By Thomson Safaris staffer, Emily Martin
When I visited the Serengeti, I expected to see giraffes and zebras, beautiful landscapes and peaceful sunsets over the plains.
What I didn’t expect was to form a lifelong friendship with a Maasai tribesman.
Of course that’s just because I hadn’t met Emmanuel, yet. Warm, intelligent, with a smile that lights up his face, Emmanuel was not just a translator to us, he was a true cultural liaison to his fellow Maasai, and to a way of life unlike anything I’d ever imagined before.
I met Emmanuel at the Thomson Safaris’ Private Nature Refuge, as we headed out to one of the nearby Maasai villages. He was our translator, and I was amazed by his vast array of knowledge and near-perfect English. He politely answered all our questions about the Maasai, taught us a few Maa words to try out when we visited the village, and even spent some time asking us about our lives. Thanks to Emmanuel and his easy smile, our village visit was filled with dancing, jumping, pictures, and laughter shared with the villagers. It was a true cultural exchange!
During the rest of my stay I learned more about Emmanuel’s life, his family, and his dream of going to wilderness school. He was curious and driven, and I was impressed with how he navigated the two worlds he lived in: the traditional Maasai setting in which he was raised, and the modern, global world he was learning more about as a translator for Thomson Safaris. His doubts weren’t so different from any young man who wanted to see the world, but didn’t want to disappoint his family or lose sight of his heritage.
On my last day, as we were saying goodbye, Emmanuel told me he had a question.
You can imagine my surprise when Emmanuel proposed, offering a dowry of 100 cows.
I had only known him for two days, and besides, I was not on the market! How was I going to let him down easily?! My guide, Mohammed, started laughing hysterically. Soon Emmanuel joined in and I realized he was joking. Still laughing, we exchanged email addresses, took a couple photos to remember the moment, and I headed back to the US.
From just a few heartfelt conversations in the bush, I struck up a totally unexpected friendship. Who knew a girl from Ohio would connect so well with a Maasai from the bush? Emmanuel and I exchange emails regularly and send updates about our friends and family. I sent him pictures of my time at the Private Nature Refuge with the Maasai, and he passed them along to local villagers.
Emmanuel did finally make it to wilderness school thanks to the generous help of past Thomson Safaris guests the Lincks. He graduates this fall, and I, along with the entire Boston office, am so proud of his hard work—we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next! From the moment I met him, I could tell Emmanuel was just one of those people who would go on to do amazing things. I am grateful I had the opportunity to get to know him better during my time on safari with Thomson.
Emmanuel not only made it to wilderness school, he’s graduating this year.
We’ll be following up with Emmanuel soon!
Author: Thomson Safaris
Thomson Safaris has been providing photographic Tanzania safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro treks for over 35 years.