The Maasai hunt a lion by forming a circle around it and then slowly walk forward, tightening the circle. Eventually the lion will feel cornered and spring at one man who is supposed to drop to the ground, cover himself with his shield, and hope his fellow warriors kill the lion before it kills him.
With a grand gesture Moses reached down and pulled up his shuka, revealing a long jagged scar running for several inches along his lower leg. He stared at the scar for several seconds before saying in a very soft voice "From my first lion hunt!"
Amazed he had survived such an attack I blurted out, "The lion did that to you?"
Moses looked me square in the eye and said, "No, I was so scared I speared myself in the leg, and the lion got away!" and with that he threw his head back and laughed.
The Maasai have a wonderful sense of humor! To this day, Moses has never killed a lion.
Strange Beings in the Instant Hut
As rare guests, we dined on goat that evening while a chorus of cicadas announced the coming of the African night. I pondered how my western girth would fit inside one of their tiny huts, whose sleeping compartments resemble those of a working man's hotel in Tokyo, much like sliding into a bee hive.
When I expressed this concern to Moses he pointed just outside the thorn bush wall that surrounds the village where two of his nephews were wrestling with a nylon tent. He was way ahead of me.
Grateful as I was for this comfort, I expressed concern to Moses about sleeping outside the thorn wall with the image of a leopard still fresh in my mind.
The Maasai fear leopards more than lions because a lion will make a kill and eat it while a leopard will kill everything in sight before it settles down to eat. Moses told us if the leopard should come, we need only yell and a dozen warriors would come running with spears, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said not to worry as the leopard would not like our smell, and with that he walked off, secure in his pronouncement.
No sooner were Irene and I inside the tent than most of the village had surrounded us, pulling the zipper up and down while running their hands over the strange new sensation of nylon. Most of them had never seen a tent before, and called it an "instant hut."
A full moon was rising over the tree line, and it turned the silhouettes of our curious visitors into an ongoing puppet show crawling over our tent walls as they continued to play with the zipper and occasionally thrust an ebony head inside to giggle at us strange creatures.
Surreal patterns glided over the tent wall as tiny fingers and old hands ran up and down. We were as much an oddity as a circus act and at first we stayed inside hoping to minimize our impact, but this only fed the peoples curiosity as more and more poked their heads inside for a brief glimpse of us.
This went on until I stepped outside to see just how many people there were who had yet to pay us a visit.
To my surprise a line of people snaked through the forest and down into the valley where word had spread about these visitors and their instant hut, and now the entire valley was migrating towards our tent. As far as I could see, Maasai were coming from all around to see us.
Irene stepped outside to greet our visitors. Most shook our hands while others simply wanted to touch us. For some, we would probably be the only white people they would ever know. No one spoke and there was no need for words. In that magical evening we were all simply people, coming together to meet each other for the first and only time, frozen by a human touch that instantly passed into memory.
I stepped back inside the tent, lying next to Irene and watching this never-ending procession of shadows through the night. There would be no sleep and we did not care. No festival, ceremony, or dance could have been more entertaining or enlightening to us. The Maasai are story tellers, and in Africa, especially among tribes with no written language, stories quickly become both history and legend. Stories tend to grow with each telling and take on the flavor of the narrator. I know that evening we became a story to be told around their campfires for generations to come.
James Michael Dorsey is an explorer, author, and photographer who has traveled extensively in 43 countries, mostly far off the beaten path. His primary interest is in documenting indigenous people in Asia and Africa. He is a fellow of the Explorers Club, and a member and former director of the Adventurers Club. See more at www.jamesdorsey.com.