I am sitting on a firm, uncomfortable bed, gazing around at the interior decorations of a woman made shelter. There is a muffled voice speaking drowned out by my own thoughts on life. The shelter is about 1.5m high, constructed mostly of timber poles and branches and held together by mud and cow dung. It is the home of the Chief’s son in the particular village I am visiting of The Masai people. As interested as I am by the words he speaks, my thoughts drift off in the direction of how did I come to be here? Why am I so welcomed here?
The Masai populate small sections of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. I am visiting a village on the brim of The Ngorogoro Crater, where the Masai people were relocated in 1951 from the Serengeti National Park by the British. Here they battle on again off again bans on cultivation processes. This can prove to be problematic in a culture where cattle acts as a form of currency as well as a status symbol. This, along with constant influences from the outside world can clearly begin to outline a painting which drastically differs a picture from the past.
In a clear division, women and children on the left with men on the right, the Masai jumping dance is a greeting that appears genuine and cemented in tradition. The learning’s of their every day life comes from a sincere place, the way they engage with the visitors is spontaneous and not part of a rehearsed spectacle for tourists. The children’s classroom in the back of the settlement is a staple to their lifestyle and overall life path. Everything seems authentic, in tact and yet there’s still something that troubles me. Why am I here?
I have no real purpose in the Masai village other then observation for my own personal gain. To say I have visited a group of semi-nomadic individuals who comprise a village in Eastern Africa that most will only read about. To engage with humans on another level, from a completely different walk of life. I am not special, I was not invited, I will not leave an impactful impression on them, nor will I be the last one to experience their culture. So, how did I get here? It is simple, I asked my tour guide to take me here.
It is this catch twenty-two that I struggle with. Wanting to engage with foreign customs only to realize my participation could influence such a historic and iconic community in a negative way. Flashing cameras and cellphones in their faces and promoting it to social media. It is through this mainstream influence where I saw the transition to modern day consumerism. Farewell handshakes blending into negotiations on dollar signs for their goods. Being offered the opportunity to purchase souvenirs which resemble the very same items I have found all across Africa’s visitors centres. Are these items the real deal? Is the rest of Tanzania duplicating these hand made treasures and trying to sell them at the Masai’s expense? Or are they all one in the same? Is it the exploitation of a collective with a genuine origin that bugs me? Or is it to the likeliness of a private game reserve, whereby rare game is bred for the sole purpose of hunting in hopes to preserve the wildlife in the rest of the land? Is this village, the one that houses the firm bed I am sitting on, the sacrifice? Is it the village elected to display cultural significance in a consumer window display? Where tourists can come from far and wide to marvel at the exotic transformation of one’s daily routine, so that other villages can prosper in tradition?
I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWERS. I ASK MYSELF THE QUESTIONS AS I ENJOY THE HOSPITALITY IN FRONT OF ME. IF A DAY EVER COMES WHERE I AM NO LONGER WELCOME HERE, I WILL BE SAD, BUT UNDERSTANDING. ALL I CAN DO IS RESPECT THEIR CULTURE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE CONSERVATION OF THEIR HERITAGE, IN ANY WAY THEY ALLOW ME TO. RIGHT NOW, IN THIS MOMENT, I AM HERE BECAUSE THEY WANT ME TO BE.