My feet are always dusty; and I love it.
Dust, and lots of it, is part of life here. I love seeing the happy, dust-streaked faces of the kids after an early morning drive. I love seeing the dust devils starting up, spinning across the plains, lifting and tossing debris in its path like a cheeky child in a sand pit. An in the evenings, I love seeing the setting sun lighting the dust thrown up by hooves of the cattle as they walk home.
And it reminds me of my Maasai wedding day. It was a dry July, and there had been no rain for many, many months. Maasai women gathered at dawn at the camp to prepare food. After hours of laughter and conversation, none of which I could understand, buckets of chapatis, large thermoses of sweet tea and huge pots of meat stew were ready. My husband-to-be, Johann, a non-Maasai like me, had joined the men in slaughtering a large bull, traditionally a special wedding blessing, which was to be roasted by the men. Throwing himself into the expected role, he had sampled the much sought-after raw fat from the rump of the cow.
I set off to my Maasai ‘mother’s’ house to get prepared. Had I been a Maasai, I would have awoken in my mother’s home for the last time. My wedding day would be the last morning in my childhood home and a very sad day for my family and indeed for me. As it was, my chosen mother took me in and dressed me in a hand-made skirt and tunic and decked me out in beads from top to toe in a beautiful blend of western and traditional attire. I declined to be covered from head to foot in ocre as a traditional Maasi girl would have been. We all agreed it would probably not look right on my blond hair and pale skin. Once ready, II waited in the dark and smoky hut, waiting for my groom and his party to arrive to collect me.
When they arrived, bearing gifts of warm beers and sodas, with my actual family alongside as observers of the whole affair, Johann was ushered into the small hut to join me perched on the cow skin bed. Four elders, including my Maasai ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and a translator squeezed in too. The women were offered warm sodas and the men, including Johann, were handed warm beers. The elders started by blessing us and our future, and then embarked on a surprisingly serious lecture, particularly aimed at Johann it seemed, about the sanctity of marriage. They stressed that marriage was for life, and that nothing should be allowed to change this. Problems were to be talked over, and then taken to the elders if we were not able to resolve them ourselves. The heat in the crowded little hut was intense, as were the lessons of life we were being given. I was grateful for the chance to sit quietly and try to take everything on board.
After what seemed like a long time in the dark hut, it was time for us to leave. As I stooped to step out into the sunshine and an eager crowd of onlookers from the neighboring homesteads, my ‘father’ placed fresh green grass into my shoes and on the top of the doorway. I was astonished at the sight of the grass since I knew he would have had to walk for hours to find it. I then stepped out deliberately into some fresh cow dung, and had milk sprayed on me as I stood up; these were blessings of wealth and prosperity. A traditional gourd of milk was tucked into my back and I lined up behind Johann, head down and somber as I had been instructed, following him and his party out of the thorn fence enclosure and towards my new home.
Traditionally we would have walked all the way to my husband’s boma. But we headed back to camp and as it was a long way we all jumped into various cars and drove following each other in clouds of dust, across the plains.
The sight that greeted us is one I will never forget – over one hundred Maasai women in brightly coloured traditional clothing and beads met us and walked us into the camp, singing all the way, welcoming us in to our ‘new’ home. More blessings followed from another gathering of elders and then the feasting began. From this point onwards in a traditional wedding, as the bride, I would now be confined to my new home, in a dark hut, to essentially mourn the day away and also appear respectful that I was still a stranger in my new home. It was accepted that I would behave differently, and I was allowed to stay outside and join in the rest of the day.
As the sun was starting to set, the celebrations continued. What felt like hundreds of people had turned up, including some young warriors who were enjoying dancing and feasting. Johann and I snuck away, unnoticed to the crowd, and sat quietly reflecting on the day. Not having known what to expect, we felt grateful that we had graciously welcomed into this traditional society and been given the chance to be a part of a special celebration, but that they had also been considerate of our different backgrounds in how the celebration had taken shape. I looked down at my feet. The green grass was gone, but they were dusty. And I was happy.
Samantha du Toit (Russell) is a wildlife conservationist and works for SORALO in the Olkirimatian-Shompole ecosystem in Kenya’s southern part of the Great Rift Valley. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.