Welcome to Saikeri
During my stay in Kimuka in Maasailand, our host family offered to take us to visit a traditional Maasai village, where our host Virginia’s partner Daniel’s mother lived. You can see Saikeri to the west of the map, and Virginia’s mum-in-law’s settlement to the south-west of that. Click through to have a proper nose around:
Saikeri, Kimuka & Ngong
We trundled for nearly 2 hours through arid but stunning scrubland (the air becomes much drier the further into Maasailand you go), past numerous herds of cows and goats (or are they sheep?) in our truck, which stalled several times trying to struggle over gigantic rocks which make up the road, and had to be push-started by the passengers.
One of the good bits of road
Those 2 hours only took us as far as Kimuka’s “neighbouring” village of Saikeri. Our actual destination it turns out, was nearly another hour’s walk in the scorching heat, deep into the bush.
But the journey, through the Great Rift Valley, was beautiful, and if you have facebook you can see fellow volunteer Knut’s 47 sec video clip of the ride here.
We found the manyatta nestling in the scrubland & trees at the foot of the hills of the Rift Valley (if you climb to the top of them you can see Tanzania). They’re the ones that are fading into the horizon in the picture below…
The walk from Saikeri to the manyatta (note newfound stray dog friend, and hills on the horizon)
Virginia’s mum-in-law lives very traditionally, in one of the dwindling number of traditional settlements of Maasai manyatta – a small collection of houses made from a wood frame with walls of mud and dung. (Knut even had a very successful go of making a small manyatta hut of his own when we got back to Kimuka).
Daniel’s mum’s hut
Like Kimuka, there is no running water or electricity, but unlike Kimuka, there are no water tanks which collect and store rainwater, there are no toilets (the bush is sufficient) and the shower room is a bucket, sponge, and the great outdoors (done at night so no-one can see, although we weren’t convinced this rule would work for us reflectively pale-skinned Europeans!).
Daniel’s mum and the (great?)-grandkids
The journey from the manyatta back to Saikeri village, and then 20 minutes out the other side, and then all the way back again, is one that Daniel’s mum – a breathtaking, strong, smiling woman in her mid 50s – does on foot everytime she wants water. She either carries the bottles back from this well (the nearest one) on her back, or uses a donkey.
Each hut in the manyatta is separated by its own hedge
The huts each have a single room, where the whole family sleeps and cooks, although a lot of cooking and eating is done outside too. Sleeping areas are partially separated off by stick partitions, and the beds are spread with cow skins and shukas, much more comfy than I expected. Knut took a video of the settlement here or hopefully my photos give you a decent idea of what the manyatta looks like (all of the photos on this post plus a few more are also on my flickr).
Inside a manyatta hut – with a gourd used for cows milk
We also met the other female members of the manyatta community, who were the just-pubescent wives of the men that lived there, and their kids.
One of the girls (wives) let me take her photo
The men were out herding the cattle, and the girls had to make sure the sheep, which spent their day nearer the manyatta, didn’t get into mischief. They were shy but welcoming, and Virginia translated for us when we tried to say hello and thank them for their hospitality.
Daniel’s mum and “the girls”
As well as looking after the kids and animals, doing the housework and preparing food, the women also spent time making the traditional Maasai beadwork that everyone wears. Virginia’s mother-in-law showed off a beautiful wedding necklace she’d made, and I bought a traditional bangle from her for myself. She’s traditional in her way of life, but quietly progressive in her support of girls if they want to do things their own way and defy the Maasai patriarchy.
Daniel’s mum and her beadwork
We didn’t get much time to ask questions – the girls were shy and didn’t speak English and Virginia and her mum-in-law were engrossed in catching up on the gossip so I didn’t like to interrupt too much. But we had a delicious and relaxed lunch sitting under a huge acacia tree just outside the manyatta where the sheep were also lounging, while the boys went to peer at Tanzania from the tops of the hills.
The visit was a real insight into how hard life can be in such isolation without the mod cons we are used to (made so much more extreme by the searing heat and limited water supplies we’d brought with us), but Virginia’s mum-in-law takes it all in her stride, laughing cheekily at us for being too slow and needing rests as she accompanies us back to Saikeri. My excuse was I was taking in the scenery, I’m not sure she bought it but that was my story and I stuck to it!
Waiting for me & Knut…
Knut walks back to Saikeri
Nearly half way..
And even having walked for nearly another hour, Daniel’s mum amazes us all by effortlessly running the last few hundred metres into Saikeri:
Last one to the tree’s it!
It was a privilege to have been welcomed into such a private and traditional way of life, so far removed from any tourists. I’m not sure I could cope, but it’s these values of hard work, family, and care for their animals and land that the Maasai are fighting to preserve.