Kenyan Maasai 'supermodel' prefers goat herding to stardom

She's in a glamorous swirl of red dress and blonde tresses. He flings an arm full of beaded bracelets over her shoulders, his smile as bright as hers.

Anyone seeing that shot of the supermodel and the Maasai herdsman, which has adorned billboards and the pages of Vogue as part of a campaign to fight AIDS in Africa, might well wonder: What was going through his mind?

"To be honest all I was thinking about when I was with this woman was my cattle and goats," Keseme Ole Parsapaet told The Associated Press, confessing to sleepless nights worrying about who was looking after his herd.

The picture with 26-year-old Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, whom Parsapaet admits to never having heard of before the shoot last July, was used to advertise the Red campaign, started by U2's Bono. Gap, Emporio Armani, Converse and American Express have all signed up and donate part of sales of Red products to help AIDS patients.

Parsapaet's world in the acacia-strewn bush of southern Kenya is very different from the glitz and fabulous wealth of the fashion industry. His nomadic lifestyle is one he does not want to leave.

Here in Oloomunyi village in the shadow of Kenya's Ngong Hills on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi, life expectancy is just 50 years. If you don't want to drink rainwater, the nearest spring is a 10-kilometer (6-mile) walk.

Thorned acacia branches surround the huts and each night the cattle are brought into the center, safe from wild animals. Malaria is plentiful, electricity not.

Parsapaet was not paid supermodel wages - Bundchen earned a spot in the Guinness World Records for a US$17 million (EUR13 million) haul in a single year. But the US$5,000 (EUR3,700) Parsapaet did get for the one-day shoot was five times the annual wages in this African country.

With it he built a three-room tin hut and, of course, bought more cattle and goats.

"I now have 20 cattle and more than 150 goats," he says proudly.

Standing 6 foot 2 inches (1.83 meters) in brown plastic sandals, Parsapaet normally earns US$90 (EUR67) a month trading livestock.

"To have goats and cattle is more important than modeling," he said, his comments translated from Maasai to English by a friend, while flies buzzed around his head as he walked through the village of 80 people, most living in flat-roofed mud huts.

The Maasai, a nomadic tribe of 1.2 million people who live in a region straddling Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, are celebrated for their tall, slender elegance and their skills at raising livestock.

Despite living so close to the sprawling capital, Parsapaet's parents never sent him to school. By eight he was herding goats. At 18 he killed a lion as part of an ancient initiation ceremony to become a Maasai warrior.

"We all think it is hilarious that we have a supermodel in the village," said Jackson Siolol, a childhood friend who put 28-year-old Parsapaet in touch with a Kenyan modeling agency that was looking for a Maasai for the Red campaign. Siolol used to herd cattle with Parsapaet through the rocky, scrub hills south of the capital of 3 million people.

Lyndsey McIntyre, who founded the modeling agency SuraZuri 20 years ago, said the search was on for a Maasai because they "are very dignified and look good in front of a camera.

"Keseme is so at ease in front of the camera and it meant nothing to him who these people were. It came so naturally to him."

After two weeks photographing several Maasai, Parsapaet was chosen. On the morning he traveled, his father blessed him by pouring cow's milk over him from head to toe. He then flew to London for a session with Nick Knight, one of Britain's leading fashion photographers.

Although Parsapaet has not heard from the top model since their charity shoot in July last year, two pictures of him with Bundchen take pride of place in his hut.

"She would be welcome to visit here to see how we live," Parsapaet, a father of two, adds, reports AP.

"We would slaughter a goat and roast it and would drink cow's blood mixed with milk," he says. "That is the traditional Maasai welcome and she would be our guest."

"But she could not persuade me to give up my life here."

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