Monday, June 04, 2007

The White Masai.....

So, I spent the weekend reading this book, recommended by several people. Cliff Notes: It is the story of a woman who visited Africa, was instinctively drawn, met a Masai man, married him and had a child. The book is the story of that relationship.

I had some mixed feelings about it.

For one thing, I wish the author would have told us more about what drew her so strongly to the culture of Africa, where she gained her knowledge and what went on internally. What was she looking for?

She expressed her affinity but gave us no details. I would have liked to know what aspects of the culture she found comforting. Explanations of the history behind the customs, an explanation of her "Masai body decorations". What Masai body decorations? Tattoos? Markings? Jewelry? And what did they mean?

The story begins in earnest when she meets Lketinga. She is immediately drawn to him and actively pursues him.

The author is not someone who swims in the deep end of the pool. I can't imagine a logical, intelligent person marrying someone with whom she can't communicate in a significantly different culture. It's apparent that she was physically attracted but surely she must have known that wouldn't be enough to sustain the relationship. Also, admittedly, I had some serious problems with the way she dumped her boyfriend in Kenya and sent him back to Switzerland by himself. It seemed rather heartless and whimsical.

I suspect someone would have to do a lot of soul-searching and a lot of self-evaluation to know whether an adjustment of that magnitude would be possible, to marry a man and create a life in a completely foreign environment.

Naturally, the book got me to thinking about my time in Thailand and what would have happened if I'd met a Thai man to whom I was attracted. There were certainly plenty of them around. No secrets here. I think Thai men are beautiful to look at.

But... given my limited experience of Thailand at that time, I honestly can't imagine that a relationship would have been possible. Not yet.

My exploration and research into Thai culture took place not only there but after I got back. There is so much depth and history that it would have been impossible to absorb it all in the time I was physically there.

First came the affinity ~ then came the learning about the culture enough to see if the affinity would last.

The affinity not only lasted. It grew. I internalized it more and more. Effortlessly. The more I learned, the more I knew it was for me.

With that knowledge, a relationship (if it should occur) would probably work. The reasons for certain behaviors are known to me and I can cope with them ~ even assimilate them. I have already assimilated many of them.

In the case of the author, I can't help but wonder if she was just adventure-seeking. There were no final thoughts, nothing to indicate what what she learned or how she grew from the experience. It ended too suddenly.

Any other thoughts? From those who read the book.... or from those who didn't? Do you think a cross-cultural relationship would work without foundation-building?

Maybe I am just too cautious.



(Note: I was poking around on Amazon this morning and discovered that there is a follow-up book to "The White Masai" called "Reunion in Barsaloi". It has not been released yet but will be soon.  I'll probably read it because I thoroughly enjoy torturing myself. Seriously though, it might be interesting to see if she's explored any of this in a bit more depth.)


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I haven't read the book, but after reading your post, I checked out reader reviews on

Most thought that it exemplified a colonialist mentality, such as her referring to the man she stalked but could not communicate with verbally as "My Masai." One even mentioned that he was not even Masai, but belonged to a different, although related tribe.

Nearly all agreed that the book ws not well-written.

It sounds to me as if this woman was narcissistic, arrogant, and spoiled, with no appreciation of African cultures or of the man she married, except for her physical attraction to him. If these reviews are accurate, she used him, made him miserable, and then left him, taking their child away forever.

She sounds like an egocentric "adventurer" who refused to take no for an answer but also refused to adapt to his lifestyle or accept his family.

If I do read it, the copy will be a library book.

Snoskred said...

Yeah I think this will be a book I'll steer well clear of. And to be brutally frank and hopefully not offending anyone in the process, is it possible she had visited too many pr0n sites on the interweb? Not that I look at many.. ok I feel I need to explain that a little actually.

With the 419 scammers, they are often in the internet cafe with all their scammer friends. Many of us look for images to send them when we're finished baiting them which they will not really appreciate looking at, and naked men is high up on the list of things that upsets them a lot (and makes them write very nasty things back to us) because homosexuality is not acceptable in their culture and to have a huge picture of a naked man turn up on their screen in the internet cafe is somewhat embarrassing in their eyes.

Some might say that us doing this is bad, or puts bad karma out there, or whatever. The bottom line is these scammers are stealing money from people all over the world and if sending them a naked man offends them it's one more tool in my kit of things I can do to upset these guys. There are lines I won't cross but I'm fine with sending the naked. A by product of that is, I have seen some really odd pr0n sites out there on the web and there are fetishes I had never even thought of.. ;) I should post about it one day.

And I have got the scammers to send me *their* naked on occasion, which I then like to send out to as many scammers as possible - especially those on the same IP address as the original scammer because they're probably in the same internet cafe. I've had scammers crying to me on the phone that all their friends received their naked photo in their email inbox. Well, maybe that will teach you not to scam people!

So yeah, I occasionally go searching for pr0n to send to these guys (I have some great sites if anyone needs them) and it seems to me there is a section of the market out there which specifically relates to a common myth about African men being well endowed in the nether regions.

I have to say I do think it is a myth because most of the scammers I encounter are from that area, and from what I have seen there are plenty of not well endowed men there. I think if you take any country on the planet you'll find a range of *ahem* genitalia ranging from tiny to enormous. Is this not the most bizarre comment I have ever written?

But it was the first thought I had when I read this post - that she may have been looking to live out a pr0n fantasy or something. You've read the book, was much mentioned about sex etc? ;)

And now I shall crawl away red faced.. ;)

Pam said...

Since I'm inclined to agree with you, it's not a book I will choose to read. It sounds like it is lacking that which makes a book worthwhile.

