Thursday, December 20, 2012

AfricaStyle: Wicker Wonders

Before I get on with this "AfricaStyle" post, I just want to note that I tried very, very hard to personalize my blogger template/design this week and it did not work grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. So the blog design is still boring and lifeless. I hope to work on this when I'm ready to re-approach the design system, which is not now.


I plan to write regular posts about local design styles found in Senegal and through my West African travels. I started this series talking about masks, now we're onto wicker. (Yes, the series name is kind of lame. I will try and come up with something more creative over time!)

So, wicker furniture is really accessible here in West Africa, as is bamboo (for another post). Its actually not common in typical Senegalese homes... I think it is mostly marketed towards expats. Why, is a mystery to me. The "typical" aesthetic in a Senegalese home is, in my opinion, tacky and ornate. The sought after design pieces for formal living rooms are often imported from China or the Middle East, shiny, plastic, and... ugly. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but the norm, or at least the "standard," is oversized leather furniture crammed into small rooms, fake flowers, and plastic wall hangings. I don't get it! People here have ahhhhhhhh-mazing style and amazing accessories. There is so much LOCALLY available for beautiful design aesthetic, and yet the "ideal" style is still the imported look. Actually, I read a post about this phenomenon elsewhere in the blogosphere, written by a Kenyan woman living in the UK. Number one on her list of favorites is "Design that draws from its environs and cultural context." AGREED!

Ok, enough bashing. I am sorry! I love you, West Africa, please forgive me. And now lets get back to wicker: the good, the possibilities, the not so good, and the ugly.

But first, the background. True story: my bed at home in the US is from Ikea, and its made out of wicker. I've had it since I was in middle school and I love it. The first time my boyfriend saw it on Skype, he was like "You have a Senegalese bed in America!" Yup, yup, I do. I also have a wicker chair from Ikea. Basically, I was made to move to West Africa as early as 7th grade.

An assortment of wicker furniture (all made locally in Senegal, except the bench on the bottom left) first found in my old apartment, now in My Finicky African Villa. Also, my first attempt at a "hip" blog collage. Success?

As seen above, the furniture in my last apartment was 85% wicker. The beds, the many shelves, vanities, etc. My roommate and I didn't "splurge" for a wicker living room set because we were too cheap, but our friends had one and I was jealous. Those friends had wicker everything and I liked it (desk, bookshelves, living room set). I mean, I guess they did have a dining table and some wood pieces to balance it out. I sold most of these "Wicker Wonders" to furnish the villa I don't actually live in (complicated.) so they're now dispersed through a much larger space and maybe slightly less overwhelming.

What do you all think of wicker? (You currently non-existant readers!) Personally, I think wicker has a natural, airy, and light feel that goes well with pretty much any color scheme. I don't like wicker too country though, but prefer it incorporated in a contemporary/modern/ethnic aesthetic.

The versatility of wicker: shelves used as kitchen storage. A potential fire hazard. Also, this apartment was pretty ghetto. Just sayin'
Some disadvantages to wicker: The con with wicker beds is that they can make a lot of noise if you roll over/move around (especially if the iron pieces are of poor quality). Also wicker shelves attract mosquitoes. Every. single. morning. I opened my wicker dresser, a swarm of mosquitoes flew out. We bought one of those electric mosquito-killing rackets and would experience deranged pleasure running the racket underneath the dresser to hear crackle-crackle-crackle-crackle-crackle (mosquito massacre). Fresh wicker also smells kind of pungent. None of our pieces were varnished.

Anyways, its been interesting to see how the wicker furniture varies between different West African countries. In Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire the wicker furniture looks much higher quality. It appears more tightly woven, varnished, and professional. Almost Ikea level. I wonder how the prices compare! I've made similar observations in Cameroon, where the wicker also looks far more professional. In Abidjan, I saw some really cool wicker lampshades, that look kind of like these:

But less intricate colors found here in Abidjan. 
What do you think? Yay or nay? I could some day buy (a smaller) one and bring it back to Senegal...

