Perched in the back of an open lorry, I watched the Kenyan countryside roll by - small towns alternating with wide open desert - all a continuous canvas of sandy brown. The high sun bathed my skin, the rhythmic sway over the dirt road ruts and craters cradled me as I returned from emerald green Lake Turkana, (then, in my twenties, a kind of Shangri-la accessible only by a week on the open road; now an hour away by private plane.)
In one village, on a dusty road passing through dusty buildings, I was struck by the sight of a particular woman walking on the side of the road. Her ketenge, or sarong, wrapped tightly around her hips; another of the same fabric held her baby to her breast, while another wrapped her head in a swirl upon which she balanced a large jug of water. And in that one silhouette, I gasped to see more riotous color than I had glimpsed for hours. Reds popping from a radiant yellow background, rich greens and blues also saturating the cotton, so that as the woman boldly swayed her hips, the colors rippled and roared in the sun.
It was then I realized that in some places, like this town in Kenya, women and their clothes ARE the art. Without billboards, paintings, signage, cars . . .without all of the usual color noise to which we're accustomed, women walked proud and, with the moving art of their bodies, lit the place up.
I remember this scene when, on the streets of New York, I pass a pack of black clothes walking. I think of it when new Zuri dresses from Kenya arrive at Ibu, their colors exploding out of the boxes like a shower of confetti. I think of how our clothes can sing, can light up a gray day, can zest up a bland mood like the lemon I squeezed on my bread soup last night.
In Kenya, Benedetta, Edwinah, and Pauline sew, fold, pack, and oversee the quality of such zest. In a healthy, safe, supportive environment, they produce not just fair wage clothing. They produce joy. Joy for themselves, for their families, and joy for those of us brave enough to slip on their brio and brilliance . . and become our own work of art.
Celebrating radiance ~
Susan Hull Walker