Tuesday, June 1

Steve: Our final day camping at Lake Natron brought us some wonderful opportunities to interact with more of the Maasai people, a group that we have become increasingly fascinated with for their unique culture and extremely friendly disposition. We also enjoyed experiencing some of the beautiful scenery of the area.

After a 7:00AM "Jambo, Jambo" (jambo means "hello" in Swahili and this has become our Tanzanian wakeup call), we had breakfast and set out for a hike into the gorge here at Lake Natron. Despite this being the dry season, there is still a good deal of water flowing. The water at the bottom of the gorge is partially salty due to runoff of various volcanic minerals that occurs in the streams that feed it. Our final destination was a large waterfall complete with a natural pool that would prove to be a wonderful cooling reward for our hike today.

We began by walking by one of the many Maasai bomas that are basically small neighborhoods. A boma consists of a circle of small homes made of tree branches and cow dung. The center of the boma serves as a holding pen for cattle that are kept inside by a fence built from the thorny branches of acacia trees. This particular boma was brand new, and we could see several of the homes still being constructed. Some of the cow dung "plaster" was still wet and incomplete in several areas. Later in the afternoon we would have an opportunity to visit another boma and spend time with the families to get a better understanding of their lives here.

Prior to reaching the gorge, we were serenaded by calls of "hello, hello" from large groups of children who followed us, along with women carrying bags of Maasai crafts for sale. Lake Natron is an area frequented by a large number of tourists each year (this happens to be the beginning of the season, so we're basically the first ones here), and the local Maasai are well-trained on how to do business with their visitors. Even the small children take advantage of the opportunity, speaking a few critical English words and offering to pose for photos in return for payment.

Nassibu decided to engage one particular woman who followed us determinedly in a negotiation for a set of four beaded Maasai bracelets. At first he was simply having a good time playing with her, but eventually we all stopped and Katie became quickly involved, further practicing her already fierce negotiating skills. Our first round ended up in us walking away, unable to bridge the gap between the asking price of $3.50 and Nassibu's offer (on our behalf) of $3.00 for a set of 4 bracelets. However, we were confident that the woman would be waiting when we returned from our hike. Sure enough, she appeared again during our walk back, and we happily bought our souvenirs making sure that she knew that for our $3.00 we also expected to be able to also take some photographs of her. Nassibu jumped right in to pose with the woman in front of the Langai volcano, but nothing we did could seem to bring a smile to her face.

While the woman was putting a bracelet on David, we took pictures of her hands adorned with a total of eight rings representing the marriage contracts that we described a few days ago. The rings mean that this woman has entered agreements with eight different men, granting them permission, in first-come-first-served order, to marry her future eight daughters. Of course, if she doesn't have eight daughters during her lifetime, then some of these men will miss out. As opposed to Naiyobi, where the price for a daughter is currently seven cows, the going dowry here in Lake Natron is anywhere between15 and 20 cows. If this woman successfully gives birth to even 4 or 5 daughters, she'll become quite wealthy. In the meantime, being able to exhibit so many rings on her hands is something of a status symbol, showing that a large number of men desire to marry her children.

Our hike through the gorge was a wonderful and fun adventure. Justin guided us up and down steep rocks, and we often had to walk through and across the river to continue making our way toward the waterfall. Fortunately, the dry season has made the height of the river very manageable for walking, but in some areas we still needed Justin's help in finding the right spots to cross and his hand in steadying ourselves against the rush of the water.

The gorge is quite steep and the scenery today was beautiful. Since it's so early in the season we were also the only ones making this trek today. As we continued, the water became faster meaning that we were probably nearing our destination. Finally we rounded a corner and saw the waterfall, a very pretty cascade of water originating from an unusual grove of palm trees high on the cliff. It didn't take long for us to all get in and refresh ourselves in the surprisingly warm water in the pools beneath the falls, and we all enjoyed relaxing and playing in the water.

After hiking back to camp for lunch, we made the short drive to the small Maasai village of Engarasero, located here at Lake Natron. The entire village is about the size of a city block, and consists of several small shops, some homes and a couple of bars. A group of women sitting under a large tree were selling milk contained in calabashes made from a type of dried gourd. We also visited the local butcher, who for a fee will slaughter and barbeque your goat and a small store where the Maasai can purchase an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn.

We came to the village with the intent of buying some authentic souvenirs, including one of the traditional Maasai spears that the warriors carry, and also a calabash. The calabash was easy - several of the women offered to sell us the ones they were using today in the market. For the spear, one of the warriors in the village originally offered to sell us his for $30. When we offered him $15, he followed us all around the village finally dropping his price to $20. We were about to settle on $17 or $18 when another warrior (pictured here with David) offered us his for $15 and the deal was done.

Katie had a wonderful opportunity to further refine her now ferocious negotiating skills as she was surrounded by women looking to sell her various pieces of beaded jewelry. She has learned what having a strong negotiating position is all about and successfully purchased several souvenirs after an appropriate amount of haggling with the locals. It's great fun to watch her in action!

