His name is Moses. He’s larger than life. As a young warrior in training he killed a lion, and has the scars to prove it.
What to do with the Maasai guy now sitting in my living room?
In 2009, I went to Kenya to direct a CBC documentary for a series about Africa. I found Moses ole Samante by Googling. I was fascinated by the Maasai people I’d met while travelling in Tanzania, and figured a Maasai safari operator would make a great character.
I was right. Moses was pegged as a leader at a young age. By 20, he’d already survived the death of his father, endless drought, a stroke and said lion. With the help of a Canadian photographer who befriended him, he went to college, determined to build a better future for himself and his community. He speaks four languages, does business via cellphone and is addicted to Facebook.
Even so, what can you have in common with a guy who wears a red plaid blanket as his “casual Fridays” outfit when he goes home to visit Mom?
Moses thinks divorce is weird and salad is disgusting (“My animals eat it – why would I eat grass like a goat?”). I’ve told him I believe that sometimes divorce is better than a lousy marriage, and that you don’t need to have hooves to eat lettuce. We’ve agreed to disagree.
The biggest shock of all? That men sometimes do housework. My husband, a far better cook than I, happily unloaded the dishwasher and rustled up some steaks.
Moses was gobsmacked. He’d never seen a man running the kitchen. I told him Canadian women wouldn’t put up with a traditional Maasai woman’s backbreaking life – spending hours collecting firewood and water, then toiling over a fire while your husband visits with wife number two in the neighbouring village.
Moses is rich compared to most Maasai. He supports something like 27 siblings, sponsors a soccer team and pays school fees for countless kids. He was the first man in his hometown to drive a car (“You have to sell a lot of cows to buy a car”). He, his wife, Everline, and two sons now live in a relatively lavish apartment in Nairobi.
Everline loves her sunny kitchen and modern appliances. She loves helping Moses run his safari business. She wants to preserve her culture, but she doesn’t miss living in a tiny dung hut.
Moses, like men the world over, still reminisces about “the good old days” – running free as a youth, being chased by elephants and throwing a spear around with his pals.
When we met in 2009, the TV crew and I were on his turf. We sampled freshly roasted goat in the bush, and sipped milky tea in his mother’s hut. Wherever we went, we were appalled by the poverty and humbled by the generosity.
You bond quickly when you’re stuck together, day after day, in a van with no air conditioning. Ed (the cameraman), Mary (audio), Moses and I became fast friends. “If you ever come to Canada, look us up,” we smiled.
We never dreamed that he actually would.
At first, the whole idea was daunting. Ed was worried he might be too busy working to entertain him. Mary worried that her basement was a mess, mid-renovation, until I reminded her that Moses grew up sleeping on a mud floor next to the goats.
We worried for nothing. Moses had the time of his life. We held an open house for 50 friends and family so he could drum up a few potential clients. He wore his shuka (traditional Maasai outfit) and regaled the crowd with tales of wild animals and warriors.
But Moses is no Kenyan Crocodile Dundee. Nairobi is a bustling, modern city, and Moses meets tourists from around the world. Surely, he wouldn’t be surprised by much.
I was wrong. He marvelled at everything. “You have buses without wheels?” he asked, mesmerized by Toronto’s red streetcars.
“Wow,” he said of the Blue Jays field at the Rogers Centre. “You must feed a lot of cows with that grass.”
He loved riding up the CN Tower with my father-in-law and cheering on the Toronto FC soccer team, even if he didn’t think they lived up to World Cup standards. He was awestruck by the majesty of Niagara Falls, and he got a firsthand taste of Prairie hospitality – and floods – while visiting friends in Manitoba.
He even experienced a true Canadian tradition – a long weekend at the cottage. We may not have leopards and giraffes, but loons can be pretty special, too.
Everywhere Moses went, he made new friends. The guy is a one-man goodwill ambassador who taught me a thing or two about Africa, including the novel idea that not everyone on the continent is jobless, starving or unhappy.
His visit also opened my eyes to what we take for granted. Politicians who aren’t corrupt. Internet connections that are instant. Health care and education that are accessible to all.
I think Moses was most impressed by our multicultural richness. “In Canada,” he observed, “all the tribes get along.” It was a revelation for someone whose country has been ripped apart by ethnic violence.
He’s already planning his next trip, if he can save up enough money. He wants to visit Montreal or Vancouver. I’m sure he’ll stay with us again in Toronto, his new home away from home. But this time, he’s going to have to unload the dishwasher.
Leora Eisen is a freelance documentary director and lives in Toronto.