“Tell me what happens the first time you see a woman naked.”
“The first time you see a woman naked will not be like you imagined. There will be no love, no trust, no intimacy. You won’t even be in the same room as her.
You won’t get to smile as she undresses you and you undress her. You won’t get to calm her nerves with nerves of your own. You won’t get to kiss her, feeling her lips and the edge of her tongue. You won’t get to brush your fingers over the lace of her bra or count her ribs or feel her heartbeat.
The first time you see a woman naked you will be sitting in front of a computer screen watching someone play at intimacy and perform at sex. She will contort her body to please everyone in the room but her. You will watch this woman who is not a woman, pixelated and filtered and customized. She will come ready-made, like an order at a restaurant. The man on the screen will be bigger than you, rougher than you. He will teach you how to talk to her. He will teach you where to put your hands and he will teach you what you’re supposed to like. He will teach you to take what is yours.
You must unlearn this. You must unlearn this twisted sense of love. You must unlearn the definition of pleasure and intimacy you are being taught. Kill this idea of love, this idea of entitlement, this way of scarring one another.”"
there comes a time
to sit down and assess what’s there and what is not there
eternally up in the air
and it seems that time has come for you"
the whitest boy alive
Nairobi, Wilson Airport 2014
The first time I heard Alt-J’s Taro I had carelessly placed all my dreams in faith that I would have another chance to feverishly take in a new place, to enjoy things I knew nothing about at the time - like the joy of peeking down alleyways filled with donkeys.
Yet today I’m listening to this song 20,000 feet above sea level, above the Rift Valley, and the endlessness Kenya promises each new day.
If you ever think you will forget a memory, lose track of someone because you live in this vastness now, the truth is it’s impossible to do. You will feel every detail of heart ache, every good and bad decision that has led you to this flight on a small plane returning to Nairobi Wilson from the coast. And the weight of this will be the only reminder that you’re truly alive.
I have a rather bold, turquoise and brass necklace I wear regularly in Nairobi. I sometimes get asked where it’s from and say it’s made by artisans we work with through Kiva Zip.
I was waiting on the back of my boda driver’s motorbike at a petrol station in Kibera when Veronica approached us. She walked me over to her working area, a place she calls “a society of artisans,” where over 150 artisans work daily on designs that end up in local markets, in a kiosk at Jomo Kenyatta Airport for a last minute purchase or maybe if things align correctly in a store near you.
I greeted Veronica’s two craftsmen who were finely sawing and shaping the small, white camel bone pieces that comprised the bracelet she worked on in that day’s workshop. She explained to me that each camel bone costs 80 Ksh (roughly $.90USD) each. “They are sanded in 5 stages and after you’ve finished sanding you bleach them with hydrogen peroxide to get the pure white look,” she says.
Veronica sources these materials from local butchers. After the crafting process is complete each piece feels and looks unique, a distinction only handmade designs can achieve.
After working in crafts for 7 years, Veronica opened her business, AfricanLive, in August 2013. AfrikanLive is a small design and production organization dedicated to crafting designs made of cow and camel bone, cow horn and Maasai beads.
Originally from Siaya county in the Kisumu region of Kenya, Veronica is the 6th born in a family of 7 children. “I was introduced to Kiva by Shop Soko,” she says. “They are also my biggest clients so far.”
The biggest challenge for her business is finding a good market or access to markets for the products she makes.
Women in Africa produce 60-80% of the continent’s goods; yet they earn only 10% of the income. Kiva Zip Trustee Shop Soko bridges this gap by connecting Kenyan artisans directly to consumers all over the world via web and mobile platforms. Soko is in many ways an African mobile marketplace.
Soko operates as an e-commerce platform that connects mobile-enabled artisans in Kenya directly to web-based consumers all over the world. Imagine an Etsy platform for artisans who normally do not have access to the Internet and Soko bridges that gap. They’re able to support artisans like Veronica gain access to new markets around the world and provide mentorship on design and business skills. Artisans are able to upload a vendor profile, product images and descriptions to the website using SMS or their mobile platform, allowing them to trade even in areas without Internet services.
Veronica used her first Kiva loan to buy a smartphone to allow her to take photos of the products she makes. She sends these mobile photos directly to Shop Soko so they can assess the product designs. She has also been able to set up a Facebook Page and LinkedIn account to gain recognition as a designer and network with international designers to sell products.
With so many middlemen in the craft supply chain, this new marketplace revolutionizes international trade, cutting out the middlemen to create economic opportunity, increased profits for artisans and reduce logistical costs by over 70%.
Veronica recently applied for a 2nd Zip loan. She plans to buy a bench cutter machine which is used to cut designs, bones and other materials. It will enable her to make more accurate and varied designs to differentiate her products.
She aspires to get a bigger workshop to hold client meetings and show product samples. “That’s always the wish. To have a business grow from where you are to a bigger enterprise,” she says.
what a thing to believe in a dream
Xavier Project — Rafiki Fabrix Workshop
But change comes slowly. One day, Mendelsund predicts, there will be a best-selling novel by an African writer that happens to use a different visual aesthetic, and its success will introduce a new set of arbitrary images to represent Africa in Western eyes. “But right now, we’re in the age of the tree,” he says. “For that vast continent, in all its diversity, you get that one fucking tree.”