At Home with the Maasai | Gary Napadov
TANZANIA, Arusha Region, Monduli District, Esilalei Village - The TEM Lab team hit the field again this week to embark on more global mind(set)-blowing experiences. The plan was to revisit and train many of the new entrepreneurs we introduced to Solar Sister less than two weeks ago. At the top of the list was Esilalei Village, my favorite stop last time around. I get to reunite with my Maasai alter ego and confidant, Chief Ngawo. For those of you in my “inner circle” he’s the man in my Facebook profile pic… yes, the one with the machete.
FIRST, a note on the Maasai of Tanzania: they are indigenous, semi-nomadic people located in northern Tanzania and eastern Kenya along the Great Rift Valley. Their diet consists almost entirely of milk and beef, and during the dry season, cow's blood is mixed with milk. Therefore herds are the life-blood of the Maasai and many such herds can be seen along roads all over Northern Tanzania. Although many Maasai cannot read, write, or speak Swahili, let alone English, the Maasai are extremely warm and inviting, charismatic and resourceful people (just look at their sandals). They live in a world unspoiled by the Internet and indoor plumbing, and with the exception of the fact that nearly all own a cellphone, they live, per Western standards, an “indigenous” lifestyle. Wealth is measured by the number of cattle, boys start herding at the ripe age of 10, polygamy is standard, women milk the cows and goats, make cheese, and gather honey. Oh and the men, well the men don't do much but run their "boma", occasionally sell cattle, drink honey beer, and sniff snuff. Although the men don't do much, most are very sharp and business savvy. Many serve as chiefs, community leaders, and teachers. Some even hold posts with the AWF and other conservation organizations. And don't let the Maasai "prehistoric" lifestyle fool you. The Maasai are amongst the wealthiest of people in Tanzania as that "cattle wealth" can add up to a great deal of monetary wealth. Cows' starting value is 400,000TZS (~$240) or more, and bulls are worth anywhere between 1 to 2 million TZS ($600-$1,200). Ngawo and his father have about 2,000 in their possession. But all that cattle will not bring the electric grid to Ngawo or anyone in rural Tanzania (Only 14% of Tanzanians have electricity). And that's where we come in with Solar Sister and AWF, to bring a new kind of clean, sustainable energy revolution to Africa – one that is market based, gender inclusive and grassroots - in this case bringing light, hope, and opportunity to homes all over rural Tanzania.
NOW back to Esilalei. We arrived to a warm welcome and got a very unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a Maasai village, and of course see Chief Ngawo, my fellow chief (as he referred to me when we first met) who welcomed us with open arms. During our first field visit we planned our return for training, and were told that it would be the same day as a big celebration, a circumcision ceremony, the major rite of passage for Maasai men. So I’m thinking it’s like a brit-milah, the Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony, right? No, not so much. Unlike the Jewish ceremony performed on the 8th day of life, the Maasai men are cut at the age of 14 to 16. The only similarity is the "8th day" part: the Maasai boy must first herd cattle for seven consecutive days and is circumcised on the 8th day (aha!). Not sure if we arrived just before or just after the deed, but we were met by pleasantly intoxicated Maasai men, and Maasai women beautifully adorned in traditional Maasai patterns, bright purples, reds, and blues, covered with endless beads and headdress… There’s definitely a party here.
AND there was Ngawo, with his big smile and humorously intoxicating "YES" he exclaims frequently to express agreement, support or understanding. Ngawo is a self-described business teacher, a man of great cattle wealth and plentiful wit. As he walked us through the cliques of chatting women, through his gated "cow zoo", Ngawo told us of the daily herding rituals, somehow bringing it back to the day's ceremony. You see, Ngawo speaks English (well enough) and not unlike myself, has a habit of rambling. So standing there, ankle deep in cow manure, it does not matter if we understand, we just gently nod and let him continue with his story telling. As we exit the gates on opposite side, we find Ngawo's home, about 20 feet in diameter, made of twigs, soil, cow dung with a straw humpback rooftop. Outside the home, dressed in bright reds and blues (as if for the 4th of July), stands one of Ngawo's families.
YES, one of his families. As I mentioned, polygamy is standard, and Ngawo has 2 wives and 2 sets of children. This is a bit off his initial estimate of 8 wives and 16 children; perhaps it was the honey beer and snuff talking last time. At that moment his second, very pregnant wife entered the scene and we quickly changed the subject. To preface, we have seen many Maasai homes in our many days of travel in the field. We even saw a staged Maasai home at the museum at Snake Park. But nothing could have prepared us for the real deal. It was broad daylight, but as we entered Ngawo's home, it was complete darkness. With the exception of a couple briquettes of charcoal glowing from the night before and the flash of my camera, the house was filled with darkness. Ngawo grabbed a flashlight and gave us the grand tour. Words don't do justice to what we saw and heard on our visit... It's a good thing I had my GoPro camera rolling the whole time:
More from Ngawo on his work with the AWF at Manyara Ranch: