Our van raised irritating plumes of dust on the poorly maintained road from Narok town to Sekenani Gate, the main entrance to Masai Mara National Reserve.Construction works have been going on for years, but contractors never seem to finish the job.
Two kilometres from the gate is Ewang’an Manyatta, a Maasai village that tourists might just dismiss as any other African traditional boma. Yet this boma is one of the biggest in the Mara, boasting over 21 modern manyattas.
The village is a hive of activity depending on the time of the day. If it is not the children playing, then it is the morans and the village women entertaining tourists who pop in at any time. It is one of the few villages providing home stays with the Maasai community, where guests learn more on the Maa culture, jewellery making and household activities such as milking cows and cooking.
I was privileged to accompany a film crew shooting a documentary at the village recently. We arrived at sunset and our host, Emmanuel Karia welcomed us warmly.
After brief introductions, we were shown our huts for the night. The rooms were clean, warm and cosy, with different bed sizes already well spread and covered with mosquito nets. “I am sorry we are fully booked and have to fit you all in here,” he apologised.
The six-hour journey from Nairobi had taken a toll on us, so we freshened up and disappeared into the huts. The film director Peter Ogallo had announced wake-up calls at six the next morning. Since we were sharing rooms, I collapsed on top of the nearest bed.
The next day would be spent in the van shuttling between different sets around Sekenani. First it was the Nashulai Conservancy where the film crew, team A had camped on the banks of Talek River.
Team B was based in the village where curious villagers acted like extras on the set, so the film director did not mind.
“Tourism is the backbone of this village. From the earnings, we educate 96 children and also help the elderly.
We do bead work and game drives at the Mara for our guests,” said Karia.
The elders would like to see more activities to add value to what they offer visitors. “We don’t have to rely on foreign guests as I believe domestic tourism can also do well. We wish we could exploit other avenues to increase our income, not just as a village, but as a country,” said Karia.
The village elders also support Kataa Wembe initiative by Maafleva Entertainment as they now believe it is time for men to stand up and say ‘No’ to the female cut. “That is why we have this crew here to shoot the documentary, which is informative as well,” said Karia.
He said climate change is affecting wildlife migration patterns, reducing water flows in rivers such as Mara and Talek. Small streams are drying up.
Suddenly, the filming director shouts: “Cut!” “Take two!” Later, “Take three!” I engage with Jacqueline McGlade, a British-born Canadian marine biologist and environmental informatics professor, known locally as Naserian.
She has initiated the planting of a community-owned garden hosting 76 plants, with plans to build a clinic for processing barks and seeds for sale.
Near the botanical garden are several beehives surrounded by a bush of the croton trees locally known asOlokirding’ai. “We have seen the honey being used to treat skin diseases and other ailments. By the time we conclude, we will have a world beater in honey products,” she said.
We got back to the set where the shoot was on a break, waiting for the hot afternoon to usher in the evening cool. I get interested in the shooting script and wandered …
In the evening, a feast was prepared for a planned night party. Unfortunately, heavy rains fell in the Mara for nearly two hours and the party was in doubt.
When it finally stopped, some villagers lit a bonfire. We watched as Maasai morans roasted goat meat the traditional way. No grill, just two pointed sticks from theOlokirding’ai made into a cross (locally known as Orpejet) and then pinned on the ground near the fire.
The tasty nyama choma of hind legs, ribs (olaras) and liver(emonyua)was offered to us and cut into small pieces. As the film crew gobbled the choma, I asked a village elder, Lenora about the after-taste. “The Olokirding’ai is spicy. Its roots are boiled and used to treat ulcers and can be used as a toothbrush when one has a sour throat,” he told me.
The next morning, as we were ready to wrap up the set. Naserian insisted that we visit the Sekenani Environtech Centre where waste from the area – plastics, tins and glass— are collected and incinerated to make fencing poles.
The building also acts as the ICT/Resource centre for Sekenani town. “Here we are able to offer services such as a cyber cafe, photocopies and a library for students and visitors,” Karia added.
While the incinerator heralds sustainable development in the Mara, there are worries about hotels and lodges in the park, which do not have proper waste disposal methods. The local Maasais want the hotels to use the incinerator at a fee, but their managers are reluctant.
As we wrap up the two-day stay at Sekenani, I make a mental note to return for more fun and the tasty nyama choma.