Trip to meet Samburu beaders


My second day on Lewa, we headed to the field to meet the Samburu women from the Sera and Kalama community conservancies, 2 of the 9 communities that do the bead work.  The drive was about two hours on a small two lane road that is the only road that goes north from here.  This was my first trip out of the Conservancy, so my eyes were glued out the window as we drove by the small towns, markets, herders and livestock, and children walking to school. 

We met the women under a large Acacia tree several Kilometers from the main road. It was not hard to spot them with their brightly colored beaded neck, head, and arm pieces. They were busy at work when we arrived, and as we pulled up they all stood up, joined a circle, and began singing and dancing in a way to welcome us.  The first song they sang was special for us, the NRT Trading crew, it translated roughly to "If we work hard, NRT blesses us" and was followed by more common ceremonial songs. They sang for a while after we joined them, and showed off their traditional dance which is bumping their chest beads up and down at the beat of the song. Occasionally two women would step forward to dance in a sort of dual or competition.  

The purpose of our trip out to visit the women was to talk about the new leather goods we are introducing to BeadWORKS collection.  The women were quite chatty this visit, and seemed very excited about working on these new, larger products.  I was able to introduce myself, talk about the different products, hand out prototypes and explain the expected quality of beadwork, and observe their very talented beading skills as they worked.  They are quick with their hands, and smart with their tools.  Many large quartz rocks scattered around under the tree that they would use to sharpen their knives and needles between each product.

The language barrier is difficult.  The official Kenyan language is Kiswahili. The Samburu women speak Maa which is different. As I spoke, Beatrice, the BeadWORKS Production Manager would translate to the women.  Sometimes I would look around as they laughed and chatted and want to know what they were really saying. At one point, Beatrice looked at me and said "they want to know how old you are and how long you've been doing this because you sound like you know so much but you look so young". I smiled, I was glad that here too I look like a pre-teen. 

I had mentioned before that one of the unique things about BeadWORKS is that the beads are handed out, and products collected which allows the women to be present in their community and carry on a nomadic lifestyle. At the end of the meeting, Beatrice collected all the finished goods, handed out beads, and assigned new projects.  After business had been taken care of, the women jointed together again to sing and dance to say goodbye.  One of the ladies danced towards me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to the center to dance with them.

We drove in two cars; a small pickup truck, and a land cruiser.  When the women had finished their farewell singing, they said something to Beatrice at which she nodded "yes" and they rushed towards the cars and piled in.  She had agreed to give them a lift on our way out, to the nearest little village. Joanna and I encouraged them to sing, which they gladly did the whole way.  When we dropped them off they gave me high 5's and said "thank you" which made me smile. As we drove off, I watched the vibrant colors of their jewelry and dress slowly dilute in the distance.

In just a few hours spent with the women, I could tell how much this opportunity means to them, and how much BeadWORKS has enhanced their lives. I look forward to seeing some of the ladies again next week. There will be 3 women from 3 different communities brought in to the office for workshops Tuesday and Wednesday. The rest of the week will be workshops with 5-8 of the workers from the office.


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