Why I regret visiting a Maasai Village in Tanzania
After spending the morning in Serengeti National Park we headed back to the gates and left the park. On our way to Ngorongoro Crater we stopped and visited a Maasai village. A village so far away from civilisation and the world we are so used to live and interact in.
I was very much looking forward to visiting a village like this, experiencing how they live and what is important to them. Getting to know their lifestyle and the people itself.
I didn’t expect this visit to turn out completely different and that it would even lead to regretting my visit. This was quite an interesting and also opinion changing experience.
Prepare to take some cash and get asked for a lot of money. A 10 USD donation was required to visit the village and meet the nomads that live in the national parks.
Everyone got assigned to a member of the tribe and was invited to visit his or her house. They encouraged us to take as many pictures and videos and ask as many questions as possible.
Their houses are very narrow, so we had to almost crawl to get in. I was very impressed with what they are able to build with just wood and other – certainly limited – resources from mother nature. The floors in their houses are the same dusty ground as outside. Small chambers are used for sleeping.
The Maasai that I was assigned to explained a bit about their environment and their culture. It was very interesting to hear him share this with us.
I haven't even heard about most of what he shared with us and that's why I'd like to share a few of the things I recall:
- Every woman is entitled to have one man only. On the other hand, men are entitled to have several women.
- The men stay in many houses whereas the women only stay in one house with the children.
- Everyone in the community has specific tasks and things to look after.
- In the morning they drink a mixture of animal blood and milk. (I've heard this is different from tribe to tribe.)
- In the afternoon they eat meat. (also differs from tribe to tribe)
When I left the small and narrow house I was forced to purchase something at a gift shop. The male and female Maasai stood there and put bracelets on my wrists and didn't let me take them off.
Every family has one of those shops where they sell mostly bracelets and other jewellery. The shop that I had to visit was the family’s one that I had visited the house of.
I didn't know I had to bring any more money besides the entrance fee, so I had left it in the van. I told the man that I would be giving him some more money once I was back at the van. The problem was that I didn't ask about the price. (Huge mistake!)
On the way to the Maasai school, the Maasai started to ask me about the money again. I told him to come with me to the van after the visit and get the money then. He started with a random and very large number. I thought he was using the local currency, the Tanzanian Schilling as a reference, but I was about to find out more about that very soon.
Maasai school or another rip off?!
Visiting the local school startled me. I couldn't find out why the school was situated outside the village, outside the fence. The school was just a little hut made of wood and no solid walls. At one end of the classroom was a board with a bunch of numbers and random words written on them. The dirty floor was just plain sand and dust. The children, certainly not older than a few years, sat on some branches and sang the numbers from 1 to 10 in English.
In the centre of the room was also a box for donations for the school. I looked in the faces of the young children. They didn’t seem too happy about being used to get money from the tourists that way. Ask yourself – would you?!
I asked to take a picture with the kids as they were staring at me for quite a bit. So I got down on the floor to be at the same height as they were. Now I was able to look at their faces. Most of them had saliva and snot on their nose and mouth. I would have offered them a tissue, but I didn't have a single one with me at the moment. I didn't want to get too close either and maybe catch something so I tried to stay at a somewhat safe distance. (Yes, many diseases are transmitted my body fluids, and no, I'm not a hypochondriac and no I'm not implying that they were all sick, it was just a precaution that I took.)
The teacher who sat in the corner quietly pointed at the donation box and I was trying to get her to understand I didn't have cash with me. She shrugged her shoulders and looked away.
Money, money and more money
Back at the car I pulled out a 20€ bill and handed it over the Maasai that had shown me around for the last ten minutes. I thought he would be happy about this – what I thought – quite generous donation, but he took the bill and looked at it in disbelieve. I couldn't read his facial expression. Initially, I thought he didn’t recognise the Euro and so I told him that I didn't have any more Tanzanian Schilling and just had a few more Euros in my pocket.
What happened next really disappointed me: He wanted more money. He asked for more money in a very rude way. I couldn’t believe it. I had already given them 10 USD to see the village now he asked for 70€ for the bracelets and more donation for the school. Still in shock about his behaviour I handed him another 20€ and closed the door of the van to end this conversation.
I honestly wonder what they do with all the money they get from the tourists. There are no shops out here, the Maasai live with nature and have their own animals to get food and milk from. At least that’s what they claim to do and what they told us during our visit. I can’t really get my head around what I saw there.
Comments and thoughts
Writing this shortly after it happened I still can’t believe the rudeness of the Maasai and how it definitely changed my point of view about them. I had a totally different picture of them in mind and it seems like they have become slaves of the modern world and might think that money is the only way to go.
However, I do know that there are other (Maasai) tribes out there as well that live differently and I would love to meet some of them eventually.
I expected to see a tribe that lives far away from modern civilisation (and is not driven by money).
They may or may not be aware of the value of money, but I found it very saddening to see that modern world has reached them and “poisoned” them with the urge to possess money. I am fully aware that they might need some money to buy certain things to survive or for their comfort, however, I didn't like how they treated me. Sure I know that they are looking for some way of making some money from tourists but the high amount of money they asked me and travel companions for seems out of reach.
I would have loved nothing more to really get to know them and interact with them. But I lost my interest on that day to ask more questions about them because of the way they asked for money in such way(s). I'm not saying in lost complete interests in them but I was disappointed on that day.
Have you had any similar encounters? Please share them with me below!
Keep on travelling,