Mary Ann’s birthday with the Masai

Today was Mary Ann’s birthday and the birthday angels rewarded us with a marvelous game drive. We went out early and the critters large and small had all decided it would be a good idea to display themselves. Even Mount Kilimanjaro made an appearance.

The mountain came out to say happy birthday.

Another bucket list item accomplished. I never really thought I would stand at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro.

The birds were particularly displaying themselves this morning.

This bird, called a Grey Crowned Crane is actually quite common, We saw them everywhere in the bush.

Plus we saw herds of everything from Baboons to Zebras. I’ll get to that and show some pictures in a while. Bear with me while I tell you about visiting the Masai village.

The village was straight out of a National Geographic documentary. The houses were arranged in a circle. Each one was identical. They were made of cow dung. The entire village was surrounded by a fence about 8 feet high and six feet thick made from some very thorny bush called a whistling thorn bush. They do this to keep marauding animals out at night. The men make the fences, and the women build the houses.

All the houses are the same. They form a circle.

This fence surrounds the entire village. Homeland security Masai style


We were invited into a house. It had three rooms. The parents (mama and papa) slept in one room, all the children in another, and the third room was for cooking and eating. The cooking was done over a charcoal fire, or maybe a dung fire.

Mary Ann entering a house. Most the Masai men are taller than me so I cannot figure out why they made the doors so small.

Mary Ann inspecting the master bedroom.

The main room where the cooking is done.

There was an interior fence, as imposing as the exterior fence. This serves as a corral for the cattle at night, as well as for the goats. Cattle and goats are the mainstay of the economy and the diet of the Masai.

The entire village it seemed came out to greet us with a traditional dance and song number which of course included the vertical leaping of both men and women. They made me join the chorus line and had a good laugh at me trying to go vertical. I think these guys could stand flat footed under a basketball hoop and dunk. But they don’t play basketball. In fact I did not see any evidence of any sport. Making a living following around herds of domesticated animals protecting them from numerous predators must be sporting enough. Many of them had the brand on their cheeks. Tough hombres. Also, living in an Arab nation, and traveling a lot in Asia, India, and Nepal, I have gotten used to being the tallest guy in any room, at 6:1. Not here. I feel like a twelve year old hanging out around NBA players.


They made me jump so they could laugh at me. they love to laugh. Notice I am carrying one of their big sticks. I was ready to fight off a lion! The stick was very hard and heavy. I felt well protected.

Our Masai guide around the village was the son of the chief. His name was John. As he talked to us I noticed a wonderful bracelet he was wearing. I asked him what it was made of. He said Elephant bone. I started to like it even more. I had on a silver and turquoise ring I picked up in India a few months back. I wore it on this trip because I was not attached to it, and if it got lost or stolen I would not think twice about it. I offered to trade him my ring for his bracelet. He did not want to talk about it in front of the other Masai men, and he simply said “later.” I did not know if that were a hip blow off like “later dude” or “we’ll talk later”.

John and his buddy.

Then they showed us how they make fire. They use a twig from an Acacia tree “from mount Kilimanjaro” and a stick from a cypress tree. Basically they do it like American Indians, or boy scouts. The men make fire every evening for cooking and the women come and take burning twigs home to light the charcoal.

I learned how to do this in boy scouts, but I respectfully acted amazed.

Then they asked me if I wanted to try. They made a little pyre of the dried dung they us as kindling and gave me the sticks. I sat down in front of it and pulled out my lighter. I said “White mans magic” ‘ We all got a good laugh.

