We are on the move. The days are predictable and the program imposed. In many ways we are children, being told what will happen next and having little say in where we will go, or what we will eat. I’m out of my comfort zone where I call the shots minute by minute.
We climb into our safari vehicle arrange our gear and prepare for another long day. I’m always bitter at the beginning of the day, my mood improving with each animal sighting and subsequent photo. We are on our way to Ngorongoro Crater and to get there will travel out of the Serengeti.
The animals are so plentiful and we stop for a time to watch the Wildebeests and Zebra decide whether they should cross the dry river bed to follow the rains. Stephen knowingly advises that their survival depends on this decision. The Wildebeests look confused and I recognize this immediately having been lost in more than one subdivision, looking for a patient’s home. The Wildebeests have an extra level of difficulty as they need to pass by crocodiles who are waiting to cull the herd, whereas my lack of direction will only make me late. We ask if they should cross and Stephen tells us they are already on the correct side. The lead Wildebeest is in charge of making a decision for the herd and lacks GPS, he must go on instinct. We are kindred spirits and I send good thoughts to the leader that they will stay where they be. It’s a harsh place where wrong decisions can mean the end of life.
We meet up with the remainder of our group. It’s great to see them, unfortunately, Illness and sunburn has plagued some of them. We chat about the animals we have seen and our respective accommodations. They are staying in lodges. John has found fresh brewed coffee, wine and pringles. I’m in love all over again with him, such a treat. The place we have stopped is set up for tourists, complete with proper toilets and running water. I linger and enjoy soap and savour the moment by allowing the warm water to run over my hands. We enjoy our boxed lunches and sit at tables surrounded by an oasis. Too soon we are off bouncing along in our respective safari vehicles.
A short distance away, Stephen stops the vehicle, reaches for the binoculars and tells us he spies a Cheetah. We are awestruck that he can see a speck on the horizon and know its a Cheetah. When asked, he smiles and with an expanse of his arms he gestures at all we can see and tells us this is his office.
We are asked if we want to stop at an authentic Maasai village. The consensus is yes though our decision is motivated chiefly by a chance to get out of the vehicle. The cost is $50.00 per Safari vehicle. The Maasai who appears at the window to collect our money sports an expensive watch. It seems there is nothing authentic here. We leave the vehicle and they dance for us just outside their village. The focus of the dance is jumping high. We are then split into groups of two each with our own guide and enter the village.
We duck inside a home and as our eyes adjust to the darkness, gradually the space comes into focus. It’s small and smoky as fires are lit inside with little ventilation. It is the job of the female to build the home, while men are valued for their herding and hunting skills. The children are filthy and all seem to be suffering from illness. Later Stephen tells us many of them suffer from AIDS. We are ushered around a circle of items that they want us to buy. As we walk it is clear that the lives of the women and children will not change with the buying of a trinket and though there is not much I can do for them, I choose to not buy to fund another watch. The man walking us around is not happy with this decision and the tour for us is at an end. He begins to usher us out when I remind him we have not seen the school as promised. He brightens and ushers us into a dismal building, says something to the teachers and students and we are treated to stares by all. We go to leave and are asked for a donation to support the school. We decline and are given the bum’s rush out the back entrance. We hear from the others in our vehicle that if a trinket was bought, the children in the school would perform. We all agree this is a tourist trap.
A very short distance away we see authentic villages, children waving with happy smiles and families proud and hard at work. It costs us nothing extra. We travel through this area and see children tending goats, some as young as 4 or 5 years. They seem happy, though I can’t help but think that their childhood is compromised.
We stop at our home for the night, tucked into the woods with a canopy of trees overhead. Its beautiful. A Maasai warrior will stay the night with us. Stephen tells us that they are paid as we are camping on their land. The Maasai is friendly and helps with the chores needed to make dinner and camp. I know that I will enjoy a deep sleep comfortable in the protection of the Maasai warrior