Search This Blog

Saturday, August 29, 2009

African Hammocks by Mr Gurupira

Mr Gurupira & His Wife Above

I met this talented man in Zimbabwe at the Borrowdale Shopping Mall where he was selling his hammocks at the popular Sunday flea market. He is a teacher by profession and makes hammocks to supplement his income. His hammocks are 100% handmade using Zimbabwean cotton rope and fallen branches from hardwood trees. He uses a single rope for each hammock.

Mr Gurupira Stands Outside His Home (above) and Chats to us

in his Kitchen (below)

Mr Gurupira is looking for customers, so let us know what you think of his product. He lives over an hour away from the city where his wife is a nurse at a clinic in an area named Darwendale. We drove to visit him one afternoon so see him at work. Unfortunately it was wet and rainy that day so we had to cut the visit short, but he & his wife unravelled one piece he was working on for us to see as seen in the photos above. Below are some brief videos we shot while we were there:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Zimbabwe: Superwoman Found

This blog was posted by Nicole Johnston Oxfam's Regional Media and Communications Officer for Southern Africa:

Women Baking Bread
For women in rural Zimbabwe, unceasing toil is no guarantee that their children will eat tomorrow. Nicole Johnston interviews these incredibly hard-working and resourceful women.

Florence Manzu speaks at a women's meeting in Gutu [All photo credits: Nicole Johnston]At a tiny village in Gutu, Zimbabwe, Florence Manzu (21) questions why she works all day but has nothing to show for her efforts. “I am a hard worker. I get up and plough the fields and I work all day. All I need is fairness. I want to buy seeds at a fair price and I want to sell my goods at a fair price.”
Instead, Florence faces the problem many poor people experience: the less money you have, the more expensive services are. The nearest bus stop is a 16km walk, and bus fare to the small town of Gutu costs $US5 each way. But shops in the village charge way over the odds for basic necessities, in a country where prices are already high. “A bar of laundry soap costs US$2.50 here, but in town it is 80c…But what can I do? I don’t have $10 to get to town.”
As we speak, a crowd of women gathers round, all keen to make their voices heard.
“We have no water to drink. We can walk 20 kms looking for water, and it is a job for women.”
“We have no toilets so we are very much afraid of cholera.”
“The clinics have no water or medicine and sometimes no qualified staff. They tell us to bring candles but how can we?”
“Schools are deteriorating but we have to pay more.”
“There is no market where we can sell our goods, so we have to barter on unfavourable terms.”

Women turn their problems into song in Gutu A lack of access to hard currency after the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar and adoption of the US dollar has meant that most people in the rural areas are forced to barter precious livestock and their meagre harvests to pay for basic fees and services.
Children are expected to pay up to $10 each per month to their teachers, and parents tell of endless demands from teachers, from money for food to bus fare. Some parents sell their livestock to raise the cash. Parents will starve themselves to ensure children go to school.
At the next village we met Emilia and Eustina Nyamandi, waiting for their turn at the grinding mill. Eustina (26) is a subsistence farmer who grows maize, pearl millet and peanuts. But a third of her maize harvest will go to the owner of the mill.
“The food from the last harvest will last until about September, then we will have to buy food or barter our goats and chickens,” explains Eustina. “Sometimes you don’t get much…Last year I had to sell everything.” Eustina painstakingly rebuilt her livestock, but will probably have to sell it all by the end of the year once the “hungry season” hits.
“The rain is getting less and less each year. If we have two bad seasons in a row, it will be too difficult for us to live.”
Emilia and Eustina’s families survived last year because the grain marketing board sold them maize at a reduced price and they received food aid from NGOs. But neither woman is expecting a handout. “We need projects, like sewing affordable school uniforms or knitting jerseys,” says Emilia. “We need to earn money for our families.”
In the neighbouring district of Chirumanzu an innovative project run from the Saint Theresa’s mission aims to address many of these concerns. The mission hospital not only cares for orphans and vulnerable children, and offers voluntary counselling and testing, it also runs an outreach project for people living with HIV which provides home visits, psychosocial support and income generating schemes.

