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The Frightening Massai Warrior

I was admired yesterday for what I believe this person thought was bravery for traveling Africa alone. "If it bleeds, it leads," is the old media insider's slogan. With that slogan fear is instilled in many about the continent of Africa. And in fact, I appreciate that fear as I too have shared it in the past. How could you not when the majority of what is broadcast about Africa is war, corruption, famine and crime?

Before traveling to Kenya, I read about the Mau Mau revolution that was so violent and deadly. I, of course, had watched the scene in Out of Africa when Baroness Karen Blixon was delivering paraffin and tinned food down to the border near Lake Natron across bush country to her husband. They watched in fear and reservation as ten Massai, in full dress carrying shields and spears, marched past their caravan. Due to intense media coverage, I was also aware of the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi and the shoulder mounted rocket aimed at an Israeli airliner in 2002. So many preconceived bad notions and highly covered horrible events....

Besides the amazing wildlife, I really knew nothing good about Kenya but was determined to go. My first stop was Amboseli, a reserve in southeastern Kenya with grand views of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I arrived at the lovely Amboseli Serena Lodge in the heat of the afternoon. After I checked into my beautifully appointed room, I went to sit poolside and write. Very soon after my drink arrived, a local man in full Maasai dress, red draped cloth, beads, spear, headdress and the works, appeared and stood behind me as I sat at my table.

I was uncomfortable, to say the least. I said to myself, "This was not going to be good".

I looked around. There were only two other people in view, and they were a good distance away. I could be conked over the head, speared and dragged away before they would know it. I was completely sidetracked from enjoying my beverage, from the abundance of wildlife around and from the glorious view of the famous mountain before me. My full attention was devoted to this frightening figure behind me. Albeit I tried to act the opposite, as if I were just going about my business.

I couldn't keep it up. I needed to break the tension, so I turned around and said hello. He remained very serious, no smile. I asked him if I could take his picture. I had brought a Polaroid camera to Kenya with the idea of trading the local people a photo for them for a photo for me. He shook his head, but I didn't think he understood, so I pulled out the Polaroid and took his picture and gave it to him. As you know, at first all you see is a blank page. He was confused. I did my best, without words, to convey that he should just keep watching.

Suddenly, a vervet monkey jumped from an overhanging tree branch onto my table, grabbed the fruit off my drink and spilled the drink all over the place. The Maasai jumped into action and scared the monkey back into the tree. The waiter rushed over after hearing the commotion. He explained that the local Maasai were hired to keep the wildlife from the grounds.

I laughed inside. Here I thought the worst. I was sure I would be the next bad Africa headline, "Stupid blond American tourist traveling solo gets taken and killed by Maasai." But no. And I had distracted him from his duties causing monkey mania on my table.

After the commotion, another drink on my table, I turned back to the Maasai who had returned to his duty of standing guard, but now with this Polaroid piece of paper in the same hand he was holding the spear. I motioned him to look at it. When he looked at the paper, his eyes lit up like the African sun.

During my stay, I then became the lady with the magic camera. Maasai were coming up to me constantly to ask if I could take their photo. I found one tribe member who spoke good English and made a trade; a talk about their culture and introduction to their tribe (yes and jumping lessons as illustrated in the photo) for a photo of each member.

Right before I was to leave Amboseli, one of the tribe members came up to thank me for the photos of his tribe. He said he wanted to give me something and held out the Polaroid photo I had taken of him. I knew they prized those photos. These are nomadic peoples with very little to no possessions. For him to give me his photo was the most generous gesture he could have made.

So much for the preconceived notions. These people were kind, warm and generous.

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