For several weeks now I have been in Arusha- my favorite city in Tanzania. Around the town center I can find everything, great cafes, markets with every possible commodity I might want, and more surprises that are revealed every day. And around the town center, the neighborhoods are almost rural and very peaceful. I found a small blue house, I am surrounded by good and smiley neighbors, and here I also met Paulo who came to sell his Maasai medicine.
Mzungu (we, the “whites”) tend to think, in a way that annoys me I have to say, that the Maasai people (numbering about a million! Across Kenya and Tanzania) exists solely to entertain tourists and dance their jumping dance for them. “It’s not authentic,” they claim knowingly.
Here’s something about the Maasai:
The Maasai tribe is one of the most powerful tribes in East Africa. They dominated large parts of East Africa until the beginning of the modern era that did not contain the nomadic way of life. They are strong in spirit and in preserving their traditions. Strong in their sincere love for their traditions, including their traditional ceremonies and dances.
Arusha was part of the Maasai realm until it grew so much that traditional Maasai were forced to move away from the town to the open plains with their huge herds. There are Maasai who have become town dwellers, with only a few cows in their back yard instead of tens of hundreds and thousands, but the strong tradition continues to exist. Deep knowledge of Mother Earth’s remedies, community values and the way of conducting in the Maasai society are still kept to this day.
In many markets throughout Tanzania you will find Maasai medicine stalls, and locals from all tribes are loyal customers, as the Maasai are considered experts in everything that heals and is found in the open plain.
So yes, Maasai have their own lives that have nothing to do with us mzungus. Shocking … If you are intrigued, I know you will enjoy Eti Dayan’s fascinating book on her life with the Maasai “One of Them”.
Back to our young bush doctor Paulo …
That morning my landlady just walked in the gate (she came to work in the vegetable garden in the yard), and Paulo noticed me sitting on the porch and quickly invited himself inside. A shrewd merchant recognizes opportunities, and before the landlady could protest, in an attempt to protect my privacy, he was in front of me with a big radiant smile.
Of course I was really happy to meet him and would invite him in on my own. I was curious to hear what he was carrying with him.
Each bag has a different medicine – seeds, herbs, mixtures and powders from the abundance of medicines of the open plains.
Here they are called bush doctors. The Maasai traditional healers. Every Maasai learns about the different healing herbs around. During the process of initiation from boy to man they learn more in depth, and some specialize later as a traditional healer. This is also true of other tribes, only the Maasai preserve their tradition in a way that not every tribe succeeded in doing.
Next time, with the help of an interpreter, I hope to hear a little more about all the herbal remedies he carries (we exchanged phones), meanwhile we laughed a lot and negotiated a photo session. After all, if I wasn’t going to buy any of the merchandize, at least we can do some other business…
And thanks to his visit, I got to write you a little about his people, the famous Maasai.
Paolo Syria is a young man full of energy and joy of life. The visit made us all happy, and we will probably meet again.
And this is what I like about Arusha, that around the city center life is conducted in a rural and communal way, which invites to the opening of fascinating meetings …