Sister Andrea gives her comments on a women's weaving project in ChirumanzuSister Andrea is deputy matron of the hospital and definitely the coolest nun I have ever met. She takes us to visit one of the women’s support groups, and as we arrive they burst into vigorous song and dance. Without missing a beat, Sister Andrea joins in. She then admires the baskets they have woven and gives advice on pricing, while explaining to me how the women extract fibre from sisal, and use tree bark to dye the sisal in various colours.
Sister Andrea explains that the biggest obstacle the women face is that they have nowhere to sell their products, and no way to get them to the big cities where buyers with ready cash might be found.
At the Takashinga support group in Chengwena, the women proudly display their baking project. Sister Andrea samples freshly baked buns and bread, served with delicious wild melon jam.

Women baking bread at the Takashinga support group in ChengwenaAs the women drum and dance joyously a woman beckons me over to a small fire. I am astounded to realise she is making shoe polish. The women dry pieces of black rubber and grind it into a fine powder, add paraffin and candle wax and cook it up before pouring it into old shoe polish tins.

The group plans to sell the bread and jam at schools “because it is hard for the children to get something to eat at break” and the shoe polish to people who can’t afford to buy it in town. Mary Ngoya (26) explains that even if they can’t shift all of their stock, “we sell to each other. It is cheaper than the shops.”

Sunday, May 31, 2009

How To Make Sadza Batik - A tutorial

Here are some simple instructions for the sadza batik technique. Let us know how your project goes:
A. History of Sadza BatikSo far we have been unable to find information on the evolution of sadza batik in Zimbabwe. Having lived in Zimbabwe all our lives, we venture to guess that this is a technique introduced to us by non-profit organizations set up to help women with income generating projects. The batik technique itself originated in Java, Indonesia and through globalization, it has metamorphasized into the sadza batik we know today. The designs though, are authentically Zimbabwean – from the geometric patterns of the Great Zimbabwe, to the animals found in our wildlife. Batik is also taught in schools with art classes as well as some vocational colleges.
The purpose of this tutorial is to introduce you to the way batiks are made by the women of Zimbabwe. We hope you will support their trade through

What is sadza?Sadza is the Shona language name for cooked cornmeal (also known as ground maize) that is the staple food in Zimbabwe. The most common grain used is white corn, although sometimes, yellow corn is also consumed. While corn is not indigenous to Zimbabwe is has become our daily staple like tofu to the Japanese, potatoes to the Irish, or rice to the Chinese. Our ancestors used to eat ground millet, sorghum and other nutritious grains instead of corn. Ironically, these indigenous grains are now being sold in organic food stores in developed countries because research has proved they are an excellent source of nutrients to the diet.

Sadza can be eaten in two forms:
a) As a porridge – cooked similarly to grits (see below)
b) As a soft dough which is rolled into a ball and eaten by hand with meat & vegetables.
Sadza batiks use sadza porridge to substitute expensive waxes.

The instructions for making the porridge are as follows:2 cups of water½ a cop of white cornmealCombine the ½ a cup of the cornmeal with ½ a cup of cold water in a pot. Boil the remaining water separately then add to the cornmeal mixture while stirring continuously.Add pot to stove at a medium heat temperature and continue to stir until mixture beings to thicken and simmer/boil. Cover pot with lid and allow to continue boiling until the porridge is cooked – about 10 minutes.

B. Sadza batik-making InstructionsMaterials needed:
- Plain cotton fabric of your desired size
- Sadza porridge (see cooking instructions)
- A simple design of your choice
- A selection of fabric paints
- Sipple brush (optional)
- Craft size paint brushes
- A bucket or basin

- Wash the cotton to remove any starch that might be on it. If you want your fabric to have a base color, dye it with your color choice and follow the instructions by your dye manufacturer.

- Let the fabric dry then iron it flat.
- Draw your creative design onto the fabric with a pencil. If this is your first time, use simple patterns to practice. You can always make your designs more complex as you get more experience.
- Decide which areas are going to remain white (or base colored) and apply warm porridge onto them like so:

- Make sure you apply a thick layer of the cornmeal to make it easier to remove once it has dried.

