Kenya: Hakuna Matata and Me

Travel Kenya - Maasai warriors at sunset in Kenya. Flickr/jeaneeem
Maasai warriors at sunset in Kenya. Flickr/jeaneeem

I never dreamed that I would travel to Africa – I thought it was too expensive, too complicated, and much too far. But then I got an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and I decided, amidst trepidation, to go to Kenya.

I had all sorts of anxieties before the trip – fear of plane crashes, wild animal attacks, scorpion bites, and more. Thankfully, none of those calamities actually occurred. I did have some unusual experiences, however.

Once, in the middle of one night, I awakened, sitting up terrorized in bed. A warm hand (or paw?) had grabbed my foot – not something you want to happen when sleeping alone in an unsecured tent inside of a game park in Kenya.

After lying motionless for what seemed like hours, I fell back asleep, hoping that the foot fetishist was no longer a threat. Yet, when it happened again just a short while after, I dared to turn on the lamp and found to my supreme embarrassment (and relief) that the ‘hand’ was in fact a rubber hot water bottle put between the sheets without my knowledge. As an American, I had never used one and let me tell you, they feel quite weird if you aren’t forewarned!

Travel in Kenya - Young Maasai boys in Kenya.
Young Maasai boys in Kenya. Flickr/jeaneeem

One of the most endearing episodes of my life happened while in Kenya. On a warm Sunday morning, somewhere deep out in the Maasai Mara savannah with a park ranger, we encountered a throng of Maasai cattle-herding boys from about 5 to 15. They were all eager to touch my humidity-challenged hair, which they said was like a “lion’s mane.”

Some giggled, some shrieked a bit, but none were too shy to give it a go After all, when one lives in a dung hut surrounded by wilderness for hundreds of miles in every direction, it’s not every day one gets to touch a “mzungu”s’ hair. That’s what I was in Kenya – a “mzungu,” which is Swahili for foreigner, or white person. Lest they had trouble identifying me as such (highly unlikely,) I wore a T-shirt with the word emblazoned on the front – something that got quite a few chuckles from the locals.

A handsome Maasai guide, Oleshargegilololtoriroi (AKA Joseph,) was my escort on a nature walk. He was decked out, as always, in his flashy traditional garb of red plaid wraparound blanket, no end of colorful beads and an exotic leather braided headgear that made him look positively royal.

He carefully translated for us and told me that the young boys were on a mission to collect branches for their teacher to use as whipping switches – something to keep on hand, apparently, whether needed or not. When I told them that my own children didn’t have this treatment in their school, they looked astonished. Each politely shook my hand and as I walked off, I felt a thrill that these boys were now not only part of my memory and part of me, but that I was also a part of theirs’ and them. Maybe I was the only “mzungu” they had ever met. Most probably, I was the only one whose hair they had touched!

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Janna Graber

Senior editor Janna Graber has been covering travel for more than a decade. She has traveled to 38 countries -- and counting.
Janna Graber
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