- Africa, Tanzania
I would like to tell you about my special friend Soneka and his people in Tanzania . Soneka is 10 and a member of the Maasai tribe. He helps his family by delivering maziwa, or fresh milk, to my house every morning. Soneka carries maziwa in small plastic jugs and pours it into a metal pot on my back porch. He does this because I must first boil the maziwa to kill germs before I can drink it safely. Soneka walks from his village about half a mile to my house with his sister Adija and his tan dog, Bobi. When he arrives, he doesn't knock on my door; instead, he stands outside and shouts, "Hodi, Hodi, Hodi!" This is his way of saying, "Hello, are you home?" in Kiswahili. That's the language used widely in Tanzania.
Soneka's people have preserved the traditional customs of their ancestors, the people who came before them. Most Maasai dress alike. They usually wear red or blue sheets of cloth called shuka, along with a belt that holds their tools. Almost all Maasai men carry long sticks they use to herd their cattle, as their ancestors did. Most Maasai men carry long knives and wooden clubs, and some even carry flashlights and cellular phones! Maasai usually wear white or black sandals. The black sandals are made from old car tires.
One day Soneka and his sister invited me to visit their village. I was happy for the chance to see how my Maasai neighbors live. From the hill behind my school, I could see their village down in the flat lowlands. I walked to the village with another teacher, Mr. Mhagama. Together we hiked down a long trail that twisted and turned through bushes and trees until we reached a dry riverbed. On the other side was a Maasai man on a bicycle. Mr. Mhagama spoke with the Maasai man, Sumieri, and asked him if he would take us to his and Soneka's village. With a big smile, Sumieri said yes, and we followed him up the trail.
We walked for about five minutes, and then I saw the brown Maasai houses through the trees. The walls were made of dried mud and sticks. The roofs consisted of dried grass. Each house had a door, but no windows. Six Maasai women were sitting outside on a blanket. They were making beautiful jewelry by stringing together tiny, colorful plastic beads. I had often seen Maasai men wearing these white, red, blue, yellow, green, and black beads. They wore them around the lower legs, forearms, waist, and chest. This was the first time I had seen how the jewelry was made. In the village, the men and the women were wearing these beads, along with chains that held shiny metal disks. As the Maasai walked around their village, the silvery disks made a sound like ching, ching, ching. I couldn't help noticing how proud the Maasai look wearing their traditional style of dress. As I was looking around the village, Sumieri came over. He brought two small stools, each carved from a single tree, and he asked us to sit with him.
I was about to ask Sumieri questions about his village when my good friend Soneka came and greeted me. "Shikamo," he said. This is the word younger people say when they greet an older person. In English it means, "I hold your feet." I replied by saying "Marahaba," which I think means, "Thanks, my feet are tired." I was happy to see Soneka and I thanked him for letting me visit his village.
Soon, I met all the children of the village. I was the first American they had ever met. They were all laughing and seemed excited to meet me. I asked Sumieri how long he and his fellow Maasai had lived in this village. He told me his group moved to this area about three years before because it has good grasses on which their cattle can graze.
Cattle are important to the Maasai. In fact, their whole culture revolves around cattle. Maasai are pastoralists, people who raise livestock. Pastoralists often move around in search of sufficient grass and adequate water for their herds. If the rain stops and the grasses dry up, pastoralists like the Maasai must travel, often far, to find new land.
I once went to a cattle market where Maasai from all over the Morogoro region of Tanzania had come to sell their cows. They herded the cows into a ring where they could compare the animals and decide which ones they wanted to buy. After the trading was finished, the Maasai men gathered under small bandas, or huts, to drink and eat. They talked about the news of their villages, because some of them hadn't seen each other for weeks, or even months.
Knowing the important work of the men who graze the cows, I asked Soneka if he ever goes out to help herd the cattle as the older Maasai men do. He said no, because he was not yet a moran, the Maasai word for warrior, and Soneka said he will be a moran when he reaches the age of 18.
The moran take the cattle out to graze and find water by day. The women stay behind to do various jobs in the village, such as taking care of the babies and young children. They also prepare the food and clean the clothes. The Maasai use open charcoal fires to cook their food. To do their wash, they take their clothing down to the lowlands, where they can find enough water. The small villages have no electricity for microwaves and refrigerators, and they don't have running water for washers. Since Maasai women must do this work by hand, it takes a long time. The women also have the responsibility to milk the cows in the mornings and evenings. They milk the cows by hand, squirting the milk into carved gourds called calabashes. The Maasai sell some of the milk and keep the rest in calabashes for drinking throughout the day.
I asked Sumieri if it would be all right if I took some pictures of him and the other people of the village. He said it was, and all the young boys wanted me to take their picture. They were fascinated by the way the image could move on the screen of the digital camera. I promised them I would share the pictures when I was able to print them out. At first the girls went into their huts, so I thought they didn't want their pictures taken. But soon I realized they just wanted to go into their huts so they could put on their fancy jewelry and beautiful purple and white skirts. All the girls stood in a line for their picture, but I couldn't get them to smile. They are not accustomed to getting their picture taken, so they took it very seriously.
When I was able to print a few of the pictures, I brought them back to the village. The children were happy to see their photographs. They laughed and laughed, chasing each other around trying to get a look at the pictures. I had to tell them to share because I didn't have enough pictures for each of them. I was really happy after visiting Soneka's village. There were so many things I learned about the Maasai on my visit, and I'm glad I am able to share this experience with you. I told Soneka I was going to write a story about him to tell American schoolchildren. He told me to tell you all he says hello.