- Your fabric should now be quite heavy with all the different layers of sadza porridge on it. Allow it to dry completely. In Zimbabwe, due to the plentiful sunshine, the fabrics are left to dry naturally in the sun until they look wrinkly like this:

Next steps:
- Use a paintbrush to add your colors to the fabric – this should be added the area outside of the dry porridge. If you want a crackled effect with your chosen paint/dye color, simply paint over your desired cracked sadza area. Make sure the sadza remains adhered to the fabric & does not crack too much.
o Cover it in tin foil and put it in the oven (at the oven warmer level, which is the lowest level possible) for 15 to 20 minutes. The tin foil will protect the fabric and prevent it from catching fire. Do not leave the stove unattended for safety reasons.
o Use an iron to seal in the dye or paint. Since the sadza is still adhered at this point, put an unwanted sheet of cotton fabric between the iron and the batik prior to ironing. This will prevent the iron from burning the batik.

- This tutorial is limited to one paint layer per fabric sheet, however if you wish to add more colors, simply repeat steps three and four. i.e. allow the paint to dry completely; cover the painted are with more porridge; allow it to dry until it curls, paint on those areas when the fabric is dry then dye the next dark color. Black will be the last color to dye if it is included on the design. It’s very important that you leave the fabric in the dye long enough.
Lastly, remove all the sadza and iron the fabric once more to seal in the colors. You can then use your fabric to make wall hangings, bags, etc...

There are other kinds of batik techniques, but this is one of the simplest. We’d love to share your batiks on our blog, so please e-mail them to us at

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Heartwarming Story - Cleft Lip Miracles in Zimbabwe

I just came across an article about an organization named Operation Hope which is doing amazing things to restore the faces of children with cleft lip and other facial injuries. What suprised and pleased me most is that they were permitted to do their work in Zimbabwe, something we have not heard of in a long while.

According to Medline Plus cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that affect the upper lip and roof of the mouth. They happen when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth and upper lip don't join before birth. The problem can range from a small notch in the lip to a groove that runs into the roof of the mouth and nose. This can affect the way the child's face looks. It can also lead to problems with eating, talking and ear infections.

Read more about Operation of Hope here and see the astounding transformation of one young man named beloved whose face was blown off by a landmine he found in his backyard.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Zimbabwe you have never seen - Harare

Hi Readers!

I came across this video on Facebook. A friend of a friend made it and I want you to see it. As someone who has just returned from Zimbabwe I can attest to the fact that the winds of change are blowing. There is a new optimism in the air by all people from all political parties. We need international assistance to rebuild what has collapsed over the past 10 years, and as you can see from the video, we're still far ahead of many poor countries from an infrastructural perspective. This would all be lost if we didn't get the support of the international community at this crucial time. Below is what he wrote as an introduction, and I have attached the video at the end of the page. I'd love to hear your thoughts:

"This is the Zimbabwe you have never seen on BBC or ABC. The Zimbabwe that has been tainted (maybe rightfully so) for the last 10 years. But with a new Government the country emerges. It struts with a new swagger on the world stage. Adorned in it's full glory it rises from the ashes to retake it's rightful place as a democracy. With a new unity govt Zimbabwe already has: -3% inflation (down from 231million % just a month ago) projected 2% growth in the economy after 10 years of decline Food is fully stocked in shops. Fuel at less than 90cents per litre. Investment is now flowing once more. All this has been achieved in just 2 months of the unity govt. I'm sure BBC or ABC never told you this. Well here I have assembled the largest collection of high quality photo's of Harare (our capital) that I've seen on-line. Enjoy. and remember...ignorance is not bliss. By Nigel Mabandla "

Friday, April 10, 2009

Forget Me Not Forget Me Not Forget Me Not Forget Me Not

We spent our last weekend in Zimbabwe touring the Eastern Highlands and visiting family and friends. The scenery as always was spectacular and a much needed tonic for my nostalgia. I took photos of everything I could even though the car was racing at top speed. I wanted to capture every moment including the views, so that when I returned to America I would have something to remind me of home. I photographed images I would have taken for granted in the past such as vendors selling fruits and veggies at a bus stop, curving roads, the mountains, and people going about their business; and of course I continued to scout for artistic talent on the roadside, in small towns, and in the villages.
Approximately 150km away from Harare we drove past a display of toy tractors which I had seen in other parts of the country earlier in the week. I could see that this was the latest wave of crafts in the country. Typically in Zimbabwe once a certain type of craft catches on, others copy and soon the market becomes more or less flooded with the respective craft. All the same, the crafts are well made by amazingly talented individuals.