Next was a visit to a local boma that's the home of Marias, a friend of Thomson Safaris back in Watertown. Marias has one wife and three children. The other man who lives in the boma has eight wives, all of whom we met today. Each wife has her own small home in the boma, and their common husband simply decides each night where he is going to sleep. The wives also each own specific cattle (with overall ownership belonging to the man).

We counted a total of 24 children in the boma today (there were probably more that we didn't see), and were told that another seven were out taking care of the cattle. That means that outside of Marias' family, the other man living here has fathered at least 28 children across his eight wives. All of the women we saw today had small babies in their arms, and were also amazed at how many children of similar ages there were. We all joked about how "busy" this man has been!

This boma is very new, and several of the homes are still under construction. In looking inside several of the homes, it's clear that the Maasai live with the smallest number of physical possessions out of all the groups we have visited during our travels. Similar to what we saw in Naiyobi, the homes contain only a few small bowls and mugs, a dried goat skin that serves as a bed, some plastic jugs for holding water, and rocks that are used to form a place for cooking fires. That's it.

The women are in charge of building the homes and taking care of the children. Once boys become eight or nine, they head out to the fields to care for cattle, goats or donkeys. Some go to school, but many do not. From what we could tell during our visits with the Maasai, the men have very few responsibilities, other than making sure that their wives and children are performing their tasks. We were also told that many of the "elders" spend much of their time in the village bars.

At the conclusion of our visit, the women all displayed the various crafts that they have for sale. It was hard for Paula and Katie to decide who to buy from, but they eventually chose a few things and we all said our goodbyes.


















This evening Katie received a lesson in making Maasai beaded jewelry from a woman that we had met in the village. Nassibu arranged for her to come to our camp to give Katie a 30-minute lesson for $1.50. Katie had fun learning about how the jewelry is made, and enjoyed making a small bracelet of her own.

As we updated our photos on the computer from the day, a group of several Maasai gathered around with a great deal of curiosity. Most of the people had never seen a computer, and they laughed and pointed as they saw pictures of their friends and family members on the screen. David took a picture of some of them crowded around me in the Land Rover (we have had to use the battery in the Land Rover to run the computer since there is no electricity in the camps).

Tomorrow we'll be leaving the Lake Natron area, and will drive south along the Rift Valley to the E'Unoto resort. Here we plan to spend a half-day relaxing before continuing our adventures in Tanzania.


David's Daily Dump: Maasai Marriages. Throughout our safari here in Tanzania, we have been able to visit with Maasai people, and learn about their intriguing culture. One of the things that struck us most about their way of life was how marriages are arranged.

Although we have learned about many different types of arranged marriages, this is by far the most unique and interesting. We discovered that proposals are not made to existing woman, but to unborn girls! Boys sign a contract with a woman saying, for example, that "I will pay you 17 cows if I can marry your fourth daughter" (who is not born yet). If the boy is lucky, he could by married at the age of 20, and if unlucky, over the age of 45!!!

The first thing that I should explain is how men actually acquire wives. For one thing, the Maasai are polygamous, which means that any man can have more than one wife. There are not enough women to go around, so every man relies on luck. The main difference, as I have already mentioned, is that you have to sign a contract with a woman, which promises you one of her future daughters. If you are born into a rich family, your father makes the first agreement with a woman (the boy is usually 2-3 when this happens). The mother is second when the boy is a little older, and then the child is on his own when he is between 8 and 11 years old.

When asking a woman to marry one of her unborn daughters, you must present to her a ring (usually made of brass) and agree on a dowry (price the boy pays to marry the girl). At present, the dowry price is fifteen to twenty cattle, which is much higher than it has been in the past. In total, the boy may make anything from 5-20 proposals to guarantee himself at least one wife. Sometimes you might be the first to ask a woman for a daughter, and sometimes the 8th, depending on how quick you were. Girls get married at the age of eighteen, and usually have, more or less, 10 children (some don't survive to become adults). Again, if a man is lucky, he could get his first wife at the age of twenty and have more than ten wives, but if unlucky, he may not be married until he's over forty, and may not even get a wife.

Now you may be asking why it is important to have more than one wife. The answer is simple: cattle. The more wives you have, the more children you have, the more dowry cows you get in return for your daughters! Having lots of wives makes you rich and also gives you a high social status, which together makes you the envy of the village.

A good example is our Maasai guide Justin. He made two proposals himself as a boy, but has not even had an existing wife since last year! The women he signed contracts with had many boys and very few girls (he wasn't first in line) He is now twenty five, and is engaged to a one year old girl! It will be seventeen years before he is married, and he will be 42! There is no guarantee that the child will even survive!

Understanding how Maasai marriages actually work has been extremely difficult and hard to comprehend. It is so different from our western style of marriage. Imagine being Justin and watching your infant wife grow up. It's inconceivable for me! But that is just the tradition of the Maasai and the way it has been for hundreds and hundreds of years…












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