Safari Adventures: Khalid, The Secondary Character, Takes Center Stage

“He [Chris] watched as Khalid moved from the cool shade of the welcome center to stand under an acacia tree. Chris noticed Khalid’s black rubber sandals, which looked like something made from old tires. In one hand the warrior held a brown wooden spear, which Chris assumed was handmade. It wasn’t like there were stores around to purchase something like that. Were there?…Khalid was the most colorful thing this side of the Indian Ocean. Chris wondered why this tribesman was wearing a blanket and such a brightly colored one at that. Wouldn’t he be hot in that thing? And conspicuous to prey?”

The secondary character in BECAUSE OF KHALID is a Maasai warrior. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic tribe from East Africa. They still maintain their traditional ways of life herding cattle and goats. Cattle and children are their primary focus. Sometimes Maasai men work as security guards at the remote tented camps that are located on their lands. A security job might entail escorting the visitors who have come for safari and keeping wild animals from scaring the guests at night.

The Maasai people wear a brightly colored blanket called a shuka. The most popular color is red, but they also wear blue, striped, and checkered cloth. Red symbolizes their culture, and they believe it scares wild animals away. Their beaded jewelry is colorful. The pattern of beads as well as the colors represent different things. Red symbolizes bravery, blood, and unity. White is for peace and purity. Blue is for the sky and represents energy. Orange is for hospitality. Those are just a few!

Some people might recognize the Maasai because they are known for their high jumping capabilities. The “adumu” is a competitive jumping dance that takes strength and fitness. It’s an adolescent rite of passage with the highest jumper earning the respect of the tribe. The heels of their feet never touch the ground, and there is no swinging of the arms to get extra height. It is a vertical jump from the standing position.  (As a side note, the “adumu” does not take place in my novel because there wasn’t any place for it. Chris does meet Khalid’s family, but the circumstances are not in line with a competitive dance).

Besides what I observed in my short time in Tanzania, I did a lot of research about the Maasai from reading books at the library and articles on the Internet. My other main source was Jumanne Masonda, a local guide who was born and raised in Tanzania. We exchanged emails before I left the Serengeti. If I couldn’t find the answer online, I would ask Jumanne.  Sometimes it would take months to hear back from him, but eventually the novel got written and the story told. My editors also did their own fact-checking on the Maasai people. Hopefully between the four of us, we managed to be as accurate as possible. My goal has always been to be respectful of a culture that is not my own.

How I came up with Khalid’s name: I learned while doing research that the Maasai’s ancestors originally came from the Middle East. Khalid is a Middle Eastern name. One of our Maasai guides on our safari trip was named Khalib, with a b. I switched the letter and made a new character.

Khalid is African, and Chris is African American. Another goal of this story was to explore Chris’ adjustment from his American lifestyle to living in the Serengeti as a permanent tourist. I also wanted to give the readers a glimpse into Khalid’s Maasai culture.  Had Chris been caucasian, then the differences in their skin color unintentionally would have become the focus. My publisher, Joy Triche of Tiger Stripe Publishing, who is African American herself, fell in love with my story because BIPOC characters are fully represented, but the color of their skin isn’t what the story is about.

The secondary character’s moment to shine.

Khalid is the reason that Chris, the main character, even has a worthy story to tell. That’s the role of the secondary character. They illuminate the protagonist’s story, shining a light on the his/her weaknesses and strengths. The secondary character’s job is to make things harder for the main character, which Khalid often does despite Chris’ protests. Khalid is always trying to teach Chris a lesson, which happens several times without Khalid even uttering one word. The Maasai warrior is both an obstacle and an ally, sometimes in the same scene. Good secondary characters create conflict and bring necessary tension to move the story forward. And finally, the best secondary characters reveal the theme or core of the story and leave readers wanting more.