Over the past few days we have spent a lot of time in community. Yesterday we had the chance to go to Hakuna Matata Arts - they are the ones that do all the metal work items - massai women, giraffes, warthogs....When we got there they were working on an order for south africa - they have to complete 1000 pieces in 1 week and work about 18 hours a day they said. George told me they get paid 150ksh per item - but it's not enough. If they want the order they have to do it for that price...it's just the way it is. Its sad to know that people all over are making a lesser amount in exchange for work. It really makes a difference to know that we are paying fair wages for their items - we really have no idea what people are losing with each order because they don't really even know how to keep track of their costs. While at the project we were able to see all the different ways they work the different items.
We got to see the huge cowhorns and see inside of them. He shared the process with us of how they boil them down and then the outer part falls off and the outer portion in the horn part they use to make jewelry, bowls, etc. The inner part they ground into a powder to make housewares - like cups and bowls. (kinda yucky). These guys do metal work, painting, and horn items. they are incredibly creative and talented and yet they are doing it all in the middle of a slum, sheet metal heating you up, dirt and dust everywhere and the walls of the workshop are live with active electricity, they are sitting on the floor hitting a hammer to bend metal with a huge shotput like ball as their "table". They were very concerned i would touch the wall and i was pretty sure i wasn't going to...but George looked scared and he flipped the switch off. They have the electricity running through the walls of the workshop so they can weld and such - they have a jumper cable attached to 2 oil barrels and the electricity is attached to the cable - via the wall. Then they take their tools and spark them on the live barrels and its makes the sparks - it's crazy and scary but seriously amazing. While we were there hearing about the work they were doing, we are sitting in the middle of a 10x10 room (which in many cases is somebodies entire house - for a family of 4 or more even) the walls are painted, from graffiti like tagging, to an encouraging statement, paintbrush strokes, the name of Jesus, "rules to live by", and by the door: Christina, Cathy, Caroline, Kiki is painted on the wall...I'm sure in the past he wrote that cause he knew we might show up one day...but come on..our names are on the wall - he's ready to remember us and pray for us - it's humbling.
We are sitting in this room and creativity is just oozing out...you can feel the talent and i was sitting there thinking - this is all so beautiful and creative and amazing and yet its all stacked in here - almost thrown away as trash - not sure if anybody would like it, not sure if it's worth anything, not sure if they are special enough to create something people would LOVE. But as i've learned from my mom - look everywhere -don't look at what we can see but search for the things we can't see. So pull out those mirrors tied up - covered in paper and sitting behind Bernard and let's see some amazing amazing amazing creativity in metal form. In a cardboard box you can find 15 metal animals stacked on each other and just sad they can't come out and see the visitors- so lets take them out and let them get that Golden Ticket to California. We are sitting in chairs that have been handmade for nobody - there are tables that are crafted in such unique ways and stacked upon one another in a heap and nowhere to go - if i lived in Kenya all of that would be in my house right this second. There is such an massive amount of beauty in the midst of a slum, the world of gray and brown, dirt and sheet metal and yet their immense talent and hardwork is so impressive - but you have to go through the dirt, the dust, and the unknown to sit in a tiny room, sweating like crazy, but filled with such beauty...all you have to do is open your eyes and see things in it's rawest form. We were spectators more then anything else and it's a blessing to know that we have started a relationship with George, Charles, and Joseph - they are young, inquisitive, talented guys...we are here to show them God's love and be blessed by the talent He has given them.
