A herd of Maasai Giraffes Drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Central Serengeti September 20, 2017
We are in Maasai country. When I think of the Maasai, I think of the National Geographic photojournalism stories that I saw on our coffee table as a child growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I recall looking at the images of tall dark brown men in red shukas wearing beautiful beaded jewelry and carrying long spears. Even as an adult, I made the assumption that these tribal villages are in remote lands where foreigners are not welcome, if for no other reason than that there are no roads that lead you to such villages. I was surprised to drive past villages that resemble the images I have seen produced by National Geographic; women carrying water on their heads, men herding cattle, children carrying goats. I came to a couple of realizations. First, I am in a remote land. Second, this is how the Maasai live.
I learned that the Maasai tribe takes pride in maintaining its cultural traditions. We drive past huts and indeed we see tall men wearing red shukas. This is culture and tradition. This is not poverty. (I have conflicting ideas about this- but am trying to address is as it relates to cultural relativism.) I learned that the Maasai have a polygamous culture. The husband has a compound with his own hut. Within the compound, each of the wives has a hut that she shares with her children. There are frequently fences around the perimeter of the compound. These compounds are beautiful. They appear to be built with intention. They are spread out over the vast landscape, with only land and cattle in between each compound area.
The young Maasai boys tend the cattle. They run towards the road as safari vehicles approach to ask foreigners to take their picture in exchange for money. They ask for food and water. We are told not to positively reinforce their begging by falling for their antics. This is hard to do.
At times the young shepherds lead their livestock to the road at the exact time we cross. This happens frequently enough to know that it is a calculated inconvenience and not a mere coincidence. These children are the same age as the middle school students I taught at Journeys. Could their lives be any more different?
We are in between villages when someone spots a giraffe. Alex obliges to our request to pull over so we can view it. As our eyes adjust to the scenery, we come to see that there are in fact 18 giraffes. Giraffe social structures are unique. They are part of a herd, but the herd does not have an established hierarchy. Nonetheless, they stick together. We watch this herd of 18 travel at a brisk pace together. Meanwhile, Alex has a charming conversation in Swahili with the young shepherd that has approached the Land Cruiser. We know it is charming because of their body language. Alex smiles, which is normal for him, but the child beams back and joins him in laughter. There is another child near the vehicle. He lingers near my window. I greet him in his own language, he does not respond. He sneaks shy glances at me and in our vehicle. I’m intrigued by him. What is his name? How old is he? What is his story? I feel so limited by my lack of knowledge of the local language.
As we drive away, Alex reports that the child with whom he conversed discussed how the children first saw the herd of giraffes. I am relieved to hear that the conversation was about the animals, and that his was not another child beggar. I am not surprised in the least to learn that Alex listened to the young boy and encouraged his excitement about wildlife. I am hopeful that the young boys will become stewards of the natural world around them.