I’ve developed the habit of listening to BBC World News in the car rather than my usually country music and last week I heard a story that I just haven’t been able to shake. Mindy Budgor’s story has been following me around and making me feel like I really need to get out and starting making waves. Mindy, a California native, recently spent some time in Kenya earning her position as the first honorary Maasai female warrior. She spent several months eating only what she could kill, drinking blood and facing life-threatening situations, but she came out the other side stronger, happier and more at peace with her life.
A little background information on the Maasai Mara area and the Maasai people: the Maasai Mara reserve is located in Kenya and is a protected area named for the Maasai people who number about 850,000 individuals and are a semi-nomadic group of people. The reserve is famous for its large population of savannah predators including lions, leopards and cheetah and is also part of the annual Great Migration to and from the Serengeti. The Maasai are an ancient group of people and are often what people imagine when they think of traditional African tribes. They are extremely patriarchal and very traditional relying heavily on the Maasai warriors and elder men for protection and guidance respectively. Traditionally only men have been able to become Maasai warriors because women are seen as weak and unable to cope with the rights of passage.
Mindy Budgor started a business in college that she eventually sold for enough money to buy her a condo, a BMW and keep her closet well stocked with brands like Gucci and Prada. She grew up a tomboy but that did not stop her from loving a good pair of pumps and striving to find a job that would please her parents. Upon finding herself dissatisfied with her life, her Prada bags and her newfound life in California she decided to travel to Kenya and follow her long subdued dream of doing something to actively change the world.
When she arrived in Kenya to help build a new health clinic in the Maasai Mara game reserve she knew her life had been changed forever. She befriended local chief who taught her about Maasai culture and history and told stories about the Maasai warriors. Mindy looked at the warriors as people who had found a purpose, to protect their families from danger and a confidence to stand up to what would make most American’s run the opposite direction (things like killing a threatening lion with just a spear). She eventually plucked up the courage to ask, how many women Maasai warriors are there anyway? Well, the answer? None. She found out that there were women who wanted to become warriors, but that the men thought them not capable. That’s when she knew what she had to do.
“Women in my tribe have wanted this for generations, but the tribal chiefs have never allowed it. If you have the ability to go through these rites of passage, I hope you take this seriously.”- Faith, Maasai woman
She returned to Kenya a few months later after finding a man who would lead her and a friend through the training process to be called a warrior. Lanet was a college-educated Maasai warrior who agreed to take Mindy and her friend out into the wilderness to complete the training. Lanet is an advocate for female rights within the Maasai tribe and hoped to bring women more respect through guiding Mindy and her friend through the journey. Normally the process is spread out over 3 to 7 years, but Lanet and six other warriors would guide them through the bush and test them as they went along, and if they were successful in everything the wilderness could throw at them, they would be introduced to the Maasai chiefs.
On her first night she had to kill a goat by suffocating it, which is considered my the Maasai to be the most humane way to kill an animal, then drink its blood. Throughout the next few weeks she ate only what she and the other warriors could kill, slept on leaf and stick beds and was almost swallowed whole by a hippo. She recalled her most difficult and most exhilarating moment as when she was face to face with an almost 1,500 pound buffalo, and instead of running away she raised her spear and charged, letting go of all of her fear hitting it with her spear first. This act earned her the kill and also the respect of her fellow warriors, who thought that such American women would certainly not run towards such a dangerous animal.
Her last rite of passage was to return to Lanet’s village and dance at two weddings to see if she and her friend would be accepted. Though a Maasai man lunged at her with his spear she learned that though she had gained the general acceptance within Lanet’s community, she would never have the acceptance of the entire Maasai population, but because of her women in Lanet’s village could now join the men and attempt to become Maasai warriors.
She is now publishing a book titled “Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior” a percentage of the proceeds will go organizations to empower Maasai women and for each book sold she will provide one school meal through FEED Foundation. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this book. I’ve been all about female explorers lately, and I think Mindy is another shining example of a woman stepping out of her comfort zone to find new experiences.