I was born and raised in small remote Maasai village in Tanzania near the protected area of the Serengeti ecosystem. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of walking our cattle for grazing in the Serengeti ecosystem (“Siringet” is a Maasai word meaning endless plains) along with the great annual migration of over a million wildebeest and their predators, including lions. On these trips, I was able to be free in the surrounding nature and peacefully interact with the wild animals – lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, many species of antelopes and rich birdlife.
We were respectful neighbours, living together but at arm’s length, doing our best not to disturb each other. I remember one hot day after a tiring walk with our family’s cattle I sat down under a tree and fell asleep. When I woke up it was pitch dark, and all I could hear was a spotted hyena hoot-laugh, or giggle. I attuned my ears to the sounds around me and heard a stomping sound but smiled to myself as I knew it was a giraffe – I love giraffes. But I was not really thinking about the animals at that stage and what they might do to me, I was far more frightened of not being able to find my family’s cattle, or that they would be attacked or eaten, which would leave us destitute. I was listening for any tell-tale sound, because if they came across a lion or hyenas they would start running and moo quite loudly. I listened and listened, but could not hear a thing.
I wondered if I could track their trails in the dark but there was little moonlight. I looked at the stars and my immediate surroundings, found my bearings and started walking back home, hoping the cattle had made their way there alone. Cows with young calves will often return home when the sun sets. Without the cattle around me, I felt more alone and was worried I could become dinner for a pack of hyenas. I wrapped my left wrist and fingers with one of my shuka (cloth blanket), just in case I came across a hungry predator. If the cloth is thick and you’re strong enough, you could limit an attack by stuffing your wrapped hand inside the predators mouth. Yes, it’s a big ask but it’s something we were taught at a very young age. I knew I was far from home (probably about 20km) so I started running. Possibly reading this you have no idea how loud and clumsy a human running in the dead of night sounds. I surprised and scared so many animals on the way, but which ones I will never know for sure – I wasn’t stopping to greet them!
All animals will run when you scare them, and certainly it sounded like I ran passed elephants, giraffes and zebras. I eventually made it home with my tail between my legs – I hadn’t found any cattle on the way back, and knew I could get beaten for putting our livelihood at risk. But luck was on my side and all of the cattle had made their way home. No one had noticed I was missing except my mother, so my carelessness went unpunished. I was puffing when I got inside my mother’s hut. She gave me a knowing look and said “No one knew you were missing and the cows found their way home”. It was a big relief. I took a deep breath, knowing it was a close call, but deep down I was far more afraid of being punished than being eaten by any of my wild neighbours.
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