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Stressed-Out White Lady Travels To Africa, Heroically Saves Tribeswomen, Gets A Book Deal
Stop me if you've heard this one: a bored white lady with cash to spare finds meaning in life when she's able to save some not-white people from their own culture.It's not the plotline to an Academy Award-winning snoozefest but a tale being spun by 32-year-old Santa Barbara native Mindy Budgor whose new memoir "Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior" was released this week.
By the time Budgor was 27, she had launched a business and made enough money to buy herself a BMW and designer clothes. But that wasn't enough, she told BBC: "Three years into [the job], I woke up feeling completely uninspired. I actually had a lot of anxiety, and the anxiety came from the feeling I was going to be stuck in this position."
Budgor quit her job and volunteered to build a clinic in Kenya. She told the BBC that she was inspired by the
Noble Savages warriors of the Maasai tribe she met on her trip, "The second that I landed I saw these very strong African men walking into pure forest with a spear and a sword, and I thought, 'Gosh, there are lions, there are elephants in there, and yet they're walking with complete and utter confidence.' I felt that if I could have 1 percent of that warrior perspective that I'd be in a more authentic place in my life."
And then Budgor's "Eat Pray Love" story took a "Dances With Wolves" twist: she says that the Maasai needed her, too.
An English-speaking chief from the tribe named Winston explained to Budgor that the Maasai culture is at risk, because the Kenyan government is taking their land and global warming is threatening the cattle that are their livelihood. Budgor writes in The Guardian that she had an answer: "Losing the integrity of a tribe because of westernisation seemed unacceptable to me, but I felt one element of modern life—women's rights—could help the tribe continue while remaining true to its practices and beliefs."
Budgor was bothered when she discovered that among the Maasai only men ever become warriors. Winston said she'd never be able to handle it and he challenged her to go through the tribe's rituals to become a warrior—but it sounds like he never had any intention of following through. Budgor jetted back to California, hired a personal trainer to whip her into shape and returned to Kenya only to find that Winston didn't actually want to train her (lest he have the death of an American woman on his hands). Budgor found another warrior who offered to train her alongside six other men. Over the course of two months, she learned to throw a spear, faced death in the jaws of a hippo and strangled a goat. You could say Budgor went native. And now it's a funny thing to hear her say that she was trained to protect, in her words, "my community."
But Budgor didn't stay in that community much longer. She flew back to the U.S. a month after she became a warrior—and one nearly-violent encounter with an elder who wasn't happy with, well, whatever it was that her status was in the tribe. (Which isn't clear since we've only heard Budgor's side of the tale.) She has since gone to business school, moved to New York and, yes, landed a book deal. On her site, she also writes cringeworthy "Warrioress Profiles" of women she meets that are meant to be inspirational. That includes meditations on the life of a housekeeper from the heated toilet seat of a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Montecito as well as an interview in which she asks her hairdresser why she majored in literature and philosophy when it has nothing to do with her job.
Budgor's tale has gotten mostly positive, uncritical coverage (h/t to Douglas Williams and others calling it out on Twitter). It might go without saying that none of her "fellow" tribesmen or tribeswomen are quoted in the stories except when they're filtered through Budgor's own recollection. They're halfway around the world, but also they just don't seem to matter all that much in Budgor's story: the tale of a wealthy American overcoming her quarter-life crisis through an exotic and physically demanding challenge. Only the BBC interviewer threw her one tough question: "What do you say to those who say this is just an extreme case of rich Westerner going on a bit of adventure tourism?"
Budgor responded by saying that the women in the tribe asked her to become a warrior on their behalf: "It's coming from the tribe, it isn't coming from me."
Yahoo! reported that for the first time, 12 girls will go through the warrior training as a result of Budgor's advocacy. And Budgor says she's donating 25 percent of the proceeds from her book to charity.
It sounds like a happy ending—or at least a Hollywood ending: a white outsider empowers the natives while getting her groove back.
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