Rising reasonably early, we gathered in the kitchen for coffee before embarking on our first foray into Nairobi and the arts ‘scene’. We were to visit Peter’s pottery, where Syowia and Kibe were helping him to host a pot-making workshop, organised by them and the gallery where Syowia’s current exhibition is living.
We drove out through the roller-coaster dirt track, giving our bones and particularly our spines a good old workout, through Ongata Rongai, into the outskirts of Nairobi. Our elevated position giving us our first view of the scale of some of the neighbourhoods, millions of people living cheek by jowl and the noises and aromas associated with close quarters.
We arrived at Peter’s place, a long, low, ramshackle shed, cobbled together out of spare parts, just about rain-proof, though mostly open to the elements. Inside it was dark, dusty, the clay having become part of the building itself, difficult to understand where the pottery and the pots it produced began and ended.
We set up for the workshop and waited, until a mutatu (minibus) arrived, bearing a dozen or so bright, young things, disgorging them, blinking inside. We gathered in a circle and talked to our neighbour, before introducing each other. They were mostly students and artists early on in their careers, and enthusiasm and energy came along with them into the room.
Peter then gave us a demonstration of the process, beginning with making the clay, from sifting the raw material, to kneading it into a gritty kind of dough, and preparing it, ready for transformation. He placed a large piece of clay onto a makeshift potter’s wheel, constructed from a car wheel hub, and expertly and efficiently began a masterclass in traditional pot-making. The audience were enraptured, and the room fell to silence as Peter deftly created a perfect pot in a few minutes, seemingly effortlessly, with his hands clearly having their own knowledge of the process and his eyes guiding them where necessary, before long the most beautiful pot emerged from the lump of clay that began the process.
The group then set to making their own pots, and non-pots, some creating objects at least somewhat resembling Peter’s creation, while others used their own imaginations to create other things that the clay may have suggested or that they felt the clay could be persuaded to help them build. Sandra began a pot, which was of course not perfect and soon Peter dived in to ‘help’ and between them managed to create something that was beautiful and could be left behind at Untethered Magic as something to remind them of our visit. We hope it survives the firing process.
Our journey home was eventful. As we drove through the busy, improvisational traffic, Syowia spotted a street vendor hawking chairs that she’d been seeking for some time. We gave chase, and eventually caught up with him. Negotiations ensued and we emptied his inventory for the day, loading 16 new chairs for the compound onto the back of the pick-up, creating a slightly precarious jigsaw of a load, which we all hoped would remain intact on the journey home (it did). The chair seller and family returned home happily, with their inventory empty they could call it a day.
We then had a mission to obtain a new phone for Syowia (her previous unit had kamikazed into Peter’s ‘interesting’ drop latrine), and sim cards for us visitors. We had to visit a mall to do so, which was a stark contrast to where we had just been. Soulless, air conditioned, with that ‘could be anywhere’ feel of malls all over the world. I was glad to complete our mission and leave.
We returned to the compound with our load intact and slid into a relaxing evening of food and chat, after our busy day. Sandra’s bag returned from its solo journey, refusing to divulge details of its adventures but nonetheless bearing gifts which were much appreciated.