Words and photography by Jethro Manuel.
Zanzibar is known for its crystal clear skies, azure blue water and thatched huts amongst the native palm trees. One’s subconscious craves a relaxing African island experience with secluded beaches, hidden markets, friendly locals and warm African sunsets.
However, once you set foot on the beach, the locals as well as Maasai males have the ability to impede your vacation mood in an instant.
They try to sell you everything under the sun from Dhow trips, bangles, necklaces, paintings and even shark teeth to name but only a few.
During our daily struggle to have a ‘non- sales pitch’ beach walk I met a Maasai salesman called Daniel whose real name, I later discovered, is Lembuke Matebe. He is a 24 year old Maasai Warrior and had something about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He was trying to sell, of course, but he seemed to have an intriguing desire to find out more about my family and I.
The next day I decided to take a walk along the beach and Lembuke showed up to join me. While we marched on, I sensed that as two young African men with a hunger for understanding, we were keen to converse about our different cultures and openly share our fears, hopes and dreams. We were men on a journey of discovery…
An obvious hot topic for two straight males in their 20’s! Lembuke and I immediately got stuck into this and both enquired about women in our home countries. How they look, what they wear, what language they speak, and if Labola ( payment to the bride’s father)is involved in any way, shape or form. (This was my biggest concern due to lack of finances on my part). It didn’t take much convincing before he asked me to bring him a South African lady to marry. I duly accepted his proposal and agreed that I would return with a willing female for him. I am still accepting CV’s.
Oh and did I mention that during their traditional ceremonies, the male warriors who jump the highest are seen as the most attractive to the females? As a short guy, I figured I’d have no chance of finding a Maasai wife which Lembuke confirmed this with a heavy heart.
The main piece of clothing worn by the Maasai is called a Shuka. It is basic piece of cloth worn around the body with the colour red being the preferred option. Lembuke rocked his checked Shuka with accessories such as sandals, intricate beaded jewellery, a large knife, a wooden club and a stick. Accentuated by his long thinly braided hair and Top Gun-esque aviator sunglasses; I felt slightly underdressed wearing only board shorts. Seems his trendy fashion sense was way beyond my scope of expertise.
My outdated perception of the Maasai people still living solely off the land and only being able to speak their native tongue was far removed.It is 2016 after all and Daniel conducted his business via his cellphone and frequently answered calls during our walk together.
Like everyone else from urban areas, this is how the Maasai communicate with their friends, loved ones and business partners just as we do with ours. This made me realise that ‘Tech’ is not just a word thrown around at TED Talks and in economics lectures at university, but that it’s actually is a tangible real life phenomenon which is connecting the world even for previously isolated African tribes.
En route to my resort, we were discussing one another’s names and believe it or not, we couldn’t quite figure out how to spell them. I even tried my offshoot ‘American’ accent to assist but to no avail. Lembuke then took his stick and spelled out his name in the sand which I then followed. He mentioned that due to lack of higher grade schooling, the majority of the Maasai are able to spell the written word more proficiently than they can spell verbally. Immediately this made absolute sense as the majority of the Maasai salesman draw their ‘discounted’ price in the sand with their sticks when bartering with their customers.
On the final day of our family holiday, I was participating in our resort’s daily 5pm volleyball game. Showing off the ‘guns and abs’ to the foreign ladies who were playing in their bikini’s. Lembuke came to say good bye at the end of his shift. We smiled at each other and shook one another’s hand.
This small gesture reinforced my belief that no matter what type of travel you may undertake, be it organised package tours, backpacking or 5-star hotel vibes, ‘authentic’ experiences can still be enjoyed if you remove the barriers to what you think you know about people and embrace the truth that we are always learning.
Speak to that pushy salesman on the beach; pop into that market off the beaten path, indulge in a card game with the locals on the street corner. If you are willing to be open – minded and embrace humanity for what it is and not for what you want or expect it to be; you will be blown away at how authentic your travel can be in the 21st century.
To follow more of Jethro Manuel’s adventures find him on Instagram: @jethromanuel.