George took us to his friend Mugo, the man who paints the most beautiful pictures inside our wooden bowls. We found him selling on the floor of the market last year and by God's hand it turned out that George had in fact introduced him to Kigen a year prior to that, but at the time he was painting canvases and we don't sell those, so it didn't go any further. So last year when Kiki and I met him at Westgate I felt it was confirmation that Kigen had met him before. So over the past year we have bought some of his bowls for MPPC and sold them there and in the store...yesterday we were able to go to his studio, a 8'x6' space covered from floor to celling with his paintings, magazine and book cutouts of animals from all different angles. How do you paint an lifelike replica of something when you've never even seen one?? His chair is about to fall apart and slides from side to side as he sits in it...the arms are covered in paint from all the various cleaning of his brushes. He starts his story with, "i saw them and their artwork and thought - i can do that...maybe even better" So he tried and didn't know how to do shading or dimensions - he could draw but not paint...so he took leaves and flowers and smashed them into a paste, took dirt and added some water and then took a sisal plant and turned it into his paint brush. He bought some manila papers and painted some animals on them working on his shading and made a painting using his "natural" supplies. Later some guys from Europe saw the painting and wanted in and 3 more. At the time he was in the hospital and they came to find him just so they could get his paintings. He told them the painting would be 300ksh even though he had no idea. Mugo's friend who brought the Europeans gave him a dirty look because he thought it was too expensive because at the time his friend was only making 250ksh per MONTH. They agreed to buy the paintings at that price and he was floored that anybody would buy them for that....he said he kept it a secret that his supplies were flowers, leaves, and dirt - so he was finally able to purchase real paint and brushes and even a canvas - before long he was able to sell 1 painting at the same price of what his friends were making for 2 months of work. People wanted to know how he was able to do it and learn but he said - "a Talent is just a talent". Over the past 5 years he hasn't been able to work too much because he's had kidney problems. As i was watching this talented man talk you could see his arm and this thing protruding out...he's receiving dialysis for kidney failure...he has such a good spirit and calmness about him. He's talented beyond measure and what a blessing we can know him...sit in his studio with Obadiah half in the room and half outside, while George - our friend from Hakuna Matata Arts waits outside so that his friend can get some business. It's rare to meet people with a willingness to sacrifice their time and energy for their fellow man - especially in the dog eat dog world of the Githurai slums. Mugo's items are on their way to us...they are fabulous works of art.
Today we went to Zakale Creations - for those of you who don't know - zakale means "recycled or to reuse". I love going there - the people are such hardworking, young, talented people. They range in age from 17-30 and can do amazing things with some pliers and wire. I have known John, the founder of Zakale and Milton his right hand man (you know the guy from our video that says, "I used to shoot people in the street and now I design jewelry" - talk about a changed life!) for about 8 years now...we met on the floor of the Yaya Center market and I remember thinking - this guy is so talented and smart...he actually knows what i am talking about! And here we are in 2014 with many lives changed and 4-World Vision Catalog orders, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of dollars later. As we walked through the Huruma slums with them today it looks much cleaner then it has in the past, there is a huge dirt field where school children are playing tag and high school aged guys are playing soccer after they returned home. A few guys and sitting around chatting and I am shocked that this big space is in the middle of this slum. David (one of the main guys at zakale) and Milton are informing me of all that goes on in the community - they share how not too long ago this space was a dump site for trash and squatters began taking up space there because they had no where else to go. But in an effort to turn around their community their project worked with everybody to turn it around and back into a useful space for the people to use. There is life in this place - you can see it and feel it. As we are standing there I am reminded of the dangerous area I am told we are in...there are guys walking around "checking us out" (not in the positive sense) people are curious as to who we are and what we are doing there. The guys from Zakale are so proud to take us around and share their lives with us. We passed 3 guys positioned against a wall and another 2 perpendicular to them all seeming kinda shady- turns out they had guns and knives on them and 2 weeks ago were in a shootout with police - but i was reassured that we would be fine since the guys showing us around are highly respected since they used to be in their same positions but were much more successful in their roles - (you know...as hitmen and such) - they said, don't worry we can take them on. If their rehabilitation into positive lifestyles isn't a miraculous thing then what really is. Most all of these guys are God fearing men - husbands - and fathers and want the best for their families and are proud we are their friends. They are proud of their work and they have all the right to be. They too are RECYCLED - just like their project's name. God can take any and all of us from a place of sheer chaos and hurt, despair and pain and put us into a place of joy, happiness, growth, love and all those good things.
It's been a lot of community building these past 3 days and will continue to be for the next 2 days. What we do is all about the people and without them what we do wouldn't matter...without a doubt i can say over and over again..."every product represents a changed life".
It's such a joy to know this is what i get to do for a living - and for God's Kingdom.