrying babies on their backs, young children and older women all started emerging from the huts and joined us under the tree, and soon we had quite a crowd.  Little boys chased a herd of what looked like quite recently born goat kids, and under a tree, a donkey was tethered.  The donkey is used to carry water which is fetched from the big crocodile river we had passed many kilometres away.  My teaching assistant, Catherine, acted as the translator and asked the Chief all the questions we had come up with.  Some of his answers were surprising, as there are many myths and misconceptions about the Masai.  His name is Chifu Lazara and he has three wives and sixteen children.  Polygamy is a part of their culture.  Girls get married between the ages of 12 and 14.  They are too old after that to get married he said.  Boys are allowed to get married from the age of 15.  If a boy or man wants to get married, he has to pay about 8 cows to the bride’s father.  So, it’s good to have a lot of daughters, as you can increase your cattle herd nicely!  According to Chifu Lazara, he is chief of the boma which is made up of different clans.  Each clan has a sort of a mini-chief, which in other African tribes would probably be referred to as a headman.  When we tried to press him to find out exactly what a boma was, all he said it was people who shared the same ancestors.  When asked how many people in a boma, he said too many to count.  So, I take it that Chifu Lazara is like a paramount chief.  He said that they follow Tanzanian laws that suit them and do vote in Tanzanian elections, however, they also have some of their own laws, mostly to do with how they have to look after their cattle.  If someone steals or breaks one of the laws, the Chifu decides on the punishment, which is usually a fine of cows, or if a child, a beating with a nice whippy stick.  When we asked how one becomes a chief, Chifu Lazara replied that when a chief feels he’s too old to make good decisions for his people, he stands down and his eldest son takes over the chieftainship.  When asked what happens if the chief doesn’t have any sons, Chifu Lazara laughed so much, he lost his balance and nearly fell off his chair.  He said that of course the chief would have sons, as if his wives weren’t giving him sons, he would just keep taking more wives until he found one who could make sons.  I decided not to ask what would happen in the case of male infertility.  I wisely thought it was best not to go there.

The village was very poor and the people are literally starving.  I felt bad that we hadn’t collected more than we did for them.  Another class is visiting next week, so we’ll be collecting more food to send with them.  But this is just a short fix.  What will happen to them longterm?  It hasn’t rained for so long in their area, the cattle are dying.  All the younger men and boys were out with the cattle, which are quite far from the village as there is no grazing near the village at all.  One wonders why the people still choose to live in a remote area with no grazing.  The school that our older students built last year hasn’t been used since the beginning of July.  The government didn’t pay the teacher, so the teacher left.  They say that there doesn’t seem to be much hope of getting another teacher.  The children are painfully thin and many have visible ringworm and patches of missing hair, that I saw before with the Bushmen I visited in Botswana, a sign of poor nutrition.  The children just wear a scrap of cloth and nothing underneath.  Very few have western clothes.  No toys, no books, no food.

My class has decided by themselves, that they want to take action and raise money to buy some food, so we’re going to organise a Readathon, where they’ll get sponsorship for each page they read.  But, at the risk of sounding cynical, it’ll be a small plug in a big hole.  Despite the poverty, when we had finished and presented our box of foodstuffs, the masai women surrounded our group and gave us Masai beadwork jewellery.  I had a woman putting a pen in a bead holder around my neck, another put a beautiful necklace with a beaded fish around my neck.  Then, I felt my ears being tugged on.  Masai women were checking to see whether or not I had pierced ears, and they put earrings in my ears.  We were quite overcome by their kindness.  Chifu Lazara’s eldest son stopped us as we were heading back to the truck, and told us that their goats were dying from tick bite fever, as they don’t have money to buy some dip for the goats.  I promised to look into it, which I’ll do today.

Yesterday, my teaching assistant told me that last year there was friction between Chifu Lazara and Mama Taimai his first wife.  As Masai girls get married so young, they don’t go to school, and she decided that she wanted two of her daughter to get a high school education, which is completely against Masai tradition.  Chifu was very angry as he saw sending the girls to school as a loss of income, as if they got married he’d get 16 more head of cattle.  However, Mama Tamai stuck to her guns and insisted and it seems she won the battle.  Two of her daughters are at a boarding school in Kenya.  I’m not sure how they pay for it.  Hopefully, the girls will come back and educate the other children, maybe use the little school that was built.  I have to say, that it is the women who generate the cash for buying everyday supplies.  The men just sit around under the trees and laze around.  The younger men and boys watch the cattle graze.  The women plant vegetables, cook, look after children  and make traditional Masai beadwork to sell to tourists.  That money is used to buy basic supplies.  We gave three Masai women, including Mama Tamai, a lift into town to sell their beadwork to tourists, saving them the $2 each in taxi fares on one of the trucks that ride back and forth into the Masai lands.  Tourism is down, so they struggle to sell their bead necklaces.  Not only do they have to sell enough to pay for their fare back to the village, but they have to be able to generate enough money to buy food for the rest of the village.  They said they’ll be staying in town for about three days, trying to sell their handicrafts.  Meanwhile, Chifu Lazara, the other villagers and the starving children wait patiently for the three women to return with food.  This trip to the Masai Village, was definitely a National Geographic-type experience.  You can follow my blog to find out more about my crazy life and adventures.

