When Binyavanga Wainaina wrote the essay “How to Write About Africa“, he had writers such as Corinne Hoffman in mind. Corinne came to Kenya for holiday with her boyfriend Marco, and fell in love with a Masai. Technically, it was a Samburu moran but who’s to tell the difference? Well, even after she learned he was not Masai but Samburu, her title of the book still remains “White Masai”. White Samburu doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Besides, her intended audience can hardly tell the difference between one African and the next, let alone a Samburu and a Masai.
If you look closely, you can see the family picture on this book cover
I must say, I liked reading the book. The writing is simplistic, but the story is moving. Many might scoff at her actions, but how many (Kenyan) women will leave their comfortable (if small) apartments with running water and electricity to go live in a manyatta in the scorching sun of Barsaloi?
When she first came to Mombasa, Corinne met Lketinka by chance and they became friends. She was attracted to him, and this is how she describes him: “a tall, dark brown, beautiful exotic man lounging on the quayside looking at us.. with dark eyes. My God, he’s beautiful, more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen.”
“..in the last rays of the sinking sun, he looks like a young god” etc etc
After her holiday was over and she was back in cold Switzerland, she realized she had fallen in love and decides to come back to Kenya to find Lketinka. Only that he is no longer in coast. He was a genuine moran, not the faux-masai men you find in coast. Disillusioned by talk that Corinne will never come back for him, he’d given up on earning money from doing dances for tourists in the hotels, and had gone back home to his livestock. Lketinka hadn’t gone to school so he didn’t know English, Corinne was German-born and knew little English either, but they managed to communicate.
After coming back to look for him, and not finding him in Mombasa, she got into a bus with a friend to Nairobi, then to Nyahururu, and from there another bus to Maralal. From Maralal to Lketinka’s home is another adventure altogether. Eventually, she traces him down, and Lketinka welcomes her, “Corinne, you come back for me?”
Not to give away the story, but she settles into the manyatta life, eating tough meat, being a moran’s wife and all.. but not without hardships and challenges. She finally weds Lketinka, a big successful Samburu wedding and also a civil ceremony, and gets a beautiful baby girl, Napirai.
Is there a happily ever after? Well, read and find out. It’s a romantic, simply told story of a daring and determined woman.
A collage of Corinne and Lketinka’s life
In 2005, they made a movie about the book, to positive reviews worldwide and she went on Oprah and all that.