Kenya // The National Parks and Mombasa Highway //

Visiting Maasai villages

One diversion you’re likely to be offered, especially if travelling on an organized safari, is a visit to a Maasai enkang, usually incorrectly called a manyatta (an enkang is an ordinary homestead, a manyatta a ceremonial bush camp). Forget about the authenticity of tribal life: this is the real world. Children and old people are sick, young men have moved to the towns, and everyone wants your money. Unprepared and uncomfortable, most visitors find the experience depressing or a bit of a rip-off, or both. You’ll pay around $20/person if organized by your lodge, camp or safari driver, or around Ksh1000/person if you arrange it yourself, for the right to have a look around, peer inside some dwellings, and be on the receiving end of a determined sales pitch to get you to buy souvenirs. Because of the supposed sales opportunity, safari drivers have for decades paid a tiny fee to the headman of their chosen village and kept the bulk of the cash (the standard commission, hard as it is to believe, was 96 percent, or less than a dollar per visitor actually paid to the community). A number of initiatives are now changing this, however, and the best operators and camps have worked hard to make the experience less mercantile and more worthwhile for both parties. If you can forget any TV-documentary illusions, and actually sit down and talk to the Maasai (there will always be people who speak a little English), the experience can be transformed and full of interest and laughter.

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