Saturday, 14 January 2012


(Click on the images to enlarge) 

The long road into the Maasai Mara

I am currently sitting in a tented camp in the middle of the Maasai Mara listening to our tent flaps pitter patter in fear of the deep groan and growl of a lion. You don’t get this in Clapham! On a welcome departure from the city, we've travelled for most of the day on what I can say has been an eventful crusade across the country. 
Breaking free of the city & out into the vast, breathtaking Great Rift Valley that runs for approx 3,700 miles. Colourful townships break up the long roads. And village ladies dressed in vibrant clothing.

My nerves surprise me. When I take a moment to acknowledge my position in the middle of the Mara in what effectively is a lovely posh tent, I feel unnervingly vulnerable. But my fear is soon controlled by my trust in the Maasai Warriors who guard the vicinity. Tradition tells that for a young Maasai to become a Moran, a lion kill would be part of the ritualistic process. Today, they have adopted a range of initiations as well as circumcision... with no anaesthetic... apparently a real man can withstand the pain! The managers pop in to welcome us and we're invited down to the open camp fire. 

Now, let’s stop and think for a moment about where we are. We have just spent the best part of 8 hours driving, the latter 2 trying to find this place. I might also point out that not ONE sign has been provided for the discerning safari goer throughout the whole of the Mara. Throw a rainstorm into the mix, and what you get is luck that my dad has indulged in many safari's over the years, displaying some expert driving to get us through some pretty hairy moments.

As soon as we get into the Mara, wildlife is teeming, stopping to eyeball us as our car drives by. Female Zebra and her calf, wet- nosed buffalo and hippos doing what they do best!

However, our rather frustrating mission had it's moments of sheer glory as we saw some of the finest game I have seen in all my life. 25 hungry lion, (one pride of 14 we watched for an hour on a strategically organised hunt), about 20 elephants,  3 hyenas, about 500 impalas and gazelles, and an array of wildebeest, zebras, and kongoni's. Not bad for the first day! So being invited to join the group down at an open campfire does instill a little hesitation in my social plans for the evening - however, I stick on my safari best (now that I'm in fashion, it must be safari-chic daaahling, none of that practical stuff!) and head down to the campfire. 

A pride of 14 lion strategically work together on a hunt - one of the most incredible things I have been lucky enough to witness

A Giraffe pops appears from behind a bush whilst I'm sitting at the camp doing work - what an inspiring view! A lone tusker Elephant, Kongoni soaking up the morning sunlight, & a male Ostrich struts his stuff.

It is at the campfire that I meet Matthew, real name Lalaigwaneni Matthew Ligaaso. I later find out that members of the their tribe are given a Christian name when they enter schooling. Surprisingly to me when considering we are in the great land of the Maasai, Matthew is from the Samburu Tribe. I rub my hands together in excitement and run back unguided to grab my notebook. Interview process begins!! 

Lalaigwaneni Matthew Ligaaso aka Matthew, wears traditional dress around the camp. His jewellery is made by his wife. The Samburu Mporo Wedding necklace (again - can't get enough of it) which are now rare. And a Samburu arm cuff that displays the traditional colours that they use.

Matthew is dressed in his traditional attire of vibrant red cloth and beaded decorative jewellery that is distinctly different from the Maasai when you look closely. The colours incorporate a variety of shades of colour rather than just bold primary colours.
Matthew is an incredibly warm and friendly man who seemingly enjoys talking to me with pride over his customs and culture. I note that I feel honoured to have met him and hear about his wife and family who live back in his native village. And how fortunate that his wife and sister have hand made all of the beadwork that he is wearing! Alter Ego inspection thank you very much!! 

It’s quickly concluded that Josephine and his sister would be ecstatic for Alter Ego commission some traditional beadwork to incorporate the Samburu Tribe’s wares into our Tribal Soul collection. YIPEE! I show him the picture of the epic Mporo necklace that I found in Nairobi; he tells me the story behind them, and explains as did the stall vendor in Nairobi that they are now rare. But where there's a will, there's a way - his wife can make me a sample for Alter Ego. DOUBLE YIPEE!

Astounding colourful jewellery worn by men & women alike. (Images from Fotopedia)

Matthew is from Ngaromi, a village of 30 people in Samburu and holds the position of a Junior Elder. His current statutory position in the village isn’t one to be scoffed at; Matthew has endured a childhood of cattle herding and schooling, and then began his training Samburu Warrior, who have a fearless outlook on life. A young male has to sustain his warrior title for 10 years before he is eligible to marry and attain the title of Junior Elder. So at 26, he married Josephine.