 

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Comments 37 comments

shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

It's so nice of you to do all these charity works cindyvine... I wish I have this chance... You do all that and you always try to have fun in every adventure. Thanks.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Shamel, sometimes I think we have to make the most of the lfe we've got. But then, that's much easier for some than for others. Some people have no choice in where their life takes them.


melshomecorner profile image

melshomecorner 7 years ago from Mississippi

Great pictures , very interseting read


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Our planet is amazing mixture of many different ways of living, completely different realities.

Despite all their poverty Massai people gave you such beautifull presents - their jewellery, and this is the part of your story which touched me the most. This seems to be at least partial key of their problem:

charity can help to the certain point, but cannot solve the problem of these people permanently. They need to become self-sufficient in order to survive and progress - organizing the Internet sale of their jewellery and other handwork they produce, could be one part of the solution of their problem. Check http://www.novica.com . They need money, so...by providing them way how to earn it, you can give them the biggest possible present ..

I deeply believe, that this was the point of your visit there...to find the way how to help them on long-term basis.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Mel, thanks for visiting my hub. Have more awesome pics, but am finding it very difficult to upload them onto Hubpages. You can check out my pics of this visit on http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=305292&id=79...

Tatjana, thanks for that link. I'll definitely check it out!


dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 7 years ago from India

a wonderful read. I get the opportunity to see the world through your eyes. Would it be possible to add some pix of your students too??


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

If you check out that Facebook link in my previous comments, Diana, you can see them there. Just struggling too much to upload pics on HP.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

So fascinating a look into a world most of us know nothing about. Your comments about the women really tug at the heart in terms of what they must endure to survive. Made me think about a national organization (Women for Women) and how there should be more locally run programs modelled after those kinds to perhaps give some long term help.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Yeah Jerilee, I firmly believe that if we can uplift those women, we can uplift that nation. The men just don't have the desire to do anything extra to get out of the mess. The women are the backbone, that's for sure!


ralwus 7 years ago

Of whippy sticks and Masai law huh? LOL I bet this was the hardest thing for you to have ever done. Keeping yer mouth shut in such a male dominant society. Great hub Cindy. If you would have pressed him you'd likely tasted that whippy stick LOL


docadvocate 7 years ago

nice visit sir.


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

Gosh, Cindy. Already, you have almost enough expository writing to bound a book! This is really fascinating to hear. As you know, in Lao culture, a dowry is still used as a means of consummating a marriage. My parents keep on telling me to go back to Laos and snag a Lao woman but apparently, I don't listen to them, lol. I'm hungry for more of your adventures!


John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 7 years ago from Tennessee

I hope you are planning to compile all your stories and adventures into a book. It makes fascinating reading. It must be heart breaking to see the children in such need.

I guess the only saving grace is they really do not know what all they are missing.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

Oh, cinyvine, wonderful hub! I like your writing so much, you really take us there, to a place few of us have a chance to visit. It moved me so much. The plight of these people, with the drought and the cattle dying; yet still--the women gave you presents.

I wish the men would get off their butts and DO something!

The only way I know to contribute is through World Hunger Foundation and Free Rice.com, where you get a chance to improve your vocabulary at the same time contribute to World Hunger. I agree with you, too, though, that charity is a drop in the bucket next to what these people need.

I wrote a blog called "Free Electricity", and there are solutions related to power, which is available infinitely in nature, and de-salineating sea-water to render drought-stricken areas viable for farming and cattle again. How far is this area from the ocean, I wonder. My sense of world geography is very, very poor.

I wish so much there was more we could do. I know many people here wish it, while we're inundated with our own problems due to a faltering economy.

My hat's off to you, once again, for being there and taking us there.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Cindy,

I spent the summer in Africa around 15 years ago and was in Kenya for three weeks. We traveled to a Masai village where we spent several hours. A lot of what I read here on you hub and your blog was the same then, except for the starvation. And they were not unusually thin, neither were the children. (except for the fact that Masai are naturally thin, because of their diet and their stature).

