Living with the Maasai

MAYOO Foundation


Volunteer: Max, aged 19, lives in UK


I was fortunate to have been able to travel to Africa when I was young. My parents took me to stay with friends in Kenya and Zambia when I was small enough to be carried around in a backpack. Now older and looking back at the photographs, I always wish that I could remember the times I had there as a toddler.


I first contacted Jonathan when I was looking for some work in Africa in my gap year before university. I contacted Jonathan via the Workaway website, and plans were made. On 20 June 2013, I flew into Nairobi and my adventure started. Nothing could have prepared me for the next month. The way it turned out, I didn't work at Jonathan's local school, as we had planned. Instead he taught me about the Maasai so that when I went back to the UK I could help spread the word about MAYOO with some real knowledge of the people.


I found it hard to adapt to such a different culture, but I allowed myself to be adopted by the community. Everyone was very kind and helpful, and I was given a Maasai name and learned some basic words and expressions in their language.


I liked to go out into the hills, walking off the tracks crunching over the dry, arid ground, or along very narrow - one foot wide - red dust paths. My companions talked to me as we walked, telling me old stories of the Maasai and explaining their old tradtitions. We would go to the 'toothbrush tree' to give our teeth a good clean.






The streets are either very narrow or very wide. There is a roughly rectangular pattern to the streets but there are lots of narrow alleys which lead off in unexpected directions, disrupting the block pattern. The buildings are cement and many are only partially painted. The shops lead into each other - when you go through a door inside a butcher's shop you find yourself in some different place. African Narnia. The ground outside is always either red dust, especially the big roads which go through the town, or dark dirt or mud.



We get a lift in a pick-up truck down to Magadi for a trek into the hills. We set off under a pale blue sky, just before sunrise, light falling on pale red dust around dark green low-lying trees which are waiting for water that won't come for another nine months. The sun starts to get hot as I remove my jumper, leaving my shuka (Maasai shawl) wrapped around me. Leaving the town, the terrain changes as we go over a large hill. It is getting dryer and sandier and the sun gets hotter still. We walk for a long time. The landscape is now more like desert. Not sand dunes but a very dry flat land of gritty sand with few trees and sometimes littered with rocks of all small sizes.

We have walked a long way and I'm told we're half way. I watch my two Maasai companions. They present no emotion and don't appear to notice the harsh terrain. Just calmness and acceptance of what is. It is hot. We don't have water. There is still the journey back, but no-one seems concerned.

The ground starts to feel different underfoot. We've reached a salty dried-up lake. Mud coated in salt makes a crunchy sound when you walk on it. A white layer of silver white crystals covers most of the mud around the edges of the still, flat lake in front of us.Flamingos flap away from the water.

After struggling through some sharp grass we see the water springs that we were our goal. Water bubbles out of dark rocks. A low layer of misty steam hovers above it. We climbing up to reach the actual spring. It's good to sit at last.

After a time we walk on. We find ourselves under a tree in the fierce midday sun but the leaves provide little shade and the two-inch thorns which protect this lonely tree provide none either.

Thankfully the way back is quicker - we meet some other Maasai guys on motorbikes and they give us a lift back to the town.