Wicker furniture in Douala, Cameroon. See the quality difference?
Well, disadvantages and potential poor quality aside, wicker will definitely be re-featured in our new apartment as its the cheapest furniture you can find here in West Africa. Wood, bamboo, and iron furniture is all more pricey. But the best thing about ALL of these furniture options is that you can custom-order everything to your own taste and style. I have lotssss of ideas brewing...

Wicker thoughts, wicker possibilities... what do you think of wicker?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Procrastination as Work

I am back in Senegal, and after two weeks of traveling essentially alone for my job, I had a lot of time to think about what I'm doing now and what I want to be doing longterm. There's something about doing work that makes you slightly uncomfortable and pushes you out of your comfort zone; it keeps me challenged and constantly evaluating what I want to do and how I see myself utilizing my more natural skills in the future. I'm grateful that I will never grow complacent in this position! (I can't; it makes me too uneasy!)

At a technical demonstration in RCI... a fun part of my job! And no, this wasn't really a candid picture ;)

Please bear with me as I analyze my job and potential future career. This post is a bit of stream of consciousness--and a long one at that, but its helpful for me to write about it and work through my strengths and weaknesses to gain a better idea of what I'm drawn to professionally.

First I read this quote from Ben Silbermann, founder of Pinterest, and it got me thinking: 
"The work you do while you’re procrastinating is probably the work you should be doing." 

Well, that means I should be considering these as options for making a living:
  • Pinning interior designs I covet
  • Planning design/craft projects I never follow through on
  • Watching TV (yikes!)
  • Reading blogs about other peoples' lives, especially lives that are intriguing to me because they are so different from my own (...stalking?)
  • Blogging about travel/design/culture
  • Organizing and planning for upcoming trips
  • Making To Do lists I never complete

Sometimes, I procrastinate aspects of work I don't want to do (calling people, face to face meetings, writing reports) with aspects of work I don't mind so much. That list would include:
  • Creating new excel sheets to organize information/data, especially to calculate different potential outcomes
  • Spending hours tweaking excel sheets/databases so they are p.e.r.f.e.c.t. and aesthetically pleasing
  • Researching different topics and organizing the information I find in said excel sheets
  • Translating documents (I do not enjoy this, but it is brainless)

These lists were fun to make because they do point to certain things I really enjoy: organizing and planning via excel and other electronic means (hello, google docs/drive!), whether it be for pleasure or work. This is kind of surprising because I didn't think of organizing data as one of my main callings, but come to think of it- I do gain sick pleasure from sorting information! 

But, I have other strengths and interests that don't really figure on these lists, including writing (just not dry reports) and human contact that is more akin to therapy/helping people than business interaction. My current job is very sales-driven, and this consistently puts me out of my comfort zone, which I do believe is a good thing for me right now! But I always find myself feeling "bad" for business partners we can't really work with, or just generally forming emotional connections with our clients, rather than viewing things from the pragmatic viewpoint that most successful business people rely on. 

I don't think a pragmatic or logics-based approach is bad at all, but it does not come naturally to me. I enjoy reading Penelope Trunk's career blog and it led me to take the Jung and Briggs Myers personality test. I fall under the INFP, or "Idealist" category, and I found some of the following quotes very applicable to me. In particular I have a "distinctive" preference of Feeling over Thinking (haha)--but it explains why the business approach is not so well suited for me!
  • The INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place (I'm not the next Mother Theresa, but this is still true to an extent)
  • INFPs are good listeners and put people at ease.
  • INFPs do not like conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. If they must face it, they will always approach it from the perspective of their feelings... INFPs make very good mediators, and are typically good at solving other people's conflicts... (Very true for me)
  • INFPs do not like to deal with hard facts and logic. Their focus on their feelings and the Human Condition makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment. (To a degree...)
  • They may be awkard and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally (insert deathly fear of spontaneous or unscripted public speaking), but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they're feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service professions, such as counselling or teaching. They are at their best in situations where they're working towards the public good, and in which they don't need to use hard logic. (In a nutshell.)
Like I said, I think its a valuable lesson for me to be forced to be more upfront, pragmatic, in a position of leadership. But, deep down, I don't think these business interactions really play on my strengths. I want my next job, or the next degree I choose to pursue, to build a specific skill-set that is more people-oriented and focused on agency building. I want this skill set I develop to be working towards helping people, rather than marketing a product/service. I don't think I can ever by passionate about a product, no matter how life changing it is. I think I would be a good counselor, but I would also enjoy a job that includes writing, research, and organizing data. And I would like to make some money, while also finding my job fulfilling. So what is something that would encompass all of these goals and skills? Help me out people!

