This time a message from the school, Metangwe Primary. The grade 6 class at Park Dale School in Belleville Ontario sent letters to the grade 6 class in Matangwe. Below you will see the students opening the letters. Inside they not only found a note from Canada, but also drawings and a hand-made colourful bracelet. You will also see teacher Jackie giving them some help. Matangwe students say THANK YOU PARK DALE!
Hello from Matangwe Kenya. I am well into my third week here and finally getting to do a blog post. Things are going very well both at the school where I teach in the morning, grade 8 of 57 students and grade 7 of 54 and in the afternoon at the Community Centre where I am working with 15 women on rug hooking.
I hope to do several more detailed posts with pictures, but for now will just show you a couple of pieces of the hooking. There are four women who have returned from last year, but the others are new. I am thrilled with the progress they are making. Here are a few of the first pieces they did using t-shirts. We have established a solid set of criteria and each woman must complete a good piece using tshirts before she moves on to the dyed nylons and hooking one of the local birds. These pieces are all their own designs and colour choices. If you donated tshirts you may very well recognize them!
The rug hookers in Ontario are a generous lot. Below you can see some of the hooks that have been donated for the rug hooking project in Matangwe, Kenya. Thank you to everyone. To Claude who, in spite of illness, met me in town to donate her hooks. To Anne B. who collected hooks in her area and lugged them to the One of a Kind show for me. To Dianne who mentioned the project in the Ontario Hooking Craft Guild newsletter. And to the many other hookers near and far who heard of the hooking project in Matangwe and gave up their spare hooks. I have almost 100 now. And lots of burlap too.
This is year two of the project. If all goes as planned this year, the women and men in the Matangwe community will draw patterns of the stunning local birds on the burlap and make hooked mats which we will eventually sell. I will be taking some t-shirts and dyed nylons which we will cut into strips, but my hope this year is that we begin to use local used clothing with the plan to eventually be self-sustaining. We will also begin to make our own hooks and hopefully find a source of local burlap–so that the project can continue after I leave. Thank you again for the great boost!
Amos put a comment on my blog yesterday. If you click on the wedding rug in the photoblog section you can read it. Amos is one of the people whom I taught to hook in Matangwe, Kenya. Through some kind of wired magic the residents of this small village on the other side of the world, a village without electricity or clean water, are in touch with me–they send emails, read my blog and are my friends on Face Book. Amos was an eager rug hooking student. His very first piece, below, was beautiful. He designed it himself.
I am showing you the reverse side for two reasons. First, so you can see the quality of Amos’ hooking, but also so you will notice the label. I’ve had these on the blog before–they are a collaborative design between Alice, one of the Matangwe students, and my friend and great designer, Melanie. This is just the beginning of what we hope will be a sustainable project for the men and women of Matangwe.
Amos has certainly been doing his part to further the craft of rug hooking in the Matangwe area. Below is a photo he sent of some of his students. You can see him in the front row. These women are using hooks and burlap which were donated by rug hookers in Belleville and Kingston Ontario. We are hoping to find a source for burlap in Africa but in the meantime, we will need more hooks and burlap for my visit next January. I am hoping to have some donated at the area hook-ins in the fall which I will be attending. This is just a small way that we can set the people of Kenya on the path to self-suffiency. More on this later! In the meantime, congratulations to Amos and the rug hookers of Matangwe.
One of the best ways for me to process a significant experience is to throw myself into the activity of ‘making’. I learned last year that a month in Kenya, living alongside the people there — not travelling to and looking at — but living with them, is a marvellous gift. But it is a gift that takes time to process and then from there to take action. I’ve learned that I do my best processing when I am involved in making something. I’ve been sketching from the photos I took while there. I love the elegance of the women as they go about their daily chores and I am trying to capture that in my sketches. And I’ve been in the studio working with some leather and evocative pieces of cotton. For me, the leather and lining of each bag tell a story. The leather has had a former life–and the lining evokes the day, the place and the emotion surrounding its purchase or creation. Heavy freight for a bag you throw your wallet and your lunch in? Yes, maybe. But it is where my mind goes when I am making and how I work the memories and the plans into the texture of my days.
Below is the Bondo Luna bag made from 2 remnants of pebbly chocolate leather and a small piece of the Montreal black biker leather pants. Inside is the cotton fabric bought in the Bondo market. The colours are the colours of Bondo. The bag is 13″x12″x4″ with an adjustable shoulder strap, two interior leather pockets and a zipper closing.
