COLE IN NAIROBI

"So I was in the Netherlands, and finishing up my social design Master's there.

 

I had planned to come to Nairobi to implement my design thesis project, which was to make a perfume company in one of the informal settlements in Mathare and work with some alcohol producers to produce essential oils.

When my friends started to go back home, I thought ‘Which home? Is it in the Netherlands? Or do I go back to Canada?’

I think for so many people, it's quite easy. They know where they’ve got to be.

 

And then there’s the frustration of not knowing what to do or where to be.

 

Do I listen to the Canadian government? Do I listen to the Kenyan, do I listen to the Dutch? Who's my authority? Who do I bow down to and say 'Okay, take me away and look after me, state.' Each country is doing a completely different method of control, all these forms of dealing with this pandemic are so relative."

"In the shops you can find all the imported perfume from Dubai and France and everyone's putting on the fanciest things.

Some of them are 10,000 shillings per bottle, but people are happy to spend the money!

 

So I thought 'What if we do a locally sourced, fancy perfume so we can all feel special?'"

"I had been trying to get roses for the perfume business and everyone was like 'No, we don't give people roses for free'.

 

The week after, 70% of all exports are not going out of the country anymore. And they're just throwing the roses on the ground for goats to eat or to compost. Oh, the irony of just a week."

"Initially people thought it was going to be over in a month. But it's looking like this might be a year or two years.

 

Maybe things will be okay in a year, but things will not go back to the way they were and people are already expecting a lower demand and a lower production than they were before. Also all forms of gatherings will probably be limited for quite a while, and that's mainly where roses are going.

 

So we're just thinking how we can still preserve their fields. This is just a way of making some lemonade out of Coronavirus."

“I'd come to Kenya and pretty much within two days the Netherlands had closed. The day I arrived in Kenya they closed the border, and all flights were cancelled. So I just made the cut by about a day.

 

Suddenly everyone started leaving, all the expats, everyone started going. I stayed because I thought: I have to finish this part of the design project."

"For my project I wanted to work with some distillers but instead of making Chunga, an illegal alcohol that employs a lot of people here, create some essential oils and then work on a perfume line from Mathare."

"The flower industry is a global industry, worth I don't know how many hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, that depends on things that have a 24 to 48 hour life expectancy.

 

You realise just how precarious some of these things were that we thought were so stable. Is it resistant to climate change? Is it resistant to a global pandemic? Can it withstand the unpredictability of everything?"

"But maybe this awakens a new revolution. I'm optimistic that it sparks this new way of relating to one another. It's like we're all afraid of each other, because potential carriers transmitters.

On the other side, it's like 'well, anyone's at risk, I could be the one giving it to them'. So there's this sort of consciousness of your situation within a grander, bigger picture.

 

And I think that gives people a sense of knowing their own risk, but then also the power they might have, in effecting change even just in their neighbourhoods."

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