The Modern Warrior

It was the most unlikely of friendships.

Tall and thin, he stands about 6’4″– with an added inch or two from his hair. He’s 27 years old. Has more than 10,000 Instagram followers. Speaks three different languages. He’s a translator, a model, and a musician.

He’s a warrior. And I don’t mean “warrior” as a descriptive term– he’s a serious real life warrior. The fourth of eight children born to parents in Morogoro, Tanzania, he was raised a proud and fearless Maasai warrior.

I was first introduced to William Moses Sengalai via my LinkedIn feed. Known as Maasai Prince, I came across a video profiling him as a multi-talented Maasai Uber driver delighting passengers in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

I was in the midst of planning my first small group Venture Travel to Tanzania. Through visits with business leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, students and non-profits, we would explore the economic, social and cultural trajectory of this dynamic, young country.

We had to meet William.

I found Maasai Prince on Instagram, became his 10,000th-something follower, and sent him an email.

In a country where 70% of the of the population is under 30, William’s journey straddles Tanzania’s past and future. He considers both his rural village and urban Dar es Salaam home. He’s equally fluent in Maà (the local Maasai language), Swahili and English. He’s constantly blending deep cultural traditions with modern technologies and expectations. He wears traditional Maasai dress and beads while sporting hip sneakers and a Samsung Galaxy phone.

William’s personal story embodies everything we sought to learn. I invited him to join us for dinner. He said he’d be honored, and told me a bit more about himself.

“I am not just a musician, but a Maasai Musician. I wish to know how to express to you how it feels to be underestimated by the community. To be judged by keeping your original culture. To be considered ignorant by those outside of your culture. I decided to write a song to try to change perspectives in the community around me.”

On YouTube, I found Maasai Prince’s music video Respect. It made me dance. It made me laugh. And it creatively delivered his message. The song has been played on Tanzanian radio, and the video on Tanzanian TV and MTV South Africa.

William shared what he wanted to do next.

“At the same time, it’s true that the Maasai are less educated. Of course, we have some graduates in the community and they are trying to help. But even those who haven’t made it to school should not be considered stupid or ignorant. They should get an education. I have a new song that I haven’t yet recorded. but It’s a special song for promoting education in the Maasai community. And I think it will change a lot of perspectives because it’s entertaining and educating at the same time.”

So through LinkedIn and Instagram, I found an Uber-driving Maasai warrior and musical icon who utilizes his talents to advocate for equality, respect and education in his community.

I couldn’t stop talking about Maasai Prince. As I boarded the plane to Tanzania, I had that momentary fear: I hope we like each other in person.

I met William for coffee at our hotel. I wanted to know more of his story. How did he get to where he is today? Who inspired him?

“As a young boy, I felt a spark inside me. I wanted to learn and lift myself out of the vicious cycle to which most Maasai fall victim. After completing standard 7 (primary school), my father wanted me to stop attending school and follow our Maasai tradition of herding cattle. I couldn’t just stop going to school. So I ran away to live with my uncle and continue my education. It was against our local traditions, and I knew my family might disown me. I completed secondary school and trained in hotel management. It was difficult, but I am proud of my struggle. I want to educate others in my community about the importance of education.”

The more he shared, the more questions I had. But at least I knew the ending– William’s family didn’t disown him. In fact, he and his maternal grandfather played themselves in the documentary film, Tanzania Transit. William showed me the movie trailer. He and his grandfather are the cover photo.

“Wait, you are in a movie currently debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival?”

“Yes. You know about this film festival?”

“Of course!” I laughed. “It’s one of the biggest in the U.S.”

The movie explores the tension between Tanzania’s past and future through the stories of three characters over three days on a train. William plays a grandson committed to making it big as an actor in Dar es Salaam; his grandfather Isaya plays the elder who cannot understand his grandson’s choice for urban life over livestock. Traveling together on the train to their village, they face the discrimination commonly directed at Maasai by their fellow Tanzanians.

It’s life imitating art; it’s art imitating life.

William shared more about he and his grandfather’s experience making the film. I’m not sure what could have brought two entirely different generations of Maasai men closer.

The next evening, William joined our group of 10 for dinner at our hotel. He sat at the center of our table, and told stories of growing up Maasai. He demonstrated a Saturday Night Live-esque talent for impersonations. He shared his vision for a more educated and accepted Maasai community. We pulled up the video for Respect on our phones, squealing in delight as we noticed scenes filmed right in our hotel.

William told us about his latest project. A rallying call to his people about the importance of being educated, his new song Le Maasai switches between Maà and English; William wants young people to both understand the song, but aspire to know more. He knows his power as a respected voice to young people. “If they want to speak English like I do, they need to go to school.”

Rather than preach justice, he preaches solutions. He knows the daily struggles of children and adults in his community. They need their own doctors and nurses for proper healthcare. They need their own lawyers to defend their property rights against neighboring tribes. “For change to happen in the future, it has to start now. Everyone has a role to play in increasing the percentage of the Maasai children in school.”

We asked William if Le Maasai would also have a music video. He said yes. In fact, he had a full vision for the video. It would be shot in his own village. He needed real members of the Maasai community to get peoples’ attention; he needed them to spread the message. With the video shoot a bit more complex than Respect, it would take a little longer to raise the additional funds.

“Why don’t we set up a GoFundMe page?” someone suggested.

William had never heard of GoFundMe. Within days, a page was launched. Within a week, he reached 50% of his goal; in a month, he surpassed it.

William traveled to his village. After days of planning, it was one long, grueling day of shooting. He invited everyone in the surrounding area to come to his home to watch him perform the song. “I was amazed how everyone quickly grasped the lyrics and started singing along with me when I was performing on stage.”

With the video in production, William promoted Le Maasai through radio interviews and performances. He finds the song as popular outside of the Maasai community as within. “Music is a universal language,” William continually reminds me.

Everyone has a role to play. In the villages, he is asking parents to keep their kids in school so they can better Maasai society, and asking children to stand up for their rights. From the educated Maasai in universities and urban areas, he’s looking for ambassadors to join in his mission. He asks them to push the education message in their own village, for ideas where he might perform, and for referrals to partner organizations aligned with his mission.

I have a role, too. It’s to keep pushing and supporting my friend. I financially contributed to the production of William’s video; I push him on overall strategy and to make specific asks to each audience. I know his power as a respected voice.

Today, William sent me the finished Le Maasai video. While my body swayed to the beat, I got a little teary-eyed. I couldn’t pick them out, but I knew his grandfather, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and friends were in the video. They had to be so proud.

I was proud. I was in awe of William’s talent and passion. I couldn’t believe how quickly he pulled it all together.

William sent me a text: “And I can say that you helped make this happen by mailing me through Instagram.”

The modern warrior fights new battles. He focuses more on friends than enemies.

Sometimes the most unlikely of friendships are the best ones.

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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!