I tuck the tripod between my legs and try to squeeze into the back row of a Dalla Dalla, as we start our journey to Sidai Designs near the City Center of Arusha. We are going to meet the founders and workers of the fair trade project. The traffic is still ok at this time of the day. The ticket guy of the mini bus whistles and calls for any possible client along the road who might want to join the ride. Doesn’t matter the vehicle is packed already. I shrink into my seat and enjoy the authentic journey.
Arusha is a city in the North of Tanzania. When there are no clouds one can see Mount Meru on the horizon. Tanzania is home for more than 120 distinct ethnic groups. The Maasai are for sure the most well known in and abroad of Tanzania, because of their significant and colourful traditional dresses with lots of beaded jewellery, stretched earlobes and the amazing hairdos of their warriors. Today the Maasai usually live a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the scrublands of North Tanzania and South Kenia. But it is also very usual to pass by a Maasai warrior in the middle of a city.
Sidai Designs is located on a peaceful property off the main road. As soon as we reach the gate, we find ourselves in a green garden with flowers and trees that provide some shadow against the white sun. There are three buildings that host the office, the shop and the workshops for the permanent beadwork staff. Eszter, the founder of Sidai Designs is welcoming us. Her colleague Rebecca shows us around and explains everything.
We meet the ladies who work permanently at the workshop. They come every day and use the local facilities.
Besides them, Sidai provides work for women who only come into town once a week to deliver their products and to pick up new orders and materials. Often they sit together to finish the last stitches. Those women live in their villages with their families. The fair salaries allow them to pay for basic needs, medical expenses and also education for their children. By making use of their heritage and unique beading skills, these women found a safe income and are empowered to live a rather self-determined live.
I am overly happy because there is enough time to hang out with the Maasai Ladies. Let me introduce two of them to you:
This is Naserian. She is 44 years old and lives with her husband and co-wives in the Ngorongoro Highlands. Naserian is one of Sidai’s leather experts. Besides being a beads embroiderer she is also a farmer.
One of the Maasai especially catches my attention. Her name is Naibor, which means white. Married at the age of 20 she is a mother to three children. Her husband passed away two years ago. As a widow she now makes and income with beading. She is wearing the ear jewellery the traditional way through her stretched earlobes.
After a beautiful day we return home. Sunburned Mzungus (white people), the pockets full of new experiences and the hearts full of curiosity. Thanks to all Sidai People for your warm welcome and showing us around!
Text and photos by Ute Klein.