With the Maasai!

No 5-star safari lodge. No suite with beds and mini-bar. No wide-screen satellite TV.

Above, an image from a Maasai village 2 hours west by bus from Mombasa. My friend from the township, Nelson Kiguni, took me there.

As an NGO field operative, he had worked with Maasai throughout Kenya. He respected their traditions. Yet he recognized the desperate poverty of their villages. He asked me, "What can we do?"

I asked them of their work.

Cattle. Sheep. Goats.

What of the safari parks? Foreigners come here to see the exotic animals. Do they come here also?

Trucks come for us. We dance for the foreigners.

How much do they pay?

Nelson talked with them. He finally told me, "Almost nothing. Tips. The foreigners take photos, they pay the Maasai to stand with them and they take photos. Videos. And they give them some money. Almost nothing."

Photos? Videos?

I traveled there with three cameras. When they saw I had more than one camera, my XA10, they asked to use the others. The Maasai share everything. I shared with them. They did very well, following instructions, composing images, pressing the right buttons. An ideal came to me. Click on the video:

Dispossed Maasai of the Tsalvo

In the time of their grandfathers, the government declared the ancestral lands of the Maasai to be national parks, dedicated to the freedom of the wildlife -- without the Maasai.

No longer could the Maasai move through the horizon-spanning acacia forests with their herds of cattle and sheep. They received assignments of land. As the decades passed, many went to the towns. The dispossesed Maasai lost their traditions and merged with the millions of Kenyans wearing cast-off American blue jeans and donated t-shirts.

The group of families I visited had settled on a plot near the highway and attempted to continue their traditional lives.

Their land? A narrow strip of desert sand between a highway and a railway. On one side, the Nairobi to Mombasa highway, to the other side, the railroad linking the port of Mombasa to Nairobi. Water came from a single pipe -- for the families, the animals, and the few rows of corn and vegetables the families tried to grow in the desert sand. The corn would feed the families, the husks and stalks would feed the animals. Yet never enough grew. The rain and the sand could not feed the animals.

To survive, the Maasai trespassed on their ancestral land, the Tsalvo National Park. When the park police saw the cattle and sheep, the police fined the Maasai for trespass.

In times of sickness, to buy medicines, families sold livestock. For children to attend a school, the fathers sold livestock or found work away from their families. I met men who worked as guards. Thieves with knives do not confront Maasai who stand guard with spears and swords. But that work did not come often. Kenyans who ride in Mercedes Benzes hire men with pistols.

What work came most often?

Dancing. Performances of traditional Maasai tribal dances. For the foreigners in the safari resorts. The 5-star safari resorts collecting thousands of dollars / Euros a day to take the foreigners through the the Tsalvo National Park, the national park once the lands of the Maasai. When the Maasai trespassed in the Tsalvo to graze their animals, they saw the distant Toyota Land Cruisers passing with the several foreigners pointing cameras at the elephants, zebras, gazelle.

The resorts sent stake-side trucks for the Maasai, the type of truck used to transport animals. At the resort, the Maasai performed in the lounge with a basket in front for tips.

In Tanzania, I videoed a dance performance of locals. Tribes people? University students dressed in tribal clothing? Some tourists watched, others watched television, they talked and drank.

In the Tsalvo resorts, did the foreigners watch the Maasai performance? Did the Maasai distract the foreigners from their talk and television? I know they did not tip much. I know the resort did not pay much. The Maasai did not have money for batteries for their flashlights, they did not have money for school books, I know high school teenagers asked me to help them pay their school fees.

For that reason, I thought of the Maasai recording their dancing and traditional lives. Photos, videos, audios. And selling the DVDs to the tourists passing on the highway.

MaasaiCameramen. The project continues.

However, when I return to Kenya, I will visit their new settlement. To move more cargo from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi, then on to Uganda and Rwanda, the government of Kenya is constructing a second railway. The railway required the Maasai familes to relocate.

Dispossessed again.