And then I have been making some small shoulder bags out of various pieces of recycled leather. These measure approximately 6″x6″ with a shoulder strap of 43″. They have a pocket both outside and inside and a snap closure. Update March 4: the turquoise and black bags are sold.
These are the lively and crowded streets of Bondo, Kenya. This town is 7km from Matangwe where I taught school and rug hooking for a month and over 60 km from Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. I loved visiting Bondo — the market was full of activity with vendors selling produce and other goods. In the last post I shared pictures of the booths which lined the street with women (and a few men) sewing on treadle machines. The food market had any locally grown produce you could wish for — if you could afford it.
However, it only took a second for the bustling, lively shoppers to become a huge crowd blocking all traffic on the highway when a string of trucks and vans pulled into town with one of the ODM candidates. The candidate had a loud speaker system and he brought the crowd to cheers and jeers within minutes. It felt like it wouldn’t take much for this huge crowd to become a mob.
And now as it comes closer to March 4, election day, reports in the press of potential violence are becoming more frequent. No one wants a repeat of the violence of 2007. But I am holding my breath, worried about my friends as they face this event. The schools are closed for a week for the election. Let us all hope that the children and teachers can return to school next week unharmed by the corruption and violence that characterized the last election.
I love East African fabric. The women often wear several different pieces–on their heads, over their shoulders, tied as a baby carrier and worn as an overskirt. They are mesmerizingly beautiful as they walk or work in groups of colour. The large square pieces of fabric are called Leso, pieces of colour and design I was hoping to find.
The market in Bondo is filled with merchants offering an array of food and goods, including women in stalls working on treadle machines, surrounded by fabric. You can have an outfit designed and made especially for you and this is what many of the local women do. I am told that the top place to buy fabric is in Busia, on the border with Uganda, where the prices and selection are the best. But since the Ugandan officials wanted $50 for me to pass into their country for a couple of hours, I missed this chance. However, the Bondo market had lots of fabric to make up for my loss. Below are the seamstresses, each delighted to have her photo taken and show off her wares. Although they would have preferred to sew a dress for me, they happily sold me some fabric which comes in 3 meter pieces.
We also went to the Kibuye market in Kisumu, one of the biggest markets in Kenya. This is definitely more crowded and much dirtier than the Bondo market–and it is best to be accompanied there by someone who knows the terrain and the customs. It is a daunting place, but I had been last year and we were able to find the fabric stall once again. You can see the selection in the third picture. The prices here were lower than in Bondo and the choice greater. In the last picture are some of the pieces which I bought or were given to me–batiks and other lovely prints.
However, it was not until Nairobi that I found the Lesos I wanted. The Lesos are a bordered fabric and often have a Swahili saying on them. They young man I purchased them from patiently translated each one for me so that I would be sure to be purchasing something appropriate. The purple one pictured here says Love is like a flower; water it and watch it grow. Now who wouldn’t feel happy sporting that pleasant thought? The other messages were less romantic–the second purple Leso says, Trust a person’s actions, not his words. A sobering reminder, amid the colour and design.
My time in Matangwe, Kenya is over for another year. It was a rich time, a time of learning and teaching. I was delighted with the response of the young women to the idea of hooking mats. We met every afternoon at the Community Centre and the group had grown to 11 by the time I had to leave. Of course, in many ways we were just getting started. It’s one thing to learn how to pull loops, (a challenge in itself using hand cut t-shirts with no frame), but learning the level of quality required for selling takes longer. But that said, I came home with several pieces for sale and I left them all with additional pieces of burlap and plans for new mats. I am already friends with one of them on Face Book! I am hopeful that our connection and hooking production will grow.
Above is a picture of Alice, with the three pieces she designed and hooked. Below is Catherine, a new student who joined us the last week, being shown the techniques by Daisy. This is an example of the generous attitude which I met everyday and which made teaching this class so enjoyable. The afternoons were filled with laughter, but it was the underlying sense of mutual acceptance and support which was truly instructive. There is much to learn here.Below is Catherine’s piece after just one day, and the next day she brought it completed and ready for a trip to Canada.And here are some of the final pieces which I brought home with me.
I have my bags packed to the limits with school and hooking supplies–and also my sketching gear–a new moleskine, my paints and three fountain pens filled with Noodler’s bullet proof. I’ve decided that is my favourite way to sketch–straight to the page in ink, no sceond-guessing. It is such an amazing place I am returning to. I am so excited to be in that community again. There is much I hope to do. But I will also take time to capture this very different world in my notebook–and share it with you. That you for all your good wishes both on the blog and by email. Stay tuned for updates.
ps It’s the best when I do get to a computer to find an email from home!