Saturday, September 17, 2011

maasai homestay :: tanzania

ema and laizer are two maasai warriors from the ngorongoro conservation area in tanzania. when i first met them i had no idea that years later i will be adopted into their family. my visit to their village took a lot of planning but eventually the date was set and i was beyond excited to go.

when i boarded my plane in addis, i was a bit nervous, visiting their village is no small feat. it takes 2 days to get there and while the scenery and experience was promising to be spectacular, the remoteness of their home seemed a bit daunting. as i flew by mount kilimanjaro, i quietly said hi to the now familiar kibo peak and secretly was happy that i don't have to climb it ever again. at kilimanjaro airport the sounds of swahili made me feel strangely at home and ema's warm welcome immediately put me at ease.

the ngorongoro conservation area lays in the north of tanzania. the maasai have lived here for thousands of years, their bomas speckle the landscape. they raise cattle which is their biggest commodity and unlike many other tribes of africa, they successfully kept their traditions and preserved their culture.

after a very dusty and generally uncomfortable 2 day journey that took us through some of the most amazing landscape, we arrived to nayobi, a tiny maasai village. from here we still had an hour walk to the family boma. ema and laizer are brothers from different mothers but the same father as it's common for maasai man to have several wives. their father is the chief of the village and he carries his tall frame accordingly. he has 5 wives and as each wife has at least 6 kids, he doesn't exactly know how many children he fathers. the news of our arrival quickly spreads in the boma and just about everyone who can walk comes for a quick meet and greet.

our welcome gift is a roasted goat head on a stick, which i have no choice but to taste. luckily ema thinks it's the biggest treat ever and is eager to finish it off for me. for the next 4 days i eat more goat meat than i thought humanly possible. tea with fresh cow milk and generous servings of sugar is also a staple and we drink several cups a day.

making friends in the boma is easy. though conversation is limited, smiles and touches quickly brake the ice and from then on it's all giggles while teaching each other words by pointing and signing. the lives of the villagers is hard yet it's simple and peaceful. its devoid of nearly all western comforts, which i find refreshing the first day but by the fourth i would give just about anything for a shower or a bed without baby cows next to it. i follow the women through their daily tasks from hauling water from the well to cooking on an open fire in the hut and suddenly i appreciate having a kitchen and running water more than ever. being dressed with all the incredible beaded jewelry was an other treat, and only after the hundred and fifteenth photo that i was ready to take off the pounds of beads.

when it's finally time to say good bye i'm deeply touched by all the gifts i'm given - precious honey and beautiful hand made jewelry. but the real gift is the wonderful dancing and singing that all the women and children perform for me.  i'm grateful to have mastered enough maa, the maasai language that i'm able to express my gratitude.

the opportunity to be welcomed into a maasai boma as family was an experience of a lifetime. and while our lives couldn't be more different, i was reminded that at the end of the day we are all the same, whether we live in the western world or a mud hut. ashe naleng.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

something about karen

i love being on the road. the excitement and joy i feel when i get on a plane parallels nothing and hasn't changed since my first trip 25 years ago. i'm also constantly reminded how privileged i'm to have the opportunity to explore the world. but traveling is challenging at times. it puts me into situations that are often uncomfortable and unfamiliar, scary or even dangerous.

i travel a lot, on my own, in groups and with friends. each has it own advantages. but anybody who travels knows that finding a good travel partner is difficult. and to find someone who doesn't annoy you after 3 days or who reacts nearly the same in any and every situation is practically impossible. or so i thought until i met karen.

karen and i met in africa a few years back. we spent 3 weeks squeezed in the back of a land rover criss crossing tanzania and realized we loved traveling together. we couldn't be more different, but that first trip put us through just about every challenging situation one can have on a trip and at the end we knew we'll be amazing travel buddies.

since that first trip we have traveled thousand of miles together across continents. there is no one i would rather drink honey wine in a bar at 3am in a village where they have never seen white people or with whom i would share my tent for a week without a shower. she inspires me in so many ways, she is smart and funny, incredibly fair and open minded. and, she puts up with my idiosyncrasies (no small feat, i'm well aware). i'm grateful to have met you karen and can't wait to travel together for years to come. yo-ho!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


a few weeks ago, i spent a day with a bunch of young african students in a small town in tanzania. they were keen to know if i thought obama was going to be elected again. the general consensus amongst them was that he has to fix the economy first. i was quite impressed by the interest and knowledge these kids took in our politics and the surprisingly fair assessment they were able to make of the situation.

traveling as an american during the bush years was rough. nearly everyone's first question was "what is wrong with your president", then a long explanation had to follow, that no, i didn't vote for him, no, not all americans like him or agree with him and so on. then all this changed with obama winning the elections. obamamania spread across continents like wild fire, from the us to africa as far east as indonesia. it was again cool to be an american tourist, people welcoming you instead of wondering if they are faced with someone as crazy as our president seemed. if nothing else, just the word obama and a thumbs up sign signaled i was welcomed.

i just recently returned from indonesia, where everyone was beaming with pleasure that he studied in jakarta and his stepfather was an indonesian. what an honor! every single person i met proudly recounted his indonesian tenure. 

at the end of the day, i'm equally proud to be both an american and a hungarian, as some would say, a hungarican. i strongly support obama and crossing my fingers that he will win the next elections. so seeing these images from africa always make me smile, because unlike for us obama branding is mostly business, for african's it's really a love affair with our first black president.