Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Musings on the Hike to Olmoti Crater and Masai Culture

John talked as we walked. Although he has a Christian name, the Masai are neither Christian nor Muslim. Rather, they believe in the god of the mountains. Their diet consists of milk, cow’s blood, and occasionally meat from sheep, goats, or cattle. No fruits, no vegetables, no grains. No wonder Masai life expectancy is only 49.

Why, then, I wondered, did John wish to return to this primitive life? He had been away and knew about other ways of living. He was personable, smart, literate--and even had his own email address. But the bonds of tradition pulled tighter than his foray into a modern world.

Finally Olmoti Crater came into sight, with tributaries of the Mungee River flowing through the chasm. We watched tribesmen in the distance herd cattle to graze on the lush mountain landscape and drink fresh river water. Barefoot boys bounded up the mountain (obviously more used to the altitude than we were) searching for a special tree root to make a medicinal tea. This is the wandering life John would return to in a couple of years. Thoughts of what his future would hold were very unsettling to me.

After reaching the top of the mountain, we started a challenging downhill path to the waterfall, tromping over loose debris near the edge, crossing the river by stepping on slippery rocks, and scampering down algae-covered boulders to the cascading water.

According to our itinerary—written in America—the crater hike would take about 30 minutes and a little more to the waterfall, one way. Slowpokes and photography fiends that we were, our excursion lasted almost two hours, during which John continued to share snippets about Masai culture.

We returned to the van, and our driver Didas, who had waited patiently, headed down the rutted road and out of the park. Too soon it was time to say good-bye to John. As a parting remembrance, we gave him a generous tip for escorting us—and for sharing the culture of his people.

I’d really like to know how his life turns out in five or ten years, but my wishes for him almost certainly don’t match his own.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Ed Pilolla said...

the masai and other remote tribes remind me how removed from the land we urban creatures are, and what this removal has done to our souls.

Beverly Burmeier said...

Yes, we are removed from the land--but our life expectancy is much higher because of better nutrition, medical services, technology, etc. The question is how much of a trade-off are we willing to accept? Or how can we merge the benefits of both lifestyles?