I find it so disturbing.

When I was there, there were lots of tourists and the Masai charged quite a bit of money to enter the village. Do you think the lack of tourism has made a serious difference in their income?

The women were lovely to us and I still have lots of beautiful pictures of them. They seemed happy, although the living conditions were not what Americans would call "up to standard". They lived in dung huts, but, honesty, after going inside several of them, they didn't seem that bad.

Do you think there were special village sites where they took the tourists, who might be alarmed and not go there and contribute to their income? In other words, could I have been taken to a "mock" village?


Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

This was a very interesting read, Cindy. I do see that with a little technology (like a website),they might be able to sell their beads and make a better living for themselves. I took a look at the National Geographic site that sells global art and I will remember it when I need a unique gift. It is so sad that so many of the world's people live so poorly.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Ralwus, think he would have fallen over if he tried to hit me with his whippy stick.

Docadvocate, I am a lady and not a sir.

Dohn, more adventures will be coming soon. There's a waterfall I want to visit.

John, wrote about my adventures in other African countries in my book, Stop the world, I need to pee!

Paradise, it would be good if the Masai used some of those Free Electricity ideas. But, it would be up to the women to do something about it.

Alekhouse, I would say that they definitely would have tourist villages. This was definitely not a village tourists would go to! I think for sure you were taken to a mock village.

Connie, I also looked at that National Geographic site and will definitely be passing the information on or doing something about it.


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

This was a very interest, albeit sad hub. Please do a book, as reading on the Internet is a little hard. I'd like to take the book in the yard under a tree and read it there. I will go to your blog to see more. Thanks for all you are doing.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Fastfreta, a book will be in the future. My current book I'm working on is on a whole different topic! Thanks for stopping by!


docadvocate 7 years ago

sorry for that,but have ever given a thought what would had it been like if u were a sir? just a thought for mind.


Fandy 7 years ago

I enjoyed your article interesting and I like to read it thanks cindyvine.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Doc, if I was a man I would have studied small animal farming which was my first love, and something that I couldn't do as when I finished school they only took men at the agricultural college!

Fandy, I'm pleased you found the article interesting!


fierycj profile image

fierycj 7 years ago from The Fiery Heart of Africa

Always interested to learn about tribes and cultures in my beloved Africa. Hey, warm people, huh, Cindy. Good job, gurl! :)


Catherine R profile image

Catherine R 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

Definitely book material! Sounds like you are really living life to the full. I see what you mean about the Chief's teeth. Look forward to hearing more of your adventures.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

Very interesting article, and opens the way to many thoughts, including gratitude.

I watched a program on PBS this week about the Masai and this brought a rememberance to mind: 'They' gave ten of their cows as a helpful gift to the U.S. after Sept 9-11! When their sacrificial giving appeared in the news, it made me cry -with both sorrow and joy for them.

Great hub and thanks, cindyvine! Yes, your first title line said it all!


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Fiery! Jambo brother!

Catherine, hey you have to read my book about some of my African adventures.

Frogy, it always amazes me how generous people who have nothing are, and how tight people who have so much can be.


Pachuca213 7 years ago

wow- I give you alot of respect for your work. Thank you for giving us a taste of what you experienced!!!


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

JJ, you have to jump on a plane and come and visit!


blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 7 years ago from australia

Wow Cindy what a fantastic life you are leading there. I am thrilled for you. It must bring you so much inside.xoxox


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Blondepoet, not sure about fantastic as it does have its frustrations! Like waiting over a month for them to get around to installing the internet at my house, and when they do get there like today, the power was down so they couldn't do anything!


mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

They must be so thankful and relieved to see your appearance there. I'm glad to hear you sharing this with us. And hopefully those girls that went to school in Kenya come back with great knowledge to the people.

I'm sure you already know that polygamy runs in many countries including ours. Lets say I had 4 or 5 grandmas from my grandpa. Hmmm... -_-


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

So much for the romantic Masai...it is sad, the lack of rain will destroy them...and yet, these people with so little, were so generous. A lesson for us all. A wonderful hub, as usual, cindy.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Hey Mayhmong, so you could be one of many wives? Do you think you'd be able to share your husband with other women?

Dolores, I don't think I could live the way they do though. One gets used to one's creature comforts!


Bridgesan profile image

Bridgesan 7 years ago from United Kingdom

I am so greatful for what I have!


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Bridgesan, I just got back from Mumbai and the slums there are something else!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

I was spellbound by your article. Absolutely awesome. The mental pictures it brought to mind were as vivid as your illustrations. I'm headed over to your blog.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

PegCole, it was a great experience and one I was glad I could share with my class.

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