And it goes without saying I know my passions: Human Rights (especially for women, children, and refugees) and African Studies! Plus, design and travel :)

Career suggestions, anyone? Also, take the Jung and Briggs Myers personality test... its fun and informative!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Surprise! This isn't just a design blog!

Thoughts of late (still coming to you from Douala, Cameroon):

1. My hotel has these really cute bronze bells shaped like roosters. I kind of want one. However, I feel very awkward ringing the bell for service, but its the system here! There are no phones in the rooms so if I need something, I am supposed to ring the bell, and someone comes immediately running to my assistance. It feels so... colonial, so baronesque. The bell rests on a wicker table outside my door on the veranda. So when I must do the deed, I sneak outside, make sure no one is looking, ring the bell quickly, and scamper back in my room to sit innocently and wait for someone to come knock. Somehow it makes it feel less weird. Kind of.

Its cute though, right?!
2. Malaria has done a number on my stomach. Nothing gross, I’m just slightly nauseous all the time, and sometimes I find myself cough/gagging out of nowhere (sorry, tmi). I still get hungry, but then about 20 bites earlier than usual, I look longingly at my plate of half untouched food with absolutely no desire or ability to eat any more. Its amazing and mind boggling, all at the same time. I’m part sad at not enjoying one of my greatest pleasures in life—the delicacy of delicious food, and I’m part delighted that I’m dieting without having to torture myself. And no apologies, because it really wouldn’t hurt me to lose a few lbs in preparation for the holidays ;)

3. Through my travels and experience in Africa and elsewhere, I am often reminded at how lucky I feel to have been born in my country and culture, afforded the many rights I have as a woman and world citizen. Truth be told, I lean towards cultural relativism on many issues, and even more so as I’ve lived abroad (ie. I may not be religious but I totally get religion and religious motivations in certain contexts; I may not agree with X practice, but I find it valuable to truly understand the roots of said practice with as little judgment as possible before standing on any soap box.) 

That being said, I am passionate about human rights which I believe transcend all cultures, and as one of my idols famously stated, “...[H]uman rights are women's rights - and women's rights are human rights." Damn straight. I will climb on any soap box to chant that chorus. 

Anyways, I ate lunch with a lovely Cameroonian woman who is about my age today and we were talking about how it is almost unheard of for women here to live alone, particularly young women.  Even if they must relocate to a different city for a job, these women will likely be labeled as “frivolous” (read: sluts). 

Men on the other hand? Graduate high school, off you go. Ugh, it makes my blood boil! I found myself saying “Wow, I could never make it as an African woman, I would have revolted!” 

First of all, I sincerely hope this comment was not considered horrendously rude/offensive. I don’t think it was as we were “commiserating” on this inequality (except, really, what do I know of such things?). But still, I could have chosen better words. 

And then it had me thinking – would I really revolt in such a context? (Maybe- I do recall throwing some pretty strong tantrums when only the girls were made to clear the table after lunch and dinner in France. How dare they!?) But honestly, these very real societal pressures weigh on women all over the world and yet it was so easy for those words to slip out of my mouth, having been born in a culture where no one (in my community) bats an eye at an 18 year old woman with the freedom to leave the family home, or the supervision of a man. 

And then I cannot help but think to myself, I am so lucky. I will always have my Western crutch to lean on, no matter what country or continent I live on. I am able to evade these rules without so much judgment because I am other and thus subject to a different standard (though the slut label is automatic for Americans--music and movies have done us in!).

Well, food for thought. I could really go on and on when it comes to this topic (and my perception of women challenging societal pressures in so many inspiring ways, or the many disclaimers on how effed up my own culture is in many ways). But alas! Back to my ndolé and fried plantains for now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Textile Heaven, and Douala

Greetings from Douala, Cameroon!

