I just finished reading The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann. The cover touts it as a 4 million copy bestseller. It’s an engaging story of a woman who falls in love with, marries, and has a child with a traditionally raised Masai warrior. It’s a cross-cultural love-at-first-sight story
She’s clearly an intelligent woman, at age 27 already enough of a business success in retail that she has 100,000 Swiss francs to subsidize her 4-1/2 year adventure. (At the current exchange rate, that’s well over $100,000–it probably wasn’t far off that when she did this in the 1990s.)
Love at first sight!
When the story begins, she’s on vacation with her then-boyfriend, Marco, in Mombasa, Kenya. While on a ferry en route to their hotel, she spies Lketinga, the man she soon marries, from afar. It takes her two weeks and a few chapters, but it’s basically love at first sight. Him, she has to have him!
It’s so clear to me from that moment that the story will end badly that it’s hard for me to believe anyone intelligent could have believed otherwise. She pursues him, including a wild bone-crunching bus trip from local jail to local jail, on the last day of her holiday with Marco, who has already become yesterday’s news at that point.
What’s wrong with love at first sight?
What’s wrong with love at first sight? Apparently it does sometimes happen. I just finished reading another book, Running with the Tide, about a couple married nearly 40 years. In their case, the man knew he would marry his wife the moment he met her. So it does happen. I have read about other cases as well. In most stories, it’s the man who knows right away, while the woman takes some convincing. If you meet someone, know that’s who you will spend the rest of your life with, and then do, I would say that’s your awareness or knowing in action.
The danger of functioning from this point of view is that it can so easily be a decion or conclusion, rather than an awareness. What’s the difference between knowing you will marry someone and deciding you will? All the difference in the world!
When you know something, you just know it. There’s nothing to prove, and you don’t have to tell anyone else.
Deciding vs. knowing
When you decide something, you’ve decided or concluded you are right, and you must prove how right you are. Any evidence to the contrary cannot reach your awareness. You must block it out and refuse to receive it. Corinne’s story is full of these: example after example of how the tribal African mindset and the Swiss upbringing she had are completely incompatible are dismissed repeatedly, as being less important than their love.
For example, she is Swiss German, surprisingly in this day and age speaking very little English, while “her Masai” is unschooled in a western sense, unable to read, write or do math. Some might consider this a rather large obstacle to a lasting relationship, the inability to speak with the other in a language both understood. Not Corinne. She and her husband settled on a form of pidgin English, calling it their “special language” as if that very obstacle was more proof of their love than a flashing warning sign that the relationship might not be feasible.
She describes her first episode of intercourse with Lketinga as ending with her feeling like “bursting into tears of disappointment.” Sharing this with an African friend, she learns that what she has just experienced is normal. “The mouth is for eating, and kissing is contemptible.” The man never touches a woman below the the stomach, and the man’s penis, face, and hair are also taboo. No wonder Corinne’s attempts to use kisses and caresses to proong the experience of intercourse do not succeed. Her friend advises her to return to her Swiss boyfriend and come to Kenya “for a holiday, not to find a partner for life.”
“It’s only now that I realize this is someone from a completely alien culture,” she says.
Still she persists. Even when the marriage is falling apart, as it does very soon after the birth of their daughter, Corinne insists to herself that it can persist, thanks to their love, which she apparently believes will conquer all. The photos in the book with their daughter as a toddler are described as “our daughter Napirai with her proud parents,” as if the family unit she fantasizes about were real.
Clearly it’s not Corinne’s wisdom about relationships that makes this book readable! Her total immersion in such a different culture, which ultimately ends the relationship, makes it a fascinting way to experience the culture from inside, from a viewpoint few westerners can experience.
Disappointment in love and marriage, turning it into a win
But I suspect many people have had the experience of the failure of love and marriage, the disappointment of seeing their beloved is not who they believed or hoped them to be. A very useful tool to use in this situation, even if you’re not making yourself nuts over a Masai, is to ask: What did I know that I pretended not to know? or What did I know that I denied that I knew?
Once you’re into the disappointment phase of that relationship, there could easily be nothing you could change about it, other than moving on. The value of the question, in my mind, is how it shifts you from being a victim into someone who chose that however bizarre path, knowing full well what you were getting into, even if you didn’t admit it to yourself.
Becoming aware of how the knowing that you ignored showed up can alert you to that feather touch on your cheek that is your awareness in action. We tend to ignore this subtle information–pretending the light watercolor image did not appear while holding out for the neon light that would scream at us to pay attention. How well has that worked for you? Are you done waiting for the 2 x 4 to hit you over the head? Asking that question can create the possibility to tune into those subtleties BEFORE you sell everything and move from Switzerland to Kenya–or whatever foolish choice you may have made.