Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 29: Makina Market

I wrote about Makina last year when long-subdued creative juices were manifesting in the trash-laden road running into Kibera. My friend Sandra first took me there when my questions about where to go for various craft supplies wouldn't stop. She figured she might as well lead the horse to water instead of quenching its thirst by the thimble-full. I have never seen another mzungu in the market or even at the stage where you alight from the Matatu at inner Toi. This leaves me feeling like I've discovered a secret source of those things that are four times as much at each of the well known tourist markets. A place where those sandals that seemed cute but not so comfy can be customized to a pair I already own and in the color of my choice.

I mostly go to Makina with Sandra to see how her various orders are coming (she designs wonderful laptop and messenger bags) but have been back recently to have my favorite faux bag (well loved and falling apart at the seems) remade in leather. It took a year and a half to find the right color, but the craftsman, Ofula, finally found it and is making it now. I went to finalize the order yesterday and enjoyed walking silently through the uneven rows of pint-sized tailoring and fabric shops. I loved when some mending I took in warranted a 70 bob repair fee (less than $1) - proof that I am known here as a local, not a mzungu for which the prices could be quoted a whole lot higher.

I am always amazed at Makina and the sites that stay the same time after time. The men in front of Ofula's shop crouch in the dust pounding out long strips of copper which will be bent into braided bracelets to be sold to bleary-eyed tourists across the country. I can never fathom that a market for such quantity exists, but at my old house the copper bracelet seller was there every day - so somehow he must have enough buyers to keep him going.

I spoke with Ofula at length yesterday about the quality of his pieces, asking him why he didn't have an apprentice, why wasn't he expanding? "I tried to teach my nephew, but he left," he told me. He looked discouraged as he spoke of young people and the wealthy people they aspire to be who look down on artisans as uneducated and lacking promise. This conversation took place just three days after a staff member from the Ministry of Youth shared at my Rotary meeting her vision for encouraging leather production in Kenya - noting that when our cattle die, we bury them where they lay - skin and all. Then, we import leather from India and China.

Makina reminds me that the best learning experiences I've had here are taking moments to step out of my role as visitor, as mzungu, as student or as buyer. To simply enter into conversation with the people working this country from the ground up. To hear the voice of blistered hands and aching backs bent over beautifully crafted pieces, or at the steering wheel of a beat up taxi. But that is for tomorrow's post.

This month I'll also be posting favorite pictures from my time here with each post. Sometimes they'll be related, sometimes not (like today).

1 comment:

Rog said...

Love the photo Megs!