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Maasai perform a traditional dance in Tanzania

by Amy Carter

We met our first Maasai families on Tuesday morning in the village of Losikito. Many of the children, upon seeing the eager faces of mzungu, or "white man," ran from us in tears. One of our tour leaders explained with a laugh that we looked like lions to them. It's likely he was telling the truth, because one baby in particular did not care for my smile.

But other children – particularly the boys – wanted their photos taken and then asked to serve as photographer. I happily obliged, handing over my camera and glad to show them a bit of my world.

The children followed us to our new location within the village. A group of Maasai men and women adorned in their traditional reds, blues and purples stood in single-file lines. They bent their knees up and down in a gentle, graceful bounce, as the beads of their jewelry clinked together, like glass againt glass or rain landing on the tops of banana trees. But their voices held the intensity of a warrior, reminding us that the Maasai's history is a nomadic one. High, athletic leaps tell us that we are in the presence of a people whose spirit is powerful and intense. We are showered with flower petals, and I think about gentleness as a kind of strength as well.

After the dancing the group gathers into a circle in seats as we sit beside them, prepared to observe them in a self-evaluation of their project. A Heifer Tanzania staff member asks them to call out Heifer's 12 Cornerstones, the principles on which our work is based. "Pass on the Gift" is the first to be written on the sheet of flipchart paper pinned to a goat shed. This group knows how to pass on the gift well, as it has collectively passed on 13 cattle since April 2008. They move through the list of Cornerstones, finishing the exercise with Gender Equity.

Next they discuss indicators that will help them evaluate whether or not they effectively embody each Cornerstone. Behind us, a group of village children watches captivated behind a fence. We learn that men and women increasingly share workloads and that women vote as well. Their village council is comprised of half women and half men. However, the women spoke less than did the men during the open discussion – perhaps out of shyness, maybe because they had an unexpected audience, or possibly because they are still developing their dreams.

But as the meeting came to a close, one of the women thanked Heifer and blessed us with these words: "Now we are empowered and can stand in front of anyone in our country and speak out."

During final goodbyes and hugs, a man said, "Don't forget Losikito."

I don't think we will.

Amy Carter is a research and communications specialist at Heifer International. She recently joined a study tour of Heifer projects in Tanzania. You can read the previous posts of her travelogue here.

An elderly Maasai woman in Tanzania

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