Friday, 20 February 2009

Fashion for Africa

I was drawn to reading an article from the BBC about the throwaway fashion culture we have in the UK and how it ends up dumped in landfill sites in Africa. This particular article was about Uganda but, extrapolating from my experience in Zambia, I suspect it is a continent-wide phenomenon.

There was a great second-hand clothes market in Lusaka. There high street names were available as good quality clothes for as little as a pound: better value than many charity shops here. This was an excellent way to clothe young children - still at an age where they wear through clothes at a rapid rate, yet not of an age where the fashion label matters.

For the wealthy ex-pat it was one thing: for the local, another. For them it was western fashion at affordable prices. The market was always busy, buzzing, full of clothes brought from overseas.

There was no affordable market for locally made clothes. Indeed, there was virtually no clothing industry in the country. Clothes were brought in from South Africa and material from India. There were several small companies, predominantly trading for the tourist or ex-pat market, such as Tribal Textiles or Cobbled Creations (go on - have a look - there is some beautiful stuff!) I only knew of one remaining textiles factory, and that appeared lifeless every time we drove past. It was reliant on overseas funding and there was perpetually talk of it shutting down. 

Yet Zambia grows cotton. On our travels we would pass the factory, the roads white with fluffy balls of harvested cotton that had escaped from the sacks during transport. There are many people willing to work, people willing to take on some of the most menial tasks to our western eyes. Whilst there would be a great initial investment in machinery, surely there would be payback with the low wages and cheap, local supply of raw material?

I was told the clothing industry died because of the charitable West. Our clothes, worn just a few times and then discarded, are given to charities who collate them together then ship them out to countries such as Zambia. Generously we give clothes we don't want to people who need them. It makes us feel good, justifies our extravagance and our desire for fashion. And surely this is great, as the starving poor cannot afford clothes and anything we give is better than nothing?

Maybe. But the harsh truth is that Zambians who had a thriving textile industry suddenly found that the local market weren't buying the locally made clothes: they could get them for free from international charities. The textile industry went into terminal decline, thousands of people losing their jobs and their family's welfare. As a result, more people wanted - needed - to get their clothes for free. And the charities happily ship in more of our unwanted goods. 

So is it worth it? Locals lose their livelihoods. The Developing World becomes more dependent upon the West for handouts. Nations stop being self-reliant. And, from the article I read, we are simply dumping our toxic waste in Africa rather than our own backyard. 

I believe we should think twice before buying clothes (do we really need them?) and aim to make-do, recycle and update our existing wardrobe before giving it away. Perhaps we would be better giving our clothing budget directly to charities working with people in the developing world, encouraging entrepreneurial businesses and micro-loans? Whatever we choose (and I do believe we should be wearing clothes!) we should remember that a little goes a long way.

PS: It appears that the Cobbled Creations site isn't working at present, but you can see a photo of some bedding in Kanyemba Lodge here and it was used in a televised Grand Designs house in France and even on our bed. (Not the same bedding you understand: we bought our own!)

photo copyright Gareth Bentley

Monday, 16 February 2009


Last week I signed up to Facebook.

Is this supposed to be easy? I am still unclear what I am supposed to do with it. My relief that my cousin agreed to be my friend was quite overwhelming. We share some blood and genes but little else on a daily basis, yet she was the only person I knew (a) was on facebook and (b) would probably be nice enough to say yes. It was an anxious 24 hours.

One friend. Doesn't look great and my husband refuses to waste his time by signing up as well. A bit of head-scratching makes me think of someone else. Turns out his wife is also on: I'm up to three already.

I go to a church full of students: surely they're on. That makes life quite easy, as I write to all of the ones I know the names of and then others whose photos I recognise. Our minister is allegedly signed up as well, although it is a dodgy photo. Thinking about it, he hasn't yet said he'll be my friend.

OK - so I've worked out how to ask people to be my friend (marginally less scary than actually talking to mums in the playground or someone in the queue at the cafe: real people are rarely avoid conversation altogether.) Now, what is this about my Wall? What do I do with it? How come I can send messages via a Wall, write on someone else's Wall and also send emails? What is the difference? What does it mean to poke someone? Why should anyone be interested that "Catharine is... wasting her time in front of the computer ... again..."?

It was in the midst of this that I read about Respect the blog. The blog, as an art, is being attacked. Yet at least it gives us a chance to write what we think and the space to expand (some might say waffle...) Unlike Facebook, twitter and the like, which rely on quick soundbites and instant information, the blog allows freedom of expression and the development of ideas across people, cultures and continents. And, delightfully, unlike newspapers it is free!

So now I must cross the Facebook 'friends' who haven't yet responded off my Christmas Card list, spend time updating this blog and find out how to tweet, and perhaps - just perhaps - I'll keep technically ahead of my eight-year-old for a week or two longer.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Just have to brag.

Hubbie truly excelled himself this year for Valentine's Day.

Firstly, he remembered (always a bonus, I feel).

Secondly, he packed the kids off to bed (well, my son. I had to deal with our daughter, who currently thinks Mum is the bees knees and has to do everything with her and her only.)

Then, he ran me a bath, played Mozart and Brahms (on a CD, you understand, rather than personally!) and lit the room with dozens of candles. After dressing for dinner I was served a three course banquet - including asparagus and a very rich chocolate tarte. With champagne (ok, some fizzy wine, but it was really nice). And a single red rose. I don't think I've ever had such romance piled on!

flowers - tick
champagne - tick
food - tick
candles - tick

All together a big tick for hubbie - thank you!!

Monday, 9 February 2009

A moving update

All our recent wanderings have been to Manchester.

I'm sure Manchester is a lovely city, but the endless driving round and round suburbia, hoping to come upon the house of our dreams is wearing very thin. The car hire company are amazed at how many miles we can do in two days.

So last week we left the children with friends overnight whilst we visited more houses and, a step towards certainty here, a school. The school was amazing: coming from the city here I was dumbfounded to be looking out past the headmaster at a field full of sheep. Now we are looking for houses within a specific catchment area. Or, clearly, the option to put a tent in the field with the sheep.

Working Mum and Her on the Hill have given good advice - thank you! Tragically, being a medic, my husband couldn't possibly live out in the Peaks as HotH suggests: emergency medicine requires us to be a lot closer to the hospital. It looks most likely that we will buy a house 'with potential' or, as the estate agent described it this morning, 'as a project'. Getting quite anxious about this too, but it may be the only way to satisfy my desires for a mansion (well, at least a spare bedroom) on our budget.

The bright side is that a night out with hubbie and without children was quite lovely. Had a meal out together (when did we last do that?) then retired to our B&B. This turned out to be an old lady's spare room in the attic and the 'double' room would traditionally be called a twin. It was like going back in time, seeing the dinner service of our parents or grandparents on her kitchen table. Having got over the quaintness of all this, we had a lovely time!

We're getting closer to a decision. Honest! Still, going down again this week with kids in tow (we have a three week half-term - blessing or curse?) to view a few more properties and possibly find an architect! I'm not sure I signed up for all this when I first thought about marriage and children!

Monday, 2 February 2009

A Knight Mayor

All credit to my father, for forwarding this to me. 

I have a spelling chequer;
It came with my pea see;
It plainly marques fore my revue
Miss steaks eye cannot sea.

I strike some quays and right a word,
Then weight four it two say
Weather I am wrong or rite;
It shows me strait away.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee four two late
An die can put the error write;
Its rarely, rarely grate.

I've run this poem threw it;
I'm shore yore please too no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh:
My chequer tolled me sew.


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