The interesting thing about wildlife viewing in East Africa is that the Masai are an integral part of the scenery. These tall and regal cattle herders work in the reserves as guides (like Wilson), askaris and managers. They live in the adjoining conservancies, where cattle still graze.
We visited a small village in the Naboisho Conservancy. It was late in the afternoon and storm clouds had built up, threatened to rain and withdrew as we drove along the almost impassable track, rutted so badly from vehicles crossing it when the clay was wet. The road looked like some piece of modern art, rutted, ridged, wet and dry.
“Wilson”, I said, “We don’t want to go to a tourist village. Show us the real thing.”
“Yes, we are going to a small village like mine. You will like it.” He was very proud that we were visiting. His conservancy was only two years old and they were all super keen to make it work. We arrived at the village which had a brush and thorny barrier encircling it. The diameter was about seventy meters.
The clouds closed in as we arrived. We walked through the narrow entrance that was closed at night using thorn branches. There was an inner stockade which was covered in cow dung, and as the rain came down the wetness cleared the strong animal smell. This stockade was where they kept their cattle at night. The poles were over two and a half metres tall, closely placed and formed an impenetrable barrier. There is a program to facilitate the Masai buying mesh and barbed wire at reduced rates to further reinforce the stockade. If a lion takes an animal from a secure stockade then the government pays out the owner. The Kenyan constitution is being modified at the moment: they are debating the monetary value to be paid out if the lion takes a human life…
The adult women all greeted us with a handshake. The children all lined up, inclined their heads and waiting for a greeting which left me feeling like the Pope blessing the masses: each one had to be touched on the head in greeting. It was quite moving. The men were out, some working at lodges and some just chatting. The older boys were out with the cattle. As we looked around we saw a herd of thousands of wildebeest moving south on the horizon, a reminder of the reason I was in the Mara.
The village was poor. There was no running water or latrine facility. The mud houses were low, with small doors and tiny ventilations slits as windows. The buildings were laid out in the outer circle, between the stockade and the outer thorn barrier. We went inside and sat with one of the woman, asking questions through Wilson who acted as an interpreter. There was no natural light coming through the slit in the wall. The slit was smaller than a shoe box on its side, and it was dark and overcast outside anyway. Each house had a solar rechargeable lantern donated by an American benefactor. At least this did not add smoke to the small fire which burnt in the hearth.