Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday in the Park with Glass

This week, I spent time visiting with local advertising/PR/graphic design agencies. One of my colleagues in the Malaria Department was leaving for southern Sudan on Monday, and before then, she needed to find a firm to help advertise and promote a malaria bed net usage campaign. We met with a variety of agencies - small, large, local and international, that each had a different focus. The larger firms like Ogilvy and Leo Burnett were what you’d expect from global companies - professional, but a broad-brush approach and little experience in this particular market.

The local firms were more interesting. One company specializes in educational messages to children and illiterate populations. The firm produces a magazine for school children that covers health, cultural, ecological and other issues. It’s designed to follow along the Kenyan approved school curriculum so that the kids can use it as an exam study guide since they often don’t have books. The firm’s principal also explained a successful literacy campaign geared toward rural women. Women in remote villages don’t have much incentive to learn to read as there aren’t libraries, newspapers are few and far between and there’s no need to know how to read a street sign. This firm determined that women were interested in learning to read so that they could read recipes, health information and were most excited about reading about business. Once they learned to read, they were often able to get micro-financing for their small businesses. My colleague hasn’t yet decided on an agency for her job, but it will most likely be one of the home-grown ones.

For fun this week, I went to the Kitengela Glass Works, just outside of the city. The factory sits along the edge of the Nairobi Wildlife Park and is accessed by narrow, bumpy dirt roads. I was told that there are two ways to get to the factory. One way is to take the road that leads directly there. The other way is to go to the Masai Village, walk across a few acres of field (watch out for lions!), pick your way down a steep, rocky slope and cross a string bridge decorated with glass beads. We chose the latter.

When we got to the bridge, there was a group of people from HomeBoyz radio, the local hip-hop station who were on a team-building exercise. A group of five had just started across very s l o w l y. The woman in the lead was petrified, and was barely able to move an inch at a time. I hadn’t thought to be scared until one of the people waiting their turn mentioned that the danger wasn’t in the bridge collapsing, but rather in flipping if it started to sway too much. That hadn’t occurred to me until that moment, and when it was our turn to cross the bridge, I could understand - and feel - how that could happen. The bridge crosses over a ravine, and it’s hard to say how high up it is, but if you’re plunging down, it doesn’t really matter how far down you go.

We started making our way across, with my friend Fiona in the lead. She started out slowly, but then we decided that the bridge would sway less if we walked elephant style - left legs together, right legs together. About a third of the way across I realized that I was shaking and holding my breath, but we finally got a rhythm and proceeded across. It was a great relief to get to the other side, until it dawned on us that our car was now on the other side of the bridge and we’d have to cross back over to get to it. We decided that once was enough, and asked our driver to go back the way we came, get the car, and fetch us at the glass factory parking lot.

While our driver was tempting fate a second time, we were exploring the buildings. Kitengela is a self-sustaining art glass community. Everything is made from recycled materials - even the oil used to fire the furnace is purchased from restaurants. There are about a dozen buildings scattered around the property linked together by mosaic glass paths. Each building has unique features and houses a different type of glass manufacture. Kitengela not only creates art glass, but also large quantities of glassware for retail and wholesale - now that I’ve know what it looks like, I realize I’ve seen it in many local upscale hotels and restaurants.

We wandered around for nearly two hours, and were starting to wonder if our driver was ever coming back, when he suddenly appeared. It turned out crossing the bridge was the easiest part of his journey. The road to the art colony was so bad it took him longer to drive to us than it did for him to do the trekking part of his journey. I don’t think he was particularly happy about having to go back, but he was a good sport.

Enjoy the photos!


Meet Melida said...

Okay, lovely, lovely... but did you buy anything?

Also wondered what Inauguration day was like in Nairobi? I found myself thinking of you there for the big day on my way home yesterday evening.

The Life and Times of Donovan said...

Not to be a pain...I hope this wasn't a shattering experience.

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