The White Masai
Nowadays I think we are so used to reading about people going off on crazy adventures, that we have started to become a bit blasé about it.
With daily posts and status updates, it’s easier than ever to follow people’s travels, even when they’re on the other side of the world.
But there’s absolutely no way you can be blasé about The White Masai. It’s the true story of Corinne Hofmann who left Switzerland to marry a Masai warrior in Kenya in the 1980s. Living in a community with very basic living conditions and no technology, Hofmann put her life on the line more than once in order to follow her heart.
We read the book for #travelbookclub and I was totally swept away by Hofmann’s story.
Africa, My Passion
Since leaving Kenya in 1990, Hofmann has written a number of books and Africa, My Passion is her fourth. The book, which expresses her love of the continent, is made up of three quite separate parts. The first is a 500-mile trek though the Namibian desert to discover the lives of the nomadic Himba people and the second is visiting the slums of Nairobi. The final part is about her return to the Masai village of Barsaloi to introduce her daughter Napirai to her father for the first time since she was a baby.
I read Africa, My Passion immediately after The White Masai and admit that at first I felt a bit disappointed. Where I think Hofmann’s strengths lie is in forming relationships with people and bringing them to life for the reader. While I didn’t always agree with her actions in The White Masai, she certainly made me want to keep reading as she recounted her adventures and near misses. But unfortunately I felt that this was missing in her trek through Namibia.
I think most of this was due to the fact that Hofmann couldn’t speak the same language as the Himba people. Although she mentions some of their customs, the fact she couldn’t communicate with them made their encounters seem quite distant.
She also briefly mentions falling out with the man she did the trip with. This may explain why he is mentioned so little. As a result, the story mostly revolves around the actual trek which, while certainly an achievement, didn’t bring the desert to life for me. I also found the writing quite clunky, although this may be because of the translation from German.
So as I came to the end of her journey I felt that Africa, My Passion was not going to live up to The White Masai. However I was glad when the second part of the book proved me wrong.
This is when Hofmann gets back to what she’s good at – meeting people and telling their stories. She visits the slums in Nairobi with representatives from various charities to see how they help the people living there.
The stories she tells bring the characters to life and perfectly encapsulate the African spirit. I loved the strong, determined women she met, who were trying to change their communities.
Corinne and Napirai
The final part of the book sees Hofmann return to her former Masai village with her daughter, who she took to live in Switzerland as a baby. This is my favourite section, as it is told in alternating parts by Hofmann and Napirai. This allows the reader to experience their encounters from both points of view.
Napirai’s visit is a huge moment for her Masai family and it is heart-warming to see them instantly welcome her. I also thought it was commendable that they feel no resentment towards Hofmann, despite the fact that she’d ‘taken’ Napirai. (In the Masai tradition the first born female belongs to the husband’s family).
Likewise, it’s lovely to see Napirai, who was initially reluctant to meet her African family, form a connection with them. She falls in love with the country in the same way that her mother did all those years ago.
You can buy Africa, My Passion from the following retailers: