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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

West African Bead Market Day

It’s the Hobby Lobby of Nairobi! The shady West African bead and handicraft market!
My friend Megan told me about the place, though she had never been.   So, me, Megan and her friend Marianne decided to go together one weekend.  The plan was to meet up there, which wasn’t so easy.  This place was in the heart of downtown Nairobi – In a place very culturally distant from my Westlands bubble, a place where business is going on everywhere and traffic is chaotic with buses and overloaded trucks and cars and PEOPLE squeezing into every inch of space possible. I had a driver accompany me that day since driving downtown AND finding parking is mostly out of the question – Plus, there is no way I could find my way around there without hitting a pedestrian or ending up in Timbuktu (literally).  My driver wouldn’t even let me out of the car until my friends showed up since he was honestly worried about my safety down there. So this is all to say, this place was in an area of Nairobi that i don't frequent but for Hobby Lobby, I had to try.
The place has no sign – you just have to know to find the Safety Line Lodge – a hole in the wall joint – and then find the nearby stairway and just go up. The stairway is dark and leads to an open sort of courtyard where you see about 3-4 small rooms/shops. It's the type of place that I've been taught my whole life to avoid..you know the creepy, dark stairway leading to the shady hidden from the street rooms.
But it was so pretty great -  All the beads that make all the necklaces sold at the artisan markets were there! The recycled glass beads, the bone beads, the painted beads, every color and size imaginable..all sorts of beads could be bought by the strand.
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The shop owner was not happy about me taking photos so I could only take a few inconspicuously.  Imagine what you see in those photos, just covering 4 large walls. There were TONS of beads. And those cool beaded drums – those were around $60 though. The beads varied in cost – some were around $1 for the whole strand, some were like $20 or higher. I bought a few of the cheap strands of white bone and then some brass pendants – I’m no Tiffany and Co designer but I figured I’d take a stab at making something.  How can you really mess up a white strand of beads anyways???
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Besides beads they had some pretty cool West African textiles – There is a noticeable difference between east African and west African textiles – the West Africans are known for the stuff; so colorful and vibrant and interesting.  So I couldn’t resist getting a couple of pieces – No clue what I’m going to use them for – but I keep thinking that once I’m gone, I’m gone and maybe I’ll wish I bought more stuff.  Okay, that’s Doubtful since I own enough African materials, masks, art, jewelry to open my own shop at this point – but I figure that if I was living at home, biweekly stops at Costco, Target and CVS buying stuff I don't really need would cost me even more..so I’m justified.  Anyways, I’m thinking I’ll use them to make a wall hanging or headboard for a bed, or maybe table runner?? Or perhaps a nice toilet paper or tissue box cover…KIDDING. jeez.
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Here’s my final products on the jewelry:
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And this one below is something I want to make but I don’t quite know how to execute it. I don’t have any clasps or anything..I just have some elastic string that someone gave me. Hmm, I’ll have to make up an equation and come up with some logarithm cause it’s such rocket science. LAME.IMG-20120202-01677
Any ideas on what I can do with the cloth I bought? Lemme know!


  1. Hey Lenna, you could use the fabric to cover pillows, chair cushions, or even wrap small scraps around beads to make your own cloth beads! Just some ideas :) Miss you!!!

    Alicia V.

    1. Miss you! So bummed we didn't get to meet up when I was in DC - I ended up working a lot and family visiting and ran out of time. But I should be moving home soon enough! Love the chair cushion idea!!! uh what about an ottoman! yes!

    2. Yeah what a bummer! Oh, well - next time :) When are you coming back? I wish there was a place around here where I could find affordable african fabrics (I want to make table runners and stuff for the tables at my wedding :)


  2. One of the things I didn't do when I went to Ethiopia was buy beads. I'm so ready to stock up on some beautiful African beads when I go back next time. Love this blog post!

    1. oh I bet they have awesome stuff there! Come visit me in Kenya when you come this way ;-))

  3. love this post and the beads!

    fabric ideas: my friend has been making these scarves here and doubling up the fabric and putting buttons/holes on the end of the pieces so you can get the infinity scarf effect if you want or style it other ways. you can check out her website for inspiration
    http://www.suka-online.de/ Her business is helping these women in Vietnam, so that's pretty cool. Maybe an idea for the Africa?

    1. aw wiz! thank you for being my faithful reader! good idea on the scarves! really good idea! i have so much crazy material , i should experiment with that. I miss you!


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