Maasai of the Future

During my time working in Kenya I had the incredible opportunity to travel to The Great Rift Valley and stay with a Maasai family and it ended up being an experience I will never forget. I left Nairobi along with Kellie and Ai, two nurses I had been volunteering with and we took busses and motorcycles from the busy city to the rural countryside where our host family lived. There are plenty of ways to experience the Maasai if you travel to Africa and they often welcome tourists and visitors as a way to generate income for their village. Our host family had been connected with us through mutual friends and lived on a secluded family farm miles away from the nearest neighbor with no villages or tourists in sight. Our experience was certainly a unique one, when we arrived at the farm we were greeted by a beautiful young mother who had been sitting in the shade of the only tree on the property with her newborn baby while she beaded a necklace. After a warm welcome from all of the children we were given the tour of the farm which was comprised of 3 homes and 3 generations of family members who lived together and tended to the cattle. Most of the structures on the property were made with mud and sticks, but some of the living quarters had been made with modern materials but none of the buildings featured plumbing or electricity and the only water available for miles has to be brought up in buckets from a well a 10 minute walk away. The only electricity on the property was in the form of a small solar panel that would charge a small radio that played music or football matches, depending on who had control of it. Our host family was one that was clearly changing, the oldest member of the family was a Grandmother who still wore traditional Maasai clothing and jewelry but the majority of the family wore more modern clothing mixed with traditional blankets and jewelry. Technology like basic cell phones are used and some of the family members even attend a modern school during the week so this family is not the traditional Maasai family that you might expect to see on National Geographic or one that you would meet visiting a Maasai Mara village but to me the change and diversion from tradition made the family seem more authentic. They are now burdened with the task of deciding what to keep from the past and what to introduce from the present and where those lines are drawn. Education often changes tradition, once common among Maasai, female circumcision is now rarely practiced which I see as good examples of change, on the other hand the children are drawn to cell phones like moths to a flame, something that I don’t necessarily see as being beneficial so it will be a very delicate dance as families break with tradition and adapt to the modern world. On the bus ride home I noticed a man sitting a few seats in front of me and something was very peculiar about his ears. After a few moments and some silent theorizing I figured it out – he was a Maasai man with traditionally stretched earlobes who had taken his earrings out and had looped and tucked his stretched earlobe back behind his ears so they wouldn’t hang and be noticed, he was in transition, traveling between two worlds…. just like I was.