Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’

Scrappy Style

Monday, August 11, 2014

From time to time, my day job takes me to Nairobi, a city I did not love upon first visit, but have come to appreciate over time. Both the weather and social climate can feel cool at first and take some getting used to.

I should note that in addition to reserved Kenyan culture, security threats add to the chilly atmosphere. Sporadic fire bombings in markets, the horrific attack on Westgate Mall last year and a general sense of terror linger, and have left a legacy of tedious and not very reassuring security all over the city. Armed private security staff stand guard at every mall, hotel and office building entrance, metal detectors abound and before any car may enter a parking lot, the trunk must be popped and a mirror run under the perimeter of the vehicle, presumably in search of hidden explosives.

A few years ago, I got stuck in Nairobi for 10 days when a volcano erupted in Iceland and sent up a cloud of ash that drifted East and grounded all flights crossing over Europe. The forced safari pushed me to really get to know the city, and everything it had to offer. That’s how I discovered the chaotic warmth of Kenyatta market, a bustling open air bazaar comprised of food and clothing stalls and, of course, informal barber shops and hair braiding salons.

Front and center when you enter Kenyatta sit several cobblers, racks of shoes before them. A couple of weeks ago, while having a lovely lunch of grilled chicken and goat ribs, I noticed that my colleague, Lynda, had on a stunning pair of shoes. “Where did you get those?!” I asked.  So she took me to Kenyatta and we marched straight over to the cobblers.

photo 1

Lynda’s shoes

The shoe guys had a nice little set up with an old singer sewing machine, that reminded me of a very early dispatch from Malawi. Lynda showed me the big bag of cloth scraps from which we could select fabric.

photo 2

Picking out fabric scraps

Once we had made our choices, we browsed the finished shoes on the cobbler’s rack and selected styles. Then he traced my foot. Two days later, I had two new pairs of shoes, including a pair modeled after Lynda’s with the same batik print. What I love about these shoes is that they recycle fabric remains (likely a deal the cobblers have set up with dressmakers in the market) and that the reuse is so one of a kind. My shoes, though identical in style and print to Linda’s, have their own asymmetrical charm as the fabric scraps are laid out slightly differently on my shoes than on hers.

photo 4

Making my shoes

Next time I need to figure out a way to upcycle fabric scraps without the use of toxic shoe glue. In the meantime, I can’t wait to wear my new kicks!

Women of Minyore

Monday, May 21, 2012

Over the weekend, AfriGadget shared this wonderful short documentary by the Kenya-based Dutch journalist Ruud Elmendorp on trashpicking craftswomen near Nakuru.

The women, including Lucy Wambui, featured in a video and report on Elmendorp’s site, collect plastic bags from the dump and weave them into marketable goods. In an area of the world ravaged by poverty, HIV, domestic abuse and drug addiction, these women are bettering their lives and educating the next generation on the income they earn selling recycled plastic. Lucy, for example, pays her grandson’s school fees with part of her income.

I find this piece particularly compelling because I have been to Nakuru, spent the night in the national park for which the area is famed and even spent a night in town without ever crossing paths with a community of trashpickers. Elmendorp’s shot of the dump site with flamingo lake in the background beautifully illustrates the contrast between the two worlds. It reminds me of this photo, which I shared here in 2010, taken from the shore of the same lake.

Lake Nakuru

How different the planet appears from the other side of the looking glass.

Upcycling in Kisumu, Kenya

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deepest apologies for the long gap in posts. I’ve been traveling nonstop for the day job and barely have time to sleep, let alone brave slow internet connections to upload photos and information. That’s not to say I haven’t been collecting trashtastic content. For example, women who take part in income generating activities with the Kisumu Medical Education Trust (KMET) upcycle plastic water bottles as zero waste packaging for the liquid soap they make and sell.

Woman sifts base for bar soap, liquid soap bottles in the background

Woman with finished liquid soap product

Young women training at KMET’s empowerment center learn marketable skills like tailoring. To practice, they use flour sacks and cardboard for patterns and swaths.

Young women practice stitching on recycled paper

Young women practice tailoring using patterns upcylced from empty sacks

Thanks for your patience, trashies. I’m in Ethiopia this week. Stay tuned for additional updates from East Africa.

Flip flop round up

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This unconsumption post on upcycled flip flops reminded me of a story I read in 2007 about Kenyan women building a giant whale out of the old slippers that washed up in their fishing villages. I recommend watching the BBC video on the project, it’s an amazing example of political art. I especially like the whale because, as I’ve mentioned here before, the flip flop jewelry and key chains I’ve seen are all overpriced and, in my personal opinion, not that cute. I do, however, love the way sun faded bits of flip flop add character to things sculpted out of them. There’s something whimsical about the material, which I think you get from the Studio Schneemann pieces in the unconsumption link; and, of course, evident in the official mascot, P.C. the Flip Flop Rhino.


A company called UniquEco made P.C. Or rather, Kenyan women made him and UniquEco put a snazzy label on his belly and made sure he was available for purchase at my favorite women’s collective shop in Kampala. UniquEco are based in Kenya and also have a life-sized whale made from washed up flip flops, which makes me think they may be connected to the original story.

