Trip to Maasai, Ilparaku village, Lake Magadi. 24th/25th January 2024
Kibe (from Untethered Magic) was due to meet with the guides in Rongai at 7:30am but nobody showed up. Eventually at 12 they say they are on their way, and almost here. At 1pm Ciarán (UM) and Kibe kindly take me to Rongai to meet them. They show up at 1:30. They want to do some shopping, so we go to the supermarket. They are buying the store. More than a trolley full. At the checkout they turn to me to pay. I’m slightly confused as its more than one meal here (4 bags of rice, 2 bags of sugar, 2 bags of salt, 6 cakes…) The bill is 14,000KES which I am not quite up to speed with the amount but its more than I have paid for the 24 hour trip so something seems off, and no-one has mentioned this expectation to me previously. There are many phone calls to Kibe to understand if I should be paying it. He says I should only be paying for my own food and not for the village, so after all this, we abandon the trolley loads and I have to go grab some shopping for myself, the bill is 1600KES.
This I’m still struggling with the moral dilemma of it all. Should I have just paid- my nature is that I would be happy to pay and could afford to, but does this then set a precedent for all other travelers after me, who may not be able to pay and does it set the wrong tone that they can demand whatever they want from me, that my wallet is open to whatever they want. We take a bus (matatu) to Kiserian, on arrival they want to take lunch and of course I will be paying, again this should be relayed to me. It’s a local café. Amos and Alex take kidney beans with meat (although the meat is so insignificant you cannot see any meat), it looks good, and chapati, 2 or 3 each. Amos also takes cabbage. I just eat a chapati, which is huge, dry, and tasteless, and I take a coffee, instant of course! Whilst eating they then tell me that they want to take a fast car, not the bus and I have to pay (I’ve already paid in advance for the bus) for the three of us, which of course unsettles me again, not the having to pay more, but the dishonesty or miscommunication in the act. I say the bus is fine, but then when I am on the bus, I decide I want to take the fast car, it’s getting late (it’s already gone 4pm, we still have 2 and a half hours of travel and I have to pitch a tent that is not my own (I’m also thinking am I crazy and should I just turn around now), I continue. We all get off the bus and into the car and I am very happy that I did. The roads were all badly flooded and, in some places, completely gone with the heavy rain and again I have a moment of am I crazy, what if it rains again tonight, will I get back again? The driver drove like a rally driver, but thankfully knew the roads well and thankfully I am not a nervous passenger. We were 8 in a car seated for 5. Alex sat next to me in the front, his legs straddling the gear stick, one foot in the driver’s footrest and one in mine and one gentleman Maasai in the boot along with all the packages that were getting dropped off en route. There were many points where the driver had to stop just to understand the route through the water.
Finally, we are dropped at a track end near lake Magadi. Here we alight and await a bike that is going to pick us up and take us to the village, which is another 7-8km from the road end. The sun is setting. We must have waited at least 40 minutes. The sun had now long set and still we waited. Eventually a teenage boy arrives. We load Amos and I, the rucksack, tent, and the box of food on the bike. There is no room for Alex, so he waits for the second run.
The track is precarious, rocky, and flooded in places from the heavy rains, but I love it. It reminds me of a video I made in the mountains in Ras Al Khaimah after a day of climbing as we drove out from the mountains in the pitch black through rocky terrain, just a single light capturing moments in the darkness. They make sure to tell me that it costs 2000KES for 3 passengers. I’m not sure whether I believe them as on this occasion they do not ask for me to pay. I later find out that the bike is driven by a nephew of Amos so I’m sure there has been no charge.
We finally arrive at Amos’s home. There are probably 10 people, his wife, Mother, a niece, the neighbour, it is black of night and there are no lights so I cannot see faces, but their energy is warm and kind and welcoming. They have 2 plastic chairs, one for me and one for Amos and everyone else sits on a wooden bench facing us. More people join, family and neighbours. I am welcomed with tea, which is hot goats’ milk with a hint of flavouring, not sure what, but it is delicious. There is a lot of chatter and storytelling, I’m guessing of the day’s events. Then Amos offers to help me pitch the tent. We erect it with surprising ease. No-one has seen a tent before and once it is up everyone gathers around to wonder at it and to take a look inside.
The men are seated, whilst the women cook, Alex and I chat a little. Another friend, Charles, joins who speaks good English. He has a very calm, relaxed demeanour, and it is good to chat with him too. It’s an opportunity to ask a few questions.
Dinner is served, rice with cabbage, potato with tomato. It is simple and delicious, and we share mango for dessert.
