Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Secret Life of Tee Shirts

AKA Where all unloved Tee Shirts end up!

It’s an understatement to say that life in Africa is different. Things just work differently. Don’t get me wrong. Lots of things are exactly the same…. It’s just different. For instance, let’s use shopping at the supermarket as an example. Each aisle has a worker in it, usually wearing a lab coat printed with the supermarkets name, and it is their job to keep that aisle stocked, clean and to provide customer assistance. So every time you enter a new aisle in the supermarket, you meet a new shop assistant – and they live up to the title – they assist you! Another example is Margaret at the fruit stall. She will sell me anything I want on her stand, one thing, multiple things, half a thing peeled nicely and in a plastic bag, or even fruit salad, and she will do it to order while I wait.
A little boy outside his family grocery store
 - not quite a supermarket!!

So sticking to the theme of shopping, the markets in Kawangware are pretty well insane. They are open everyday to varying degrees but Tuesday and Friday are market days. This is also the days that we go ‘marketing’ to promote FreMo to pregnant women. I’m really good at this because my whiteness is a beacon for attention, and I get it. Then I just leave my fellow Kenyans to actually do the talking! For my friends at work, just think Homeless Connect in the biggest possible way!

Every Tuesday and Friday the stall holders receive a new shipment of stock. It comes in great big bales that have things squashed into it much like wool is pressed into bales. To be there for the opening of the bales is something to see as all the treasures come tumbling out. It seems that the bales are all second hand clothing, and that most of it comes from the western world’s charity shops. There are all sorts of brand names to be discovered if you are willing to stand in the sun, flinging clothing around with gay abandon. Some of them still have the charity shops price tags on so you can see which country they come from. It seems to me, that Africa is the dumping ground for the charity shops who can’t sell all their stock. The clothing sellers are standing in the midst of it all calling out to would be customers, telling us that everything costs 50KSH. That’s about 62 cents AUD.

But let’s get back to tee shirts. I’m having the best time checking out the tee shirts. People are walking around wearing tee shirts that are completely, shall we say, inappropriate. The other midwives I walk around with are totally oblivious, and I think they think that I’m a little crazy. Well really, a grown woman giggling to herself in the open for no apparent reason?!?  I accosted Josephat, our pathology technician who was wearing this QR National tee shirt. This one comes from Queensland Rail when they were going public and selling off shares in the company. My partner works for QR so I thought this was a hoot.
Josephat sporting a QR National Tee

Walking around the slums I’ve seen a young gentleman squeezed into a tee shirt from the Springfield Baptist Preschool Choir. Is that Springfield in America or Australia – I’m not sure! Then there was the biggest guy wearing a purple Curves tee shirt. For those who don’t know, Curves is a women’s only gym in Australia. I don’t think he realises that! Then there was the woman wearing a tee shirt with a picture of a young girl on it. It was pink and had the script ‘For ever in our hearts’ with her name and breast cancer awareness ribbons printed on it. Actually quite bazaar when you think about it. It's no wonder some of these tee shirts end up at the opportunity shops.

So the uniform at FreMo is pink tee shirts for the girls and blue for the boys with a teddy bear on the left breast sitting next to children’s building blocks with ABC written on it. I asked where they came from and was told that they chose the design because of the babies and they get them from a lady they know. I thought they looked familiar but when a new member of staff received theirs; they left the tag hanging around. The tag reads ‘Corporate uniform of ABC Learning Centres, Australia’. And now we know what happens to unused uniforms of companies that go bankrupt. I hope he had to give them away and that someone here is making a living from selling them.
Boaz being cool and smiling!!!

There are also multiple sports club tee shirts to be seen, many many many tourist locality tee shirts, so many in fact that I seriously wonder why any of us buy those tee shirts from places we visit? Do we ever wear those tee shirts before we give them away? They seemed like a good idea at the time! And then there are the university tee shirts usually from America. Today I saw St Helens College, University of Minnesota, as well as others.

I’ll keep walking around, checking on peoples chests as now it's getting cooler, the sweatshirts are appearing and guess what? The same principles apply! And I’ll continue to scheme ways to recycle more shirts! BTW, not many photos in today’s blog as it is a tiny bit conspicuous carrying around a gigantic camera in a slum!

And a little PS for those keeping track. Here is a photo of the latest of my quilting efforts. The blocks haven't been sewn together yet, just spread out to see how they look. And I've just started on the purple round. Watch this space!


  1. Now I know what to do with the overflowing bag of shirts from Peter's work! logo and all!
    Loving your stories and glad to see the quilt coming along nicely

  2. Lol, love the shirts. I think I'd have a giggle too at the irony of some of them. Glad to hear you're enjoying your time so far.