Alex, Tanja and me cycling in the Enduimet savannah, west of Kilimanjaro | Photo courtesy of Chyna Li

“But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

This is a longer post. I’m still reeling a bit from this past weekend, but first: I cannot really believe that this is our last full week here in Arusha. We have one more day of working (tomorrow, Thursday), before our final presentations in front of our host organizations and the SAP Managing Director of East Africa on Friday, 4 August.

The last few days have been a bit of a rollercoaster in the best of ways. I’m very sad that this experience is closing, and at the same time excited to be back home soon. There is this weight on the entire group as we’re scrambling to finish our work (i.e. there have been some very late nights for us) and to simultaneously savor our last moments in Tanzania together. It’s tough!

The title of this post is a quote from Maya Angelou. Dust — especially rising dust — was featured prominently in our weekend. We went on an adventure in Enduimet Wildlife Management Area (WMA) — which is NOT on Google Maps. It is one of the spaces managed by Honeyguide to help humans and animals coexist in a way that benefits both. The DUST was insane.

I’ve never seen anything like this dust. So light that at a footstep it poofs into the air. So invasive that it leaks through car windows and into closed bags and your lungs. So fine that it was impossible to clean off. Really, in retrospect, it was laughable. Our jeep was at moments (and I am NOT making this up) in a “dust wash” with swirls of it on our windows with zero visibility.

We did a lot of amazing things in Enduimet. We rode bicycles through the savannah next to giraffe and impala. We watched the sun set over the savannah with beer in hand. We discovered critters like spring hares and bushbabies and white-tailed mongooses on a night safari. We camped under the acacia trees and stars, with our ranger and young Maasai guides protecting us during the night.

Our tents under the acacia tree | In front of the sunset

On Sunday, we spent some time at a nearby “boma,” or village, of a local Maasai tribe.

Now, I want to say this first: I have incredibly complex feelings about our visit to the boma. It was beautiful and difficult and educational and inspirational. We were welcomed and pushed away, ripped off and honored guests. Dusty strangers passing through on their way back home. What I want to keep considering and where I don’t have answers yet is how this visit impacts them, their way of life, their struggles and joy. We want the same basic things out of life, when it comes down to it, but their daily life happens to be vastly different from what I’ve personally experienced.

The boma consists of four families, with one leader. Maybe 10–12 homes. The Maasai’s most precious valuables — their cattle — live and sleep in the center square of their village. Next in the second ring are pens for the goats, separated by family, and the donkeys. Then the people have individual homes on the outer ring, usually one for each wife (Maasai men often have more than one wife/family). Around the houses is a fence of thorny sticks to keep out predators and four entrances, which women close up each night.

Children’s clothes drying on acacia | Entryway stool | Kids outside of the home we visited

We were invited into one of the homes, made out of dried dung and mud and straw. Barely tall enough for me to stand in, it consisted of four rooms, including the entryway with the stool where the man would sit. Porridge was cooking on the fire on the dirt floor in a strong, misshapen pot. It was very warm inside, even hotter than outside. The shelves made of twine bumped against my head, and I almost knocked them over.

I bought some trinkets from the women selling them back in the center square, bright blankets covered in jewelry and Maasai handcrafts. No one in the village spoke English, so negotiation was difficult, but our Honeyguide representative Komolo helped out. As far as I know, only our young guide spoke Swahili. Maa is the native language for the Maasai. This boma hadn’t had any tourists visit since January. They did not get “dressed up” for us.

Photo courtesy of Maribel Young

You can probably imagine the rest of the details. Intense heat. Fertilizer floor. Kids in tattered clothes. Flies — lots of them. This was (or appeared like) the poverty that I had seen on commercials growing up. It feels different in person. I don’t really know what to feel, but it’s really not about me anyway. Pastoral Women’s Council and Honeyguide are both amazing organizations that partner with these communities.

I rose from this dusty weekend with a clean shower and a laundry run that cost 15,000 TSH ($7). It was easy. In the face of such daily hardship like where to get water or the price of cattle or the globalization and political machinations that they face, it’s a pretty amazing thing that the Maasai have maintained their culture like they have — they still rise.

With that, I’ll close today. Expect another entry detailing my last week here and how our final presentations go on Friday!

You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Group photos courtesy of Maribel Young

Originally published by Clay Thompson on August 2, 2017. For more by Clay, visit his publication here.