Thanksgiving: Masaai Style

Bumping up and down, knocking foreheads and cheering Mark on while he violently shifted gears, our small group found our way to a small Maasai village in a 1960s, totally gutted “Bushman” Land Cruiser. Our Thanksgiving Day was not spent in pajamas, and was miles away from any televised sports; but explode out of the small car we did singing and dancing, excited to start our second day building a play structure and visiting rural and dusty bomas filled with women and children. It was a day of sharing cultures and serving this area we have learned to feel, once again, at home in. Each hut we visited we entered with wide eyes, observing the dynamics of family life. The women wrapped in colorful fabrics and beads go for water with unruly mules; the children play in the sand and look after the animals of the compound and the environment is cruel: dry and hot. Where there is hard work and what seems like endless chores, these families welcomed us in, smiling big and willing to engage about the new learning center that has recently crept in offering English classes and an early childhood center. At a shaded and jovial lunch of good ol’ American peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, our group shared how much love they felt from the Maasai, and we thus sent this love back to our families who would be celebrating their Thanksgiving in the next several hours.

Back at our camp four hours later, we tumbled out of the steaming Bushman truck with a tight schedule planned in order to enjoy hours of cooking for an African Thanksgiving meal.  Just inside the gates we found four men squatting around a growing fire. Ole, a modern Maasai, welcomed us to our traditional goat roast ceremony.  We ran to gather around the small goat they had slaughtered just before our arrival to watch the presentation and ritual of cutting and gutting the main course.  With knives straight from their belts they worked together to create meticulously sized pieces of meat, then stretched and speared the meat, then nailed the spears into the sand next to the fire standing like a tepee around the flame.  Eventually the head was put straight on the fire, skinned and cracked for the brain and eyes.  Gooey and “gross” for our culture for we are not used to being a part of this section of what it takes to enjoy meat, although if you can respect it as the ceremony and part of the cycle, the process is quite interesting and rather beautiful.

Each member of our team then took out our knives and known traditions of cooking, and together we created a colorful and bountiful meal.  With local steamed greens, mashed potatoes, grilled pumpkin, sugared sweet potatoes and home-made fries we matched the Maasai barbeque and enjoyed together, like Queens and Kings!

When you are away from home, out of the country at that, during a holiday that is solely yours as an American, the meaning behind it becomes magnified.  This one has not been made by Hallmark and isn’t based on Christian traditions.  It is to remember, recognize and respect our family from all walks of life, to come together for peace through food and celebration.  To understand and take the time to listen to others and what is important to them, and their history.  During our meal with some twenty Maasai folk, we not only shared our styles of eating but also different cultural stories and what we are thankful for.  On the top of the list? It was unanimous: our group respectively is appreciative for the support of our family, health and the opportunity to adventure and see this beautiful region of the world.

After dinner the Maasai men performed their traditional song and dance.  The song: a guttural humming with an edge of beat boxing and the dance: lots of head bobbing, bumping into one another and high jumping.  It becomes a friendly competition between the men to jump the highest, jeering and smiling at one another as they move in and out of a consistent beat and harmony with one another.  The presentation ended their presence with us that night and left us all giggling and smiling.  Together as a group of seven we did an art project decorating turkeys, sang our favorite song “Little Talks”, and summed the night with the poem “The Invitation”.

This is a Thanksgiving to remember, we felt blessed to celebrate with the family we have formed while traveling together in a tight posse of seven, and we also thank our lucky stars for manifesting a Thanksgiving with vibrant, kind and inclusive Maasai warriors.  I was almost as surprised to see them eating our French fries as I was when several of us tried their most prized entree: Blood! Eek! “Tastes like chicken”

Happy Thanksgiving!