Trekking in Kibera for Bone and Horn

I’m not sure what drew me to Kenya initially. Maybe it was seeing the movie Out of Africa with Meryl Streep that romanticized the life of Karen Von Blixen.  Or maybe it was watching life in the African bush on that old TV show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as a child.  Or maybe it was simply my never-ending curiosity and wanderlust that drew me to Kenya. Either way, I knew I would go there some day.





Well the day finally came when allure and opportunity came together. I have been known to ignore the sometimes-exaggerated concerns of many tourists and trek into areas in Africa that are declared “dangerous” to some.

But despite these fears by others, this is exactly what I did.  I always simply asked myself, “Where is your sense of adventure?” Honestly, though I am always cautious, my experience on the continent has been nothing but positive.

Life in Kenya

One of the most meaningful elements of what I do is spending time with our artisans in Africa. It is when I feel the happiest – being a part of their lives and hearing their stories firsthand. This is what motivates me and reminds me why I’m doing this work in the first place.  And it is their stories that I want to share with you.

I get excited when I tell the stories of these artisans but I’d much rather you see it for yourself. It is why I am dedicated to sharing my personal photos and videos so you can travel with me.  My 2nd video, shot in Kibera, is now complete. Kibera, housed on the outskirts of Nairobi, is known for its extreme poverty; it’s Africa’s largest slum and one of the biggest slums in the world. There are approximately 2.5 million people in about 200 settlements, making up about 60% of Nairobi’s population but taking up only about 6% of the land. 

The Kenyan government owns most all of the land so 90% of the people living in Kibera are tenants with no rights.  Only about 20% of Kibera has electricity and until recently it had no running water. There are no clinics or hospitals, just charity organizations with makeshift facilities. The unemployment in this area is a staggering 50%, so the teaching of various skills is critical and that’s why workshops like Kazuri Ceramics (See my previous blog here) are so important to the African women living in extreme poverty.

I’ll admit I had some trepidation traveling to a country I had never been, to a city of roughly 5 million, and of course, I would be traveling by myself.  I understood this would not be an easy journey for me physically, emotionally, or spiritually due to the conditions in places like Kibera that is ravaged by poverty and disease.  But it is right there that I chose to spend a week working directly with these extremely talented artisans who shape beautiful jewelry and home decor from discarded cow bone and cow horn.

Friends and Artisans in Kibera

In the midst of these rambling shacks and narrow passages that carry the waste out to the street, I met Samwell and Wilkister, Victor and Bernard, and a host of other artisans eking out a living in this massive slum.  I was very excited about meeting and collaborating with them to bring their work to video. It is the back-stories of these artists that I most want to share with you.


Kenya is a diverse culture made up of many different ethnic groups such as the Kikuyu 22%, Luhva 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, and non-African 1%. These various ethnic groups typically speak their native language within their own communities, but the two official languages are English and Swahili. Like South Africa, it was very easy for me to communicate with the artisans since English is so widely spoken.

Turning Trash into Treasures

Often we eat meat, drink milk, and wear leather without a thought about the scraps that remain at the butcher.  In Kibera, artists like Wilkister (pictured above) use the left over bones and horns from cattle to make beautiful jewelry and other home décor items. They will purchase these bones from the slaughterhouse for just a few dollars and then carefully craft them into works of art.


Through a careful selection process, the ideal bones are selected and brought back to the workshops in Kibera.  Initially the bones are washed in bleach to whiten them and to remove all impurities.  


Next the bones are cut into small usable pieces and then shaped with the use of a steel blade.   A small drill is used at times to pierce the bone for final use in jewelry.

Depending on the desired outcome, the object will be left a simple plain white, dyed dark brown or given a batik pattern.  Painting liquid candle wax onto the bone, submerging it in dye and then removing the wax, makes this batik pattern.

Lastly, the bone will be sanded and polished before it is assembled into the final product.  This work helps to promote dignity in their society and to empower them economically. The sale of their handcrafts will help keep their children in school, put food on the table and provide a place to call home.


Please take a moment to walk with me and see how proud they are of their incredible handiwork by watching the video here (coming soon!).

These items from Kibera can be purchased from or by visiting our store at 3403 South MacDill Ave, Tampa, FL 33929.

To celebrate Father’s Day, LivAfrika is showcasing their work and serving up Tusker beer on Sat. June 20th here at our South Tampa location.  We have men’s fishing shirts, bottle openers, baseball caps and even some tasty Biltong in stock, so make a point to come by ….. sip some beer and shop for Dad.




