The little plane coming in for a landing suddenly swoops upward as a herd of wildebeests thunders across the dirt airstrip that serves as a runway in the middle of nowhere.
Solomon holds the blanket of his shuka over his head as well as my friend’s for protection from the swirling storm of dust. Guide David and I are saying our farewells. It feels like I’m bidding goodbye to kin. Also, that I’m leaving a part of my soul in Kenya. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever come back to this magical place. At least not in my physical body!
Our plane arrives. I give joyful David a hug. Tears well up in my eyes. I act on my impulse to add an “I love you.” He smiles, nods in understanding. (Surely, I’m not the first visitor from the western world who has felt such love and deep gratitude for having spent time with a people so full of life.) We move on to Tanzania where we’ll spend more face time with Maasai women.
They raise the children, build and maintain the dwellings, craft the beadwork, prepare the meals, fetch the water (sometimes miles away)—the list goes on. It’s women’s lot in many patriarchal cultures, including that of the Maasai, to hold up more than half the sky—troubling to my feminist mind. Worse, as young girls, they submit to female circumcision, a painful and disfiguring coming-of-age practice to signal that they’re marriageable; thus, not likely to go to school. Prior to the trip, I’d heard that in 2018 a Maasai woman, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, had persuaded the elders of every Maasai clan to agree to abolish the centuries-old rite of passage. But when I told one of our guides how happy the news made me, he shook his head and revealed that resistance to change is strong. Many, he said, still carry out what’s called “the cut,” under wraps.*
Would I find the women dispirited, sullen, depressed? It turned out not to be the case. They were creative, centered, sure of themselves. During a conversation with the chief elder and “first wife” (pictured below) and thanks to our translator Daniel, someone in our group joked about relationship norms in America like the “honey-do list” for hubbies. Another told the “first wife” about it being the man who sleeps on the couch after an argument. After each revelation, the “first wife” would rise from her seat in the hut and give a high five to each woman in our circle. We’d all respond with peals of laughter and a sense of solidarity I won’t soon forget.
I thought about the huge difference between my first day in Africa and my last. Arriving, I was risk-averse, over-thinking everything, wondering about the “what’s next,” and absorbing, as Spirit had reported ahead of time, stark differences between our ways of life. By my last day, I was in the flow of life, feeling great joy and connection. Whether having a close encounter with a bull elephant; or taking wild rides in the open land cruiser upon news of a leopard sighting; or listening to hyenas howl beyond the tent, I’d felt fearless too. “Flying without seat belts,” is how Spirit had put it.
A dear friend sent me a note, after my return: I hope you can keep Africa with you for a long, long time. You looked right at home among the Maasai. I think there has always been a Maasai warrior inside you. The female kind, who smiles through hardship but knows her own strength.
Back home, I found the world was too much with me. The “tameness” and the “muchness” of my life unsettled me. A sense of overwhelm, after living in the present moment for weeks, was acute. Spirit checked in with me via Liv in a session not long after my travels.
“You met a regal woman when you spent time in the village. Do you remember her?”
I pictured the “first wife”—tall, gracious, grandmotherly, elegant. But no, this was not the woman Spirit had in mind. They asked Liv to google the definition of “regal” and she obliged: “Of or relating to notable excellence, kingly,” she read, a term typically attributed to males. The collective of wise ones then suggested that the female version of regal is “Mother Mary.”
“She, too, was a peasant like the Maasai woman we speak of. No one would have said, ‘Now there is a girl who will give birth to a king!’ Yet we know—and this Maasai woman also knows—why she is here.”**
Spirit reminded Liv and me of a Ken Burns documentary about the Mayo Clinic that we’d each seen. In one part, a doctor reveals that in his medical practice he has followed the advice a nun at Mayo’s sister-hospital once gave him. She’d told him that she treated every single patient she served as if he or she was Jesus Christ.
“This woman sees the holiness in you. She sees the holiness in everyone,” Spirit told me.
I thought of the woman who took me by the hand soon after our little group arrived at the village. She sat down beside me on a bench and began to teach me how to finish a small woven basket of gold wire. We both laughed over my attempts to get the hang of it. Then she gave me the basket.
“Yes, she is the one,” Spirit confirmed. “Even though she looks the least regal outwardly, it is the regal within that is profound and strong. With her quiet power and presence, she lifts up those in need of support, if only with a hug or a hand on a shoulder. She eases suffering.”
Spirit continued. “She took you aside because she saw her own essence in you. She knew intuitively that you are kindred souls. She recognized that you also know about yourself and trust in others’ goodness as she does, with a reverence for life. A beam of light connects you.”
Before my trip, Spirit had expressed the hope that I’d feel, at my very core, “Oh, this is who I am! I love children! I love animals! I love the sky! I love this life!” And recognize, as they put it, that “you need only bring the gift of yourself to any experience. It’s as simple as that.”
“We want you to stay aligned with the ‘Tunie’ you were in Africa—embodying fearlessness, the flow, that joy, your faith in everything unfolding as it is meant to with divine timing.”
This state of connection and joy is necessary in order to sustain a high vibration; at such a frequency, one is suddenly able to do the things one earlier thought impossible. This energy, this being in the flow from moment to moment, comes from trusting in one’s deep intuitive elemental knowing. Here was the answer to their meaning when they’d referred earlier to a homecoming.
I’d gone all the way to Africa to come home to my true self.
And not a moment too soon. The session came just days after my daughter’s cancer diagnosis when I realized I would need all the fearlessness, flow, trust, and joy I could muster. May it be so.
*In this radio interview with 27-year-old Nice Nailantei Leng’ete—named one of Time’s Most Influential People on the planet—she speaks about her life and the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM), still the fate of millions of girls around the world. Click here.
**A dedication comes to mind—To the humble, whose invisible choices are healing the world—from the book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” by Charles Eisenstein)