Reflections on souvenirs, wooden disks, and traffic

January 27, 2016

Yesterday I got up early to figure out some sketches for my conversation object. Able to look like anything, and be made out of anything, this object is meant to facilitate a conversation with someone—to give me access to a different kind of knowledge than would otherwise be possible. I did some hard thinking around ‘the craft market’ as a site. My sketching chased questions such as:  

What are the stories behind souvenirs?
Wy do craft vendors have the profession they do?
What kind of business choices are made by vendors?
What design values are embedded in souvenirs?
How does a vendor’s understanding of a souvenir compare to that of a buyer?
Why are souvenirs meaningful?
Whose authenticity is being sold?
How do the souvenir goods embody the social/cultural/economic dynamic between the vendor and buyer?
Does authenticity come from material, making process, location, buying experience, or something else?

After leaving the crit, P took A, A and me to a wood shop down the street. We each took turns explaining our projects to different carpenters there. I asked for ten wooden disks that will serve as pendants with words such as authentic/fake, handmade/massproduced, valuable/cheap, Ugandan/Kenyan. I’ll loop some cord through them and use them to ask vendors to categorize their goods. TBD what kind of cord or how the words will get on them. Especially, after having worked in the ACCD shop for our final project in the fall, this road-side shop looked rudimentary, but was obviously serving them well. I only saw a table saw, jig saw, and some drill drivers. And lots of scrap wood. It cost me 20k to have the disks made.

P took me out to lunch after at a place that advertised lunch buffet outside. In typical fashion, it took three hours. As I suspected, P explained that it was because Ugandan restaurants see a much lower flow of customers than an American restaurant does, and as such they don’t prepare food before hand. So when a burger is ordered it might mean grinding the meat, cutting the fries, and cooking…I guess…? At least things are fresh. Since I had missed the security talk because of my late arrival to the country, P gave me the safety and cultural spiel. Over our whole fish, we also talked about the perks of working in the tourism industry, weddings in Uganda and the US, rural/urban wedding rituals, education system.

P dropped me off at the National Theatre markets. Walked in a bunch of stalls with the goal of taking as many photos as possible of different items to begin to understand and create a typology of souvenir objects. I also tried to get photos of items with price stickers to compare prices of similar items in different types of stores. Was surprised vendors let me take photos. Only once did I get scolded for attempting to take one of paintings (a portrait of MLK). Otherwise, it seemed fine. In general, felt good to be on my own going at my own pace. Walked to Garden City and went back to the Cuban restaurant. Upon arriving at the food court I realized it was exactly one week ago that I was there and the waitress told me the owner is off on Tuesdays. It didn’t matter since she told me that he was off on holiday to the States anyway. One guy from a different restaurant recognized me since I had been in a week ago. The reason I went to Garden City was to visit Banana Boat store which sells similar handcraft gift items, but in a mall setting. They were closed early for the national holiday.

While at the mall I stopped by Uchumi super market. Relative to a week ago when I went to Nakumatt for the first time, this time was a little more comfortable since I now have a better handle on the value of currency. I knew that once I picked out apples, I was to go to the attendant so she could weigh and price them.

Took a taxi back. Feeling a little more confident in navigating the city now, geographically and temporally. It’s becoming more frequent that I can know where I am as I drive or walk around. Temporally, I have a better sense of how long it will take to get somewhere or when the best time is to go somewhere. The heaviness of Kampala traffic is unexpected!