Business Acumen II

The Masai women and girls, some with babies on their backs, form a line facing us and sing a welcome song. We  line up opposite them and they pass by, greeting us one by one with a palm to palm gesture.

The third from last is a girl with sparkling eyes and a warm happy smile. She grabs my hand and leads me into their line. I see my fellow Canadians similarly led into the circle and we’re dancing again.

“Your name?” the young girl asks when the song ends. She’s lively and lovely despite the shabbiness of her clothes, the sores around her eyes, and the flies hovering.

“Darlene,” I say. “What’s your name?”

“Me Mary,” she says, clasps my hand in both of hers, and leads me to the village market behind the compound. A semi-circle of tables made of sticks lashed together and filled in with cow dung are covered with goods to sell. Mary leads me to her table

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I pick up a beaded bracelet. Before I can blink, Mary whips a similar one off her arm and puts it on my wrist. A gift? What a sweetheart, I think. Seconds later both my wrists are adorned with bracelets.

“How much?” I ask. Mary points to each bracelet naming her price–five dollars. The old one from her wrist–the gift–is the most expensive. She wants ten dollars for that one.

Hadn’t I learned my lesson from the dancing stick? “Mary,” I protest.

“My friend,” she says with a gleam in her eye. Again she grasps my hand in both of hers. We negotiate. Mary smiles, calls me her friend over and over again, and doesn’t once let go of my hand while she offers more and more bracelets. She’s on to me.

I hold out twenty dollars for five bracelets. She wants twenty-five. “Mary, my friend,” I protest again. Maybe she’ll relent. After all, we are friends. She smiles. Her eyes twinkle. How can I resist? I pay the twenty-five dollars. I buy key chains, necklaces, more bracelets. Seventy-five dollars later—the warriors have nothing on Mary, my Masai friend—I say my last farewell. Mary waves wildly from behind her table. I depart reluctantly, pockets bulging with my purchases, dancing stick clutched in my hand, and a warm glow in my heart.

Business Acumen I

I proudly clutch my Masai dancing stick. I earned it. I danced with the warriors. I’ve also paid for it.

The Masai welcome us warmly after the young chief deftly separates the dollars and shillings, counts the Canadian tribe, and counts the money, which then disappears under  his red blanket. They have pockets under there?

The warriors dance for us, demonstrate the jumping contest springing high from a standstill, their  long thin legs, wire springs. The men of our group are invited to compete. The  warrior who jumps highest has the most girlfriends. The Canadian judged winner has a wife who says no girlfriends allowed. The Masai say never mind  girlfriends; what about cows? Do we have cows in Canada? We do. Good. All cows  belong to the Masai. They’ll be coming to Canada to claim their cows. All  cows belong to the Masai.

I’m given a dancing stick and invited to join them. I do my best to imitate the steps and  must have it right because now I’m wearing the lion skin hat. We circle under  the blazing sun and others of the Canadian tribe are invited to join in. The warriors grin, shake our hands, and tell us to keep the dancing sticks.

We watch a demonstration of fire starting. “We don’t buy matches,” the warrior says.  “They’re too dangerous. The children could start a fire and burn down the  compound. Starting fires our way is very hard and the children can’t do it.”

It is hard. It involves sticks and spinning a wooden rod and a whole lot of discussion, and fetching of fresh sticks and more spinning and more discussion, but at last they are successful. We applaud and cheer.

We’re shown inside their homes, come back into the open, and suddenly we’re negotiating a price  for the dancing sticks. Clever, clever Masai. We danced with the warriors. We’re not about to give up our dancing sticks. We pay. Have to admire their  business acumen.