Personal Column: A cattle herder's story

Keseme Ole Parsapaet was a cattle herder in the Ngong Hills in Kenya. Then he was hired for a photo shoot with one of the world's top supermodels
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The Independent Online

My father was a cattle herder, and my grandfather before him. My family have been cattle herders for generations. This land here is my home.

I never went to school. Instead, when I was 12, I started herding cattle. It was not easy at first, but now it is not that tough for me. You have a cup of milk in the morning and it will not be until the evening that you can have anything else. There is nowhere to get anything. You can't rest. You have to take the cattle long distances for water. We have to climb mountains. It is very tough.

You start taking the cattle for grazing at 6 o'clock in the morning, going maybe eight kilometres. But sometimes, when there has been a drought, you have to take them as far as 30km.

Myself, I have 20 cattle but my father has 200. In our culture, you must be given permission by your father to take your cattle. The cattle are grazed together until my father gives me permission to take them myself. It will probably be in five years. Then I will be permitted to take everything I can and go and build my own home. I will go 300 metres from where we are now and I will build a house. My father will call some friends, some elders, and there will be a ceremony where I am blessed.

I have two daughters, Sipitei, nine, and Simaton, six. As far as I am concerned, my children have to go to school. Changes are coming. If I have a son, I want him to go to school. I do not want him to have to be a cattle herder.

I had an American friend. He was a tourist. He asked, "Where can I find some Masai who would come to America and show us your culture?" He had the idea to start a dance group that could perform traditional Masai dances in America.

We went to the States and performed at colleges and parties. We wanted to show people our Masai culture. We were paid. Then we could help people here in Kenya with the money.

A modelling agency in Nairobi was asking for Masais. They asked my friend Jackson, "Where can I get a Masai?" He thought of me. They took my pictures to the people who were doing the American Express advert. They said they wanted me. Once I got the message that I was going to England, I was very happy.

I had never heard of Gisele before. When I met her, I did not think I was meeting someone known worldwide or someone who is beautiful. I just thought of her as a simple lady who I was having a picture taken with.

I don't speak English and the lady does not speak Swahili, so we could not talk to each other. She doesn't understand about Masai culture because this is the first time she has met Masai people. Language was a problem. I wish I had gone to school. It would be very good if Gisele could come here and I could introduce her to my family.

London was a very nice place to be. Many people showed me very good hospitality. I wanted to stay for a few more days so I could go round and see more. I was only there for four days. I went on a tour and saw the river and Parliament. I went on the London Eye. You can see so far.

The picture with Gisele is showing the world that even the Masai people can join other people. It shows the world that the Masai are not separate. It is also important because it will make money for treating malaria and Aids.

Malaria is too high, especially when it is raining. There has been a lot of malaria around here and it is killing a lot of people. HIV/AIDS is becoming a disaster, even in Masai land.

I was paid £3,000. I used it to buy some more cattle and to build part of my house. I also built a house for my mother.

My life has changed a lot and I am very happy about it. I want to make sure that my children have a good education so they don't have the same problem their father has, with not being able to talk to people in English. I don't want them to have the same burden. I am very eager to see them get a good education.

I pray to God I have lots of cattle so I am able to sell them and pay for them to go to school.

I am probably the first Masai to do this modelling. I would like others to follow me, not just Masai but other tribes in Kenya so the world can see us all.

I was very happy to come back home. This is where I was born. I have been very lucky to travel the world and be a model. But I don't want to live in London. This is my home.

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