Our walk through the Maasai Village led us further afield over a narrow path to the top of a small slope. Below us was our home for the night, staying within the protective walls of our host family.
Now full. disclosure. This is something I would NEVER normally do. Had it been an advertised part of my trip I would have not booked the trip. Seriously. To me, the whole idea of visiting a village like this is not unlike a human zoo and I have a major problem with that. Also, I’m an introvert. I am hugely uncomfortable with forced interactions with humans. This whole thing wasn’t supposed to be part of our tour but it was changed at the last minute for reasons unknown to us. We decided as a group to just trust and go with the flow, which is what we did. Our last experience in a village was respectful so we were expecting (and trusting) that this one would be the same but we ALL had ethical questions running through our minds about the whole thing.
The elder whom was hosting us, introduced us to his family. One wife and five children! It was the one wife part that was unusual. In the first village the wives were surprised that we didn’t share one husband and here we were, surprised that this gent had but one wife 🙂
We settled in with a hot drink…
And were then invited to watch them kill and process a lamb, in honour of …us.
We’d been offered this before and politely declined this but something must have been lost in translation. A lot of us were vegetarians and the rest, very sensitive people , so things got tense in our little tent! But our voices were heard -kind of- and we were led up the hill out of earshot while the goat was slaughtered.
Whilst on the hill, we stood around listening to the sounds of the cows and lucky goats. Every herd has a different bell so that each community member can tell by sound, who’s livestock belong to whom! I thought that was interesting and clever. The animals were like music 🙂
Once the coast was clear, so to speak, we were invited to come back and visit a lady who had just had a baby. Our guide suggested this to us and we actually refused at first because…. holy crap! She JUST had a baby. That felt so intrusive! The opposite of what we were going for. Elijah pressed and pressed then went and asked her because we would not go without her permission, and having gotten it, he led us to her home.
We ended up having to crouch and turn sideways to get into the new mum’s boma. That’s how narrow the passageway was. It was jet black inside and smoky as fuck. I started to panic and withdrew from the line of ladies all holding hands. They went in without me. They later said they couldn’t see much because they couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces. And this Maasai woman had had her baby in there! Wow. Much respect.
While they were in the boma, I was surrounded by a huge group of kids. Another lady had decided to stay back so I wasn’t alone, and she was not having a time. A large group of kids can be very overwhelming. I was grateful for her company, because what happened next was really upsetting for BOTH of us.
In my past life I was a special needs teacher. I’m comfortable around kids, large groups of kids so I just put on my teacher hat and went to work. It was all great fun! The kids were full of laughs and then they started asking us for stuff, which we didn’t have- nor would have given anyway- Then, they got grabby. Going so far as to poke around in our pockets looking for treats and when it was clear there was nothing for them, they became angry and the whole mood changed.
We turned to one another and with a nod, walked away. The change was so quick and it was made very clear that tourist visits were having a negative effect on those kids. We were doing harm. However unintentional, our visit to their home was doing harm. The exact thing we feared.
Our evening was spent with the rest of ladies talking about ethics and impact, how begging culture begets dependency, in between learning how meat is roasted over an open fire and a song and dance performance, where I am proud to say I have been told I have a beautiful singing voice, ha ha.
We tried to enjoy our evening but found we just couldn’t. The whole thing felt wrong. Where else was the negative impact of tourism being felt? How else were we harming?
I believe strongly in ethical, sustainable tourism that empowers and improves the lives of locals. I do. And I really feel its not up to me to decide what that looks like. Or what is right and what is wrong, for other people who invite people into their lives so graciously. So I’m really conflicted about all of this. I just know that I have to live by my moral compass and its screaming at me about the whole thing. Even months later.
I hear some changes have been made to the tour so as to have less of an impact, and that’s really positive. Time will tell. The whole experience was an eye opener.
We woke up the next morning and took our leave, feeling humbled by the generosity of the people who’d hosted us and eager to start our next adventure.