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A Bargain for Value

I had a remarkable experience at a community shop in Amboseli, and I'd like to share it with you. On our way back to Nairobi from Amboseli, we made a restroom stop at this unique establishment. The community shop is a place where incredibly talented artisans craft beautiful art and crafts with their hands in a workshop behind the store, and then display their creations for sale. What's truly special about this place is that 50% of the proceeds from purchases go back to the local community to support their essential needs like food, shelter, medication, and education.

We had actually visited this shop earlier on our way to Amboseli and had bought a few pieces, totalling $60. We had heard that bargaining is a common cultural practice in Kenya, but honestly, we felt that what we bought was well worth the price. However, when we stopped by the shop again for a restroom break, we were taken aback by the scene unfolding at the entrance.

A group of young Chinese adults were passionately negotiating with the shop workers to lower the prices of their purchases. Bargaining is a common practice in Kenya, and it's considered normal and culturally accepted. What troubled me, though, was the way these individuals were treating the shop worker. It seemed to be a bit disrespectful and forceful. In the end, they were successful in getting the prices they wanted, even though they were donned in head-to-toe luxury brands – from LVs to Diors. Just one of them could have likely bought the entire shop with the clothes they were wearing.

This experience made me reflect on the concept of value. It was puzzling to see these individuals haggling over a brand that's widely available in many countries, produced en masse, often linked to harsh working conditions and environmental concerns, and primarily driven by marketing and branding, rather than true quality. In contrast, this community shop was producing unique, handcrafted items with fascinating stories, contributing to the local economy, and offering items that you probably wouldn't find elsewhere. In my view, the value of something is determined by its rarity and demand, and authentic hand-carved necklaces are undoubtedly rarer than a plastic LV headband. So this points out that, as humans our demands have become so worthless that we’ve changed the meaning of value.

Speaking of changing the meaning of value, our visit to a Maasai village left us in awe of many aspects of their lifestyle. The Maasai community dedicates their lives to the well-being of animals and nature. They display a collective spirit rather than a competitive one, and they prioritize children's education. What struck us most was when we visited one of the village houses, which belonged to a teacher. The house was similar to the others, but one notable difference was the mattress. Because she was a teacher in the community's school, she was considered a valuable member and deserved a good night's sleep, so she had a better mattress than most other villagers. This is the right measure of value. Education and health are the two most critical elements for a community's or society's development. Without them, we are nothing. The Maasai people understand this and value their doctors and teachers as they should.

However, when I look at the lifestyles in metropolitan cities that I'm familiar with, I see a stark contrast. Influencers, who get paid to travel and promote brands, have taken the spotlight. They sell their personalities and privacy to large corporations to influence others on how to spend their money and find happiness, all while contributing little to society or the community, except for teaching others to be artificially happy. On the other hand, teachers and doctors struggle to make ends meet and can't even afford to travel to enhance their skills.

Money, which has always held a certain level of corruption in its value, now seems to be even more devalued. You might be making a substantial income, traveling the world, owning multiple homes, and looking after your family and friends, but these actions only make you rich. The more pertinent question to ask is, "Am I valuable?" The world seems to have forgotten the true meaning of value, but if we all start asking this question, we might rediscover the essence of value and lead more fulfilling lives.

*This writing is completely based on personal observations and opinions, not on facts.

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