Meeting the Maasai in Longido, Tanzania

Extract from the Cultural Tourism Programme Newsletter, sponsored by the Netherlands Development Organisation.

Practically any person who has ever looked at a National Geographic or Discovery documentary on Africa has learned about the celebrated Maasai tribe. While Tanzania and Africa have many unique cultures, none seemed to capture my imagination as vigorously as the Maasai.

Coming to Africa for the first time, I was determined to learn more about this fascinating culture. Having a 9am to 5pm lifestyle, it amazes me that people can still live an uncomplicated yet physically enduring life. While I struggle with my lifestyle dependent upon a car, internet, stereo, and furnished apartment I find it difficult to grasp the idea that these people still walk miles to reach water and grazing patches for their cattle and goats, the life and blood of the Maasai people. My trip to Tanzania finally put some of my preconceived notions to rest which magazines nor television documentaries came even come close to doing.

As a regular tourist on the tourist trek I was not aware of the opportunities to meet these people. I knew about the numerous opportunities to visit a national park or game reserve which allow tourists to see animals in their natural habitat but I had no idea that one could see and interact with the Maasai as they have been living for 100's and 1000's of years. Knowing nothing about cultural tourism, I took my chances on a cultural tour since I was enthralled at the opportunity to interact with Maasai in the village of Longido. I will not forget!

Guided by a Maasai warrior, carrying a spear in one hand, I was led along a dirt path worn away by human and cattle passage. With the aid of an interpreter, it astonished me to learn of lion combats, of course without guns or any modern weapons. As we continued walking, the guide would stop and show various shrubbery which his tribe uses for medicinal and personal usage. With a beaming smile the I saw the guide's perfect pearly white teeth, he then points to a fallen branch of a wild neem tree and the guide spontaneously commences brushing his teeth. The interpreter tells me wild neem is better than a brush and toothpaste, how can I argue with my three cavities? After an hour, we finally reach the Maasai homes and I see first hand how they live.

Surrounded by children who touch my hair and skin, they are relieved to discover that I am not a ghost, their inquisitive stares are mesmerising. Meanwhile the reserved and shy women scurry and talk amongst themselves. Finally a brave soul approaches me and invites me into her mud home. Through the interpreter, I have an intriguing conversation answering all my rudimentary questions but I was put on the spot too as a barrage of questions came my way.

From the guided walk to sipping milk tea in the dim mud house, the entire experience was so enthralling! Just for one day, I felt like I was placed in the past but the glowing faces of the villagers tell me that maybe the Maasai are a step up on us.

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