Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going to the source

Second semester's been delayed by a week, due more to scheduling issues than the student protests that kept most rational people out of the city center today. As I await the start of classes I am enjoying the opportunity to continue exploring my creative side with the help of a new friend, Sandra, who is a budding Kenyan designer.

One of the best things about building a life in a new place is the opportunity to reinvent pieces of yourself that in the past you've failed to pursue to the extent you might want or be capable of. There is a freedom to be found in introducing yourself as the person that you want to be - rather than the person you've been. For me, this is increasingly taking form in an acknowledgment of my utter need to be involved in creative endeavors, and the opportunity to pursue writing specifically as more than an infrequent hobby. I have started to acknowledge that those dreams we often place far outside the parameters of our "could or would be" aren't always as daunting or intimidating as they seem. I may not leave Kenya as a full-fledged writer or designer - but while I'm here, I'm doing my best to change the way I look at myself as an individual and an artist - breaking my habit of partitioning such critical pieces of myself and focusing on the practical. So today, I sent off a query letter to a local editor and I joined Sandra on a trip to Kibera to meet many of the artisans who create the fundamental components of so many of the arts and crafts found in Kenyan markets.

We caught a bus in front of Kenyatta hospital, with Sandra happy to have made it out of the city before the protests were in full force. Upon arriving in Kibera she encouraged me to make note of our stop - which for all extents and purposes looked like any other in Kibera - full of people, small rusting kiosks, maize husks on the ground, dust and the bent pieces of steel and wood marking the many furniture makers to be found. We entered a market with colorful numbered stalls. Some were tailors, other fabric shops, still others leather dealers (as we'd come to see). I learned how leather is sold and priced and what colors are available. Toddlers peaked out from under their parents' ironing tables, one giggled for quite some time as I marveled at his perfect "toddlerness." Apparently I am quite funny looking to a Kibera two year old. We visited a man who makes the beaded leather sandals found in the markets - his were exquisite - and like all the other vendors, he welcomed sketches and designs from us. We collected prices for piping, waste bands, embroidery, tops and skirts, and then left that market area to visit the bone carvers. Sandra warned me about the dust, but I was more concerned with the almost pleasant, distinctive smell of goat that emanated from the many stalls where men sat hunched over buzz saws and carving tools. Stacks of bones, both dully untouched and glistening polished white lay at their feet. We passed furniture fundis (a fundi is a skilled worker in Kenya) and metal smiths. We stepped over meter upon meter of copper and metal rods, some already pounded into the designs that I'll be offered by street vendors selling bracelets for 100 shillings.

It was as if the local Masai market that is held throughout Nairobi on various days was gathered, sorted and then taken apart piece by piece. I could see the start of dresses, shoes, bags, bracelets, necklaces and furniture. I now know who to go to if I want any of these things (or their components) made. It was a good day, a step forward in being the whole person I want to be. And, as far as I know the University of Nairobi protests did not result in any injuries or major police action - yet another thing to be thankful for.


Jamie said...

glad the protests were peaceful...nice change of pace...

so what stop in Kibera did you skisha at? Makina? Have you gone into Toi? How is it recovering?

Always enjoy your posts even if they make me desperately homesick!

Megan said...

Hi Jamie - Ya, Makina. We walked back to Hurlingham through Toi - seems to be doing ok but there were plenty of empty stalls on the Kibera side. The front side at Adam's is pretty populated but not sure how it compares to before. You'll be here soon enough!