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A love affair – with baskets

SMITH RIVER – The weekend “blowout inventory reduction sale” of Toka wedding baskets at Latitudes promises even more than traditional Toka African baskets and carvings from Zambia for less than warehouse prices. It also promises basketry demonstrations with singing, drums, storytelling, and refreshments.

Latitudes is located just south of the Oregon state line, on the east side of Highway 101, across from the California “bug station.”

Bridget Meyer shows how baskets are carried in Zambian villages.
Bridget Meyer shows how baskets are carried in Zambian villages. Photo by Majorie Woodfin.
Perhaps the most charming story to be shared is the story of the courtship of the African basket maker, Bridget Meyer, and her husband Bob.

In 1982 Bob, an avid whitewater rafter, traveled to Zambia to be a guide on the Zambezi River. Bridget, named Muyana Mulindi when she was born, lived in a village near Victoria Falls.

“I passed her house every day,” he said. “I went after the prettiest girl in the village.”

Bob said that the year he first went to Zambia, the tour company he worked for sent nine guides. “Eight hated it,” he said. “But I loved it.”

Although Bob learned how to speak the native language by talking with the Africans and studying a guidebook used by missionary priests, he didn’t need the language to communicate with Bridget.

Bridget, who was educated in a school run by the British, was the first woman in her Toka tribe to earn a high school diploma, and she was fluent in English. She explained that she took the name Bridget while in school because the other students teased her about her African name.

Bob and Bridget met in 1983 and were married in 1987 in a traditional African ceremony. “I had to get approval from her family and pay the bride price, dowry, or lubola, typically paid in cattle,” he said. Bridget laughed and said that the lubola that Bob paid was $40.

The wedding was like a shopping center, with 200 attending and tables set up under a baobab tree. “I was getting the prize, beautiful and educated,” Bob said. “I was not the first to come and ask for her but Bridget refused the others.”

The couple lived in Zambia for the first two years. “We married expecting to live in Africa, but I was injured in a boating accident,” he explained. They came to the United States in 1990 for medical treatment, and settled in Minnesota where he was born and raised.

Bridget said Bob’s mother had a big reception for them. “She invited 50, but 56 people showed up,” she said. Coming from a large extended family herself, Bridget appreciated the big family group.

Both families accepted them happily. Bob said his family members were all farmers. “Real rubes who had probably never seen a black person face to face before,” he said.

When he first came back to Minnesota, Bob became a manager for a heating and air conditioning company, and suggested that Bridget apply for a job with one of the large department stores. However, Bridget had her own ideas. She told him, “No. I’m in the U.S. now and I want to have my own business.”

She said he gave her $500 to start her company, Toka, and she began importing traditional African wedding baskets made by women in her village. Her two brothers purchase the baskets and when the supply gets large enough, they ship them to California.

That’s the reason for the current sale. The warehouse must be emptied to house the newest shipment.

The couple ended up almost accidentally in Smith River. Bob said they were looking for Happy Camp when they got lost and discovered the river that he fell in love with.

He is a happy man because he is able to kayak and raft the Smith River. Bridget refuses to kayak, but said she loves to raft the river with her husband. He explained that they came to the West Coast because, “Every man wants to be a Californian.” However, he said he would deny saying that if asked by anyone from Minnesota.

Bridget will be at Latitudes from 1 to 4 p.m. today (May 23)  and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 24.

She will demonstrate basket making, singing the songs the women sing when using the baskets, plus there will be drums, storytelling and refreshments.

Baskets will continue to be available at Latitudes after the weekend sale, from “9:30-ish to 6-ish,” the store owner said. The telephone number at Latitudes is (707) 487-0490.

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