Kenya travels: A remote Masai village welcomes its first white guests

Word of an American couple’s visit attracts villagers from across the valley curious to see their white skin and smooth nylon tent.

Finbarr O’Reily/Reuters/File
Masai warriors herd goats on the plains of Kenya.

At a dinner party I was introduced to a fascinating man whom I discovered was not only an elder of the Masai tribe, but also a student of theology at a local seminary.

The Masai are seminomads and cattle herders in East Africa who live in temporary huts made from cow dung. So to meet one of them in America, studying at a seminary, really captured my imagination.

The Masai do not believe in conventional education as we know it because their boys are raised to herd cattle and be warriors. Thanks to a mother who wanted something different for her child, Moses came to America on a scholarship from World Vision and was educated here. He went on to create a foundation to drill water wells and build schools, and returns to Africa often, where he sleeps in a mud hut less than a mile from where he was born.

I made a point of getting to know Moses, and a year later, my wife and I found ourselves stepping out of a Land Rover in the hot blowing dust of East Africa as guests of his village.

As the first white visitors to Mali Tisa, we spent a wonderful day answering questions about America while learning the oral histories and stories of the Masai. The only problem for me was the huts.

They are only about five-feet high, and I am very large. I bent myself into a pretzel to fit inside them during the day, and when it came time to turn in for the night I was pleasantly surprised to find that Moses had erected a nylon tent for my wife and me to sleep in.

Since he put the tent outside the barrier of thorn bushes that surround and protect the village at night, we were also treated to Masai humor when he assured us we would not be bothered by predatory animals during the night because they “Do not like to eat white meat!”

Now, the other village members had never seen a nylon tent before and were fascinated, calling it a “quick hut.”

No sooner had my wife and I crawled inside than we found countless hands touching the nylon and pulling the zipper up and down repeatedly. This was as interesting to all of them as the strange beings trying to sleep inside.

We were amused by this and lay there trying to drift off to sleep, not realizing that word had spread throughout the valley and soon there was a long line outside waiting to inspect both the “quick hut” and us.

Just when we would drift off to sleep the zipper would go up, an ebony head would pop inside, giggle, and be replaced by the next person. We were the biggest entertainment to hit this valley in quite some time.

And so we lay there, sleepless, through the wee hours as hundreds of curious Masai inspected us. Then suddenly a goat went into labor and began screeching loudly. This continued till dawn when we were roused to help milk the goats because everyone works in a Masai village, including guests.

Moses was amused by our ordeal and arranged for us to sleep in a nearby motel the following night.

Since that time Moses has become a dear friend and a frequent visitor to our home. I often joke with him about setting up a tent in the backyard for him to sleep in, promising that no goats will go into labor.

The best part of this for me, however, has been to become part of the village’s oral history. Since the Masai have no written language, they spend their evenings around a fire telling tales and swapping stories, and they particularly like strange ones. Moses has assured me that the tale of the white visitors in their “quick hut” is a popular one, and that it will long be told around the evening fires of Mali Tisa.

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