Essay by Nicholas Paterakis
Many cultures have their way of shaping a boy into a man, but they all come down to the same meaning and ideals. The Maasai warriors use a circumcision, the Jewish use a Bar Mitzvah, and in my family, we use a car as the bridge between a boy and a man. The Maasai celebration of circumcision symbolizes strength, courage, honor, and pride. When a Maasai boy becomes a man, he will be expected to give and not just receive (132). The event proves to his family and his culture that he is ready and has what it takes to be a man. In my family, we have our own culture, a culture that started when my grandfather became high up at Ford Motor Company. He was in love with cars and really put all of his time into his new car at the time, a Ford Mustang. A new tradition began then, in which the father gives his son a Mustang as his first car and works with him on it as a father-son bonding experience. It is not just a gift, but a rite of passage. It symbolizes the same ideals that the Maasai warriors feel as they become men. The Maasai warriors are way different than my family in more ways than one, but when it comes to the turning point of when a boy becomes a man, we couldn’t be any closer.
There is no over-exaggerating the importance of a young Maasai boy’s initiation to become a warrior. In Tepilit Ole Saitoti’s short story, “The Initiation of a Maasai Warrior,” he takes the reader on a journey to when he had his circumcision, which resulted in making him a Maasai warrior. Saitoti beautifully describes how he felt before the celebration. He was nervous and cautious, but nevertheless, he held his head up high, took on insults, and looked forward to the day he would make everyone in his family and village very proud. When his circumcision happened, he changed as predicted. Saitoti was brave, outgoing, and a real gentleman. He was interested in females and looked toward bettering himself. It was this turning point that totally shifted his way of life.
This amazing story of a young boy’s journey into adulthood is not only fun to read, it is also a spark that ignites thoughts in my head about the time when I became a man. I didn’t have a similar ritual, but the feelings were all there. Tepilit goes into great detail about how he felt and what that ceremony meant to everybody, but most importantly, to himself. In this sense, Saitoti and I are very similar.
When I got my first car, a Ford Mustang, it was far from being just a gift from my father. It was my passage into adulthood. For as long as I can remember, my family has been over-obsessed with cars, especially Ford automobiles. My elders have all had their share of Ford cars, including their favorite, the Mustang. Before I received mine, I wasn’t worried that I was going to be an inexperienced driver on a dangerous road. I was nervous that I would disappoint my father and not take good care of the car. I spent a ton of time watching TV and surfing the web, researching the ins and outs of the Mustang. I did this because it was a very important part of a being a Paterakis. You had to have a Mustang, and you had to work on it. The day came where I received my car, and boy, was I happy. I wasn’t like most people and right away put the pedal to the metal to see what that baby could crank out. I looked at its every angle, admiring the beauty and the complexity of my brand new friend. I was no longer a crazy teen who relied on his or her parents. The tradition and the fact that I owned something I had to take care of made me a man.
These two experiences, both Saitoti’s and my own, are in no doubt similar, but to the naked eye are more like apples and oranges. For starters, Saitoti lives in a small African village and I live in a big town by a huge city (Chicago). What he does during the day and what I do during the day are in no way similar. I received my circumcision as soon as I was born, and he has probably never seen a car like the one I am fortunate to own. We have way different traditions and different cultures, and when it comes to the celebration of bringing a boy into manhood, Saitoti’s is more externally important. To the average observer, getting a car where only my father and I interact isn’t close to Saitoti’s situation, where a vast number of people gather around to watch him get circumcised and become a man.
We may be different for many reasons and come from different places, but the feelings that are spilled, the emotions of our elders, and the pride and gratification of becoming a man, make us closer than you can imagine. Becoming a man and the way we go about doing that are similar. Saitoti, at first, was scared and nervous, just as I was. These moments will stick in our minds forever. A huge way I can relate to Saitoti is when he was tormented and made fun of, but he never let that bother him. He was just a boy, but he was strong like an adult. I am the same because I never let anything or anyone bring me down with words. A lot of people called me spoiled and looked down at me, saying that I had not earned this car as others had by working hard for years and years. We shun these negative comments because we know that we cannot let the bad guys win. The pivotal moment is too important to let others get in your head. Both Saitoti and I just thought about our road ahead, and when the celebration began, we went through it with no complaints.
We in no way just relate before and during the event of becoming a man. In my opinion, the aftermath is where Saitoti and I are the closest in terms of how the event changed us. After the circumcision, Saitoti felt a sense of control over his destiny (136). I had that feeling too when I took a road trip and thought to myself that I was now responsible for this car and myself. I realized that I have to make sure both of us are safe on the dangerous road. I have to make sure the car is looking its best, and I have to maintain it with no outside reminders whatsoever. I now controlled my destiny. If I drive carelessly and do not care about our well-being, then bad things will happen. If I take care of my car, it will take care of me. Saitoti also felt obligated to take care of his family and others. It wasn’t just about him anymore. When I got my car, I knew that I also would have to take my younger sister places, carry items for others, and more. And as a result of becoming a man, Saitoti became more social. He could talk to his elders about things he couldn’t before and got the strength to flirt and go on dates with girls. I cannot totally relate on the girls part, as I was already not too shy, but what I can deeply relate to is the more social aspect. I now could talk to my father and others about almost everything about cars, such as what roads were good, and I could now go places I couldn’t go on foot, which enhanced my knowledge. All of these combined feelings that Saitoti and I felt afterward are what make this short story more than just the event.
No one would ever imagine that I would have so much in common with a young boy from a small village in Africa. His turning point to becoming a man was a wonderful celebration in which he got a circumcision. I can’t remember when I had that done to me, but what I do know are the feelings Saitoti felt, the way being a man changed him, and the responsibilities that came with becoming a man. By writing this essay, I have learned that people can be from the opposite sides of the Earth, have different religions, have different cultures, and still have numerous things in common. When it comes time to become a man, most of us are alike.
Saitoti, Tepilit Ole. “The Initiation of a Maasai Warrior.” One World, Many Cultures. 7th ed. Ed. Hirschberg, Stuart, and Terry Hirschberg. Place: Pearson, 2009. 96-106. Print.