The second life of things in Kenya

I always hated shopping - mostly because what we buy in our standardised, commodified, commercialised, neoliberal market is often below my expectation. In the West, we end up filling our houses with objects of doubtful quality which either we want for a cheap price - accepting to fuel black economy or indecent working conditions in low-income countries - or we are up for paying a huge (and senseless) amount of money for the status symbol they represent. Especially, almost nothing in the West is "original", nothing is a singular, authentic piece. To own something that is only yours, something that no one else has is ever more difficult, especially with the decays of artisans and handcraft skills, almost completely replaced by line production. Also, our way of purchasing is often a "fast shopping", where we buy pushed by the emotional thrill that shopping fuels: we often buy things that dont suit us, that we dont really need, that just looked cool - things that, ultimately, we dont really like. And then, we throw them away. That's it.

This is particularly true in Italy, where we are just too fashionable and trendy to wear second hand clothes or to recycle is  bit better in the UK, where second-hand shops often support charities and foundations 

I always thought this consumistic disposal of things was economically, environmentally and ethically bad. But actually no: people, please continue to throw away your things. Continue to dispose, possibly through charities or organised collections.

What you throw away will have a second life in a "developing " country like Kenya.

In these months here I have been impressed of how much stuff people are selling: clothes, piece of fabric, shoes, technological items. They place them in big wooden planks often on the ground and people come to search for their bargains for few pence among that mess. All of this come from Europe or US in big batches of apparently dead things. In Kenya, they arrive at the port of Mombasa and they are distributed all over the country.

The retailers buy them in batches and are able to give new life to the most destroyed Convers All Star; to the most worn out Woolrich jacket. They clean them so well, they make them shine. 

Especially in Langas, everything that people buy is second hand. Everything. And luckily there is a second hand market otherwise "people would go around naked" as a friend told me. The second-hand market fill the need of cheap items for populations that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford even basic wears.

I think it also serves a wider purpose of recycling and anticonsumism, where things, instead of been just left to dematerialise in a corner, get a new life. Everything becomes more sustainable. Second hands allow to reduce the environmental impact of producing new clothes for all the planet.

I am amazed by the way in which our things get a new life here. Similarly, I am amazed by the beauty of local products such as the traditional african dresses and other items forged by the sapient hands of skilled artisans. You go to the tailor and you can make a dress with the fabric you want, with the style you like. A unique piece. Only yours. Something that in the West would be unaffordable and just for rich people.

I dont want to romanticize. The fact that Kenyan people basically dress up with our waste is somehow sad. The fact that they call their dears with broken phones is equally sad.

It speaks for the traditional inequalities which divide the Global North and the Global South. It speaks for issues of debts, corrupted geopolitics, exploitation and colonialism. 

But ultimately, finding clothes from Italy, mainly sport tshirts o jumper with the name of some churchess, makes me wondering the story of that object and I find fascinating to hypothesise how that thing reached my Kenyan slum. Where did its trip started. Who was the first owner. Why did he throw it away. 

But whatever the path is, the most important thing is that it contributes to an action of boycotting. Boycotting capitalism!


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