Phyllis, twenty-three, works as a maid. She commutes every day to a vast estate containing buffalos, zebras, and giraffes from the nearby shanty town where she was born and raised.
Karyiuki comes from the town of Nyeri. He is sixty-eight years old, married, and has eight children. He has worked as a driver in Nairobi for the same family for nearly two decades. His employer...
An electric bell that calls the waitstaff in the kitchen at a lunch party in Nairobi. This practice was banned in 1963, but is still in use in some homes around the country.
A nanny by the pool of the Muthaiga Club, situated in a residential area of Nairobi, while her young charge relaxes on a sun bed.
In Guillaume Bonn’s remarkable photographic essay “Silent Lives,” the relationships between members of Kenya’s white, Asian, and affluent black communities and their black servants are vividly and disquietingly examined.
As Bonn writes, “For a large number of Kenyans, employment as domestic servants underline the seismic disparities in a country where over fifty percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day while others reside in stately homes and colonial estates.” Bonn knows all about such awkward social dichotomies, for he is a product of them—he is a white African, whose great-grandfather took part in the French military conquest of Madagascar in 1884-86 and then settled there. Bonn’s grandfather was born in Africa, as was his father, and so was he. Bonn grew up mostly in Kenya.
For a long time, Bonn said, he thought about doing a project on nannies. “I often wondered, all these years, what had happened to all the ones my parents had hired to take care of me when I was a kid. I realized that I knew nothing about them, and I barely remembered their names, where they came from and what their personal stories were.
…the employers and employees in this series [exist] in uneasily close proximity to one another, intimately bound but forever distant.
Click-through for a slideshow of Guillaume’s photos, and more from Jon Lee Anderson on this social dichotomy in Kenya: http://nyr.kr/ZdPlhH