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What It's Really Like To Be A Domestic Worker For The One Percent

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Growing up in Kenya, photographer Guillaume Bonn saw firsthand the staggering gap between the country's rich and poor. While the rich often live in estates featuring manicured lawns, lush swimming pools, and perfectly trimmed hedges, more than 45% of people live below the poverty line, and many struggle to afford enough food.

Armed with his camera, Bonn says he began photographing this world as a teenager, capturing and documenting what other people pass every day yet prefer not to see.

"Unlike in the West, where you have to look for it, here in Kenya, you live with inequality around you all the time," Bonn tells Refinery29. "I think you have people who have this ability to block reality to protect themselves from it, and you have others who simply cannot see it because they are so disconnected from it or because they don’t have enough perspective to actually see."

And nowhere is that disconnect more evident than between the lifestyles of wealthy families and the lifestyles of the cooks, drivers, and other household staff who keep things moving behind the scenes, Bonn found. The top 10% of households in the country control a staggering 40% of the wealth; the poorest 10% control less than 1% of it.

Bonn says his project, Silent Lives, focuses on those divisions but avoids drawing broad conclusions.

"I did no want to make this body of work about rich versus poor or white versus Black," Bonn says. "The initial drive behind this was to bring in the foreground people who spend their entire lives in the background managing other people’s lives — and in the process, find out about their lives, dreams, and hopes."

And there is more to the situation than meets the eye. For example, Bonn says that although his subjects worked in the homes of Kenya's rich families, many of them also employed people to help with chores in their own homes. Wealth didn't necessarily translate into happiness, either.

"The men and women I photographed for Silent Lives are often more happy than the people who employ them who have far more. So what does that say about the [consumerist] society we have built for ourselves? We always need more, thinking that it will make us happier, but it does the opposite," Bonn says.

Ahead, portraits of the domestic workers who serve some of Kenya's wealthiest families, with their stories as told by Bonn himself.

Caption: A woman serves tea on the veranda of an old colonial house owned by a French family who has been living in Kenya for three decades. The house is situated in Muthaiga, a residential area in Nairobi.
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