When I lived in East Africa, I had to learn Swahili to communication with most of the people I met on safari. While many people in Nairobi understood English, few people in the countryside did.
But almost all of them knew Swahili as their second language after their tribal tongue. Swahili is the lingua franca of much of East Africa and the Congo, spoken today by about 80 million people.
Even in Nairobi my gardener, Etore, who was a member of the Luo tribe (like Barack Obama’s father), didn’t know English. I learned enough Swahili to communicate with him and with the people I met in the bush, although I never became fluent in that language and long ago forgot almost all that I learned.
The East African people who are least likely to know English are the nomadic Maasai of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. I met many Maasai, because they live near the most important game parks of East Africa, which I visited often — Amboseli, Tsavo, Lake Nakuru, and Nairobi National Parks and the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and the Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara, and the Serengeti in Tanzania. In fact, the colonial governments took that land from the Maasai when they colonized Kenya and Tanzania, and the independent countries kept it for their thriving tourist industry.
We met these Maasai children in the photo below while on safari to Amboseli. The Maasai are the least likely of any people I met in East Africa to wear Western clothes, making them easy to distinguish from the two women in the photograph below. The red-head was my first wife; the blonde was the first wife of my friend Roy Stacy, when they lived in Mogadishu, Somalia:
While fewer than one million Maasai live in Kenya and Tanzania, more than five million Kikuyu live in Kenya alone. The dominant ethnic group, the Kikuyu have ruled the country since independence in 1963. The Kikuyu men also rule Kikuyu women, who do the brunt of the work:
Kenya’s best agricultural land lies in the Great Rift Valley a few miles north west of Nairobi. While many Europeans settled there, parts of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya seem quite traditional:
When I lived in Kenya, I often traveled to Uganda and Tanzania. Uganda is the lushest of these countries, as this scene of a village on a lake attests:
One of my favorite characters who I met in Uganda was this musician:
One day while on safari near Bundimboyo on the border between Uganda and the Congo I met this group of pygmies. The proper name for this people is the Batwa or Twa.
The guy with the ugly half-beard seems to be about two feet taller than the other people in the picture. This was my first attempt at a beard, and now I know better.
With my permission, the publishers of the book Wonders of the Rainforests reprinted this photograph years ago. I’m pretty sure that they didn’t consider my beard to be one of those wonders.