Along the east coast of Kenya is an area that reflects Moslem and Indian influences. You can see that in the "Lamu Door" and the clothes of the children. But mostly, this is about children.
"Take us a pho-to."
(some photos can be clicked for enlargements)
Hudson Sabati Muyasu - the hardest working man I knew. He was our servant. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, dinner parties, laundry, and security. Six days a week. All for $50 a month and a room (in 1984 dollars).
And we intentionally 'over paid' him - the going rate was about $35 a month.
Honest to a fault. Integrity beyond question. Three years formal education. Working to put his kids through school so they could have a better life. Since he insisted on calling us "Bwana" and "Memsaab" we gave him a title in return, calling him "Mzee" - 'old man' or 'elder', a term of respect.
Where all your cute little artifacts come from - workshops like this. They were making wood trinkets here. Note the use of the feet as a third hand. And the ever present dress shirts and sweaters.
Each man specializes in a particular animal. One man I met had been doing giraffes for 25 years.
A small mill in a rural area. Women bring grain to be processed and wait their turn. Inside the building is a guy with a little grinding mill. He might have a single bare bulb for illumination.
Note the use of the 'kanga' or wrap skirt. This outer layer serves as apron.
A rural store in a poorer area. Note the dirt surfaces, the lack of paint, the use of product signs for decoration - and the slacks and dress shirt attire of most of the men.
Almost all schools had uniforms for the students. Here a group of girls walks to or from their Nairobi school.
An elderly woman in western Kenya. We were staying with her family.
In taking these pictures, I want to document, and show a bit of what life is like, but I am also aware of the issues of exploitation. Are we taking pictures of "exotic" people like we take pictures of animals?
My only solution is to try to provide some dignity in pose and description. Unable to speak her tribal language I pointed to my camera; she nodded and sat up and arraigned herself in this fiercely formal pose. I thanked her in Swahili.
In this tribe, as in many others, children live not in the parent's hut but with the grandparents. Girls with grandmother, boys with grandfather. The grandparents are teachers of tradition to the children.
Also, this one way that arranged marriages are made comprehensible. The teenage girls wispier to the grandmother who they like and who they don't like. The boys do likewise. The grandparents pass this along to those who suggest marriages.
Here, by contrast, is a tourist photo. This woman is posed for a bevy of tourists to photograph. Her arrival is announced in advance so all of us can look forward to picturing someone in "authentic native costume."
I hope she got some money out of it.
I'll repeat what I've written elsewhere about this photo.
A business trip in the west of Kenya. We stop for gas and get into conversation with some of those who work at the station. We are a black educated Kenyan, an Indian Kenyan businessman and an white American. They are the poor and ordinary citizens of Kenya. They want a photo, I oblige. "Send us a copy." I agree. That's part of the ritual. They ask for one, knowing you will not likely send it, you agree, but have no intention of following through.
I did get their address and sent the station attendant a print some weeks later. He wrote back with his thanks. I got a photo, a memory, and a connection. I don't know what you see when you look at this photo, but it is one of my all time favorites. In some part of my mind, I will return to that gas station and find them all still there, unchanged after fourty years.
These connections we make when traveling are the armor against the propaganda and stereotypes of the world. We can't subscribe to what "those people" are like, because we met one or two of them and know that they are not like that. Between the three of us and them there were enough stereotypes to sink a nation and start a dozen wars. But we met, and all of us found evidence that good will, a little effort to be friendly and a camera is more powerful.
White people--they are always doing odd things, like juggling in front of the (oddly) abstract impressionism of the paint job on these rural shops. That was our car Rees is leaning on. Rees also came to fame by being an extra in "Out of Africa."
Rees used the juggling as an ice breaker, a way to give Kenyans a way to start conversations on a somewhat equal level.
There is a saying in Kenya, "who can tell what a white person will do."
|Last modified 9/30/16; original material © 2016, 2007 John P. Nordin|