During our trip, one of the women in our group was talking to other tourists at one of our lodges, and she they told her about a bead factory that was located close to the Karen Blixen estate. The day before we got back to Nairobi, she convinced the Powers-That-Be to take the entire tour group there, all 35 of us.
The Kazuri Bead Factory is actually located in what used to be part of the Karen Blixen Estate. The founder, Lady Susan Wood, was born in Kenya in 1918 to a British missionary couple and was educated in England. She eventually married a doctor, and the young couple returned to Kenya in 1947 to start a coffee plantation on the Blixen estate. (As a result of the Depression and falling coffee prices, Karen had sold the property in 1931 and gone home to her native Denmark, never returning to her beloved Africa.)
Susan Wood was quite the woman. She got the plantation going, raised her four children, wrote several books, and helped her husband set up the East Africa Flying Doctor Service, which later expanded to become the African Medical Research Foundation. On top of all that, she worked tirelessly for equality for Africans, especially for African women. In 1975 Susan set up a small business making ceramic beads in a shed in her garden. After hiring two Kenyan women to help her, she began to see the desperate need for employment opportunities for disadvantaged women, and the Kazuri Bead Factory was born. Kazuri is the Swahili word for "small and beautiful."
Today that factory has expanded to become a manufacturing enterprise of several small buildings and employs anywhere from 200 to 350 women (depending on which website you consult) who are single mothers, widows, and those with special needs. The Kazuri guide told us that the women work 5 1/2 days a week and are paid the equivalent of about $5.00/day, which according to this source is about minimum wage for a basic worker in Kenya. Other sources on the internet say that the women are paid three times the average wage, which makes me wonder if women are generally paid substantially less than men. Women, especially uneducated mothers, have a difficult time finding jobs in Kenya, so getting a job at this factory must be highly desirable, not just for the wages, but because the workers are also provided with free health care in the Kazuri clinic, child care, and credit and savings plans. Kazuri is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, which is devoted to creating opportunities for disadvantaged producers and workers.
Our tour began in the Clay Processing Area. The beads are made with clay from the Mount Kenya area:
He showed us the various sizes and shapes of beads. After these are fired, they can be bounced like a ball without breaking, which he demonstrated for us:
In another section of the complex, pottery dishes were being crafted:
and placed in a rack . . .
for baking in this high-tech kiln:
The women who did the finely painted designs seemed to me to have the hardest job:
The bead artists were given hand-sketched diagrams to follow that told them what colors to use and how many to make. Our guide told us that orders for specific designs come in from around the world, including from Harrod's of London.
The painted and glazed beads were then strung by another team of women into unique, beautiful pieces of hand-crafted of jewelry:
Meanwhile, over in the pottery department, pieces were being painted:
and were soon ready for firing:
Not only did they have a very nice shop full of their brightly-colored wares, but they had a really delightful sales staff of young African women who were there to help us find what we wanted.
Unlike the usual souvenir hawkers we've encountered around the world, the saleswomen were not aggressive at all, but if I said, "I'd like another necklace like this one," they'd find it for me. If I wanted a matching bracelet, they found it, and if I needed earrings to complete the set, they found those too.
We purchased quite a few items to bring home as gifts, but I wish I had bought more than I did. In fact, I should have bought two of everything, because when I got home, I didn't want to give any of it away!
We had a very fun time in the Kazuri shop, and I think our group spent a pretty good sum that day. The ladies behind the counter were all smiles. This shop isn't generally on the tour group circuit, but I know Fun-for-Less, our tour company, was impressed and will take future groups there. It's a very short distance from the Blixen Museum, it's a very interesting tour, and money spent in the shop helps support disadvantaged African women. What's not to love?
|Two of my purchases that I'm keeping|
Besides, it's nice to know that we shopped where Meryl shops:
As it turned out, our tour group was planning on eating here anyway, so in spite of the change in menu to more sedate meats like beef, pork, chicken, and farm-raised ostrich, alligator, and camel, we signed up to go.
|Photo by Bob|
|I find it interesting that "Ox Ball" isn't considered an Exotic Meat, don't you?|
Four more members of our group:
In the style of a Brazilian restaurant, waiters came around to the tables with big chunks of meat that had been spit-grilled on nasty-looking Maasai spears:
It was a cruel blow to miss out on eating such a spectacular farewell meal and is yet another reason to return someday.
Bob and I, however, took a cab ride, which reminded me a lot of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" at Disneyland, back to the Intercontinental Hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before our early flight to Accra, Ghana.
Farewell, East Africa! We had a blast!
|Photo from here|