Preparing for last weekend’s Christmas Craft Fair lead to some pretty funny exchanges with my fundi friends. I wanted to share this seasonally appropriate tale – it’s somewhat humbling at this time of mad consumerism.
In the weeks before the event I always spend time with each of the very talented individuals I have been lucky enough to meet over the three years we have been doing this. I spend time discussing new things they could make and they could put their particular skill to best use because one of the big problems here, in Mwanza, is that there is very little innovation. Everyone makes the same things and it can get pretty boring if you’re trying to do your Christmas shopping. I am very lucky to have found myself a fantastic group of different fundis (craftsmen) – a tailor, a metal fundi, a wood carving fundi, a painter, a shoemaker, etc. They are all very skilled and very keen to learn new things, they all tolerate my Swahili and have a great sense of humour.
So the first of my jobs was to attempt, in Swahili, to explain the concept of an advent calendar to my wood carving fundi. ‘I need twelve doors’ I explained, thinking I would keep in simple and not request 25 on the first attempt, 12 days of Christmas would do. ‘Twelve doors the size of a panya [mouse]’. He looked at me quizzically. ‘Just doors? No windows? No house?’ Quite right, perhaps I should start at the beginning.
‘It’s for a child to count the days until Christmas arrives. Inside every door there will be a different picture and on every door is a number.’
‘Ah’ he says, ‘Advent Calendar!’ Oh why did I not just start with that?!
So for the next project, talking to my sewing fundi I simply get stuck straight in: I explain I’d like to make a tooth fairy pillow. ‘Nani?’ [what?]. Oh-kaaay.
This could be an odd one to explain… So I start to describe that the child places their tooth in the small tooth-shaped pocket and then the ‘tooth angel’ (I didn’t know the word for fairy) comes when the child is asleep and swaps the tooth for money. I then have to explain that the ‘tooth angel’ isn’t real, it’s just the mama who takes the tooth and leaves some money. Finally he nods and then suddenly he and his wife are laughing: ‘So, you lie to the child?!’. They think it’s insane and very funny.
Sadly the next thing I need made… is a Christmas stocking. Simple, right? A giant sock! But they think my drawings are hilarious and they want to know why it’s so big, what it’s for, and why I would only want one sock instead of a pair!
‘Well,’ I begin… ‘you know Father Christmas?’ They nod. ‘In England we have a tradition where children leave a big sock like this at the end of their bed, then when they go sleep…’ I am suddenly smiling as the similarity clicks in my head ‘the Christmas angel [I don’t know the word for Santa!] comes when the child is asleep and puts presents in the big sock.’ I then have to explain that the ‘Christmas angel’ isn’t real, it’s just the mama who leaves the presents. By this point they are both in stitches and I am laughing too… ‘So, we lie to the children’ I conclude between fits of giggles.
Neema, the wife, shakes her head ‘crazy mzungus’ she says, smiling at me. And suddenly I can see just how weird all this stuff must seem to someone who has absolutely no use for the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or counting down the days until he arrives. It is astonishing in some ways and so completely obvious at the same time. I am ashamed to some extent, but also lifted by their kindness and genuine interest.
What’s really impressive is that all three items arrive perfectly finished.
The Craft Fair was, once again, a fantastic day and a really great way of supporting local craftsmen. Thanks to everyone for being there and special thanks to Jaleen and Sue for all their hard work in helping to make it all happen.