A visit to a Maasai boma

The Alamana camp has operated on a concession from the Maasai for years. Because of this long-term relationship with the Maasai, we were able to visit a boma, the home and corral owned by a Maasai family. The family visited is rotated.

John Maasai drove, and we rode with him.  As we entered the Maasai village he pointed to his house up the hill.  We stopped at these low-slung huts with goats parading by.

boma and goats
boma and goats

This is our host’s boma.  We met our host and his two sons.  We all shook hands. Our host is wearing a dark suit. Both sons speak English; they talked and answered questions.

Maasai host and two sons
Maasai host and two sons

One attends university in Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital; the other a university in Arusha. One son has four brothers and sisters. We asked if their father has more than one wife. Yes, he has five.  There are 20 children from the five wives. The boma has 6-8 huts that house our host’s family.  With five wives, our host is very well-to-do.

William, dressed in red, shows us the corral first.

corral
corral

The huts are built in the traditional manner, dung plastered over sticks. The dung makes the hut waterproof.

entering a hut
entering a hut

The doorway is less than five feet tall so everyone has to bend down to enter.  As you enter the hut, there’s a storage area straight ahead.  You have turn twice down a dark hallway to enter the main room, and we have trouble seeing until our eyes adjust to the dim light.  See the small window in the photo above.  The room has only three small windows like that. The interior photos required flash.

In the photo below, William is kneeling; his mother, grandmother, and wife are sitting on a bed. The ceiling is so low that William can’t stand up inside. See how the ceiling has been blackened by smoke.

William, his mother, grandmother, and wife
William, his mother, grandmother, and wife

In the middle of the room is a firepit with a smoldering fire. There’s a pan of milk next to the firepit.  Milk is a large part of the Maasai diet. This is February, Tanzania’s summer, so the weather is warm. With little ventilation, you wonder about inhaling smoke, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.  But there were no flies inside. There were a lot of flies outside.

interior of Maasai hut
interior of Maasai hut

We sat on a second bed on the other side of the firepit.  William’s son is sleeping on this bed, which feels like leather stretched on a frame.  There are four generations here. William’s wife is wearing beautiful Maasai beaded earrings and necklaces.

Nancy, Betty, and William's wife
Nancy, Betty, and William’s wife

Outside the hut the women posed for pictures.

William's mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William's wife
William’s mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William’s wife

Other huts and members of our host’s family.  The woman in the blue cape is holding a tiny baby goat.

other members of our host's family
other members of our host’s family

The traditional Maasai livelihood is to raise cattle and goats. They count wealth in cattle, paying for wives with cattle.  When the local grass is exhausted, they move on to greener pastures. The nomadic culture doesn’t mesh well with farming and formal education, which requires living in the same place for the school year.

Maasai cattle raising is reaching its limits. Parts of Tanzania look arid, like the American southwest.  Sometimes there isn’t enough water for all the cattle.  The government encourages the Maasai to sell their cattle, but they resist parting with their wealth.

Some Maasai, like our host, embrace education.  But we see many school-aged Maasai boys herding cattle and goats. Bridging cultures can be very hard.

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Day 2 at Alamana – in search of the klipspringer

We started the day with an game drive to find the elusive klipspringer, a mammal that lives on kopjes.  In another post, we saw a spotted hyena and a baby gazelle.  In the photo below, a male giraffe tastes the female giraffe’s urine to detect estrus. Note the baby giraffe with the darker spots.

male giraffe sniffing female
male giraffe sniffing female

We enjoyed a hippo pool.  We saw a martial eagle and the klipspringer.

martial eagle
martial eagle
klipspringers
klipspringers

Klipspringers are very shy, and they usually ran when we drove by.  They have pads on their feet, to better grip the granite kopje. We saw Maasai herding cattle and getting water.

Maasai herding cattle
Maasai herding cattle
Maasai women getting water
Maasai women getting water

In the evening we saw a Maasai ceremony.

Maasai ceremony

After the game drive to the hippo pool, our guides told us that the local Maasai were holding a ceremony that evening. The camp asked the Maasai if our safari members could attend, including women. The Maasai ceremony is normally for males only. That evening we were told that we could attend!