It is easier with a lighter. But I tried. If I had to do this to light a smoke, I'd give up smoking

Then they took us around a corner where every woman in the village had stuff for sale. The Masai do a lot of things with beads. Where do they get the beads? Well, we did not get a good answer. It was a bit complicated to ask if they come from China, so I dropped that line of questioning. We bought a few doodads. My favorite was an ivory ring from an elephant tusk. I know I know, but if you could see how many elephants there are in Amboseli, and were realistic about them dying out in the swamps of old age, then I have no problem with the natives taking the tusks and doing something with them to make a buck. Later in the week I asked a park ranger “if an elephant dies of old age in the park,  is it OK to harvest the tusks?”. The answer was an absolute no. So, I asked “what happens to them?”.  She told me that all the tusks are brought to the ranger’s office in the park and stored away. I understand that, you do NOT want ivory on the market. But hell, Kenya could probably go a long way to paying off their national debt by selling the ivory.  Anyway, I love the ring.

When I put it on, I took off my turquoise ring and walked over to John.

“Ok let us talk trade” I said. He had already tried my ring on and not only did it fit, I could tell from the look on his face that he liked it.(Masai have never developed a poker face?) I figured it was because it would be unique in his tribe. I started thinking of the concept of a cargo cult or the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. (Google either one to get my point) He said to me “This was my Grandfather’s bracelet.” I figured that was bullshit, so I said back “This was my Grandfather’s ring. He traded with a Navajo chief in Arizona for it 80 years ago.” I am sure we both knew we were BSing the other but it took him about two seconds to take off the bracelet and take my ring. SCORE!

I asked Gideon if he knew another person was a Masia just by looking at him. First he said the Masai are usually tall and thin. They walk so much that you seldom if ever see an overweight Masai.  He told me two more things to look for. Masai sometimes pierce their earlobes and wear heavy ear adornments that make a huge gap in the earlobe. I had noticed that. The other thing to look for was a missing front bottom tooth. There is a sickness Masai infants sometimes get that does not allow them to open their mouth to eat. They pull the center tooth out so they can force feed them porridge. I now find myself looking for the missing tooth.

When we got back to the lodge and finished dinner, we walked outside under the stars. Mary Ann mentioned how beautiful they were. It dawned on me to look for the Southern Cross. I looked to where Kilimanjaro was, due south of us and looked up. There it was bright and beautiful, right over the tallest mountain in Africa.  It was thrilling to have that experience.  The Southern Cross is a wonderful sight from wherever you see it, but it was pretty special to know the mountain was right under it. My trip to Africa became even more real.

Ok Ok you want pictures of animals. Here we go.

Very close to the village, withing striking distance of where the Masai graze their cattle we saw our first lioness. She did nothing but lie there for fifteen minutes. Being a predator takes patience.

We never saw a hyena in the wild, but this is where they live, underground. There is a longtime study being done by Michigan State University to study hyenas. You will need to go to their website to figure out why.

These are wildebeests grazing in front of the iconic acacia tree. I have many close-ups of the wildebeests, but you are not missing anything, they are sort of ugly.

Papa, mama and baby elephant. It is reported that Amboseli has more elephants per sq kilometer than anywhere else. I BELIEVE IT! Just like the Masai, they walk in a straight line, even when they are in a herd.

Sometimes the elephants just stop in the middle of the road. Nothing you can do about it! This one has one of the birds that ride them and eat bugs off their skin in a perfect symbiotic relationship. Sometimes they hop off and pick at the elephant tracks for insects in the ground.

Whatever you do, never try to out stare and elephant!

Asante for reading. Please tell a friend and make a comment. The next post will concentrate on birds. See ya soon.

About forrestwalker

An expat living overseas, traveling with my wife extensively and sharing the experiences with you!.

Posted on June 12, 2011, in Africa, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Laurie and Dan

    Happy Birthday MaryAnn Sounds like a wonderful trip. I have something to trade you Forrest, for the bracelet……it was my grandmudders!!! All is well here, think of you often especially when I was in Bocas last week!!! Y U K Looks like we might have sold the island though for the third time…..then no mas!! Dan is doing very well. Love from us both. Laurie

  2. Great post and I had a very similar experience. The “grandafther’s ring” bit was hilarious.

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