On the fourth official day of our trip, Lauren (the other GVN rep and one of my closest friends in New Zealand) collected the rest of the hiking participants in Nairobi and boarded our charted bus bound for Tanzania.
18 of us waved goodbye to the brown, haze filled skylines of Nairobi as we drove out of the city past cement companies, dusty police checks and dozing policemen with machine guns.
About 4 hours into the 8 hour bus trip to Kilimanjaro National Park, the suburbs and surrounding plains of Nairobi gave way to the rolling eternity of orange clay and scrub-brush which mark Maasailand. Pale yellow fields, dry bushes and prickly washed-out greens collided with the deep blue sky. Our rickety bus bumped and rattled its way along the washboard road.
I remember staring out the window at the passing scenery. Every so often, like a mirage, a tall, dark, willowy phantom dressed in bright red and purple sheaths would emerge out of the bush, herding stick in hand. In the distance mud huts like those I had seen at the museum would become just visible on the dry horizon. Like actors in a living museum, it was hard for the elegant Masai men and women not to capture my mind and play up to the wildest parts of my western imagination. I can only relate the experience to the equivalent of driving through the mountains in Colorado and stumbling upon on a whole community of Native Americans dressed in full feather headdresses, deerskin pants, and moccasins emerging from the forest and going upon their daily routines.
Like the old Tibetan women in Nepal, my heart raced at the sight of their striking ‘foreignness’, their textbook ‘otherness’ encapsulating everything I find magnetic about other cultures. Although I knew I was somewhat romanticizing their existence from my bus seat, I couldn’t help admiring their exotic grace and physical beauty.
The whole experience left me with the distinctly unpleasant vision of myself as overly pink, beaky nosed and bland.
Written and contributed by Libby Wann via Global Volunteer Network