June 16, 2015 by Sita Monti

Discovering Ceramics on the Outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya

It seems like just last week that I flew home from my last trek to Africa, but it’s been a few months already! Back in September 2014, right before the craziness of the holiday season here in Tampa, I took off on another adventure to Africa and in addition to South Africa and surrounding areas - this trip included Kenya!

I had been dreaming about a Kenya adventure for years, but on this visit I had to make a choice; listen to the US State Department warnings about the risks for Americans traveling to Kenya, or ignore those warnings and trust that my business contacts in Nairobi would steer me in the right direction, which would help me to pursue my goals but not be careless. I decided to go after my dreams and hope for the best, as is my nature.

Dreaming of bone & horn, and beads

There are several reasons I ignored the good intentions of our US State Department – and these reasons are cow bone & horn, and beads.

On this trip to Africa I planned to explore the cow bone & horn jewelry making process, which is painstaking and includes many detailed steps and many artisans working together. I had heard about this work in Kenya and stories about the artisans who create this type of jewelry and home décor so I was excited about possibly collaborating with them. It just so happens that some of the highest quality products come from workshops located in what is agreed to be the largest slum in Africa, and one of the largest in the world; Kibera.

My trip to Kibera turned out to be exciting, challenging, and rewarding. You can read all about it and watch a video here (Coming Soon!)...

Kenya and Kazuri Ceramics

Along with the cow bone & horn, Kenya is also home to Kazuri Ceramics; a workshop on the outskirts of Nairobi where 300+ women artisans make one of kind, handmade ceramic beads in colors and hues that are so intense they almost hurt the eyes. Kazuri means “small and beautiful” in Swahili.

Kenya is home to the quintessential African landscape; it has an abundance of arid grasslands and large wildlife parks and also boasts tropical beaches, coral reefs, and ancient cities. Artisans in Kenya create jewelry from recycled materials and some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen are made of ceramic beads.

Kazuri began as a small workshop experimenting with making handmade beads and it is located in what used to be part of the Karen Blixen Estate (most of you will know this from the movie, “Out of Africa”). It started with two women and the desire to provide opportunity for women in and around Nairobi. Each piece is handmade and hand painted in an extensive range of colors and styles.

Their mission at Kazuri is to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society.

With assurances from my contacts that Kazuri is vigilant about Fair Trade and the integrity of safe and fair commerce, we piled into the SUV early in the morning and headed to the outskirts of Nairobi to find the workshop.

I learned years ago that it does no good to complain or have high expectations about some of the work I do and some of the places I get to experience on my adventures. When the going gets uncomfortable, I find peace and solace thinking of the people I haven’t met yet and how I am grateful that I can still help in small ways. Small, beautiful ways.

Time passed by that morning marked with dust and grey, yellow bush, stone, and trees.

After an uneventful hour or so, we ambled down a tight dirt road and pulled up to the entrance of Kazuri. There were several buildings, each for different stages of the process, one for drying, one for molding, one for painting, etc. I counted at least 5 buildings and although at any one time there are over 300 women working at Kazuri, it was quiet and peaceful surrounded by acacia trees and lush vegetation.

The magic of Kazuri

Within minutes of meeting the managers, who it turns out were expecting us!, a friendly and chatty representative was guiding us gently through each step in the ceramics-making process.

As with most of the artisans I work with in Africa, the artisans in Kazuri are mostly mothers trying to send their children to school.  Others are grandmothers raising AIDS orphans and are putting food on the table with their meager earnings. A small percentage are handicapped and have little opportunity in the general work force, so having found a safe environment where they can earn a living and support themselves and their families is a precious situation.

Over 200 women gather daily to work side-by-side in one of several large, open buildings. At times there is music playing, other times the women can be heard singing, and still other times it is so quiet you can hear the wind through the rafters. I was struck by how calming it is to hear the low hum of their voices and the sound of the birds through the open windows. I could easily understand how Kazuri could be a sanctuary of sorts from the world outside these walls. No wonder these women spend their days here creating these one of a kind pieces of art with warm smiles on their faces.

The Kazuri process

With all the smiling and humming, I was surprised to learn that Kazuri exports to over 20 countries and produces over 5 million beads per year. Our representative was happy to take us through the entire bead making process:

Step 1: Making the clay.

First local clay, talc, and water are mixed in large tanks and then pushed through cloth presses to produce moldable clay. This step of the process takes approximately a week to complete.


Step 2: Creating the bead.

The women use a mold to create the exact size of the bead. Then they meticulously shape and buff each bead into the exact form before they are laid out in the African sun to dry. The beads will dry in the sun for approximately 5 hours or longer if needed.

Step 3: Glazing the bead.

