Preparing for my trip to Kenya has been full of teaching moments.
I’ve read books on Africa for N00bs (I simply want to be respectful). This research has lead to surprising discoveries like Nigerian’s love of Don Williams (also a favourite artist of my Dad’s). Who knew about country music in Nigeria?
Fashion and Kenya
To be honest, this post about Vivenne Westwood in Kenya made me wince. I really felt like it was capitalizing on people’s lives. But, then I read deeper:
“The handbags in the lookbook are a part of Westwood’s Ethical Fashion Programme collection, where the iconic label has partnered with the International Trade Centre to provide jobs to over 7,000 women in the Kenyan capital, where they learn to create handmade, ethically produced bags for the London-based label. The project is intended to help provide people in one of the world’s poorest economies with actual skills they can use to maintain a living for themselves and their families.”
The number of people employed is respectable. Not that I could ever afford brand labels, or convince myself to actually wear them, but it made me stop for a minute. With a seamstress for a mother accompanied by hours in fabric shops, I have complete regard for the value of work and responsible clothing production. Innovation and the market place build new economies. My new employer is focused on creating software, but is part of a microcosm into a world of bright people creating with will and imagination.
One thing I have noticed is the shock that people have when I say I work for a tech company based in Nairobi, Kenya. And, the reaction I get from people (mostly strangers) warning me about the dangers of Africa. While I am sure danger is part of the story, I think this is indicative of the lack of awareness about how large the continent is: every city, country and village. Part of me thinks that I am a vehicle to share a different version of the story. I suppose it is like thinking that all of northern Saskatchewan (where I grew up) is full of redneck hicks. Well, yes, there are many fans of Jeff Foxworthy, but they are good people whom I call my family. These are also the first people who will give you a homemade blanket when your house burns down, then help you rebuild. People who are neighours help each other. I think that we need to start thinking about people around the world as neighbours we don’t know yet. For all the information in the world, the Internet and more, we still have so much to learn about each other.
My Grandfather never bought a new tractor. He taught himself how to fix one and saved money to travel when he retired. On the same premise, my father who has invented gadget and kludges with whatever was laying around the yard or found in a discount bin. Much like Afrigadgets, just the northern Canadian version. We really are a consumer society in North America. It would do us well to think about why we need a special container for our water hose. My dad used a piece of wood and an old piece of metal to make me this:
Ron Leson, maker
We have so much, but does it make us happier? Instead of creating more waste: remake, remix or reuse. With talented parents who sew and build, I feel a bit lost in the maker realm. I don’t actually make anything physically valuable (besides good meals and a pretty garden), but I create connections and community. Maybe in my next act, I will be a maker.
Call me old school, but I love postcards. I have a box of postcards from my Grandfather’s travels and a fridge covered with cards from friends. Postsecret is a long time favourite. Whenever I have the privilege to go anywhere, I send postcards to close friends and family. It bridges our imagination and gives an immediate connection to place and to people that a digital space might not. It makes far away places closer and takes people on the journey with you. My Grandfather wanted us to be engaged in our world. And, my mom, the biggest news junkie I know, simply wanted us to understand what part we play in learning about our world. On my fridge, I have a postcard from a coworker who traveled to Kenya long before I even imagined that I would be making this journey. Every day for 3 years I have looked at this postcard and thought: what is my place in the world? This love affair with postcards is not mine alone: The Lost art of Postcard Writing.