We drove to a distant kopje and were led into a broad cave formed by a granite overhang. The top and back of the cave are blackened by many fires. The cave is surrounded by thorny branches, with a large thorny branch for the door.

Maasai ceremonial cave
Maasai ceremonial cave

Four Maasai adults greeted us. John spoke, and our guide Felix translated.  John is dressed in blue, and Felix is in green. John is a Maasai elder and a camp employee. Lucas, who guarded us on bush walks, is the second Maasai from the right. Here’s what I recall, but there are probably errors and gaps in my understanding.

Felix explaining the Maasai ceremony
Felix explaining the Maasai ceremony

In the Maasai culture, males pass through several levels as they progress from boy to elder. Training is required to progress to the next level. The Maasai hold the training in this cave. A ceremony marks successful passage to the next level.

Boys are being trained to go to the next level, which I believe is morani or warrior. The boys were here in the afternoon, but they aren’t here now. Boys pay goats as tuition for the training. One goat for every two days of training.

The Maasai roasted a goat for us.

roast goat and red soup
roast goat and red soup

The Maasai eat communally, with each person sharing each cut of meat. They start by offering honored guests the best part — the liver. They invited every one to take part, telling us we could pass.

John cutting a goat leg for us
John cutting a goat leg for us

I wanted to try the goat, but I don’t like liver, eating it only when there’s nothing else and then smothering it in ketchup.  I took a piece of liver and managed to eat it in several bits, hopefully with a smile on my face.  After the liver, they served a foreleg, a hindleg, and ribs.  The rest of the goat was very good!

They prepared a red soup. If they explained what was in the soup, I missed it.  Then they served the soup.  I had read that the Maasai diet consists primarily of blood and milk, with meat for special occasions.

making the red soup
making the red soup
straining the soup
straining the soup

I took a cup of soup.  It was watery and a little bitter. Hopefully the red is from tree bark and not blood.

The outing was a surprise cultural treat!

Momofuku bo ssam at home

Last year ten of us had a dish called bo ssam at a New York restaurant called Momofuku Ssam Bar.  Bo ssam is a roasted pork shoulder with a salt/sugar glaze.  A Korean-inspired dish, you shred the pork at the table, wrap the pork in lettuce, and put toppings on it.  It was delicious and more than ten people could eat.

We decided to try bo ssam at home.  David Chang, owner and chef of Momofuku, wrote a Momofuku cook book, which we borrowed from the library.

momofuku cook book
momofuku cook book

We followed the recipe, with two changes.  First, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup sherry vinegar.  We had trouble finding sherry vinegar, so we substituted with a combination of white vinegar and balsamic vinegar.  Second, the recipe calls for roasting the pork for six hours, basting every hour.  Instead we used a large covered pot that automatically bastes the meat.  From experience with other dishes, moist cooking with the pot reduces the cooking time, so we cooked an 8-pound shoulder roast for 3 3/4 hours.

The meat turned out fine.  Here’s the meal as served.

our bo ssam
our bo ssam

The  pork shoulder pulled away from the bone during roasting, and it has an attractive sugar glaze. We use tongs to shred and serve the pork. The butter lettuce is ready for wrapping the pork and sauces. Sauces in the foreground are a chile oil, pureed kim chee, and a ginger-scallion sauce. Fleur de sel is available, but the pork is salty enough.  In the background are kim chee and pickled cucumber and turnip.

The meal was tasty without being too overpowering. And we don’t eat Korean food that often.

As a note to cooks, we used a French pot, called a cocotte, for the bo ssam.  We first saw cocottes two years ago in Paris, at a restaurant called Les Cocottes.  Like Les Cocottes, we use a Staub cocotte, a very heavy cast iron-enameled, covered casserole, with a black interior (doesn’t  show discoloration through use) and spikes on the lid to automatically baste during cooking.

At the hippo pool

On our morning game drive, the trucks stopped at a kopje  We walked around the kopje to a hippo pool!  A very nice surprise.

There’s a granite bank that’s too steep for hippos to climb out, so we stood a few feet from the hippo pool.  There wasn’t much water, so hippos were crowded into a small pool.  They occasionally surface to breathe and look around.