Remember when I posted pictures of new fabrics I bought a few days ago? I bought more! This time I was very focused on buying fabrics with teal and other shades of blue. Actually, it was quite comical how I purchased them. My flight from Abidjan to Douala had a layover in Lomé, Togo... a country known for its fabrics. (Although honestly, you can find fabrics from all these West African countries at the markets, but maybe the prices vary.) I walked off the plane with my fellow transit passengers, and everyone literally descended on these fabric vendors inside the airport. There were probably 30 people, men and women alike, eager to buy fabrics for their families, for themselves, as gifts. I loved how the men were so into it! I couldn't really get close enough to make a proper choice (and it takes me time to choose, unlike some local people who point and choose in a matter of seconds!), so I waited until the stand cleared out and bought three new fabrics that feature blue/teal. Exciting!

Again, I don't know if the colors in these pictures do the textiles justice, but I did my very best.

The fabric on the left was printed in Holland and I got it on sale. Its unlike anything I've purchased before -- I think it is a print more popular in Ghana (kente?). I'm really excited for the variety. The blue fabric to the right came with it and matches the small blue patches.

The third fabric from the left was a bit of an impulse buy because the pattern is quite bold and... extraterrestrial ? But I love it! And that lighter blue is actually a lot greener in person. I think it will add a really fun pop to my assortment of pillows. And the last fabric is Woodin (a Ghanian/Pan african brand), like the light pink fabric I bought in RCI. I like the teal and natural tone combination and I think it will be a nice calmer fabric to balance out the collection.

Here they all are together!

Alllll of the fabrics....

Remember this? How did I do? 

... And my favorite fabrics.

Now I think I need one more coral fabric. Or better yet, a coral and teal fabric. My plan is to go for a Malian batik fabric. These fabrics are thin, papery, almost translucent and dyed beautifully. It is a different aesthetic and will be fun to add to the mix!

On a different note, I'm staying in a beautiful guest house here in Douala. I cannot believe I am in what I thought was an industrial hell-hole of a city! I ate breakfast on the veranda outside my room this morning:

Not too shabby... 

But lets not forget, it is swelteringly humid!

The river to the right. The columns give it a colonial feel.

I am going to try and do some work now, although it would be very easy to spend all Sunday lounging about, envisioning my new design scheme! (And watching French E! which is comical/annoying because it dubs over the English and I find myself listening to both languages and ending up very confused!)

PS. What should I buy at the tourist market?!? (See previous post :)

AfricaStyle: Wall of Masks (?)

Masks - yay or nay?

I kind of think the masks you see around these parts (... in Africa) are creepy and generally look contrived. Really, I have no idea how to buy a mask because at the market they all look like old pieces of wood (if they're antique), legitimately frightening, or like tourist crap (as if they were recreated for your "viewing pleasure"). However, I like them in museums and I often think they look awesome in people's homes, when styled properly. I particularly like these walls devoted to masks, and I'm inspired to start my own with masks from the countries I visit.

Girly and ethnic. Genius.
I especially love how this wall includes a mask from Venice, and Elmos's head. Tongue-in-cheek... love it.
Dream guesthouse in Morocco, with pieces from all over the world, including Africa.
But, I'm still not naturally drawn to masks. I much prefer decorative plates, but they aren't so much a thing here in Africa. Or baskets! Maybe I'll do a basket wall; I was planning on this anyways, but not as a collection from different countries. The thing is, at least in West Africa, the baskets pretty much look the same. Another post on baskets another time!

Despite my slight aversion to masks, I think a collection would be something to appreciate down the road when I'm settled in my Western home and I miss the days of living abroad in Africa (when that day comes!)--something to pass down as a family heirloom. I just need to get the hang of picking out the authentic (anthro book, maybe?) and stylish masks I come across at the market, rather than feeling overwhelmed by so much... wood.

Here are some masks and figurines I photographed at a market in Cameroon on my first trip in August. I couldn't make up my mind and I walked away with nothing. Which would you have chosen?

