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Monday, February 3, 2014

Day #8 (1/25/2014) - A visit with Maasai

Click here to jump to a web gallery with 58

photos from today.

After a nice breakfast at the Escarpment Lodge, we departed for our final day in Tanzania. As we drove through towns, I snapped many photos to document life in Tanzania. We passed many homes made of wood and mud:

I enjoyed watching the daily lives of the Tanzanians:

We arrived at Esilalei, a Maasai village with whom our tour company (Maasai Wanderings) has a longstanding relationship. We were greeted by our guide and one of the local schoolteachers:

Our guide was a villager from Esilalei:

He told us that he was the only person in his class of 70 to pass the 7th grade examination to gain entrance to secondary school. Even so, his family could not afford the tuition (all secondary schools, even the government-run schools, require payment; free education in Tanzania is guaranteed only through 7th grade). So his village combined resources to send him to secondary school. He then passed the examination to gain entrance to college, where he paid his own way through the government university by taking jobs. He trained to be a guide. So now, he has returned to his village, leading visitors on trips, and bringing tourist dollars to Esilalei. It takes a village to raise a guide in Tanzania!

We started our visit at the local Maasai school, a kindergarten that services over 60 children ranging in age from 5-7. We met the school teacher:

 He showed us the kindergarten, a cinder-block building consisting of a single room:

He explained that this school had been built with proceeds from Maasai Wanderings as part of their partnership. This building replaced the old school, which met in the shade of this tree:

 Yes, that tree used to be the school! So the single-room building is a significant step up. They are in the process of building a second room for 1st grades. And they have this playground:

Because it was a Saturday, only some of the students were present to meet us. They were typical kindergartners, if a bit more raggedy in their appearance that our standards. They were all friendly and were eager to wave, touch us, and pose for photos. I took many photos of the schoolchildren which you can see the gallery link above:

After visiting with the children, we visited the headmaster in the teachers' office (which doubles as a kitchen). We delivered a suitcase full of school supplies (notebooks, pencils, art supplies, etc.):

I asked what supplies the school required upon my return in May. He asked for chalk (white and colored), notebook, and pencils. And that was it! I asked if he, the teacher, needed anything. After some prodding, he said "A motorbike". Sorry!

Before we left, Reed commented on the teacher's walking stick. Reed had been on the lookout for an authentic Maasai walking stick for a few days, and this was a particularly beautiful example, expertly hand carved from a rare type of acacia. The teacher said that it was worth a small cow. After offering my tie dye T-shirt and a Red Sox hat in trade, we settled on my watch, and the swap was made:

Our guide then led us on a walk, showing off medicinal plants in the area:

Our walk ended at the Maasai village of Esilalei, which can be seen here outlined by stacks of thorn-bearing acacia branches that help keep out animals:

In addition to traditional Maasai herding practices (the men subsist almost entirely on the meat, milk, and blood of cows), Esilalei uses tourism to sustain the village. Everyone was welcoming and happy to pose for pictures as our guide explained the various dwellings and implements:

The woman and girls of the village gathered in a large circle to sing and dance greetings for us. They had handmade beaded trinkets arranged on blankets for sale (bracelets, purses, and the like). We bought our share, assured that the proceeds were shared collectively among the tribe (so it didn't matter from whom we purchased):

I will admit that, prior to our visit, I anticipated that Esilalei would be a Disney-fied Maasai village set up for the amusement of visiting tourists, but I quickly realized that this was just a regular village of people living the Maasai lifestyle, with the occasional visitor whom they welcomed. There is no mistaking a modern Maasai woman for an American!

All in all, this day was the most cultural experience we had in Tanzania, and a wonderful capstone to our trip. I plan to return in May with students and look forward to bringing another suitcase full of school supplies.

We drove back through the town of Arusha, ending up at the Kigongoni Lodge, the first place we stayed upon landing in Tanzania. There we had a day room that allowed us to shower, change, repack, and enjoy dinner before heading to the Kilimanjaro airport. Flights to Dar A Salam, Amsterdam, Boston, then a drive home, returning 30 hours after we left.

We bought back thousands of photos, a handful of souvenirs, and life-changing memories to last all our days!

Thank you for reading!
Tune back in May when I return with students....