blog maasai friendLeigh Bercaw has been in Tanzania since June. On a recent ferry ride back from Zanzibar, Leigh made an unexpected friend and saw firsthand how we can make connections with individuals who at first appear so different from us. Read on to hear about Leigh’s encounter with a new friend during her time with WorldTeach Tanzania…

Sometimes making friends feels like Red Rover and you just got called over, sometimes making friends is as easy as the right person sitting next to you on the ferry and asking you a lot of questions about Barack Obama’s hygiene habits. Today I met Daniel on the way home from Zanzibar. He was really disappointed I didn’t know more about Obama’s daily routine, but that didn’t stop us from making one of those fast and furious friendships that come from immediate compatibility between strangers.


Daniel is Maasai, a traditionally pastoralist ethnic group in Tanzania famous for their bravery, nomadism, and unrelenting commitment to their indigenous clothing. The story of the Maasai in Tanzania is a long one, fraught with displacement and conflict over land use rights. They are usually famous for this but people who know them a little better write about some of the unique challenges they have in East Africa (like this

Somehow over the course of a ferry ride I found somebody with a heart like mine. You know how when you’re a kid you imagine digging a hole to China and stepping out on the other side to find some Chinese kid just like you digging a hole to find you too? My swahili is still limping along, but somehow everything he said made sense to me; he comes from as different a background as is imaginable, but we were both widening our eyes and shaking our heads about how similar our lives are. He told me I gave him a lot of jibu kwa moyo, and I told him he answered questions I didn’t even know I had. I’ve only had a few of those moments in my life, and every time they give me spine shivers and leave me grinning in grateful surprise. The Maasai in Tanzania are sometimes treated like Mzungu, when Tanzanians in big crowds see Maasai they say OY MAASAI and point and stare; the Maasai are noticeable in any crowd because they always wear their traditional wrap and carry a symbolic spear. He told me “I am like you and your white white skin! I cannot hide!” When I asked him how to handle the attention, he said that you never really can. Just when you think you get used to it, you find someone who doesn’t care who you are and scrapes your heart raw. I just met the guy, and I really miss him. I wish we were walking the same way a little longer.