Kampala, Uganda. Christmas is coming and I decide to take a break from work to do some shopping. Kenneth and Patricia, youth from the One Stop Youth Centre, where I’ve been working, volunteer to take this mzungu (white person) to Owino Market.
First task is to get there. With a mix of trepidation and channeling Evel Knievel, I follow Kenneth. Both of us are on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi). No helmets. Up and down we race, Kampala being known as the city of 7 hills.
I pay more to go slower.
This was not a good day to wear a skirt.
A tad shaken (not stirred) we arrive at the market. I follow Kenneth and Patricia’s lead into the sprawling outdoor labyrinth. The aisles can barely contain one person walking through, let alone those folks bent almost in half carrying massive loads that threaten to take you and anyone else in the vicinity out.
Dodging dogs, piles of garbage, puddles and those mysterious large loads I bob and weave my way through, wondering what I will do if I loose my hosts.
Reminding myself that I was here to shop I snatch glances of the goods around me. Mountains of clothes. Clothes everywhere. Pants, tops, shirts, dresses, coats they’re all laid out from one stall to another.
What I am slow to realize is that the clothes are all second hand. In fact many of them still have tags from Value Village (or Savers if you’re American), my favourite shopping haunt at home. I buy a top that has an Oxfam tag on it.
I wish it could speak to me and tell me of its travels. It’s probably journeyed farther than most people. Made in China, shipped to the U.K. and then donated to wend its way to Uganda. Purchased by me its next home will be Canada.
I have fun bargaining and end up with some great goods. My hosts help me get the non-mzungu price.
Taking a break Kenneth takes me up some narrow stairs. We have a great view of the busy hive below us. What catches my attention more however is the row of people hard at in front of us.
Razor blades flash as rows of people use them to quickly slash through seams and take apart entire garments before my eyes. Next stop and large pairs of scissors held by capable hands cut and shape. Passing off to people powering sewing machines by their feet, the bits are re-sewn into something entirely new. Last stop before reentering the bustle below for sale, is being ironed like new. Old fashioned irons, made hot by coals, make any wrinkles give up the fight and submit.
I’m impressed and, being in Kampala to do evaluation training for the United Nations, I can’t help but wonder what criteria folks use in deciding whether to sell a garment as is or to reinvent it.
What have you reinvented and made new lately?