If He Cries, They Kill Him
by Ken Lovering
In unfamiliar cultures, honesty has its risks.
It would be easy to blame my sweat on the mid-afternoon Tanzanian sun.
But there’s more to why my glands are working overtime: I am sitting in a tiny Maasai enkaji, a circular hut constructed of a mud-manure mix that these five beaded women, my hosts, likely slapped together with their bare hands. The only light by which we inspect each other dissipates from the low doorway. Humid stuffy air, tinged with earth and a clamminess that is not completely my own, is as sure a presence as we are.
There’s one more reason I sweat, why my stomach sits in my throat and my heart pounds. I am fixing to come out to my hosts merely by exchanging cultural pleasantries.
This is risky business in Africa. Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 of its 51 nations, punishable by life imprisonment (as in Tanzania) or even execution (as in Mauritania, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria). So I do not share my sexual orientation frivolously or with the reckless passion of an adamant activist. And though the Maasai in many ways stand apart from the mores of Tanzania, I do not expect a warm reception from these women. After all, they have no word in their language for “homosexual.” In their language, I may as well not exist.
Hence my soaking shirt.
My guide Peter, a native Tanzanian fluent in Maa, has been facilitating an engrossing discussion between the women and a dozen travel professionals from around the world—Italy, China, Costa Rica, Spain, South Africa, and the U.S. We men have just been asked why our wives—valuable commodities in Maasai culture—are not with us.
And I, alas, have never been a good liar.
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