Why city slicker Mindy Bud­gor swapped her stilet­tos for a spear as she be­came the first fe­male Maa­sai war­rior.

City slicker Mindy Bud­gor’s new book de­tails how she swapped her de­signer suits for spears in her quest to be­come the first fe­male Maa­sai war­rior. Now back to ‘nor­mal life’, the ex­pe­ri­ence has changed her for ever, as Hannah Stephen­son finds out

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

What drives a mid­dle-class woman with a love of Chanel and Louis Vuitton to swap her city life for one in the wilder­ness of the African bush amid dan­ger­ous an­i­mals?

This was the choice of high-flyer Mindy Bud­gor, who joined a Maa­sai tribe and found her­self track­ing lions by stick­ing her finger in their drop­pings, among other pursuits.

Today, re­minders of her Maa­sai ad­ven­ture are scat­tered around her Man­hat­tan apart­ment, in­clud­ing her sword and spear, which she used to ward off a buf­falo and other beasts, while she still wears the bracelet of colour­ful beads given to her on the day she was in­ducted into the tribe.

“I also wear a ring made of buf­falo horn. It was a buf­falo we ended up killing – only be­cause it was go­ing to kill us,” she adds.

The 32-year-old ad­ven­turer has now charted her ex­pe­ri­ences in her book, War­rior Princess, set­ting the scene for this life-chang­ing jour­ney.

In her early twen­ties, Mindy had achieved more busi­ness suc­cess than most en­joy in a life­time. The goget­ting en­tre­pre­neur had al­ready sold her first busi­ness – a concierge laun­dry ser­vice for stu­dents she be­gan while at col­lege – for a tidy sum.

She bought a condo and had sav­ings left over, got a job and joined the cor­po­rate tread­mill in Chicago, but couldn’t find any­thing that re­ally mo­ti­vated her. She de­cided to ap­ply to busi­ness school but, while wait­ing for a place, sidestepped with a visit to Africa. It came about af­ter a col­lege friend told her about a trip she had taken to build a clinic in the Maa­sai Mara, a game re­serve in Kenya named af­ter the Maa­sai peo­ple, a semi-no­madic tribe and the first in­hab­i­tants of the area.

In­stantly, Mindy was hooked and de­cided to go out there. “I felt my val­ues were a bit out of sync and that I was fo­cus­ing too much on reach­ing a fin­ish line, get­ting into school or more ma­te­ri­al­is­tic things,” she says. “As soon as I landed, I saw these tribes­men I knew were Maa­sai walk into the for­est with jjust a spear and a sword, with com­plete and ut­ter con­fi­dence, and tthere were lions and ele­phants out tthere. I thought if I could just have 1 per cent of that war­rior pper­spec­tive, I’d be in a more aau­then­tic place in my life.”

Tak­ing up the chal­lenge

OOn the ini­tial two-week trip, she bbe­friended a Maa­sai chief called WWin­ston, who told her that women ccouldn’t be­come Maa­sai war­riors bbe­cause they weren’t brave enough oor strong enough to do what the mmen could do.

“I said, ‘Ex­cuse me?’ I knew that wwar­riors were there to pro­tect their co­com­mu­nity, never hide from an anan­i­mal and when re­sources were slim, they’d go hun­gry first.

“Win­ston said, ‘Well, if you’re will­ing to leave your high heels be­hind, I’ll take you through the rites of pas­sage.’”

Back home in the US, Mindy be­gan build­ing her­self up in the gym, then re­turned to Africa to take up Win­ston’s chal­lenge.

Over the course of three months, she lived with the Maa­sai, sleep­ing on leaves in the for­est, en­coun­ter­ing ele­phants, snakes and other per­ils, only eat­ing what they could kill. “The

men­tal side was the most dif­fi­cult. It took a week or two for me to stop be­ing paral­ysed with fear,” Mindy re­calls. “Ev­ery time I saw a tree branch break, I would think an ele­phant was com­ing and I would tense up. That’s not how a war­rior op­er­ates. It hin­dered my abil­ity to be in the mo­ment.

“As for the phys­i­cal side, on a daily ba­sis it was com­pletely gru­elling, from learn­ing how to use a spear, which ripped up my hands, to go­ing head-on with an­i­mals.

“A ma­jor turn­ing point for me was when we came face-to-face with a buf­falo. Up un­til then, I’d turn and run in the other di­rec­tion and climb a tree. But six weeks in, I charged to­wards the buf­falo and threw my spear, which landed in the buf­falo’s be­hind. At that point, the war­riors said, ‘She is strong and brave enough to be one of us.’”

Dur­ing her in­duc­tion, Mindy had to slaugh­ter a goat. She learnt that lions have a very dis­tinc­tive smell, how to iden­tify paw and hoof prints and the calls of leop­ards and ele­phants.

Per­sonal hy­giene may have been low on the agenda, but she kept her Red Dragon Chanel nail pol­ish on at all times to re­mind her of her for­mer life and to give her ex­tra courage.

She lost a lot of weight and ad­mits she missed some home com­forts.

“I missed Oreo cook­ies and bot­tled wa­ter. There were so many times when I was dy­ing for bot­tled wa­ter. Noth­ing was clean out there. It was all earthy.”

And the ex­pe­ri­ence has changed her val­ues, she ad­mits.

“I still like shiny, pretty things, but if they’re not in my life, that’s fine. They don’t de­fine me. These days, fear is not some­thing I let stop me. If there’s a chal­lenge, I don’t think about not be­ing able to achieve it.”

Think­ing about the greater good

Today, five years on and liv­ing in Man­hat­tan, Mindy says she still lives by the war­rior prin­ci­ples.

“Ev­ery­thing the Maa­sai do is for the com­mu­nity, so there’s an el­e­ment of self­less­ness that has seeped into my blood­stream,” she says. “I try to think about what the greater good will be in ev­ery­thing I do.”

Adapt­ing to life in the city af­ter sleep­ing in the for­est for three months wasn’t easy.

“I felt very un­com­fort­able sleep­ing in a bed, but it didn’t take me too long to re-adapt,” she says wryly.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from Kenya in 2008, Mindy spent two years at busi­ness school in Chicago, moved to New York and wrote the book of her ex­pe­ri­ences.

Some 25 per cent of the book’s pro­ceeds are be­ing do­nated to Free The Chil­dren, a char­ity that serves the Maa­sai com­mu­nity in Kenya.

In Jan­uary she’s re­turn­ing to Africa to climb Mount Kil­i­man­jaro with a group of women who are part of the next war­rior class.

“Once I’d left, some of the elders de­cided they wanted to push the ini­tia­tive of al­low­ing girls to be­come war­riors,” she ex­plains.

Mindy be­lieves their phi­los­o­phy is some­thing we could all adopt. “You don’t have to be Maa­sai to be a war­rior, but I be­lieve there’s a war­rior within ev­ery­one. I want to get that mes­sage out.”

War­rior Princess chron­i­cles Mindy Bud­gor’s jour­ney to be­com­ing the first fe­male Maa­sai war­rior

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