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A German woman who married a Maasai tribe leader after she fell in love with him while volunteering in Tanzania has launched an Airbnb-style tourist enterprise that supports local health initiatives.
Stephanie Fuchs, 33, has set up a "cultural experience" where travellers can participate in ”real” Maasai life by living in huts and rearing cattle.
Part of the proceeds go to initiatives such as making reusable sanitary kits for women in the area and supporting the tribe.
Ms Fuchs started working at a research camp close to the Selous Game Reserve in 2010. She enjoyed the experience so much that she extended her three-month trip to a year and started speaking Swahili in the process.
While on Mafia Island she spotted a group of “ tall, beautiful herdsman” who follow the ancient tradition of shepherding cattle through the African savannah.
Her future husband, Sokoine, was adorned in red clothing and “beautiful handmade jewellery”.
“In that moment I saw only him – he was taller than the others and had the most beautiful eyes,” she told the Standard.
“As I was intrigued and impressed by them and particularly him, I tried to engage them in conversation with my Swahili. They were friendly but in a rush to get going.”
In the days and weeks that followed, Ms Fuchs tried to strike up small talk whenever she saw Sokoine.
"I was more determined than ever to have a proper conversation with him,” she said.
“And we did. We opened up to each other and about a week later we got together.”
When the time came for Ms Fuchs to leave, she knew she was not ready.
“I wanted to stay in Tanzania. I had come to love the country - its beautiful wildlife and especially its people - so much. I knew I did not want to live anywhere else.
"And then there was Sokoine, who had become my boyfriend and who I did not want to leave. So I suggested to him that we should try and make a life in his traditional Maasai family home in the Masai Steppe. We moved in there in January 2012.”
Ms Fuchs said it was hard adapting to living alongside the Maasai. At first, she felt lonely and isolated when they spoke in the Maa tribal language.
She also found it challenging having little alone time with her partner - for he was always surrounded by other warriors.
She explained: “If they eat, they cannot do so alone, they have to be with other men. Women eat separately.
“My husband’s family made an exception for me, knowing and understanding that I come from a different culture and wanting to make me feel comfortable. So I was allowed to eat with my husband and his brothers.
“But we would be in the company of others every day until night time.”
The cultural differences put a strain on the relationship and the pair had arguments.
The couple realised that if they wanted to stay together, they would need to adapt to each other’s lifestyles.
Ms Fuchs “dug deep” and tried to understand the root causes of disagreements. Eventually, they married.
“Now many of the things that I used to find difficult have become an integrated part of my life,” she said.
“I learned Maa, I connected to the people, his family and friends and now they have become my family and friends too.
“I am happier than I have ever been and I have come to love this beautiful tribe so much.
“They are innate conservationists who live in harmony with nature. They are kind, generous and even-tempered and hold an ancient wisdom from which many of us in the western world could learn a lot.”
They now have a son and Ms Fuchs has set upprojects to help people in her community.
She employs local women to cook and make traditional gifts for visitors staying with the tribe, as well as setting up health projects in the region.
She said: “For the work they [the women] do in helping me look after our guests, I pay them a wage and so give them the means to become financially independent of their husbands.
“They also make traditional jewellery to sell which again gives them an income.
“The same is true for my Masai women enterprise making reusable sanitary kits. The women who work with me get paid and at the same time we give back to our fellow women and girls by providing them with much needed sanitary pads.”
As part of her cultural tourism project, Ms Fuchs teaches guests about the Maasai culture and gets them to participate in the traditional dancing if they desire.
As part of the experience, travellers can help look after the cattle with the tribe, eat local dishes and absorb themselves in Massai life.
The proceeds from the venture go towards supporting her family and the community.
Ms Fuchs concluded: "I love Tanzania, I love the Maasai and I believe their beautiful ancient culture is worthy of preservation."
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