Judy Rotiken is the only female safari guide at Ishara Mara Camp in Kenya. She has had a passion for nature since childhood.
She enjoys her work, but getting to this point has not been easy.
“I enjoy studying and observing nature how things are,” said Rotiken during our tour of the warehouse. “When I was a kid, I used to chase hyenas with my cousins at night.”
As a local naturalist, she explained that Sodom applefruit is a good antiseptic for skin wounds but poisonous to eat, and that the stems from the Euclea trees are used to make traditional toothbrushes. “Plus, it’s fireproof and an evergreen tree.”
The Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya’s most famous wildlife sanctuary, was established in 1961. Few Maasai women have worked in the tourism or wildlife sector.
Rotiken grew up in Narok County near the Mau Forest. After completing primary school, the family could not afford secondary school fees and her father was willing to marry her off.
“Many Maasai girls get engaged early because their fathers have cows,” said Rotiken. “But I said never!”
It was only through the determination of her mother, a small farmer, that she managed to graduate from high school.
“My mother went around looking for scholarships from relatives to support me. She sold everything, including a donkey that used to fetch water.”
Now she advises Maasai girls about the importance of school.
“You can work anywhere with education, man is respected , you make your own decisions.”
Rotiken worked at various block hotels before joining the Heritage Group in 2006 at Samburu Intrepids Lodge and then Mara Intrepids Camp. Then in 2014, health issues meant she couldn’t work in the stores anymore.
When the manager asked her what else she could do, she said leadership.
Im In 2017 she received a bronze certification from the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association (KPSGA).
Working in a male-dominated field is no picnic.
“Sometimes they answered not my questions. Or I would get into the safari vehicle and the guide would not speak to me. They didn’t understand why I wanted this job.”
Often she was the only Maasai woman living in a lodge.
“The people you work with probably discouraged other girls until they don’t like tourism,” she said.
Fortunately, some experienced guides supported her ambitions and mentored her guiding.
Lack of fees
When Rotiken finished secondary school, she was accepted into a teachers’ college but never enrolled due to lack of fees.
Again, her father proposed marriage, so she ran to her uncle’s house. To make some money, she started making beaded bracelets to sell while she looked for work. She reached out to a relative who worked at Keekorok Lodge, which was part of the Block Hotels group.
After several applications, she was offered a position as a gift shop clerk in 2002, paying Ksh3,500 ($30 ) earned.
“I would keep 500 Ksh ($0.4) and the rest I sent to my mother for her needs and for my sisters’ school fees,” she said. “My work was not only for me but for my siblings because I couldn’t see them suffering as I did.”
Working in tourism has meant that she has many hours away from her family was separated.
< p>“If you have a soft heart, you will not make it. But I went through hardships until I got tough,” she said.
Her next goal is KPSGA Silver level certification and a driver’s license. “I don’t want to be driven by other guides anymore.”