Sep. 18, 2013 at 6:18 PM ET
In "Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior," Mindy Budgor finds herself forsaking the creature comforts and complacency of her life for the purposes of demonstrating to Kenya's legendary Maasai warriors her gender's capabilities and versatility. Here's an excerpt.
Deep in Kenya’s Forest of the Lost Child, 9,799.9 miles from home and at least 50 miles from a toilet or electrical jack, I stared, my eyes bugged and unblinking, as trees toppled to the ground. Trunks fractured in half, leaving spiky shards of wood in their place.
A massive white tusk shot into the sky.
A gray, wrinkled butt appeared through the trees about twenty feet in the air. A tail whipped around angrily. Powerless, I watched the monster take a step backward, closer to camp. Closer to us. This journey—and life itself—was about to come to a thunderous end.
Lanet, the leader of my tribe, grabbed hold of our beaded belts and yanked Becca, my partner in warrior training, and me backward. Jolting us from our paralysis, he tossed over our spears, pushed us out of camp, and ran off to join the other Maasai warriors.
With our thighs pumping and our beaded necklaces jingling, we ran after him, the tops of our spears guiding and protecting us from branches. We hopped over fallen trunks and shrubs and wove in and out like skiers gliding through trees. Ensuring that we were okay, the warrior ahead of us turned his head every few seconds, giving us a bright, encouraging smile. Suddenly, he stopped in front of a mammoth tree. He smiled, nodded his head, and pointed his spear up the trunk.
I turned to Becca, panting like a golden retriever. “He . . . he . . . wants us to climb the tree.”
“Go! Go! Go! I am not going to die on day damn one! This is NOT my time to go!” she screamed, as she slapped my butt to get moving. Needing no more encouragement, I hustled up the tree as if my ass was on fire.
Becca and I had been escorted to our bush home only that morning. We were quickly assigned our first task: Chop branches until you can’t chop anymore. And then chop some more. Given that this was Day One, Task One, and I was surrounded by a tribe of men with spears and swords, I decided for the first time in my life to follow directions now, ask questions later.
After three hours of nonstop chopping, I sat on the cold dirt for a much-needed rest. I surveyed the scene. Rays of light seeped through breaks in the dense canopy of leaves, babbling calls of the colobus monkeys echoed in the trees, and Becca’s curly bob bounced as her sword hacked at the joint of a branch.
I glanced at the palms of my burning hands. Blisters the size of half-dollars—the result of a two-foot metal sword with a wooden handle furiously chafing my once-flawless skin—had already sprouted. My Red Dragon nail polish, however, was intact. When selecting the luxury items I would tow into the forest with me, the precious bottle of polish was nonnegotiable. The shiny red lacquer combined with fresh blisters gave my paw the ferocity of a lion’s. And if I didn’t yet feel like the badass warrior princess I planned to become, the one who would show the Maasai tribesmen that women have a voice and power to match (nobody’s ever accused me of aiming low!), at least I looked like her.
Fake it ’till you make it.
Becca sidled up to me, her arms piled with branches. “Of course you’re inspecting your nail polish. What are you going to do when an ape eats one of those treasured thumbs?”
When Becca and I finally returned to camp (a generous term for the small patch of land that made up our communal living quarters), we were greeted by a three-foot fence surrounding it, made of a thousand crisscrossed branches.
“I guess this is supposed to protect us from animals,” Becca said.
“Good luck to us,” I said. “An elephant could tear down this piece-of-s__t fence with a pinky toe.”
As Becca studied our new security system, I glimpsed a patch of leaves wiggling softly about a yard in front of us. Becca shook the fence lightly, causing the entire thing to wobble. “Yeah. This is a piece of s__t. But when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”
I didn’t subscribe to Becca’s hippy-dippy c’est la vie attitude. My own worldview was much more aggressive. “When death comes knocking, open the door, kick it in the nuts, and run for your life.”
And that’s when I saw it. Another movement in the trees. This time the leaves didn’t just jiggle. An entire cluster of trees swayed like windshield wipers, right to left.
Only one day in the bush, and we were face-to-face with the enemy.
Now, from the relative safety of my perch in the tree, I tried to remember why I’d decided to become a warrior. There was a purpose outside of myself, which was to help give Maasai women a much-deserved voice in their tribe, but the purpose within me was to develop and listen to my own voice. Before I took this major leap of faith into the forest, I had come to realization that the life I was “living” was not mine. I was existing in other people’s shadows. I knew what was important to me, but I wasn’t staying true to myself. I felt that by being stripped of basic needs such as a roof, toilet, and electricity and left alone with my thoughts and nature, I would be forced to stop hiding in anyone’s shadow. Becoming a warrior was important culturally, but I went on this journey because I needed to learn that casting my own shadow mattered, not standing in the ones cast by my parents, my peers, or their expectations of me. But death by elephant on day damn one was not part of the plan.
Excerpted from WARRIOR PRINCESS by Mindy Budgor. Copyright © 2013 by Mindy Budgor. Excerpted by permission of Skirt! All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.