Homestay, an Invaluable Experience

Posted: November 20, 2012

Seeing lions, rhinos, and giraffes while on expedition is an once-in-a-lifetime experience; however, spending a day with a Maasai family was another unique experience, and the two cannot be compared.  I arrived to my homestay with my buddy Haley, excited for a full day of new experiences. During my homestay with an Iraqw family in Tanzania, I had a fairly relaxing day cooking, shelling, and sorting beans. This time around, I was hoping for a busier day. I was not disappointed.

We cooked, collected water, gathered firewood, added dung to the walls of the house, entertained the children, and at the end of the day we did a bit of beading. It was a very busy day in the life of a Maasai mama. Of all these activities, I really enjoyed collecting firewood. During my Iraqw homestay, I observed my family using wood to fuel their stove, but did not see where this wood came from. In my Maasai homestay, we had a very short walk to an area with brush and downed trees all over the ground. This area was completely different from the surrounding bushland. The Maasai cut down trees or most of the branches from a tree and let them dry on the ground. While collecting firewood, my Mama and I picked through this large area, grabbing and breaking apart branches with a machete. I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to wield a machete with as much power and skill as this woman helping me. She would let me try to hack a branch in pieces, and after I failed she would kindly take the huge knife from me and achieve the goal in a few seconds.

Through this experience, I came to not only appreciate the strength of Maasai women, but also to understand their dilemma with resource use. They need firewood to fuel cooking fires, the only other fuel source is charcoal, an even less environmentally friendly source; however, loss of trees is a major problem in this area and contributes to erosion and disrupted water flow. Living with a Maasai family for a day helped me understand this problem from a human perspective, an invaluable experience.