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The Bumpy Ride
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    Share

Editor's note: Eric Ole Reson is a Maasai student that we have provided a grant to conduct a study on Perceptions of Maasai towards vultures and birds of prey. His story follows.

Eric Ole Reson, MSc candidate, Clemson University, USA

Images courtesy of Eric Ole Reson

During the middle of last month, I went to bed very early, as two things exhausted me that day. First, I had to sit in almost every known posture to interview Maasai people in manyattas, a Maasai homestead that includes a central livestock corral with homes dotting the perimeter. One very interesting thing I learned about interviewing people from my community is that, for one to ensure an excellent end result, time is irrelevant. To the Maasai, time is readily available as long as it’s not in the evening or morning where everyone is busy milking cows (women), surmising the health of the herd by scanning every individual cow or sheep (men), or guiding little calves or lambs to their mothers (young boys and girls). Any explanation is accompanied by elaborate analysis, local myths, case studies, and references. Therefore, I would strongly caution anybody against assigning duration times (e.g. 30-40 minutes) to a Maasai study based on a questionnaire survey.

MSc Candidate Eric Ole Reson interviews a Maasai elder about vulturesSecondly, my exhaustion was also compounded by a long, bumpy and dusty motorcycle ride. The one I rode on had a broken left pedal. I had to endure several things in this awkward situation: the lack of any comfort of my leg because I had to rest the back end of my shoe on a very short remaining portion of metal which was only a few millimeters long, maneuvering the motorcycle, and the difficulty in observing my surroundings to ensure that nothing interesting will go unnoticed. This proved very challenging.

Fortunately, I survived the bumpy ordeal and the day ended successfully. Mmitumerrapetiienkuoontare is a Maasai saying that means you cannot own or purchase errap (a gadget that is treasured by young warriors) without giving out a sheep. It simply implies that you always have to expend either your energy or your resources, or sometime both, for something good in return. Everytime this comes into my mind, I get re-energized to work harder.

Early on the morning of the 23rd I woke up prepared to leave for Olesere, which is approximately 30 km from Talek where I am based. You would think this is not far and of course you would be absolutely right to think that way. However, I cannot explain it better than to say it was an expedition on a virtually roadless terrain, on a single pedal motorcycle, coupled with muddy ”roads.” Don’t be tempted to think that my fixing the pedal would ease the situation, as I’m not prepared to accept wasting the whole day in Talek waiting for a welding machine that uses gas burners and will not ensure a 100% fix. My colleague Sasine Ole Taki is the Project Manager in charge of community outreach programs at the nearby Basecamp Foundation. His experience in dealing with community issues was without a doubt instrumental to my study.

Maasai warriors protect their livestock vehemently from predators. Here a group of warriors stand watch at night.

Sasine and I started the journey to Olesere at 10 a.m. because he had to attend a Maasai community meeting at 11 a.m. So we believed one hour would be give us sufficient time to manoeuver the rough terrain and the closed thickets as we took the shortest route to Olesere. Except for the discomfort of riding on a pedal-less motorcycle, our journey was scenic and breathtaking. On arrival, we stretched for a few minutes and quickly resumed our business. Sasine went into his meeting and I went into the villages to interview people. The day was excellent for both of us and we would quickly say, ”mission accomplished.” I was amazed by the kind of information the Maasai have on vultures, which is the aim of my project – to assess Maasai attitudes and perceptions about vultures. As I interviewed people randomly and across both genders and age sets, I quickly noticed that there appeared to be a knowledge disconnect between age sets. The elderly and relatively mature Maasai people had amazing knowledge on vultures and other birds of prey. My generation in the late 20s did not score poorly either, but you were likely to notice the limits in their levels of understanding. It is my sincere hope that I can help bridge this gap and provide a thorough understanding to my people about the importance of vultures and birds of prey.

Etigileenkolong (which in Maasai means ”the sun is broken and it’s getting late in the evening”) Meant it was time to leave; otherwise we would have had to use our motorcycle headlights if we stayed beyond that time. The road back is usually teeming with all sorts of animals and the last thing we wanted was to bump into an elephant or a buffalo. Without wanting to bombard you with Maasai proverbs, one that I found to be very apt was iyioloakeening uaanimiyioloenilo, which means “you are sure of where you came from, but where you are returning or where you will end up, is usually uncertain.” To reaffirm the meaning of this saying, I knew I came from Olesere and my aim was to spend the night at Talek. This ultimately was not the case.

On our single pedal motorcycle we left for Talek at dusk. My only concern was about the discomfort and exhaustion by the end of the trek. The beginning was very smooth as we maneuvered through the Croton bush on a single track, oblivious of what four-legged animal lay in front of us. The view of the rolling spotted shrubland was spectacular. In the middle of numerous grazing ungulates, I would see some “cheering” at us and others were outright disturbed by our presence. This was clear from the look of their reactions to the high and unpleasant sounds of our cruising motorcycle.

Maasai interviewees ponder over pictures of vultures

As we went down a steep rocky slope, I heard a loud clunk of metal hitting a rock. My groan was pretty obvious as I imagined parts of our motorcycle strewn across the Mara landscape. My colleague realized long before but only told me later what the problem was, after I saw him come back from a short walk along our route holding the chain of the motorcycle. Looking at my reaction, he said, “Don’t worry we will get out of this soon.” Soon would have been the soonest if we had tools to fix the problem. As we tried this and that and explored new innovations, time did not wait for us and none of our attempts were successful. I took a breath and walked towards a tall fig tree (orng’aboli) just to admire the tree. Guess what I saw? A beautiful large brown bird staring at us! The look elucidated that it was sympathizing with our situation and I am sure it would have given a suggestion if it could. I slowly sneaked into my backpack and whisked out a camera and binoculars to get a good view.

It was already getting dark (mmiorenchanioltung’ani is the commencement of darkness where you can hardly differentiate a tree from a person) and the only remaining option at hand was to ask for rescue. Otherwise, we would have had to spend the cold night under the fig tree. We had to wait for four hours before Sasine’s colleague, Rose, came to our rescue. Our only worry was meeting up with elephants and fortunately Rose whisked us away not to Talek but to her workplace, the Koyiaki Guiding School. Initially, we had planned to put up in Talek but we ended up at Koyiaki. The hospitality was amazing and I am deeply indebted to the people who assisted me.

A Maasai shows a vulture primary feather he picked up whilst grazing his livestock

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