I was chatting with a friend the other day about how difficult it can be to do something out of your comfort zone. The conversation brought me back to the first time I was REALLY pushed outside of my comfort zone. I was 21 years old and embarked on a one month trip to Africa…
Part of the trip involved trekking 8 hours in a Land Rover into a remote village of the Maasai tribe. Once we arrived in the village we were greeted by many curious Maasai people and many Maasai warriors. Most of the children had never seen a person with “white” skin before so they actually ran from us yelling “Mzungu” which is the Swahili word for “white person”. As we explored the village that morning, I had no idea that in a few short hours, in the cover of night, I would be catapulted out of my beloved comfort zone and into unfamiliar and uncertain territory.
The sun had set, we had finished dinner and were getting settled in for the night in the comfortable, cottage-type home where we were staying, when there was a knock at the door. It was the Maasai warrior tribe leader. We could hear him talking urgently at the front door to Bill who was our pastor and group leader on the trip. Although I couldn’t quite hear exactly what was being said, I could tell that there was some confusion and negotiating going on between the two men. After speaking for a few minutes the Maasai leader left and Bill announced that there was a change of plans: we would be heading out to stay overnight in the Masaai’s dung hut (yep, a house made out of poop!). I grabbed my backpack, quickly shoved a few supplies inside and headed outside with the rest of our group.
There were 8 Maasi warriors waiting outside the house we were staying in. We were split into 4 groups; each of us travelling into the forest with 2 of the warriors. Thankfully I was paired with one of my best friends Nicci to travel into the village with “Taiku” and “Krissmas”, our new warrior friends. Taiku spoke very little english and Krissmas did not speak english at all. We started following the warriors deep into the forest. It was pitch black. There were no streetlights and no flashlights. I held my hand out in front of me and could barely see it. When we were initially told were were staying in a Maasai village, I had pictured the huts to be relatively close together. But, as each group trekked into the forest in opposite directions and dissapeared from sight, I realized that Nicci and I were very alone with these two warriors. In preparation for our trip, we all did some research about the customs of the Maasai people. We learned that in Maasai culture the woman never walked in front of the men and always needed to follow behind them. As we continued our journey to their village Nicci and I tried to be respectful and stay behind the men but Taiku kept circling back and coming behind us. When we asked him if we should stay behind him, he said that “Mzungu skin glows in the dark” and that he wanted to make sure one of the ‘hunting animals’ didn’t get us. I heard a faint whimper and realized it had come from my own mouth. I reached out and grabbed Nicci’s hand wondering if we were walking into the end of our lives.
The village was far. It seemed like we were walking for at least an hour when I finally saw the faint glow of a campfire in the distance. We made it! The hut was just as I imagined it would be. The walls were made of mud and dung and the roof was covered in straw. Taiku introduced us to his “Mama” who looked exactly like the photos I had seen in national geographic. Mama was wearing only a long red skirt and a stack of beaded necklaces as she boiled tea in a pot over a fire. Nicci and I took a seat on some rocks by the fire and were instanly swarmed with children. Their little faces were covered with flies. They were petting our heads, touching our skin and playing with our hair while they spoke excitedly to each other in Swahili. Mama offered us a Maasai staple: Chai Tea and we gratefully accepted the warm drink. As I took my first sip my mouth was filled with chunks. I swallowed hard and looked at Nicci who had the same startled/nauseous look on her face. We tilted the cups towards the glow of the fire and peered inside. Both of our cups had about 4 or 5 dead flies floating in them. Seeing us looking at our cups Mama thought we needed a refill and filled them up again. We sat by the fire sipping on our ‘Fly Tea’, I mean Chai Tea for a little while longer until Taiku announced that it was time for bed. We grabbed our backpacks and ducked into the doorway of the dung hut.
There was a small fire burning in the middle of the room and a bed on the right and another on the left side of the room. The beds appeared to be a group of bamboo looking sticks tied togther with a cow hide skin draped over it. Taiku and Mama slept in the bed to the left of the fire and ushered Nicci and I to the one on the right. The children sprawled out on the floor. When studying the Maasai culture we seemed to have overlooked the fact that Maasai sleep in the nude. They began to strip down and instructed us to do the same. Nicci and I rambled on about being cold and needing to sleep in our clothes as we climbed onto the bed. I was laying on the bed for a few minutes when I felt something nip at my toes! I sat up and peered over the foot of the bed and realized that there was a pen of goats at the end of the bed. Nicci and I covered our mouths with both hands trying to hide our laughter. This was going to be a LONG night! I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead the night was filled with Nicci and I whispering to each other “Did you hear that?” “What was that noise?” “Did you feel that?” “They’re biting my feet again?” “What just touched me?” After what seemed like an eternity, I could see the sun poking through the pin size holes in the hut walls. It was finally morning and we had made it through the night!
The morning was amazing! We participated in their daily routine of milking their cows (not as easy as it looks), practicing shooting a bow and arrow and making beaded jewellery. We explored the area around their hut and visited their neighbours. Taiku and Krissmas took us for a walk down to the river where they collected water. The river was filled with Masaai woman washing their clothes while the children happily splashed in the water. Observing their daily life was beautiful. What started as an uncomfortable and stretching experience quickly blossomed into life changing moments that I will never forget.
It can be so hard to overcome the initial feeling of being uncomfortable and stretched outside your comfort zone – but usually, there is great reward if you do! It’s hard to push through when there is an unknown outcome at the end, or when you feel like something is too hard, or too scary, or too different. You CAN do it! You are braver and stronger than you think! Let’s challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone and try something new! 🙂