Saturday, December 21, 2013

Karibu Ifunde

Maasai guy
     We have a Maasai boy in our preschool named Ima. He's beautiful, about 13, and starting Std 1 in January. He was in Std 5 at a govt school but not learning anything, so his brother David sent him to us, and he has started over from preschool and is doing fine. Although having a teenaged kid in preschool does present its own unique set of problems, so far so good. His brother David is in his mid 20's, handsome, tall and long limbed, like most Maasai, and works as a tour guide about five hours from here.

The barbecue pit
     David called me the other day to invite me to a sherehe in his village, and promised we would be welcome to take pictures and join in as we wished. Hamna shida. I've been wanting to visit a Maasai village, and my friend Ann also wanted to go. It's not something most people get to do, except on arranged tours, which is a totally different thing, so we jumped at the offer. David arranged for two pikipikis, and off we went, 45 minutes of beautiful scenery over a very bad road. There's lots of beautiful rides over very bad roads here, because the roads are, in general, very bad. Main roads are fine, but I don't live on a main road.

     This village is called Ifunde, and it's in the middle of no place at all. I too live in the middle of nowhere, and this is many miles past me. I always wondered what was behind the mountains. Now I know it's more mountains, tree stumps, and thorny bushes. There's something wonderful about going someplace very few people go, and despite the rough patches in the road, we enjoyed the trip. I have yet to figure out why the driver left the main path for the detour through a million grasping thorn bushes, but such is life.
Ima’s brother, Ima and his mom

     We arrived mid afternoon, and were greeted with big hugs by Ima and David's mother. Most Tanzanians greet in a friendly manner, but with little physical contact. Maasai, however, are not most Tanzanians. She's a lovely, happy woman, with 7 boys, 2 girls, and a ancient husband. Traditionally, Maasai men marry late, and marry young girls. Ima is her youngest, and he was home for the sherehe.

     This was a circumcision ceremony, but Ima is too young and will join the next group. The ceremony before this one was in 2008, so I guess some years from how he will get his turn, along with his age mates.

No celebration is complete without one or two enormously drunk guys. This was early afternoon, so you have to admire his diligence.
     We did not witness the actual circ, nobody does. The boys sit in a hut and wait for a man with skills in this area to do the deed. I was talking to a moran, (young Maasai men about 18 to 30 years of age), and he was telling me that the boys are not allowed to cry, moan or even flinch during the cutting. I asked what would happen to a boy should he disgrace himself in this manner, and he really had no answer because apparently, it's unthinkable and will not happen. They stay in the hut for 2 days, and during this time their adult female relatives stand outside the hut singing, dancing, and shouting encouragement. Everyone is dressed in their best, and everyone has a good time, with the possible exception of the recently snipped.

Moms and aunts and grandmas singing and dancing for the boys inside
     Men and women celebrate in separate areas, the women singing at the door of the hut, the older men butchering and cooking the meat. The morans (warriors) gather in a circle, singing, grunting and jumping. Just like the NatGeo specials. It's amazing to watch. They stand ramrod straight, arms at their sides, and jump about three feet in the air, using only the balls of their feet. Their heels do not touch the ground. It's a competition. Two moran will go into the circle and face off. Young marriageable girls stand around the periphery and join in the singing.

Meat storage system
Meat, meat and more meat
     Then they walked us down the hill to the food preparation area, featuring rice, some kind of beef stew, and about six cows worth of cooked and barely cooked meat. Large chunks of beef were resting on an elevated handmade wooden platform designed to keep away the dogs, while still making it available to the flies. They dangled long strips of barely cooked meat in our faces, streaks of fat congealing before our eyes. A Maasai diet is primarily meat, and like the NatGeo says, they do cut the vein in the cow's neck and drink the blood. They prepare it in various ways, sometimes just letting it clot, or mixing it with milk. Their red meat diet hasn't hurt them, they are a truly healthy looking people.

     It's impolite to refuse food at a sherehe, so we took a few small pieces. Fortunately the blood and milk mixture was not the soup du jour. I had a few chunks of beef while Ann, that sissy, pretended to nibble a piece then carried it around for a while before conveniently dropping it in the grass. It was ok, very tough and needed salt, but killed just that day so safe to eat. The flies certainly seemed to like it. I got meat stuck in all my teeth and was finally forced to do the unthinkable. I flossed in public. I couldn't stand it anymore, had to do it. I did offer a mint flavored string to my guides, but they didn't know what it was and anyway they have teeth like rocks and chew through just about anything pretty easily.

Ima’s sister
     Ima came by to say hi, and we met the rest of his very large family. We offered to bring him back to Berega on the pikipiki but he said he'd rather walk in the next morning. We were on a wheeled vehicle for 45 minutes, so I figured he'd be walking most of the day. Maasai are pastoral people, and spend most of their time walking and herding their cattle. Many live in villages now, no longer nomadic, but their cattle range far and wide. The feel the entire country is pastureland, and occasionally this leads to conflict. A while back, a Maasai was killed over a grazing dispute.
Ann and her future husband. That she already has a husband was no problem, he has no cows, so who cares?
     My friend Ann is originally from Korea, but everyone here thinks she's Chinese. Anyway, she's in her early thirties, old for a Maasai bride but still young enough to produce many offspring and received numerous marriage proposals. My Kiswahili is reasonable, certainly good enough to bargain with the men over how many cows I expected to receive for her and her childbearing hips. He offered 10, I countered with 200, he laughed and agreed, asking if we could seal the deal immediately. It was all in fun, just passing time, and I only told Ann about it after we had reached an agreement. She laughed, but then looked at me and asked what would happen if there were 200 cows in our backyard the next morning. Hamna shied, she moves to the village to breed, and I am a wealthy cow owner.

Handsome Maasai guys
     We came home, washed the dust off our feet, and took a nap. It was a great day, everyone was so welcoming and happy to have us there. We took hundreds of pictures and got a peek into a totally different culture. Many Tanzanians look down on the Maasai, for their old style ways, and sometimes tease Ima for being Maasai. When the newspapers report an accident, they might say that ten people were killed, and two Maasai.We were discussing it in class one day, because the kids said Ima was beating them, neglecting to mention that they had been harassing him. So we talked about it, and I asked how they'd like it if Ima ragged on them for being Kaguru and not having any cows. Ima has 12. As my parting shot I reminded them that tourists spend enormous amounts of money to visit Africa, but they're not here to see Kaguru ( predominant tribe here in Berega).

What can I say? Is this cool or what?
      What I like about the Maasai, is they don't care what anyone else does, they just do their thing. Even if they come in and get regular jobs, as some do, they are still very much Maasai. They saunter through the village in their Maasai garb, jewelry, and weapons, head and shoulders above everyone else, myself included. They are supremely cool, and they know it. I hope to go back again, maybe for a wedding or some other sherehe. Good to have friends in cool places.

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