QT said...

Chani - Back when someone else was first reading this, I, too, read the reviews that said it was not a well-written or thought out book. She does sound incredibly shallow.

As for your question - I think foundation building is the BEST way to go about this, but if you truly were to meet someone from another culture and be "swept off your feet", well, that is obviously not an option. At that point, I think it would all come down to a level of commitment -to learning about the culture and participating in it.

S said...

Yes. I believe dropping everything and adopting a new culture is not something to be done on the fly.

I'll go further. Doing so actually demeans the culture one is adopting by not according it enough respect.

LittlePea said...

After reading Snoskred's comments I can't help but giggle :) I love it!
This is a book I would probably check out at the library if I were to read it too. It does sound like this woman was trying to live out a fantasy of some kind or was selfishly fooling herself. She is probably not the sort of person who really thinks about her actions beforehand.
Your question regarding whether or not a cross-cultural relationship would work without foundation building is a good one. I think maybe it could work-if there is already a mutual respect for both cultures or a mutual willingness to learn and accept both cultures. But, really any relationship, be it cross-cultural or of the same culture, if there is no solid foundation at all, will most likely fail.

Christine said...

I believe a cross cultural relationship could work given that there is a strong foundation, as mslittlepea pointed out. But without an understanding of language and the major complexities of the other culture group, there is little to go on other than physical attraction.

And cautious is good, Chani. ;-p

Lee said...

All I think I know about the Masai is that they bloodlet their cows and mix it with the cows milk as a nutritious drink. Yep, too big a gap for me.

Snoskred said...

lee - I think that was on Survivor Africa.. ;) at least that's where I found out they do that. It would be too big a gap for me as well.

meno said...

Interesting that you had much the same reaction that i did. I was angry with the woman for charging after "her Masai" like a bull in a china shop, without regard to the consequences. I thought she was a fool.

Even worse, it was badly written. :)

Lucia said...

I am in agreement, Chani, with your and Meno's take on this book. She was a fool, and created a disaster.

A lot of commenters are saying, "No, thank you," which is fine, not to read it. For me, it was fascinating in that it was a bit like watching a car wreck. And a woman driving right into the wreck. And not even realizing it. Perhaps the voyeur in my took over. And I was captivated and wanted to watch.

Lucia said...

Oh, and I do think cross cultural relationships can work. I have a friend who is a college professor who has been happily married to a Mexican musician who just finished high school. I think they'll be together forever and a day. If the right people are together for the right reasons...

Girlplustwo said...

Ah, yes, it might not have been well written and i wanted to kick her in the shins, but damn if it wasn't fascinating.

and that's how it goes with real life, right? things don't tie up in neat little bundles at the end of the story.

and while i never would have undertaken what either of them did (desire, wow, yes, sure, but you know, reality) i was fascinated by her travels and attempts to make it work. she put herself out there (less than stellar or not) in a way that most would never even consider.

and that is why i liked the book.

thailandchani said...

Susan, I really didn't get that "colonialist" feel from the book. It surprised me because I'm so sensitive to that. Suspicious, almost.

She was just a very immature and naive woman who took on way more than she was emotionally or intellectually prepared to take on.


Snoskred, first I have to stop laughing.

Okay. I'm done.

At least that is something she did not mention. That myth either escaped her or was edited out.

I think she romanticized a very difficult and ascetic life. It's easy to do, you know, to flop way over to the other end of the continuum without balancing her perceptions at all.

I would boldly say that she was not "in love" with Lketinga. Love takes time to develope. She was horny and caught up in fantasy.


Pam, if I knew now... Seriously though, I still would read it. It's revealing on so many levels.


QT, I am such a pragmatist on that level that I can't imagine being "swept off my feet". Being a total non-risk-taker, I'd want to know all the possibilities and inevitabilities before taking a step like that.

She was just so completely unprepared.

And the unintended consequences are devastating to many people, not the least of whom is her daughter.


SM, I agree. That is why I've spent the amount of time I have in learning Thai culture. Not disrespecting it is right at the top of my list. And I don't believe in cherry-picking just the parts that are easy or "fun".

To give the devil her due, I don't think the author of the book did that either. She really did give it a try. She just didn't have the maturity to take a step that big.


MsPea, there has to be open communication between the two people involved ~ at least with a language in common. Otherwise, comparing notes, sharing perspectives and learning from one another is simply impossible.


Christine, exactly. There has to be a means of communication and things have to be explained.

One of the questions I asked in Thailand frequently is "why is it done that way?"


Lee, yeah.. that would be difficult for anyone who wasn't raised with it.


Meno, yeah.. just no maturity there at all.


Lucia, I know I read the whole darned thing in two days! Obviously I wasn't so offput that I gave up.

I kept waiting.. expecting something with depth from her.. but it turned out that she has the depth of a parking lot puddle.

Still... that train wreck. I kept watching, too.

I agree about the cross-cultural relationships. If it's the right reason and both people have an open mind.


Jen, that part was good, yes. It was interesting to see her struggle with various customs. I would have liked to know what she was thinking about them.

And I still want to know about those "Masai body decorations".





Anonymous said...

The book sounds awful but still I must admit I am curious...

Carla said...

The premise of the book sounds like it could have had good potential... I would have wanted to know more too. perhaps I'm too analytical. It would have to be a pretty powerful attraction for me to throw all caution to the wind. But I have heard of stranger things.

Suzy said...

I don't know, Chani. I just looked it up at Powells, and the excerpts posted there made me feel a little squirmy. I think I will have to pass.

crazymumma said...

Really interesting points you have made Chani. It is hard enough having a relationship in the same culture let alone a different one.