Our apartment in Brooklyn is filled with quirky travel finds. They range from the elegant (a Vietnamese painting on sectioned porcelain slats presides over our living room); to the messy (a growing collection of Thai napkins and weird hot sauces clutter our kitchen counters); and the absurd (scary puppets from Rajasthan jolt me out of sleep on a fairly regular basis). Though I inevitably end up adoring the treasures we collect on the road, I often resist purchasing them in the moment because I hate carrying things and have no stomach for haggling.
This was especially true for one of my favorite items: a Ugandan fertility mask from the Baruuli tribe that my husband and I purchased at a hazardously overstocked antique shop in Stonetown, Zanzibar in 2011. We stumbled on the shop kind of by accident, wandering up the wrong stairs and finding ourselves suddenly surrounded by thousands of traditional African masks and tribal costumes – creepy and wonderful.
After two hours wandering the cramped aisles, hearing about the origins, myths and significance of every item until my brain could take no more, this piece caught our eye. This unusual mask stuck out from the more homogenized designs of the region, and was apparently used in Baruuli fertility ceremonies.
It was expensive! Even after an hour of aggressive negotiation. And heavy. And awkward to transport. And I sort of regretted it all the way home. But now I look at it every day and appreciate its wonky-fierce presence in our study, and it always brings me back to that musty shop in Stonetown all those years ago. To me, that’s the appeal of these things we collect on our journeys. Bringing a bit of the wildness home with you, to mingle with your Ikea bookshelves and family hand-me-downs and, in certain cases, wake you up at night.