Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Last Saturday we attended a Christmas party where participants were asked to bring toys to be distributed to disadvantage children in the St. Louis area. There were almost 300 toys collected and some people even donated a couple of bicycles. Someone told me that the organization used to have gifts exchange among guests who attended the party. Each couple was supposed to bring a nice but inexpensive gift and all the ladies put their names in a basket. At the end of the evening, the names were randomly picked from the basket and the person would go up and choose an item from the tables. Somehow someone did not bring a gift and also people whose names were picked later complained about the left over items . It was so comical that these were the people who could afford to spend thousand of dollars on luxury items and yet so greedy when it comes to what was supposed to be fun and meaningless exchange.

It was then that the organization decided to discontinue the exchange among its guests. Instead everyone was to bring toys to the party and be given to inner city social agencies where most of the children were from families with limited income. This year, guests were encouraged to check for items that were considered unsafe and monetary donations were most encouraged.

The item (photo below) was not among the toys donated. The soda bottle caps reminded me of the wonderful childhood memories with my little brother, VL growing up in Viet Nam. I don't remember exactly why and how we started to collect the soda caps or what the value was, whether to trade with other kids for something else or in our naive minds the soda caps represented a simple form of wealth. I purchased the item from a Fair Trade Market sponsored by a local church. The event was geared towards socially responsible shoppers who have been reminded (or pressured) to be mindful of items that were products of sweatshops or were produced by abusive child labor. At this Fair Trade Market, there were items that were supposed to offer viable employment to workers and artisans in developing countries.

Shopping is no longer a simple matter of going to the malls or stores and purchased what you need or items that were of good deals. Shoppers are lectured that we should be environmentally and socially responsible by focusing on elevating poverty, unfair trade practices and eliminate unhealthy working conditions, gender inequality, dictatorships or warlords (i.e. blood diamonds). This is one more reason for me to dislike shopping!

This item is a fork rattle, made by Akamba (Kenya) craftsmen using bottlecaps, barb wire and wood. Shaking back and forth produces pleasant sounds (like rattle snakes) and is used in village festivals. I am not sending it to my brother and definitely would not want my nephew to play with it as the wire (as well as the bottle caps) is very sharp and I am unsure of the lead in the paint. The fork rattle shows how simple a toy can be when there is not much available compared to all the toys in the stores.

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