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  • Our guide tells us that 120 different tribes lie in Tanzania. The most famous one is the one of the Masai. Long before I felt anxious to see the Serengeti I wanted to visit the Masai. I had seen so many photographs of them. I can hardly wait to see these tall and proud warriors and hunters with my own eyes! I am all ready with my camera in my hands. Our guide brings us to a small Masai village where about a hundred people lie. At the entrance to the village the Masai have gathered in an impressive manner: men on one side and women on the other, all dressed in blue and red capes and with their colorful jewelry around their necks and arms and legs, men long spears in their hands, they begin to clap and sing and dance in high jumps as soon as they spot our approaching jeep. The men throw their spears from one hand to the other; the women have to stop jumping once and again and reaccomodate their babies in the slings around their shoulders and waists. Some men and women jump very, very high into the air and before their feet return to the ground an otherworldly wave seems to flow from head to toe through their bodies.

    I take photographs of the women. They like it and pose. Some speak a few words of English. They show me their babies and tell me their names. I tell them my name. They ask how old I am. When I say that I am fifty-six they stand there in front of me with their mouths open. They are all around twenty.

    They have stopped dancing and jumping and a young Masai man comes through to me, he separates me from the women and announces,” I am your guide. Don’t talk to the others and don’t buy anything from them. You have to do everything you do in our village through me. I will get you better prices.”
    He holds his hand out and orders us to pay fifty US Dollars each to enter the village. We pay. Immediately another young Masai man jumps at his side. He carries a paper block and a pen and book keeps our entrance fees. I notice the women in some distance observing the scene. Their faces seem angry to me.

    Our guide and the bookkeeper have the long earlobes of the Masai, but do not wear any of the traditional colorful earrings in them. “Why don’t you wear your earrings?” I ask the young man answers,” We study and our earrings just bother us in school.”

    We just want to walk around and shoot photographs. But our guide kind of forces us into a small hut, his mother’s hut, as it turns out. It is good that his mother is not home, because if she was we would not have fit in there altogether. The entrance is so low that even me, who I am a short woman, have to deeply bow down to get inside. Why do such tall people build themselves so low huts? Our guide does not understand my question, so I never find out. The Himba hut we visited a few weeks ago seems like a dancing hall in comparison.

    “Before I married,” explains our guide,” I had to kill a lion.”

    We contradict him. This is not allowed anymore. “If still any young man killed a lion there would not be any lions around anymore!”

    I see that the young Masai gets angry,” There is a man in this village who has killed one hundred lions!” he announces. With this he places a bead necklace under my face in the center of which something like a tooth is dangling. I have seen heaps of these necklaces in the Nairobi Airport. They were in special offer for 2 Dollars apiece. “ This is the tooth from the lion I killed,” he screams into my ear,” I give it to you for just 25 Dollars!”

    We decline the offer and he chases us out of his mother’s hut, but comes quickly out of it behind us.

    Our fierce young Masai guide brings us to a small market at the center of the village. The women have hung up their necklaces, which resemble plates made out of colored beads, and their bracelets there. I recognize some of the women I talked to at the entrance of the village before. I ask one of them for the price of one of the pieces. She looks at the guide and shyly answers something I cannot understand. Our guide shouts something at her that does not sound polite at all. She shuts her mouth. Then he tells me the price, which is three times of what I saw a similar necklace offered for in our hotel the previous night.

    “ That is much too much!” I complain

    He lowers the price a tiny little bit. “ If you buy more, I can give you a better price!”

    We like to pay people for being our photography models and think that if we pay a higher price here we could understand it as if paying the people for letting themselves be photographed. I do choose several pieces of jewelry. The women put their hands in front of me so that I can pay them, but our guide chases them away.

    This burdens me. Still, I go around and photograph and realize that few faces are beautiful. Many women look prematurely aged, they show missing or teeth full of cavities. Our guide reassured us that their diet was still the traditional one: meat, milk and blood. I guess by now the Masai buy a lot of trash food in the local stores. I observe that many women throw furious looks at our young guide, but they keep quiet. I don’t know what to do.

    He then brings us to shabby shag. Inside about forty toddlers sit on the ground in front of a teacher. The children sing us a song. Then the teacher puts a wooden box in front of our noses so that we donate some money to his school. We do.

    When we leave the school middle aged good-looking man comes to greet us. He collects all our dollar bills – nearly 200 of them – from our guide. The guide introduces the man to us,” This is our chief!” The chief shows a very happy smile. On his wrist I detect a golden Rolex shining in the sunlight.

    We want to photograph a bit more, but our guide chases us back to the entrance. Everybody else has gathered together there again already, too. Men on one side, women on the other. All of them clapping hands, singing, jumping high into the air. A new group of tourists has arrived. We are not important anymore. Since our arrival not even 45 minutes have passed.

    We tell our guide we want to visit another, smaller, not so touristy Masai village and he brings us to one half an hour away. Our experience there is similar: young men asking horrendous amounts of dollars for everything and many angry women.

    I do not feel that I want to see more Masai after that.

    I am close with many Mayan women here in my homeland in Southeastern Mexico, they have a sadness hovering around them, their lives have been harsh since eons before the conquest. Wherever I have gone in the world women seemed to have carried the burden of the world and have been little respected for that. That is one thing modern times are starting to change in large parts of the world.

    The Masai women I saw seemed to have the saddest and angriest faces of all the women I have met so far.

    Photography by Kiki
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