It all started innocently enough as a kind offer from my new Maasai friend, Senedi. He invited me, along with a few hostel mates, to visit his village in The Middle of Nowhere, Tanzania to experience the typical day of a Maasai. I expected myself to be quite the nomad; herding sheep and cattle all weekend and cooking typical maasai meals, (ugali or rice with chai tea), but I was destined for a role much larger…becoming the Mary Poppins of Africa.
After our hour long trek into the vast savannah, we were greeted by dozens of children, five of which clung to every limb I had and one more who decided that a piggy-back was necessary. I was introduced to Senedi’s mother’s (yes, plural) and his several brothers and sisters, of whom I could not keep track. I have never felt so popular in my entire life. The children and I played all afternoon, performing amateur gymnastic routines (my handstand is still an average 8.7 out of 10) and exchanging sunglasses to see who looked the most like Audrey Hepburn.
Our Maasai itinerary also included dancing and singing, which was an unexpected surprise, one of which I fully participated in. And by dancing, I mean jumping as high as you can in the air. I completely destroyed any stereotypes of white people and jumping. Yes, white women can jump. I defeated several maasai men (okay, children) and non-Maasai men (5 foot Jewish men count!) in a jumping match. Dressed in traditional garb, wearing handcrafted jewelry and greeting everybody traditionally in Maa (“Sopai!”, meaning, “Hello!”) I was inches away from becoming a Maasai…
…Or should I say, ounces. Ounces away from becoming a Maasai. After a night of incredible stargazing and sleeping on rough terrain, I woke up for breakfast with a sore back and tired eyes. Senedi approached me asking, “You sleep okay? You look tired” My response being “I had a rock as my pillow last night and had no dinner. I FEEL GREAT!” Two minutes later is when I realized what a mistake I made by even responding to his question. I should have said nothing. Nothing! But Senedi, being the generous man that he is, had just the thing to fill my stomach and help me feel better.
We all walked around the corner of one of the houses, distracted by the children and chatter, when suddenly we were standing in the middle of the cattle corral. Seconds later, several Maasai men were running around chasing after one of the hopeless cows.
“Thanks to my previous research on Maasai traditions, I knew where this was going.”
My immediate thought was, “Oh God, no, I am a vegetarian! I am a lover of all animals!” But I just stood there. I froze. I watched as five maasai detained a cow, tied a rope around its neck, and waited for that juicy vein to appear. Baraka, one of the sweetest and most gentle Maasai I have met, quickly extinguished this image of himself by slowly raising a bow and arrow to the cow’s neck. I did not turn away and watched as the prick of the arrow shot right through that pulsing vein. To my (discreet) horror, the Maasai men lined up excitedly to drink the cow’s blood straight from the neck! Just like the good old college days, shotgunning beer from a can. Except the can is a cow’s neck. And the beer is blood. A totally normal situation.
After filling a traditional Maasai gourd with blood, Baraka took the not-so-hygienic route and caked the cow’s puncture wound with mud and sprinkled some dry dirt on top. Voila! Maasai First Aid 101. I was too busy worrying about the cow fainting after draining it of at least a quart of blood, when Senedi approached me from behind with a beautiful blue mug filled with warm liquid. He handed me the mug and said, “Here, for you. For your hurt back. This will heal all of your pain.” I looked down into the mug. The smell of iron and the thick crimson fluid was intense and, still frozen, I did not know what to do. My first instinct was to offer it to the other visitors: two men who were Jewish. “It’s not kosher!” was their excuse. Oh how I wished to be converted right then and there.
Then I thought I could fake it. Take a “sip” and pretend it happened. But that is lying to myself and my inner Maasai warrior. So I looked into the mug, and with everybody chanting “Drink! Drink! Drink!” (just like those good old college days) I told myself that it was hot chocolate and took one big gulp. And it’s exactly as you would imagine it. Bloody. Metallic. Warm. Thick. Gross.
“I told myself that it was hot chocolate and took one big gulp. And it’s exactly as you would imagine it.”
Soon after, it was obvious that I was a true badass (see badass photo evidence above). A gangly white girl from the Midwest just drank cow’s blood, like a real Maasai warrior. This was my final test. And I had passed. I was sporting my newly iconic cow’s blood moustache and smiling with blood stained teeth. My hostel mates were repulsed, but my Maasai brothers and sisters cheered me on in recognition. I was one of them.
“My Maasai brothers and sisters cheered me on in recognition. I was one of them.”
Before heading back to the hostel, I was sitting next to Senedi, reminiscing about my recent rite of passage and flaunting my new status as an official Maasai warrior. He looked at me, confused. So I spoke slower, reiterating my finely honed blood drinking abilities. “No, no, I understand what you say,” said Senedi, “but you are not a Maasai warrior until you go out into the wild and kill a lion.”
Pretty sure my travel insurance doesn’t cover that…
Copyright Photos by Maayan Ben Zev