Sunday, September 14, 2014

cultural learning in Kenya: misunderstanding the advances of a moran

Taking photos with morans at Lake Natron

“Oh my gosh. We are going to die.”

Albert leaned close to me and took my arm as he said this. He motioned to the two young men just ahead. I looked and saw the lean Maasai, dressed more elaborately than the Maasai we’d met at clinic the day before. The young men both carried long spears, upright, as if using them for walking sticks. Both had longer hair that was braided and streaked with dark red dye. They were decorated with white beaded necklaces and arm cuffs, and wore just a short cloth skirt.

Our team was hiking along Lake Natron, which was really more like a few large puddles in a barren expanse of dirt and rocks. Foothills rose to one side, dotted by sparse bushes that flowered pink buds. The sun was strong and persistent. The thin clouds drifting through the sky gave us relief for a few minutes, then moved on.

“They are morans,” Albert explained, still whispering in a dramatic tone. I knew only that this meant they were warriors, that they had killed lions to earn the name. It turns out that young Maasai men live apart from their community, isolated in the bush to learn to be men. During this rite of passage, they are considered morans.

Albert ran ahead to talk to them on behalf of our group, explaining to us that we would need permission before we took any photos. A few seconds after Albert started talking with them, I understood that he had hadn’t been entirely serious before.

In fact, a few minutes later, Albert was posing with one of their spears and asking us to take his photo with the morans. Someone suggested that our whole team get in the photos. I walked toward the morans, and was invited to stand in between them. They both put their arms firmly around me, then started to pinch at the softness around my waist and hips, laughing to each other.

I couldn’t be sure what the morans were saying, or what it was about my waist that made them squeeze and laugh, but it was the first time since being in Kenya that I had felt truly uncomfortable. I started to feel subconscious about my size and shape, a feeling that's familiar in America, but that I didn't think I'd have to deal with in Kenya.

“Please stop,” I said, as I elbowed their hands from my waist and took a step back. None of the rest of my team had noticed the interaction; they all stood posing for the photo or chatting excitedly to each other. I backed away quietly, eager to leave and walk back to our van.

After a few more photos, our team was ready to leave. As we started to walk away, Albert motioned to me to stop. “They want you to stay and be their wife,” he said so everyone could hear, his eyes as big and his voice as dramatic when we had approached morans. Our whole group turned to look at me and started whooping and laughing. I felt myself blush, then joined in the laughter.

As we walked on, I told Shannon the rest of the story, how I they had made me feel uncomfortable and I had told them to take their hands off me. She laughed again.

“You just told off a moran,” she said with pride and amusement.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, what a story! And how crazy you have a photo capturing the exact moment you're describing. : )