When one thinks of the people of the Maasai Mara, Kenya…images of lanky jumping warriors clothed in vibrant tunics, wearing cowhide sandals and carrying wooden clubs come to mind. Graceful and proud women adorned with intricate beadwork journeying on their water walks are what one envisions. Attempts to hold onto the dying out traditions of this nomadic people are being made by the older generations but it appears that the modern world is moving in.
I found myself surrounded by a tribe of dancing and singing warriors and mama’s with goats’ milk being spit on my feet and goats’ blood being painted onto my face. Although it was an enjoyable unfamiliar experience I was happy to have, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this all an act? Have I fully been sucked into a tourist trap?” The scene reminded me of a turn of the century Buffalo Bill Wild Wild West Show in Tucson, Arizona.
On location, filming a documentary, I was invited to participate in “traditional activities”, which I appreciated greatly, but be honest, it all felt contrived and didn’t provide an opportunity to connect on any human level. I actually left feeling bad for those who are desperately attempting to hold onto a dying way of life.
Off the beaten path, I was able to find connection. Language barriers meant nothing. I find my camera is a great tool to facilitate impromptu and raw connection.
While capturing footage via drone in a field, locals would begin to gather. Curious about the process and what was happening in their backyard, Maasai villagers dressed in jeans and t-shirts would gather and discuss amongst themselves. There was a lot of giggling and laughter with friendly smiles being passed around. After chasing the drone all the way to landing, one boy continued to try to get my attention by pretending to kick the lens of my 35 mm. That led to a mini camera lesson without language communication. As I look back, that’s one of my favorite moments on the Mara.
These two young farmers were working their field as the drone flew above them capturing the landscape. Intrigued, they approached and obliged me with a portrait. Together, we sat in silence and took in the African sunset.
After visiting the local school, farms and greenhouses, homes, the town’s water wells, and a doctor’s office to get treatment for a co-worker’s eye infection, my hope is that as advancements are made, this culture finds a way to hold onto at least some of their traditions in an authentic manner.
As my bush plane lifts off the dirt runway with the community waving us off, I am left with the impression that the future is bright for the joyous youth of the Maasai Mara.