It is probably 11pm before people start to say goodnight and head home. I am exhausted and happy to rest. Before sleep though there is an emergency plan put in action in case of rain. They are worried my tent will get flooded (although I am probably more worried about how rain proof their home is!). Alex is to sleep on a bed of branches that is just outside of my tent. If it rains, he will awaken me, and we will go to Charles homestead. (I later find out that this is also where Alex lives). I settle in for the night and don’t awaken til morning. The best night’s sleep I have had in a while. Their ground is perfectly even and is the most comfortable night’s sleep I’ve had sleeping outdoors ever! I pack up my rucksack and as I emerge Amos offers to help pack up the tent which packs up with ease.
I can finally see where I am this morning. We are in a semicircular lot (which they call a compound) that has thorny bushes circling its perimeter. There is a gate of chopped or fallen branches which are removed in the morning, I am so glad I didn’t need to pee in the night as I didn’t realise the gate was closed at night (to stop the livestock from wandering in)- it would have been a shock. (The bathroom is the dried riverbed behind a cluster of trees. It is really one of the most beautiful bathrooms I’ve peed in!) In the compound the earth is a sandy clay and there and 2 or 3 trees.
Amos’s wife clearing the branches to open the homestead (compound) in the morning.
I also see their home for the first time, a long low building, constructed of branches and waste materials including cardboard and plastic bottles. The left side is open, where the cooking is done on an open fire and strung to the ceiling are numerous large plastic containers (like the yellow ones pictured in the photo below. These are used for their water collection from the local town). To the right are the sleeping quarters which have more coverage, metal sheeting cardboard and plastic. I am humbled.
Amos built this house over a year ago. They call it a temporary structure and they will make do until he can afford to build another or finish this one. For every build or move they must consult a committee of 15 elders who make the decisions on behalf of the village. They are also semi nomadic and will build another temporary home to live with their livestock in the dry season. (This is the dry season but there has been unusually high rainfall this year, which is why they are still here).
There is no electricity here nor running water. The toilet is in a nearby dry riverbed shrouded in trees. The land is vast and sparsely inhabited. It feels peaceful.
Sunrise at Amos’s
This is the dry season and usually at this time of year the land is arid, but I awake to see green and luscious hills, a result of the heavy rains. The women are hard at work in the kitchen already and before long I am served hot milk with a hint of coffee, shortly followed by a stack of bread and marmalade. It is nice to see smiling faces this morning and to put faces to voices and shadows.
The bed where Alex slept.
Donkeys by the caves at the grazing site
By 9am have set off to walk around the land. They promise to show me the village, their grazing lands and the ‘town’. The grazing site is vast and extends as far as the eye can see. It is forbidden to build on these lands, reserved only for the grazing of animals, mainly goats, but also sheep and donkeys. It’s a 3 hour round trip and we stop for tea (hot goats’ milk freshly squeezed, with a hint of cocoa) at Charles homestead. It is filled with goats. The goats are usually penned in but due to the rain their pen is deep with mud and so they are set free in the compound to rest on the dry ground.
The walking tour with Alex, Amos and joined with Charles.
Charles’s wife, Juliet, milking the goat in preparation for our tea, whilst Alex’s wife, Elvinah, holds the goat steady.
Charles left, Alex and his brother centre.
After tea at Charles and Alex’s homestead we head to ‘town’.
Here the town has a very different feeling to the rest of the land. There is definitely a ‘vibe’ to it, an edge. Music is blaring, people singing. The town is made up of close-knit metal sheeted buildings. Each building consists of 4 single rooms, here people can rent the rooms for sleeping. There are all kinds of amenities, a hairdresser, dressmakers, grocers, mobile phone charging stations and 2 churches. The community are all Christian so no longer hold any rituals or ceremonies sacred to land, only circumcision, weddings, graduation parties. They may still hold traditional elements, but their meanings have been lost. Originally homeowners would pour milk as a blessing to keep their property safe, but no-one practices this anymore. The town also has the community water supply where all come to fill their plastic buckets. Actually, not all, there are some Maasai who have jobs, some at the local soda ash (Tata) factory down by Lake Magadi, and some in the Kenyan Army. These houses are constructed of metal sheeting and have their own water tank. The water supply for the village comes from the hills on the other side of Lake Magadi from land which is also Maasai, located 26km away in the Highlands, and where Amos’s brother lives. This is also land where they can take their livestock for grazing in the dry season.
They also insisted I have my photo taken with a goat. Livestock is the sign of their wealth.
The view from the edge of the town overlooking Lake Magadi (you can see the soda ash factory at the edge of the lake in the distance in the centre of the photo). It is also the route to the bus stop, which is a vertical drop and a rocky path down the hillside.
We head back home for tea, a rest and lunch before we head back to the cliff top to descend to the bus stop where we meet Paul, Amos’s nephew. He tells me of some Maasai that still worship the mountains and slaughter animals as a gift to the mountain God. He does not know who they are, but they are far from here. I take the matatu to Kiserian then onto Rongai. From Rongai Kibe has kindly arranged for Evans and his motorbike to meet me, and eventually we do meet.