23.8.12

The Journey of the Hide

Over north eastern Canada. 
I'm not into little trinkets and logo printed souvenirs.  I will never purchase a I heart NYC shirt, though I've been there twice.  I'm looking for unique things to remember the places I visit, even if they are free.  Last February I went with Compassion International on my second trip to Kenya and on my second African safari.  On my first trip I brought home a homemade Maasai stool. 

I bought this from a vendor at a Maasai market in Nairobi. It was not originally for sale, but after about 30 minutes of negotiation and walking away I bought the stool she was sitting on. Her grandfather made it from one solid log of African hardwood. She was around 50 so this stool could easily be 100 years old.  As you could guess, I got a lot of grief and jokes from my traveling companions about buying the stool the woman was sitting on...

So for my second trip I was excited about finding a new souvenir, but we were reaching the end of our time and I hadn't seen anything that caught my eye. I was hoping that I could find something on the Masai Mara and I did. 

Flight to the Mara. Tiny plane
The airport we landed at. Kitchwa Tempo.
On the last day of our trip we visited a Maasai village and they showed us around and set up a market for us.  Maasai women are known for their beadwork. They really do make beautiful jewelry. The men are known for wearing colorful blankets that are supposed to ward off the lions. All of these things were for sale in the market that they set up, but I had finally decided what I wanted. I wanted a cow hide.

On the drive from the airport to our lodge. 
The Maasai use cow hides for all sorts of things, but they primarily use them to sleep on. I asked the chief, who was touring us around the village, if they had an extra that they would sell to me. He acted puzzled at first and asked many questions to clarify what I meant, but once he understood he took me to a hut to look at one.
The first one he showed me was well used. There was almost no hair left on the hide, so I explained that I wanted a fresh hide. We looked at a few more before he finally showed me the one I wanted.
Now, if you have ever traveled internationally you know that getting a cow hide from an African village back into the States will prove quite difficult.  I was aware of the risk, so I had to negotiate with that in mind.  Everyone had then gathered to see me haggle with the chief and three Maasai warriors (one of which probably killed and cleaned the hide himself).  I began to explain how I may not be able to get it through customs, so I couldn't spent very much on it. I could see that this situation was becoming strikingly similar to my purchase the year before.
The Chief and his wives. 
Just about everyone with me was trying to talk me out of buying it, but I was determined.  I think I just assumed that even if I couldn't keep it, it would make for a great story.  The team claims I said these words to the villagers, "This is how it's going to work, I have $x to spend...", and that may or may not be a correct quote... They still like to quote that line and laugh about it.

 So I bought it. They wrapped it up with some natural fiber rope and we left.  I put it was deep in my suitcase as I could and we flew back to Nairobi.  Our contacts in Nairobi assured me that I wouldn't be able to get it through customs and kinda freaked me out a little when they described how I could get in trouble.  I maintained that there was no difference between the African drums you could buy with cow hide heads and what I had. Our contacts agreed with my logic, and said they really didn't know what would happen. I still think my logic is sound and without any clear rules against it, its legal.
I declared it on my customs forms and had to go through a special agricultural checkpoint, but after all the scans and checks I left the customs check in Detroit with the hide! The team celebrated with me; they were all very interested by that point. And here is the infamous African cow hide on my porch.  Still need to get a taxidermist to make it soft enough to use it as a rug.  Love the memories though.




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