03 January 2018

Art in Eastern Africa

Between the treats, cookbooks, and kitchen necessities, have you ever stopped to really examine what comprises Zuri’s Sweets Shop? The shop, tucked away in a corner of Harambe near the market dining stalls in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, caters to those looking for a unique desert, something in the shape of Disney’s famous mouse, or new spices or dishware to outfit their home kitchens with. It is a catch all of those wanting to cook and those wanting something to eat, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story of the store’s inhabitants. In fact, a single corner can tell you how proud they are of their livelihood, their community, and their heritage.

Nestled in a corner behind the counter guests can find a set of shelves that are replete with handicrafts, photos, and a small collection of books. Though tough to make out, on the upper shelf, behind a handcrafted doll and a framed photo, there is a wire bicycle. These bicycles can be found throughout the Harambe Market addition to the area and are reminiscent of the wire baskets that can be found between Jiko and Boma in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Made from discarded materials, the ideal that nothing should go to waste and that everything can fill a need is one not lost on the people of Africa, nor to the keen eyed traveler.

There are four photographs present in this area. Three taped to the wall and one that is hiding the bicycle. The fact that this photo is framed tells us that this is an important person in the lives of those at Zuri’s Sweets Shop. Whether it is a family member, a significant other, or the owner themselves, we cannot say for certain, but the prominent placement and care with which the photo is presented tells us a lot about who is photographed. Stepping away from our story elements for just a moment, it is clear the four photographs come from an Imagineering research trip to see the lives and times of residents of eastern Africa. Each photo features someone at work or in a place that was important to them.

On the lower shelf we have a canister filled with envelopes for the post and colored pencils. From the small print below the taped photographs, not to forget the aforementioned wire bicycle and hand sewn doll, we can tell that art is important our host. Are the colored pencils for labeling the already attractive sweets offered in the case, for sketching the world around them, or for correspondence, perhaps all of the above? Spilling out of this canister are beads and another small sculpture. This time the medium is either cardboard or tin, and it forms a dragonfly. It is situated behind the beads and may be tough to make out.

Lastly, on the lower shelf, is a selection of books that tell you just about everything you need to know about the proprietor of Zuri’s Sweets Shop. The books, from left to right, are: A Taste of Kenyan Cooking, Alice Taabu’s Cookery Book, Kale ya Washairi wa Pemba: Kamange na Sarahani, Indigenous People in Africa. Contestations, Empowerment and Group Rights, Comprehensive Swahili-English Dictionary, Let’s Cook Kenya!, and Art in Eastern Africa. Of the seven books three are cookbooks; which makes sense considering the shop itself. The Swahili-English dictionary is a necessity as more and more tourists who don’t speak Swahili make their way to Harambe. We’ve already established how much pride our host takes in local art forms, so the text on Eastern Africa art is not surprising. To further that element of their personality, there is also a book of poetry from rival poets Kamange and Sarahani who come from the small island of Pemba, but whose work was appreciated through the Swahili-speaking world. The last book, Indigenous People in Africa, lives at a crossroad of indigenous rights, development, advocacy, conservation, and justice, an intersection definitely in play in the Harambe we visit.

Before we leave the books to their shelf, yes, I too would have included a comma between “cook” and “Kenya” in that title, but it is what it is. Also, in one form or another, all of these books are available on Amazon as of this writing. They may not all be cheap, but most are and they all are available.

A shelf or two tucked away in a corner can tell us a lot about a person. Who do they treasure, what do they want to be near to them throughout their day, what are the important things to them in their day to day lives. A job is a job, but if you enjoy what you do it finds its way into the heart of your life. We all need reminders of those we hold near and dear, we all have a passion that drives us forward, and sometimes we have a fire in us for our fellow citizens. All of this and more is present on the two small shelves behind the displays at Zuri’s Sweets Shop, and it turns out there is more to the shop’s inhabitant than just a wonderful confectionist.

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