Dear Mom: I pass our tradition on to the Masai

Me and Linotei Tumonga, Masai

Dear Mom:

Remember when you had to have open-heart surgery and while we hoped, there was a fear in the back of our minds, and surely in yours, that you would not make it out the other side?

They remove your heart, put it on a table, and then set it back inside.

I was so scared then. I could not envision life without you in it.

To help you through it, you asked family and best friends to give you a bead — something special in meaning, whatever its meaning. I chose a green, black and white one with maybe a dash of blue. From Aaron’s Alley. I found it up on the second floor of the shop and thought it looked like the jungle, and the Amazon was the place where I found my calling in the world, telling other people’s stories.

You strung the beads to make a necklace so you could keep us all with you, especially in frightening, unsure and the darkest times.

When it came time for me to finally embark on this lifelong dream of mine to travel around the world, I was afraid, which was a surprise, and mostly I was afraid that I would be lonely. The kind of lonely that only comes when you are traveling long term or in really unfamiliar places.

You may have fun and it may be interesting, but there are times when it is a struggle to put your feet on the floor first thing because you know that each moment of the day will also be a struggle, even to communicate, and at the end of the day, there is no one who makes you a priority in their life to sit down and with whom you can just “be.”
I borrowed your grand idea and made my own necklace. A “Lonely Survival Kit” piece if you will.

I asked friends and family to give me a bead — with a special meaning, either that signifies our relationship or my trip or something special whatever that something is — so that I could make a necklace.

It is heavy, it is unwieldy and it is spectacular. As such, I haven’t worn it much because of the camera strap or trying to fly under the bling radar. I wore it around camp at Selenkay Conservancy, because I wanted to wear my special necklace, as the Masai staff have the most beautiful bead jewelry.

Linotei Tumango’s wife makes them; she made my cuff. We visited the Masai village and Linotei was there demonstrating how to pay mancala and also hosted us inside a traditional house — the most pitch black house I’ve ever been.

He was with us on the bush walk and like the rest of the Masai I’ve met, is gracious, kind, shy, ultimately interesting and has very awesome split ears with, of course, beadwork.

Yesterday, he gave me a necklace from the village, made by one of the women, of black beads, a cowrie shell and 2 beads. Thank you, he said, for everything. He had Peter translate it, confirmed yes, then smiled big and Peter put the necklace around my neck.


I thanked him, hugged him even though he was unsure what to do really, and then had Peter retell this story about how my mom had open-heart surgery and she could have died. She was afraid. We were all afraid. She had friends and family give her beads and she made a necklace, so she could take them with her to hospital and with her, always.

He smiled.

They nodded.

How I loved that idea. I am traveling for a year and I was afraid of how I will feel when I am afraid, or lonely, so I adopted your idea and made a necklace. This is it.

They checked it out and I explained about the crow and the red bead for Mother Earth and wings for protection and…

it means a lot to me that he would give me something from the Masai. I will wear it with the necklace as a special part of me and my time in Africa.

When I went to my tent that night, I looked at my electric-blue, circular pendant I bought at Macchu Pichu. I really like it, but would like it more if it maybe found a home with a nice guy in the traditional Masai village, where it was clear that people had very very few possessions. Linotei is always decked out; maybe he would like this. If not, maybe he would like to keep it, from a client at the safari who was touched by his thank-you gift; a reminder that we don’t forget them.

Even if he gives it away, or tucks it under the sticks of the seating-bed, I like to think of it here, in wild land, with his family, somehow.

This morning, when I said good bye, I called Peter over and said:

“I got this necklace in Macchu Pichu, a very important site for the Inca tribe in South America. I am grateful Linotei gave me a necklace. Maybe you would like this.”

He put it on and smiled, and we took our photos together. Me with my new friend, and the passing on of necklaces, keeping us all connected.

Dear Mom.
For everything.
Love, me.