Meeting the Masaai

In August of 2015, I went to Tanzania with my best friend Yuting. Neither of us had been to Africa, and we had no idea what to expect. The general plan though was that we would start our trip with a safari in the North. However, we had not pre-booked a trip and hoped to find a good deal once we were in Arusha.

Lucky for us, an afternoon's worth of haggling with various tour companies paid off! We landed a 3 night safari in Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater for a fraction of the price. While we had decided not to pay for an additional tour of the Maasai tribe, I was hopeful that we'd see them in the parks.

What ended up happening was a blessing in disguise. On our first official safari day, the safari truck broke down repeatedly. Each time, it took the driver a little longer to fix it and get us going again until finally we stopped for so long we decided to eat our lunches. The sight of our group also aroused a good deal of curiosity. One-by-one, young boys of the Maasai began appearing over the ridge and eventually at our truck.

The kids were wrapped in checkered cloth and looked at us with the same questions in their eyes that we looked at them with. When we noticed they were starting to eye our lunches we began distributing odds and ends to them. They gobbled it up and came closer to vehicle in hopes of more.

One kid in particular really stood out to me. He was the first person who had arrived, yet the most reserved by far. Instead of hustling food he seemed content just watching and observing us. Someone from the group even offered him a dollar but the boy only looked at it.

When our vehicle was fixed, I showed the quiet kid my phone and asked if I could get a picture. He nodded but stayed put - waiting for me to approach.

Down the road a few miles further, we broke down for good and a replacement vehicle was ordered to be sent our way. This time, we happened to stop right next to a group of Massai and their goat herd. The young tribe members came up to our windows and started attempting to sell their jewelry.

Yuting bought a beaded bracelet, and then we decided to head outside and check out the goats. The kids followed us through the savannah grasses and looked interestingly at our GoPro. This seemed to be as uncommon of an experience for them as it was for us.

Our guide told us it's illegal for tour companies to stop where Massai are located in the parks. This way some of the tribes can retain the authenticity of their culture and not be constantly subjugated to mass tourism. However, if we wanted to visit the Massai with an organized group, there were still plenty of tours that could take us to "approved" areas.

For Yuting and I though, an official Massai tour did not sound appealing after such a random and natural encounter with some of the locals. No one preformed pre-arranged dances, or cooked us a meal from the bush, yet we felt like we had gotten a real look into the daily life of a young Massai.