My Introduction to the Masai of Kenya at Amboseli
After a 5 hour drive SSW out of Nairobi we arrived at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge, located on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park. The lodge is stunningly beautiful and comfortable. Yes, we are “in the bush.” I know, because there is no internet and cell phones do not work. Actually the lodge has had internet, but it does not work anymore, and the cell phone coverage is limited to one carrier, the name of which is, wonderfully, Safaricom. The lodge provides every other creature comfort one would expect in an expensive lodge anywhere. The people who designed and built this place did not miss a detail. The woodwork is all hand carved with animal scenes. The bed has a big elephant head carving for the headboard.
The hotel sits near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. The mountain itself is actually in Tanzania. It is often covered in clouds and everyone hopes it makes an appearance.
Everything is in the style of the Masai tribe, from the curtains to the lamps and the rugs. The bar, called the Hemingway Bar is huge and is reminiscent of the big white hunter days. We are here two weeks before high season starts, and the place is almost empty. I think service here would be excellent if they were chock-a-block, it is incredible right now.
This is Masai country. The Masai people still “exist” just like you have seen in the movies. If you saw Out of Africa, and remember Robert Redford’s Masai servant, well that is how many of them still dress. I’m not talking about some show they put on for tourists. Uh Uh. I’m talking about how they dress out herding their goats or just walking cross country. They are incredibly kind people and seem as interested in us as we are in them. Plug into this experience the fact that the national language is English and they all learn it in school, and the opportunity for cultural exchange is just incredible.
Our guide happens to be Masai. His name is Gideon. All the Masai have baptismal names in English. We have him to ourselves for the entire week, just the two of us and large Land Rover with a pop up roof. I met a teenager on the road and we exchanged names. His was Evan. I told him mine and he said “like the bush?”
Before I try to describe our first game drive, I am going to pass on a few things I learned about the Masai today. I inherited the ability to ask nosey type questions from my mother, so sometimes I actually learn interesting things others might miss.
When you see a pair of Masai men walking together (actually one behind the other is the way they walk, not side by side) one of them will always be carrying a long stick. Even if two are on a motorcycle, one will have a long stick. I imagine that if two of them ever flew on an airliner they would sit one in front of the other, and one would have a large stick. I had to ask why. Gideon’s answer was “self protection.” He saw the perplexed look on my face and said “against animals.” Then he went on to say that the second fellow will always be carrying a sword or club strapped to his leg. To prove the point, he pulled out a two foot long formidable club from under his western cargo pants and said “we never leave home without it.” When I met Evan, he was carrying the big stick and I had to ask if he ever had to use it. All he said was “I have it if I need it.” Gideon was standing with us. He reached under the Masai blanket (They wear them like robes) of the other young man and yanked an eighteen inch sword from a sheath strapped to his leg and said basically “we all carry.” These people live every day amongst lions, hyenas and what not. Be prepared is not just a slogan for them.
Gideon told us that at age 15 the men get circumcised (ouch) and then spend up to a year wandering in the bush. To become a warrior, they have to kill a lion. If they do, they get branded with a hot piece of metal on their cheeks and thighs. The leader of the group must cut the tail of the lion before they kill it. I’m not sure they still kill lions, but that is the old way. Gideon only wandered for two months and then he had to get back to school. He is not branded. He has a University education in tourism. He had to learn a lot of Kenya history and of course flora and fauna. He is adding an incredible amount to our experience. Mary Ann and I are planning an enormous tip.
I was learning bits and pieces about the Masai all day, but one thing totally blew my hair back. Innocently I asked about their burial traditions. I had not seen a cemetery so I asked if they practice cremation. Now remember, the Masai of today are Christians. Gideon explained that what they do is shave the body, and cover it with oil. Then they slay a cow, skin it, wrap the deceased in the cow skin and take it out in the bush for the hyenas to eat. Then they feast on the cow. I would not have known if I had not asked, which just might put a damper on what else I ask. But probably not. Tomorrow we are taking a side trip to an off the tourist track true Masai village, where I Intend to learn as much as I can about these fascinating people. Having a Masai as an escort should break the ice nicely. The next post will cover that along with some truly cool animal shots!
Asante is Swahili (Kenya’s second language) for thank you. So Asante for reading and please pass this along to your friends on Facebook and in the real world also.