Living with the Maasai

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Jesse Jia
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JESSE! What on earth were you doing in Africa?

Well… to answer that question, I really wanted to go somewhere “exotic” while experiencing a different side of life. Many of us had never thought of the possibility of living without running water, electricity, access to a computer, and many “basic” necessities we rely on each day.

We hear about all the poverty in developing nations, but can’t really think too much of it because we have never experienced it first-hand. Stories will always be different from experience. So I set out on a personal journey to learn that story for myself.

I have grown up in Canada all my life and don’t know any better than the life I live. So this was an extremely valuable learning experience for me.  One I will never forget. Travel truly does open your eyes to unimaginable possibilities.

Normally when I travel, I would arrive at a destination and do all the “touristy” things then leave. I wouldn’t stay long enough to truly understand the culture and interact with the locals.

So this time, I wanted it to be different and stay for an extended period of time. As a result, I decided to volunteer at a local school in Kenya. The best way I could truly immerse myself in the culture was to live with a host family. So I signed myself up and everything was organized by a volunteer organization called IVHQ. They offer volunteer placements to almost everywhere in the world and sets everything up for you. (Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions)

kenya family

So I booked my plane ticket, paid my registration fees, and I had never been more nervous.

I was going to leave the country by myself for the first time. It was lots of mixed emotions at first. Then after month of waiting, the day eventually came. I said goodbye to my family as I left into a world of uncertainty. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew I would come out of this with some new found knowledge and hopefully a new perspective on “life”.

I was arranged to stay with a Maasai family, one of the oldest yet cultured ethnic groups in Eastern Africa. They have preserved some unique traditions that I would have never thought to exist today.

Maasai people are known for wearing lots of beaded jewelry and many have a stretched earlobe piercing. On the right is a picture of myself and a worker at the home I stayed at.

Where did I stay?

I stayed at a home about 2 hours west of Nairobi. The drive there was nerve-wracking to say the least. The roads had rough terrain with bumps all over the place. Many times cars would have to share a single lane since a large puddle would be blocking the middle of the road. On even worst days, cars would get stuck in the rain and there would be no way home.


The home that I stayed at. Everything was extremely basic, but everything we needed was there. A large water tank, solar electricity, and an outdoor toilet.

Maasai People

I arrived at my host family’s home and was greeted by my host mom, Lucy. She was more kind than I could even ask for.  She welcomed me into her home with open arms and treated me as if I was her own. It was very humbling. She always made sure we had what we needed and would help us get whatever we wanted. Her husband, would come back each day with fresh fruits from the market and new snacks to try. It’s truly inspiring to see people who are so genuinely generous. I couldn’t say enough great things about the family. They made the whole experience feel like home and I couldn’t thank them enough.

Every morning I would be greeted with a “Habari” which means Hello, and a handshake to complement. Everybody was extremely friendly and everybody knew each other. There weren’t any addresses or named roads. Everybody just knew by recollection and sense of direction where everything was. When you get into a taxi, you would just tell them a general direction.

What did I do?

Kenya School

I typically spent my days helping out wherever I could at a local school nearby. What I found astonishing was that many children did not attend school and would stay home and work because their family depended on them at home. “School” was much more casual than what we have here. Some days a teacher would not show up, other days many students would be missing, but the days still went on. I helped out wherever I could, sometimes even teaching an entire class when a teacher was missing. Things like this makes one think about how divided the world actually is. As we know, education is the foundation of any society.

School Playground
Eager students
Setting up game
Playing football
more kenya students
kenya student classroom

Most of the kids have never seen a foreigner before. Some would sneak looks at you while others would stare without saying a word. More courageous children would start touching your hair because they’ve never seen anything like it. This was eye opening to see how separated from the world the children were. How little they actually knew about the rest of the world.

Maasai kitchen

After school, I would walk back home using a path that stuck with me from memory. During my first couple days, I would
get lost and lose my sense of direction, but after time everything became familiar.

I would greet everybody and get a sense of how they spent their day when I arrived home. Life was simple and everyday was spent similarly to the next. Everybody did what they had to do. Nothing was overcomplicated and people were content with their daily life.

Rift valley sign kenya
Beautiful Kenya Landscape
kenya rift valley
kenya tree
Kenya rainy weather

My time after school consisted mainly of hiking because the surroundings were just too beautiful to miss out on. We were situated around the Great Rift Valley and had a spectacular view.

kenya maasai giraffe
maasai giraffe
kenya maasai cow

Many days we would encounter herds of wild giraffes just roaming around in our “backyard”. Really wish I had a better camera to capture the moment.


Everybody would sleep early and wake up when the roosters start calling. I remember the first night I couldn’t sleep at all. There were dogs barking, hyenas laughing and then before you knew it, the roosters were up. I hated those roosters…
The night sky was absolutely beautiful. I have never seen so many stars shine so bright. It is what inspired me to invest in a camera.

kenya maasai cooking stove
Kenyan maasai making chapati
Kenya potatoes and rice maasai dinner
Rice and lentils kenya food

The “stove” that was used to do all the cooking and a couple of common traditional Kenyan meals.

kenya maasai wedding

I was fortunate enough to attend a Maasai wedding. Click the videos above to see a brief Maasai wedding dance and wedding ceremony.

water tank maasai
regina maasai
maasai chruch kenya
Maasai kenya interior church
maasai kenya home
maasai home kenya
Milking a cow
Cow selfie

There are some pictures I wanted to share with you guys as well. Maasai people are also very known for keeping a lot of cattle. Cattle is somewhat a form of currency for them. The more you have, the more well off you usually are. Which explains the cow pictures.

Living with Maasai

Saying goodbye was not as easy as you’d expect. When it was time to leave, I felt as if I was leaving a part of me behind, leaving people behind. A life so simple yet so rewarding and a family so caring. My extended family that has treated me so well that it would be wrong to call them anything less than my family. All good things must come to an end, I suppose, but I know one day I will return.

On the drive back, I thought to myself about how everything is just a matter of perspective. It’s not about how much of something you have, its having what’s important to you. Everybody can seek happiness as long as you open your mind to the wonderful world around you.

Life might have been simple, but we had everything we really needed. Sure, I do miss having a toilet, taking hot showers and dependable electricity, but everything still worked out without it. That’s how things are, everything just seems to work out.

Moral of the story is; it doesn’t matter where we come from as life will vary everywhere. It’s appreciating the little things that we do have in our lives. Often times, people are obsessed with the idea of always obtaining more. The truth is, once you do have more, you still won’t be satisfied because as humans we are always wanting more. So just relax for a second and appreciate what you currently have. I’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life.

Living a simple life is surely something to appreciate.

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