Betty by the hippo pool
Betty by the hippo pool
2 hippos
2 hippos

Hippos defecate in the water, so there’s lot of brown grass floating on the water.

hippo looking at us
hippo looking at us

I hiked up the kopje for coffee and cookies. Felix, one of our tour guides, sits on the left with his rifle. The darker area in the background below is the surface of the hippo pool. You can see a bit of green water to the right of Felix’s cap. That’s the edge of the pool.

down by the hippo pool
down by the hippo pool

Suddenly, there were was splashing in the water.

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Our guide told us that two male hippos were fighting.  One hippo came up under  the second hippo, turning him over. In one photo Felix has stood up, and Karen is taking a picture. Later we learned that Felix had killed a hippo while guiding some hunters several years ago. He now guides folks who shoot pictures.

Aftermath of a kill

We were on a game drive our second morning in Alamana.  Another car radioed us about a hyena stalking a mother and baby gazelle. We drove over.

From people in the first car, we later learned that the gazelles spotted a hyena stalking them, and the gazelles ran.  The baby gazelle stumbled, and the hyena caught it.

We pulled up as the hyena caught the the baby gazelle.  The baby gazelle is still holding its head up.  The time of the photo is 8:00:35 am.

hyena biting baby gazelle
hyena biting baby gazelle

The mother tries to distract the hyena by running around the hyena. 8:00:37

mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena
mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena

A minute later, a second hyena is on the scene, and the baby gazelle is dead.  8:01:33

mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears
mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears

The aftermath is shown in this slide show.  Warning: it’s predictable and not pretty.

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In the final photo, the hyena is done with his meal.  Note the red paws and mouth.  The time is 8:04:59.  Three and a half minutes from the initial photo biting the gazelle.

I ate the whole thing
I ate the whole thing

For those keeping track, the animals are a spotted hyena and two Thomson’s gazelles.  From wikipedia, “Although long reputed to be cowardly scavengers, hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, kill as much as 95% of the food they eat.”

8:05 am on our third day on safari.  What a way to start the day.

Bush walks

The Alamana camp is located on Maasai lands outside Serengeti National Park.  We may use open vehicles, go on bush walks, drive off-road, and do night game drives.  These activities are not permitted within the National Park.

The first morning we climbed into open vehicles to drive to a bush walk.  Lucas, a Maasai camp employee, is standing in front.  The open vehicle with three levels of seats facilitates game viewing and photography.

Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front
Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front

We did a game drive to a dry stream bed, where we did a bush walk. Noeli, a camp guide, led the the group and carried a loaded 416 caliber rifle. Lucas brought up the rear and carried a spear, the traditional Maasai weapon. We stayed close to Noeli, who carried the gun. He has used the rifle on bush walks, killing a charging hippo with a single shot from his bolt action rifle. No one asked if he would have had time for a second shot in case the first one only wounded the hippo. Remember, hippos kill more people than any other animal.

staying close to the guy with the rifle
staying close to the guy with the rifle

Noeli showed us a whistling thorn acacia, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some thorns have a bulbous base where ants live, entering and exiting through a hole. Wind causes some acacia bulbs to whistle as the wind passes the hole. If the acacia is disturbed, the ants crawl out and bite the animal eating the acacia. Although this acacia has long thorns, evidently the thorns aren’t enough to protect it against herbivores!

whistling thorn acacia
whistling thorn acacia

Noeli cut open a bulb.  Ants crawled out of the bulb and are biting his hand as he holds the bulb for this picture.  Noeli is one tough dude.

whistling thron acacia and biting ants
whistling thorn acacia and biting ants

Here’s a leopard tortoise, which has spots like a leopard.

leopard tortoise
leopard tortoise

To our surprise, Lucas pulled all this from his backpack, so we enjoyed coffee and cookies in the shade.

coffee on the bush walk
coffee on the bush walk

Driving back to camp we saw a male impala and his harem.

male impala
male impala
female impalas
female impalas

Near the camp, we saw one of the three Maasai camp guards.  Each guard is stationed on a kopje, a granite outcropping.

kopje with Maasai guard
kopje with Maasai guard

We did an evening bush walk after a much-needed siesta, .  A troop of baboons watched us from a kopje.  Baboons are a favorite food of leopards, so baboons stay vigilant.

baboon on kopje
baboon on kopje

We did a night game drive after dinner, but we didn’t see much. Day 1 in Alamana.