I'm often asked why I don't have more pictures of people on my trips. If a funny looking man with funny looking clothes who didn't speak your language stuck a camera in your face, how would you feel about it? I try to be careful about where I tread when I travel, and as much as possible, respect local customs about dress and behavior. I met an American in Chile who stopped carrying a camera altogether, because he got so caught up in capturing the shot that he wasn't paying any attention to the experience.
So, I'm conflicted when I talk about the Dogon - it is a thousand year-old culture, based around the worship of the Dogon Star. For centuries, these people have lived in cliff dwellings, and led a simple, agrarian lifestyle, gaining goods and services through barter with nearby towns.
It is only in the last two generations that their lifestyle has begun to change -- they've moved off the cliffs, and dwell in houses on the surrounding desert floor. And it is because of outside contact that they have begun to change. And I am very definitely outside contact.
I hired a very young boy as a guide. I had to pay $100 for 4 a four-day, all-expense included tour of the Dogon. Which may seem cheap, but it's an extraordinary amount of money for these kids - they are abandoning their traditional lifestyle in favor of one that will make them enough money so they can leave. And the sad truth is, whether I go or not, whether I pay or not, eventually this culture could well disappear. By visiting, I get a chance to see and record the last examples of a culture. At the same time, my visit precipitates destruction and salvation -- and thus my conflict.
The trail leads over that cliff in the background....