At first I thought these were nice; then I noticed the boobs. Then I thought they were touristy. Then I had no idea if they were good taste or not so I gave up on them. My artist friend later confirmed they're crap. Its so hard to tell!
I really like this bronze figurine.
Eh. Kind of intense for my taste, though I like that it is beaded...
These fell into the "contrived" category for me.
Strangely, I like these creepy guys. I think I'm going to need one one of these days. But it also kind of looks like garbage. Sigh.
They're just too caricature-esque for me.
Again, I'm drawn to the nails!
Bronze faces. Their eyes scare me.
Maybe the white one would look amazing in someone's home. I couldn't tell, but the nose looked really big.
Cat heads. Original.
Please, I would love to know if you have a hard time deciding which of these you like also! Which are you drawn to? I didn't include several metal pieces I liked, so I think that might be more my style... but harder to mount on the wall. Hum.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Design and life updates from West Africa


I'm still alive. (Actually I had malaria two weeks ago and had to be hospitalized for 3 days so this is not just a manner of speaking! But I'm fine now :) How do people have full-time jobs and blog regularly? I would like to know the secret to this! Maybe the key is just building it into my daily routine... or using it to procrastinate! Considering I work from home with no supervision, that could actually become dangerous.

Well, anyways, I clearly haven't struck the balance. Here I lie on my bed in my hotel room in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. I bought some fabric for decorating today and I wanted to share! But, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to take a good picture of textiles, particularly textiles with red or orange in them. The pictures never look like the actual fabric! I tried many angles, I tried flash, I tried no flash, I tried putting them in natural light. No luck.

But, here are the results none the less...
See, in reality these fabrics are no where near this shade of orange. The one on the left is really coral and red. The fabric in the middle is light pink with gold lines (love it... and want to do bold piping). I got duped with the fabric on the right... the vendor insisted it was from Ghana. Nope. Its from China. Such is life. At least it looks African (and feels like cardboard). Ok, honestly I'm second guessing its angular lines, but it will definitely find some use somewhere!
I might split the fabric on the left with my friend - I only hesitate because I have similar patterns at home! But this shows me my new patterns will look good with the more typical African fabrics I already have. Blue is seriously lacking though, especially teal. Need to work on that, stat. I am already imagining the piping options for these awesome pillows. Can.not.wait.
Teal is missing from the equation...
As discussed in a previous post, I really like coral. I also really like teal. And jewel tones. I think these fabrics are a good start! I definitely need a simple fabric that is primarily teal. I saw some today, paired with poopy brown. I can't bring myself to embrace brown yet, so I withheld. I also have a lot more fabric at home that I've been collecting for awhile now, and some clothes I had made and never wear... so I hope to eventually repurpose them as cushions for my imaginary sectional couch in my imaginary apartment.

Some other fabrics I have to work with... and there are even more than these!
Inspiring living space from here.
This is kind of what I have in mind for the imaginary couch... but imagine it covered with (classy) African fabric pillows, and some big neutral cushions thrown in for balance. Especially lighter colors/whites. We'll see if and when it happens. I think a pallet couch would be cheap and easy for a temporary place to live, but then we need to actually DO IT. Don't want wheels on mine, but love the white paint.

My "About" tab is kind of lie these days. I don't really live in my "Finicky African Villa." Its really finicky and I've kind of developed a hatred for it, and lost all desire to redesign. For now (until I convince my boss we need to find a new location!), it will definitely remain my daily office. But, in reality, I've been bouncing between the villa some nights and my friend's spacious and beautifully decorated apartment other nights (with C. in tow, of course!). The rest of my time is spent travelling around West Africa for work, and back to the US for conferences now and again. Truly, the past 4 months have been a whirlwind, and I have hardly had any time to make anywhere feel like home. I am missing my roots. Maybe one of these days I will get around to finding my own place (or hijacking the design of an apartment for C./us!), we shall see...

PS. I'm going back to Morocco in February with C. and my mom, and I literally cannot wait for the decor shopping. I heart Moroccan design so, soooooo muchhhhh!!!

Africa meets Morocco. I die.
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