I learn about Josephine and study her work. Amongst a very long list of duties that Samburu women fulfill as part of their cultural duties (and the list humbles me) a woman’s part to showcase their skills is to make decorative beadwork for their boyfriend or husband. This begins from a young age and plays a large part in the seduction of their potential spouses. I look at what he’s wearing and it’s apparent that she’s put her all into decorating her husband… And he is proud of every piece he is wearing. He let's me know, there's plenty more where that came from! 

I look upon these images with great admiration, and think back to Matthew’s, genuine warm nature that is common of the Samburu tribe. The energy that is portrayed in these images only leaves me proud to be bringing the Samburu wares and their story to the Alter Ego collection. (Images from Fotopedia)

The rest of the story of the Samburu I will tell when we release some of their traditional products. But for now, I take it all in and realise that I feel honoured to have met Matthew and given a first hand insight into his culture and upbringing. Next visit will be to his wife and sister in their native village. Better get my Swahili up to scratch. Kwaheri for now! Next stop the sunny coast… About time. I am still looking considerably Wazungu-like (European)!

Big love from Africa… xxx

Wednesday, 11 January 2012



Didn't take me long to get into it. I want to wear this every day. Alter Ego tribal range grows by the day... 

It’s been 13 years since I’ve returned to Kenya, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I remembered why I love it so much. The humidity and the smell immediately took me back to my days as a wild child when I lived here, and pulled at my nostalgic heartstrings.

Wide eyed and excited, I met my parents at the airport and felt immediately like I was home. It was instantly apparent how Nairobi had developed since I last came; more modern cars, clean city and well nurtured garden areas, modern buildings, and roadsides were lined with huge advertisements of lifestyle products not dissimilar to ours in the UK. But to the left of a huge Jamie Foxx smoothing it up drinking Hennesey Gold, was a giraffe, lolloping elegantly around in Nairobi’s National Park…

Since we’ve started Alter Ego, my parents have been a huge driving force and support to us, particularly with introducing my heritage to our collection. Their move back to Kenya happened to coincide with our decision to develop our tribal range. Not only that, my Aunt Rose has been working closely with us to find local skilled women that produce some of the finest beadwork, some of which you’ve seen in our recent ‘Tribal Soul’ collection. So when the chance came to visit the family, combined with holiday, combined with Alter Ego business, I jumped at the chance.

Shop Till I Drop...
First stop was to head to a Nairobi market to source some new products, and to finally meet some of the ladies that have been producing for our Alter Ego our tribal range. My little Swahili I remembered wasn’t going to be enough to bat off the extortionate tourist prices, but I had a good team around me to find the best wares and win the barter battles : ‘The Negotiator’ (My Auntie Rose) and ‘Agent 008’ (My mum)! 

"Agent 008" my wonderful mama, & "The Negotiator" lovely Auntie Rose. Auntie Rose & I hard at work...

Africa's vibrancy is on every corner. And mum getting stuck in at Maasai market

Brimming with beautiful wares and ethnic gorgeousness, from drums to hand woven products, carvings to furniture, I was led round the market with my eyes wider than my wallet going crazy for all the jewellery and accessories. What was interesting here is that it was a melting pot of tribal wares, from Kenya through to South Africa. The workmanship was exceptional, each piece told a story, and I was being taken on a tribal journey. 

The traditional marital Samburu necklace, called the Mporo. Alter Ego ON IT! Bright Kente South African drum and me working the "Never Too Much" Alter Ego phrase...

Beautiful Southern Sudanese Dinka Tribe beaded corset - GORGEOUS. Colourful Kenyan woman selling her wares, and examples of some of the products available at the market.

My first stop was to Nkerandu Ene Tarimia, aka Helen(!!)a highly skilled bead worker from the well renowned Maasai who’s been making standout traditional jewellery for Alter Ego for the last 6 months. I’m greeted with an exceptionally warm African welcome, and immediately dressed up from head to toe as if I was part of her village. Feeling like a warrior goddess, she sent me off on my trip around the market adorned with her Maasai ceremonial jewellery. 

Helen, our Maasai lady who makes all of our Alter Ego products, and Pepetua, developing beaded products with Alter Ego. Stories of both these ladies & their jewellery to come...

Further around the corner, past endless stalls of wares that I could’ve filled a plane with and sent home, I met Pepetua, a lady who has been developing beaded statement pieces specifically for Alter Ego in the form of our long fringed beaded collars. Meeting both of these ladies was an honour for our company. To see their work first hand, discuss our product range, learn their stories and to understand their backgrounds has really instilled Alter Ego with excitement and confidence of what we can produce together. So  from here, I guess my words are 'watch this space'... More orders have been placed and new products found... Lots more to come from us! 

You'll hear from me again shortly - next stop, Safari, and more searches to bring a taste of the exotic back home and to an Alter Ego facebook page near you!! Now, I'm off to play dress up in some of our new products :) xx