We stopped the car, reversed a few meters backwards and I hopped out, eager to meet the artist of these colorful toys. The artist turned out to be a young boy named Forget Munhuwepano, aged 17, but looks 14. I explained who I was and asked if I could interview him about his work. He agreed but was a little shy with his answers. I really had to prod him to get information, and this is what I learned:

As mentioned above, Forget is 17 years old and he dropped out of school in seventh grade. He did nothing with his life until about a year ago when his uncle began to teach him how to make these toy cars. He uses Jacaranda wood, used tyres, recycled rubber, wire, scrap metal and oil paint to build his toys. The wheels for example are circular wood shapes covered with a strip of recycled tyre. Each toy tractor sells for anywhere from $10 to $30. The tractors have long wire handles with a steering wheel to control it when it is moving.
He said business was OK although he finds he has to bargain a lot with his buyers who think his prices are too high. We encouraged him to put himself through school. The last time we checked public high schools in Zimbabwe cost $80 a term/semester, and if he could work it out, he could sell toys during school holidays/vacation and go to school during term time. I call his tractors "toys" but they would work well as an artistic display in a home or office setting. You'll notice that Forget has named his pieces after real brands like John Deere and Massey which is probably a violation of copyright laws. Unfortunately someone like Forget has no knowledge of this. Wouldn't it be great if these big companies would order them as marketing gimmicks with a social benefit, rather than threaten to take legal action (as I have seen against wire artisans who make wire Volkswagens)?
Unfortunately time was not on our side, so while we made assumptions that he would be able to put himself through school we really didn't get a chance to ask him about his personal circumstances, and he wasn't very forthcoming with information about himself. It was nice to talk to him anyway. We didn't purchase a toy but we did leave him a donation to purchase more materials like oil paint which he said was very expensive. I've learned the hard way - in the past I would buy at least 2 or 3 samples of artists products and ended up with too much inventory. Now I let my readers decide if the product is good - thumbs up or thumbs down? Let me know!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet Dexter Nyamainashe - A Truly Gifted Artist

Hi Everyone! Last week I was in Zimbabwe and as usual I was on the hunt for creative talent and innovation. On several occassions I drove past a man stationed in the parking lot of a shopping area in one of the northern suburbs of Harare. He sat behind a huge contraption which I couldn't figure out from a distance, so finallly after several days I decided to stop and say hello. What I found was a treasure trove of talent, skill, creativity and vision. Dexter Nyamainashe of Chiweshe, Zimbabwe is aged 41 and six years ago he started combining various art pieces he made to create what he describes as a "Global Village of Peace". He uses scrap material to make little figures, minature homes and scenes which come alive when he rotates a piece of wire behind the art piece. The minatures move, they cook, they wash laundry, they play, they smoke a joint, they look for cattle etc... The animals fly, they run, they eat and they kill. Confused?? Take a look at the pictures below. Dexter says the above represents Americans having a barbeque in the Summer

Below are the videos I promised in several parts


Above is a man thatching his hut in Zvimba, Zimbabwe
Dexter says he has had a difficult time promoting his art locally for the following reasons: a) The local city council has called his art nonsense and refused to give him a license to operate. He has been chased away and even arrested for "illegal" vending. b) Locals are spooked by his "Global Village". He says some people think it might be related to witchcraft so he has to explain to them by demonstrating how it works. c) He used to work with the local art gallery but their commission was too high leaving him with very little. d) He managed to gain the support of a local shop owner who tells the city council that Dexter is part of their own store display. This means he can display his work free of charge, avoid police harassment and avoid costly flea market charges. Dexter promotes peace because he is concerned about the direction the world is headed. He says God made us all so we have to learn to tolerate one another and work together for a more peaceful world. What a Guy!

Free Shipping

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meet David Kasama, Natural Jewellery Maker...

