søndag den 19. december 2010

Curio Shopping in Nairobi, The art of bargaining

Beaded artefacts: A speciality of the Maasai tribe

Wood carvings and utensils: Crafts which the Kamba tribe mould with an impressive amount of dexterity and flair.

An ensemble for all tastes: From soapstone carvings to obsidian bracelets, curio vendors have git something for everyone.

Oscar Wilde once said that
"the past is what man should not have been." "The present is what man ought not to be" and that "the future is what artists are". Nowhere is this statement more exemplified than in Africa, and indeed in Kenya, a nation with a rich if not controversial history that has tainted the better nature of the land somewhat. Notwithstanding, there exists amongst the people of Kenya, an indefatigable hope and passion for the future, a hope that is manifested in many ways and through numerous media, the most vibrant of which being the art and craft sold on the streets and walkways of her cities and towns.

Curio shopping is a fascinating form of interaction with the local population and indeed with the art and craft of the nation and therein with the very fundaments of Kenya. I grew up here oblivious to just how beautiful and meaningful all the many soapstone carvings, beaded Maasai artefacts, colourful canvas paintings, elaborately decorated guards and hand made bongo drums actually are. After a hard days worth of bargaining (the price of literally each and every product in Kenya is negotiable, believe it or not) i've finally managed to get all my Christmas shopping done and at a very affordable price too. The artefacts I purchased would have cost up to four or five times more in Europe, a vociferous exploitation of supply and demand dynamics by the few ruthless retailers who have tasked themselves with promoting and profiting off Africa's art and craft.

Bargaining is an artform in itself in these parts, as prices are based on what social class one belongs to and the colour of one's skin, where the more affluent and white-skinned one is, the higher the price charged by the artisans / agents vending their wares. This all changes however, if communication takes place on the same wavelength and this entails that one appear as local as possible. This is the first crucial step to negotiating a deal that's beneficial to both parties, so speaking Swahili, Sheng or any other local language is a massive plus. Once this hurdle is cleared, the rest of the process flows rather smoothly until a price that both seller and customer can be reasonably content with. If my sister is the Picasso of the bargaining world then i'm an infant scribbling on a blank page. I sat back and let her talent run loose, as she brokered most of the purchase prices of the day.

Curio shopping can be done in numerous locations in Kenya. I found myself at the rather small and fairly priced market outside the Uchumi hypermarket on Langata road in Nairobi. The creme de la creme Mecca of all curio meccas, Parkland's Maasai market is open on every Tuesday by the globe cinema roundabout and is definitely worth a glance if one is in need of curios of any sort.

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