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Six Maasai Warriors Head to London

Listen to Rachel's interview with Marcus Watts

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Masaai warriors training in Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Greenforce. hide caption

itoggle caption Photo courtesy of Greenforce.

Six Maasai Warriors have left their home in Tanzania for the first time in their lives. On Sunday, they'll be running the London Marathon to raise money to get clean water for their village. In anticipation of their trip, the conservation charity Greenforce wrote up a pamphlet to help the Maasai prepare to meet the strange residents of London.

Even though some may look like they have a frown on their face, they are very friendly people—many of them just work in offices in jobs they don't enjoy and so they do not smile as much as they should do!!

Although English people share a lot, they do not do so to the same extent that the Maasai do. If you see something that someone else has (like a bracelet) and you like it, then the person will find it very unusual if you were to take it and wear it!

I'll admit it. I initially wanted to cover the Maasai marathoners just because I thought the pamphlet was hilarious. But after hearing Rachel talk with Marcus Watts of Greenforce about the Maasai trip to England, I'll be rooting for them too.

You can find out more about what they're trying to do here.

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"Even though some may look like they have a frown on their face, they are very friendly people--many of them just work in offices in jobs they don't enjoy and so they do not smile as much as they should do!!"

Please file the above paragraph under "condescending." Some people from other cultures actually find us Westerners odd for smiles.

A thought: Maybe some people don't smile because they have no desire to do so.

And what's with, "...they are very friendly people." (?!) Wow.

Sent by Phillip | 2:04 PM | 4-9-2008

RETRACTION: Obviously, the quote was about the British. Still, it's strangely condescending even when looked on from a new vantage point.

Sent by Phillip | 2:47 PM | 4-9-2008

In re: culture shock... I lived in France for a little under a year, but didn't really experience culture shock until I came back to the U.S. I went abroad in August 2001, and came home the following summer to find a changed country. Everyone was talking about some ridiculous Idol contest, I was confronted with this square-pantsed sponge thing, there were American flags everywhere, and everybody seemed scared and vulnerable in a way I had never seen before.

Not to mention that cars here seemed like hulking behemoths. Maybe because they are hulking behemoths.

Sent by Lauren | 3:52 PM | 4-9-2008

My wife is Kenyan, and, according to her, the Massai are in a perpetual state of culture shock.

It's one thing to hold onto your cultural values. It's quite another to refuse to adapt so that you can get along with others. That's what other tribes in Kenya experience when it comes to the Massai, according to my wife. As Marcus Watts rightly points out, the Massai routinely steal other tribe's cows, sheep, goats, and other livestock. Now, these are not large ranches with hundreds of heads of cattle. You're talking 10-20 heads. Other tribes in Kenya don't steal from each other's herds, but the Massai do.

They also refuse to attend schools, even when it's free. They means that they speak very little Swahili or English and can't operate in any city in either Kenya or Tanzania.

These runners may tell a lot of stories back in the village, but don't expect much to change in the village. Frankly, I'm surprised that they are trying to drill their own well rather than just steal the water from some other village's tank. Maybe we can count that as progress.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 5:12 PM | 4-9-2008

Hey Phillip, I produced the interview we're talking about. I get your point (post-retraction). I'll say that the pamphlet in question was written by British people about British people, and one thing we tried to get at in the conversation is the weirdness of the task of taking a step back and taking an anthropological look at one's own culture.

Sent by Ian Chillag, NPR | 5:24 PM | 4-9-2008

I listen to the BPP almost every day and normally enjoy all the stories. Yet the condescending tone and subtle insensitivity of this story moved me to comment.
I am also married to a Kenyan. But my husband sees the Maasai in a different light. Many of the Maasai in Kenya have been able to profit off of their 'refusal' to adapt by the crowds of tourists that are drawn to their villages.

That being said, I found something about this story very condescending, offensive and of a colonial mindset. The interviewee and the interviewer acted as if there was no way the Maasai could comprehend things like horses without the help of a white man.
Marcus Watts tone and subtle statements like "We moved them out of London," or "They can be quite vain," make it seem as if they are strange animals or children, rather than grown men.
And while Maasai have maintained 'traditional' ways and clothes, they have had British lifestyles and customs forced on them many times throughout the last 100 years.
As Rachel and Allison point out at the end of the story, everyone has culture shock when they visit a culture different from their own. The culture shock that the Maasai feel in London does not make them into some exotic species or children that can't comprehend things like 'houses' or 'underwear.'
And for the record, a British breakfast not appealing to almost anyone who is not British.

Sent by Meg | 1:21 AM | 4-10-2008

Good luck to all the tribesmen. What an incredible adventure.

Sent by Kevin Winkler | 12:35 PM | 4-10-2008

Ian, my one-time girlfriend and now just friend, is Kenyan. And I was a volunteer in the Peace Corps in West Africa from 2004 - 2006.

It is indeed "weird" to step back and look at one's own culture. I think that the story succeeded in showing that. But we (including me) often miss insensitivities because we are...well...ignorant.

Oh well. Your point is well taken, Ian.

Sent by Phillip | 10:13 PM | 4-10-2008

I think if the pamphlet writer was American it would be pretty condescending but one culture commenting on itself isn't really that bad, is it? When it's to help another culture understand its people better?

Besides that i loved this story and thought it was fascinating!

Sent by jeff stiefer | 1:22 AM | 4-11-2008

Matt's comments are insensitive and troubling.
In recent years Maasai herds have declined from an average of 25 cattle per person to about 5 because their lands is continually developed by Kenyans and Tanzanians. Many Maasai actually do work in big cities and have adapted to both cultures - the head of the Kenyan Air Force is Maasai and speaks English and Swahili as well as Maasai dialects. The Maasai resisted the colonial slave trade, and are owed at least to be left alone, but certainly not insulted and their land stolen as allowed by the governments of Tanzania and Kenya. I am certainly not saying that the Maasai are perfect - they have some troubling practices - female circumcision is one of them. But colonists have treated them poorly and do not deserve to be villified who have not walked a mile in their moccasins.

Sent by David in Saint Louis | 8:30 AM | 4-12-2008

Another instance of a poorly chosen interview subject at the Bryant Park Project and unknowledgable interviewer going along with whatever a guest says. This interview was laced with condescension regarding the Masai people and their backwardness - even to state that their people had not seen snow in hundreds of years, could not send back written message or contact people from home, and would speak about this trip to England for generations to come.

Perhaps this gentleman is entirely unaware that some people of the Masai may not visit England, but have been to the USA?

Here is the link to the story of the first Masai woman to earn a college degree - now working on a graduate degree in Pittsburg and working in DC -

http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2006/moving_young_eng/Kakenya/Kakenya.html

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/3/274/701

If you pre-taped some of your shows, maybe you could fact check them with more experienced researchers...

Sent by Toby | 8:05 PM | 4-12-2008

Never seen snow? On Kilimanjaro?

Sent by Marc Naimark | 12:19 PM | 4-13-2008