Next, the beads are fired in a kiln at 1000 degrees centigrade for 8 hours and then delivered to the main bead store where they are hand counted, measured and sorted.

Step 4: Painting the bead.

A glaze is made from scratch and developed into beautiful hues that are then applied to the beads. Each bead is hand painted with distinct patterns and colors, which will later be assembled into individual pieces of jewelry. The beads are placed on a metal wires and allowed to air dry for an hour and then moved into the kiln for a second firing. After an additional 8 hours in the kiln at 1000 degrees centigrade, the ceramic beads are complete.

The finished glazed beads are then counted and graded for quality control. The women who create the beautiful jewelry start with a specific pattern, a measuring tape and the unique ceramic beads. After assembly and another quality control check, the precious Kazuri jewelry is ready for market.

After I completed my tour I asked if I could spend some time with the women. As with all of the women I meet on my adventures, they were warm and welcoming, attentive and appreciative of a stranger’s attention to their work. I took time to talk with them and they helped me pick a collection of necklaces I felt would appeal to my customers at

Looking back on my adventure to Kazuri, although I did ultimately accomplish the goals I came to Kenya to achieve - the discovery of Kazuri was joyful and perhaps one of the best things to come out of my visit to Kenya.

To see the gorgeous beads made at Kazuri that have made their way back to all of us here in the USA, visit my Kazuri ceramic beads page on LivAfrika.



January 14, 2015 by Sita Monti

Back Home from Africa


I'm baaaaaack!

After 3 hectic, but incredibly fulfilling and adventurous weeks in Africa, I returned home to realize we are only 65 days away from Christmas. Yikes! The good news is I am now stocked up for the holiday season with beautiful ornaments, wire reindeer, recycled plastic trees and much more. The postal strike finally ended in South Africa after a month, so the remaining items I discovered and purchased for the shop and website are now on their way. 

The trip was particularly meaningful for a variety of reasons. First, I was able to spend quality time with our mission partners, Phakamisa, in Pinetown, South Africa, which is always a source of strength and renewal for me. I was able to personally assist them by delivering new underwear for the children in the township and new eye glasses for the grandmothers (Gogo's). Thanks to everyone who donated! 

Lots of tots with their new underwear. They were so happy to have them
that they were jumping all around! I love those smiles.

Next, I discovered the women of Kazuri in Nairobi, Kenya. I spent time learning how they make their exquisite ceramic jewelry and I am happy to announce that this one of a kind jewelry is now in stock at LivAfrika. The ceramic beads that Kazuri is known for are each individually shaped by one of the 350+ Kazuri women, the beads are then polished and kiln fired, painted and then kiln fired again before being used in necklaces and other types of jewelry.

Two of the 350+ women of Kazuri, who create exquisite ceramic jewelry. These beautiful
hand painted necklaces are now available in LivAfrika.

And finally, I met the most amazing artists working in Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa. From discarded cow bone and horn, they tediously handcraft a wide range of items from bowls to utensils to key rings! I am always in awe of their ability to recycle and their ingenuity in crafting quality items from things that we here in the US would simply throw away.

Wilkister and I in her workshop in Kibera. Her work sculpting cow horn is supporting
her entire family of 5 children after her husband died of AIDs.  

So, my three week trip was brimming with encouragement in the face of despair, hope in the face of destitution, and the spiritual satisfaction that comes from making personal connections and sharing the common bond of simply being human, and alive, and grateful, with others. During this holiday season, please take a few moments to reflect about how you too can have a positive impact on others around the world, like I mentioned in my last post, the needs are great but also small.

Stop in and say hello at my shop, LivAfrika, anytime Tue - Fri 10-6 and Saturdays 10-4 or shop from the comfort of your home at my newly updated site, via


Trek with Sita and LivAfrika

Along with my adventures in Africa, this year we were at the Junior League Holiday Market Nov. 7 - 9th at the Florida State Fair Grounds in Tampa - thank you everybody who dropped by the LivAfrika booth and supported your local businesses! Many people said we had the best new booth in the show!

This is the season for open markets too - I love getting out and meeting people at these markets, especially:

  • VillageFest in Carrollwood (Sat. Nov 22nd)
  • Hyde Park Village Market (Sun. Dec. 7th).  

Also coming up, LivAfrika will be at:

  • Tampa Yacht Club (Mon. Dec. 1st),
  • Avila Country Club (Tues. Dec. 9th)
  • Hyde Park United Methodist Church Alternative Christmas Market (Sun. Dec. 7th) in the Harnish Activities Center. 

I hope to see you soon and happy holidays!


November 20, 2014 by Sita Monti