Monday, December 8, 2008

The White Masai

Like Water for Chocolate gave me my first taste of multi-cultural literature, and from that point on, I was hooked. It might be an acquired taste, like foreign films, but so worth it. Last week, a 90 year-old customer called the day he returned from a 14 day trip to Africa. He promised to share his pictures with me, but wanted to let me know he was just too tired to do it that day! His call reminded me of a book I had stashed in a corner, waiting for the right inspiration, and David provided that for me.
I dug right in on Sunday morning. The White Masai is Corine Hofmann's "exotic tale of love and adventure." Hofmann is Swiss, and the book is translated from it's original German. So, as you would expect, the language is utilitarian...not as demonstrative as if it were being told by a native English speaker. Hofmann takes a break from running her bridal shop to travel to Mombasa with her current boyfriend. Within hours of arrival, she spots, and is taken with a handsome Masai. She appears to be obsessed at first, but her emotions are real. She returns to Switzerland, and begins the process of closing out her life there with the intention of returning to Africa, perhaps forever. Although Lketinga, her Masai warrior, welcomes her into his life, she quickly learns that the love and romance she sought with him is articulated quite differently in his culture. After overcoming severe obstacles, she moves into a tiny hut with him and his mother, and spends four years in a Kenyan village.
Two other books that I read in the past came to mind. Mango Elephants in the Sun:How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin, is by Susana Herrera. She isn't a good writer, but she is a marvelous storyteller. In 1992, Herrera went to North Cameroon to teach for the Peace Corps. Her experience helps cleanse some of the personal baggage that haunted her, and eventually, her focus shifts from herself to the children and the deplorable conditions under which they attempt to learn, survive and thrive. Mingled with the near heart-breaking accounts of suffering children, and abused women are hysterical stories about dining on termites, her near engagement to a tribal king, and the annual drunken elephant stampede.
Ann Jones, an anthropologist who spent some time at UW-Madison, wrote Looking for Lovedu (pronunced Low-bay-do): A Woman's Journey Through Africa. While researching an unrelated topic, Jones ran across a minor reference to a matriarchal tribe in southern Africa. The primary "law" governing the tribe is that there shall be no conflict. When there is, all parties involved are punished equally, no matter who caused the problem, or how extensive the involvement. They were described as a peaceful community, and Jones set out to see if they still exist.
She and her British companion, Muggleton, (great name, huh?) drive from Tangier to Capetown, with a series of missteps and misfortunes along the way. Shortly thereafter, Muggleton decides he's had enough of crossing deserts, fighting of cholera, and eating bugs, and leaves Jones to make the trek on her own.
Jones' anthorpoligical interests and skills are evident throughout the book, and she combines the journal of her research with cultural and political history of Africa.
So, if you want a nice warm escape after shovelling our beautiful Wisconsin snow, slip off to Africa with one of these books. The Discovery channel is another nice option!
**********"A Taffeta Christmas" ended on a nice note yesterday. All our audiences were warm and friendly, but we could tell as the Sunday matinee people arrived, that the last show would be the best. The ushers and ticket takers all commented on how happy everyone who came in that afternoon seemed. Many attending seemed to know one another, and there sure was a lot of holiday hugging and happiness in the lobby before the show. They carried all that good cheer into the house with them, and the cast could feel it all the way up on the stage.
After the show was done, everyone pitched in to tear apart the stage, restore the lighting, organize the costumes, clean the dressing rooms, pack up the props...and then we all collapsed in the TV lounge to watch a DVD of the show. Usually, I can walk away from a show with ease, knowing that another project is on the horizon. This show was a little tougher to move beyond, and from the phone calls from cast and crew today, I can tell that others feel the same.
Still, it is time to move on. Time to gear up for the holidays, and snow shoveling, and warm nights in front of the fireplace. Most of that sounds real nice, doesn't it?