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Meitamei Dapash, Trip Leader, Kenya

Field Report from the Maasai Mara

Our drive to the Mara from Loldia took us through Naivasha town, as we headed south along the floor of the Great Rift Valley. We saw the smoky Oldoinyo loo Nongot (Mt. Longonot) smile at us from the west. To the east, the morning sun shot sharp orange rays over the forest-covered highlands walls east of the rift valley. The morning was cool and the smooth-flowing crisp air was delightful.

After four hours of a rough ride on the tattered Narok-Nairobi Road, we stopped at the Loita plains. This is where I shared with the group the story of my childhood life: growing up in Masai* land, and what it was like herding cattle in the wildlife-invested grazing territories of the Masai people. It was quite emotional for the group, and for me as well. Some picked up small rocks to bring back home in memory of this place and my early life here. I was moved and honored by the reaction of the group.

We made it to the Mara in time for lunch and were given a welcome dance at the Mara Sarova. While the group had lunch, I dashed to Siana Primary School and Empopongi villages to make sure the program activities had not changed since the last time I was there. It turned out to be a long day for me but in the end, I was a very happy man. The first evenings game drive was fabulous. The group saw lions, elephants with babies, buffaloes, etc in large numbers.

The next day was our biggest day! It was the community day or as I want to rename it, friendship day. After the morning game drive, we left for the village. Haroun and our other organizers were at hand to receive us. The reception was very warm. Warriors and women welcomed us with beautiful songs and dances. After a brief introduction, we went into the village and watched them dance. Roger, Don and I joined the warriors dance but the women outperformed us: they quickly stole all eyes. But the warriors also had their turn to be on the spotlight as soon as they started competing in their jump songs. First, it was one warrior at a time, then two, then three, then four, until it was a whole group. The older men like me bowed out gracefully as the contest reached its climax. Everything went so well, there were tears and laugher everywhere, as the experience became very emotional.

It was now time to get down to business. At this point, the men joined the warriors in the spear throwing competition but as expected, none of us could match the strength of the young warriors: those spears went far!!! Roger beat Don but I beat both of them. More than winning or losing, we had great fun!

In the meantime, women were having an incredible time beading. I was amazed how our guests were able to communicate with Masai women and vice versa, in spite of the language barrier. I concluded that people do not have to speak the same language to communicate. Rather, communication occurs when we all realize that language differences are human strengths and not weaknesses, and when we understand that we are all one in flesh and blood. The beading exercise went on for at least three hours and if it were not for time, it could have continued into the evening. Some women in the group made themselves either earrings or bracelets with the help of the Masai women. On the other hand, Masai women learned new designs from the group and made new things using those designs.

We allocated one full hour to buying as the group felt they did not have sufficient time in Amboseli. I was amazed to learn the villages had many old Masai beadwork, which I thought had long disappeared. The quality of the beads was outstanding, ten times better than those of Amboseli. I was simply amazed. We resolved to promote old Masai beadwork, as a way to preserve Masai bead culture. The 17 Kilos of beads donated by the group will go toward the new initiative to revitalize old Masai bead culture.

In the end, the group had spent over one hundred thousand shillings. Again, the 7 villages benefited from the program and were moved by the support. You may leave with blessings and take them to all those you left behind in America. We cannot thank you enough for the respect, friendship, and the economic power you are giving us. ''You are true friends, brothers and sisters'', said Emily Montet, women leader at Empopongi.

I have said before that this program is not only empowering Masai women, it is also bringing down walls of stereotypes and negative propaganda of the tourism industry about Masai peoples culture and aspirations.

Our next stop was at the Siana Primary School. As before, the head teacher, some members of his staff and students were there. Schools were closed in Kenya and it was only because of the respect they have for MERC and the Wildland Adventures groups the students were recalled from the nearby areas so they can meet us. I felt deeply humbled and honored by this gesture, especially because I knew the group was so much looking forward to meeting the students. As with the previous Wildland Adventures group, the head teacher told us about the school, and its efforts to promote girls education among the Masai community. The students then entertained us with songs and poems. I cannot explain how moved the group was. It was all tears but these were tears of love, admiration, and joy!

Like the first group, there were inquiries about how the travelers can help. MERC and Wildland Adventures have now set up a program, e.g.: Masai Girls and Boys Education Fund to facilitate donations from the US and to manage the program back in East Africa. MERC has the capacity to do this.

Overall, it has been WONDERFUL!!! There was a FULL PAGE article about the Maasailand Safari in the local East African News! Amazing work!

Also, last Friday, the Amboseli community started getting water from the Water Well sponsored by the first Wildland group! The elders, women, warriors and children performed a moving ceremony to bless the well and the friends who came to quench our thirst. The water is very cool and clean and a lot too! May you all be blessed!

Wildland Adventures, MERC and its supporters is surely making a difference.