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