In the U.S. TerraCycle and Old Navy are launching a campaign called Flip Flop Replay whereby you can drop your old flip flops off at Old Navy and TerraCycle will collect them and recycle them into play grounds. At first I thought that meant play ground mats. Then I saw the picture below. I don’t always love TerraCycle’s projects, but this one is just cool.

via TerraCycle

Trash is Cash

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thanks, Jasmine, for sharing a link to this amazing video made by Zuh-d and Wafalme & Makia, a group of kids from the slums of Nairobi.

Check the remix here. According to the caption on YouTube, they won a Positive Climate award from MTV for this video. Not surprising given the catchy and uplifting chourus: “No more Pollution (trash is cash!)/This my solution (trash is cash!)”

Side note: In two weeks I’ll be touring Kabira slum with another amazing group of slum kids. The trip is day-job focused, but I predict some urban trash stories and photos will be popping up here. Stay tuned.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lake Nakuru

Hello trashies. Excuse the sparse posting lately. I’ve been distracted by the ash cloud, which grounded me in Nairobi this past week (where I was passing though when the Icelandic volcano erupted). To change things up while waiting for my reservation out of town I took  a bus to Nakuru where I spent the night at the Wildlife Club of Kenya Guesthouse inside Lake Nakuru National Park. After a serene night’s sleep, I went for an early game drive where I saw loads of white rhinos, herds of buffalo, a huge and beautiful pink horizon of flamingos, storks, pelicans and this eagle. And sadly, inside what should be a pristine environment: trash. Such as the yellow plastic bottle disrupting this scene. Sigh.  On a positive note, my guide Bosco spends his off time in the low season volunteering for a local NGO that sorts local trash, picks up waste from the streets of Nakuru town and gives educational classes for neighbors on proper waste disposal and the importance of keeping our natural surroundings trash free. Go Bosco.

Guilt personified

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In case you were wondering what $50 worth of flip flops looks like, say hello to my pink rhino. I’ve decided it’s a he and that his name is P.C.

Flip flop rhino

Flip flop rhino

P.S. That rad picture behind P.C. was a present from my wonderful friend Constance who found me the prettiest trash heap in the world. And framed it. As you can tell, she’s an expert gift giver.

Flipping the flop

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

While in Kampala a few weeks ago, I stopped in at one of my favorite stores in the world, Banana Boat, and went on a semi-conflicted shopping spree among their fine upcycled crafts made by women’s collectives from all over Africa. I bought up a dozen strands of Ugandan paper beads for my girlfriends, homemade soap wrapped in homemade paper for my colleagues and a collection of small creatures fashioned out of bottle caps including this three piece band, now residing at my friend’s music studio in Brooklyn.

Bottlcap boogie

Bottlecap boogie

Ok, full disclosure. I went more than once and to more than one Banana Boat location during my week in Uganda. I couldn’t help it. While normally I try to buck the inner American, my desire to consume flares at the sight of trash. The the irony of upcylcing is that it makes me want to buy MORE.

The first wave of  my Banana Boat binge was stopped short by the pricetag on a string of plastic foam beads. The moment I saw them, I knew they were made of old flip flops—likely washed up on the shores of Kenya—and, because of this, I grabbed them up. But then I saw they cost roughly $30 U.S. and I looked again and decided, actually, big foam beads on a short choker strand might be a little too UN chic for my blood. So I set down the hideous necklace and made my way deliberately to the woven basket and cardboard diorama section of the store.

It was hard to walk away. Physically hard, because my urge to buy something was so strong it nearly made me twitchy. The little voices in my head debated the novelty of flip flop jewelry versus the reality of its ugliness, the feel good return of purchasing upcyled crafts from women’s collectives versus my uneasiness with the price, the uniqueness of the product versus the fancy UniquEco logo. One of the necklaces had a tag declaring “flipflop (i was)”. I took note of the confirmation that these were indeed flipped flops upcycled by Kenyan fishing communities. And I took note of the all lowercase tagline and pretentious use of parentheses. Ugh, I thought, branding.

I left the store feeling very proud of my resolve.

The next day I dropped $50 on a hot pink rhino doll/statuette from the same company. It’s adorable with a sleek and marbled hide created by a fused pile of flip flops of similar but not identical colors. This, I thought, will liven up my bookshelf. Or hip up my office. It carries a message that is both political and fun. It will make for a cool blog post and spread envy among my friends. I NEED this.

More tales to come of Kenya and consumption.

“They don’t rot, they don’t break down and they float—forever.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

minkie.jpg Kenyan fishermen and the World Society for the Protection of Animals are building a giant whale sculpture out of the endless stream of discarded flip flops that get caught up in fishing nets. The partners hope the end product—pieced together with the help of local women who have long been recycling flip flops into local handicrafts to sell back to tourists—will serve as a massive pro-environment, anti-whaling symbol.

For updates and to sign a petition of your solidarity, check out Whale Watch.

Via the power combo of an everydaytrash tipster and the BBC online.

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