Necklace made from water seeds and hand painted bamboo
I met David Kasama at Silveiria House with my mother during my annual visit to Zimbabwe. He was sitting outside facing his friends, the Shona sculptors, sitting on a chair and a small table:

David prepares his products for the local market

From a distance it looked like he was working with a sewing machine, but it wasn't a sewing machine, it was a "bench grinder" which he explained is a tool used to sand/make his products:David shows his machinery

David is a natural jewellery maker. He finds seeds from indegenous trees and uses them to make his jewellery. He started jewellery making in 1980 when he was a member of a youth group managed by the Jesuit priests at Silveiria House. He says he tried many other jobs but he always returned to jewellery making which he enjoyed most of all. David uses necklaces and earings from bamboo, mopane wood (which is a hardwood), peach seeds and water seeds:

Necklace made of Bamboo and Peach seeds
He picks them after they have fallen to the ground naturally so as not to destroy the ecosystem in the environment around him:

Africa, and is more often used to make furniture and African curios, so I was suprised to see a 100% natural oil derived from this tree. As David showed me his jewellery equipment he explained that the machine was purchased for him by a visitor to Zimbabwe who lived in the United Kingdom. The visitor sent him catalog from the UK to choose the machine he needed to do his work, and he hasn't looked back since. I wondered if the benefactor knew what a difference his small gesture had made, for David lives with his wife, his mother and three of the children of his late brother. He is the breadwinner and I wondered how on earth he was managing to sustain everyone, especially after he told me about the volume of business he had lost since 2000.

Sample of "lucky bean" seeds (as we used nickname them ), which David uses to make necklaces.

I was impressed by the innovation he displayed. Due to the scarcity of hooks for his earings and necklaces, he purchases gold plated safety pins and uses his pliers to make the hooks he needs:

Gold plated safety pins he converts into earing or necklace hooks with pliers

He showed me a bottle of the Mukwa oil he uses to polish the seeds until they shine. The Mukwa is a species of indigenous trees native to southern

David shows his work in progressHe opened up a small photo album and showed us all the jewellery he had made for the USA market in the past, which he used to sell through local tourists and NGO employees from Germany, the Netherlands and USA:

David shows us his catalog

He then pointed the parking lot and told me how it used to always be full of cars. I followed his finger to an overgrown patch of land where I had parked my own car not even realizing that I had parked on the official parking lot. Since the decline of Zimbabwe's economy fewer tourists visit and small scale artisans like David are the ones being hit the hardest:

Empty parking lot on what should be a busy work week

It was quite sad to hear and again I felt terribly helpless. I told him I'd purchase a sample of his jewellery to test the market for him. I also purchased a necklace for myself & my Mom. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on his work, and if you'd like to see more just met me know. What so sad about this situation is that here is a low income entrepreneur, father to his deceased brother's 3 children, caretaker of his ageing mother and family man in his own right, trying to make a decent living honestly. The least we can do is provide a stepping stone for home to continue his work.

I'll be uploading David's jewllery to our new website when it is up and running early this year. In the meantime, take a look and add your comments good or bad and if you want to purchase any of it just let me know. I'd particularly like to hear design ideas I can take back to David to help him make his products more marketable overseas. I'll be visiting Zimbabwe again soon and I want to be able to give David some feedback on what the American market thinks of his work:


Friday, January 2, 2009

African Interior Design Idea For Sadza Batik

Happy New Year Everyone! Today I wanted to share a simple way for you to incorporate sadza batik into your African interior design. You'll notice I add the word "African" quite a bit in an effort to get more traffic to this blog, but even if you're not looking for "African" interior design ideas, the batiks add a unique self-defined flavor you will not find any place else. The photograph shows my own kitchen in Atlanta, GA which I decorated with a hand made pelmet covered in a bright orange fabric to warm up the room. A pelmet is a framework placed above a window, used to conceal curtain fixtures, used decoratively (to hide the curtain rod) - aka valance or cornice. I attached a strip of Sadza batik to the groove in the center then overlayed it with this shimmery tassle.

Please share your thoughts and let us know if you'd like to see more ideas for African interiors...