Ep 12: Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design

Ep 12: Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design


Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design

Ziddi Msangi is a Tanzanian-born educator and designer. His early experience of moving to California as a child informs his current awareness and interest in history, power and place. Lorilee and Ziddi sit down to discuss the common threads between their distinct backgrounds and how their senses of place have shaped who they are and their approach to design. They also dig into the innovative philosophy behind human centered design.


  • On Ziddi’s playlist: King Sunny Ade
  • Understanding sense of place and one’s “origin story”
  • Living as an insider and an outsider in different spaces
  • Embracing where you are
  • Human centered design
  • Explaining liminal space
  • Ziddi’s study of East African textiles as communication systems
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

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Episode 12 – Ziddi Msangi Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It is a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.

Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.

My guest today is Ziddi Msangi. Ziddi is a designer and educator. He was born in Tanzania and moved to California as a child. This early experience fostered an awareness and curiosity about history, power, and place. He is interested in the liminal space that is created between what we understand our reality to be and the multiple narratives that form that perception. Ziddi received a BFA from Boise State University and an MFA in graphic design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and also a Vermont College of fine arts MFA program, where he was my advisor.

Welcome Ziddi. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. 

[00:02:08] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you for having me as a guest, Lorilee. I’m really looking forward to our conversation. 

[00:02:14] Lorilee Rager: Me too. Me too. I appreciate the time, cause I know how, how busy we all are. And now that I teach, I know even more, how busy you really are.

[00:02:26] Ziddi Msangi: It’s amazing how much more time that takes than one anticipates. 

[00:02:31] Lorilee Rager: That’s correct. That is correct. So your time means, means a lot. It means a lot. So thank you. Okay. Well, music is something that I really, really enjoy, so that’s why I really like the kickoff, um, icebreaker question, and that is to ask what song is on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:02:55] Ziddi Msangi: Well, recently I’ve been listening to the musician, the Nigerian musician, King Sunny Adé. Um, he was Nigeria drummer that, uh, drummer who popularized, uh, the style of music called Jùjú music, which I, um, got into when I was in college. And it popped up on my, um, Apple playlist this week. And so it’s guitars, he plays a talking drum, which is this wonderful, progressive expressive instrument. And it’s, there’s call and response, it’s music of the Yoruba people. So it’s, uh, but that was popularized in the, at least for me, I was introduced in the eighties, but I think it was popularized probably even as early as the sixties. So, you know, um, it’s this sort of praise music and, um, completely uplifting and energetic, and I just needed that to appear. And so sometimes the algorithms work in your favor. And so, yeah, so King Sunny Adé, um, Jùjú music, um, and that’s just the broader category, but King Sunny Adé’s music has been on, uh, the essentials playlist, has been what I’ve been listening to.

[00:04:10] Lorilee Rager: That’s wonderful. And I love it, uh, the essentials playlist. We all need the essentials. That sounds wonderful. I’m always looking, which is why I like to ask too, something to write to or something to cook too, or something new and that does enlighten you and helps your energy, so. 

[00:04:30] Ziddi Msangi: Right, and, and I find this music, um, Bach Brandenburg concertos are like uplifting, and I, those for me, those are great music to clean with, in an odd way. Cause it’s like order and rhythm and repetition. And this has this order and repetition, but it’s more celebratory and yeah, so. 

[00:04:51] Lorilee Rager: Very good. Thank you. I will definitely look it up because you also mentioned guitar and I’m trying to teach myself guitar now as just a fun, only for fun. So I’m learning and paying more attention to when I hear it as well in music. 

[00:05:06] Ziddi Msangi: Excellent. I think you’l enjoy it then. 

[00:05:08] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Thank you. Wonderful. Okay, well, so the first topic is really two topics that I really wanted to learn your thoughts on and hear more about because you know, like, like, like I said in the intro is, is you were my advisor. And there were, one of the first moments that we had together, you mentioned, um, sense of place. And it was really a moment of a fear at first and doubt, and a lot, a lot of things came up when you just very gently suggested or mentioned, what about looking into your sense of place? And, and it was the first time I’d ever really thought of a, what I call your origin story. And, um, You know, I thought you could share a little bit about that and then where that connects to your work with human centered design. Um, because both directions, when you think of graphic design or you think of thesis work, or you think of life, you don’t typically start there. Um, so yeah. Tell me, tell me your origin story, maybe, and how’d you get here? 

[00:06:32] Ziddi Msangi: Well, my story and sense of place is really rooted in my family’s story. So as you know, I’m an immigrant to this country from Tanzania and, um, my family moved here when I was six years old. So from a child’s perspective, one never really knows, um, that they’re leaving a place, um, and that they’re rooting in a new environment. You’re just following the family. Um, because you just don’t have the perspective to understand what that means and this really exciting adventure. Um, so my father was a professor in, uh, Kenyatta University, he received a Fulbright scholarship and was supposed to be at the California College of Arts, uh, by himself for three years. And, um, I think two months into it, he called my mom and said, rent the house, bring the boys, come join me, pack everything up. And so that’s how I ended up here. So there’s two distinct spaces. I moved from one space, uh, to California in the early seventies. Um, and three years turned into six and eventually 12, when they finally returned to Kenya. So a lot of my childhood was anticipating returning to the spaces of Tanzania and Kenya, because initially it was supposed to be a three-year sojourn, and then my mom started studying also. And then, I mean, it just, then I was in school and then they were like, let this child finish high school. Um, so it seems that a lot of the energy during my childhood was my parents’ preparation to return and this postponement of things to come. And within our house, my parents spoke to us in Swahili and we ate and lived for the most part like you would in a Tanzanian household, um, the foods, the colors, the flavors, the music, the language. Um, so all of these things were part of life while we were living in California, um, in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, um, so for me, I think that really helped, um, I guess, uh, reinforce and affirm the reality that you are, everyone’s creating their own culture and space within their family or within their group. Um, and at the same time, if I went to Tanzania, I felt inside as an insider and an outsider. Uh, in San Francisco, in America, insider and outsider. But within the home and within myself, that was my strong foundation. So, um, so I think I’ve been keenly aware of the spaces that I move through both as a participant and as an observer. Um, yeah.

[00:09:29] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Yes. Well, I didn’t, I didn’t realize too that you, like you just said you lived as an insider and an outsider and, and how, and how as a child, how that really probably did influence who you are and your work.

[00:09:46] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. And I think also the contrast of moving from a majority, um, African setting, you know, um, so we were in post colonial East Africa. So this is a really exciting time because my father’s generation was the generation that, um, was redefining what Tanzania and Kenya looked like. Um, he was probably one of that first group of Africans who would come into the university. We had integrated our neighborhood, which used to, was, before that was where the Europeans had lived. Um, and so by the time I arrived, it was fairly integrated. You had, you know, the US counselor was across the street and my best friend was from, uh, Pakistan next door and we were in east Africa. There were multiple languages being spoken in Kenya. And then when we moved to Oakland, Oakland was also in this really interesting space. It was, um, during, um, the, oh, you know, I guess it was civil rights. Um, the Black Panthers, uh, there was San Francisco was in far away, there was a lot of opening up to new ideas. And, um, so I think that confluence of being in spaces that were new and we’re energetic and we’re striving to understand what the future would be, um, also I think really affected me. And so, and, and it was all of these spaces we’re working towards a better future.

[00:11:26] Lorilee Rager: Yes, that’s exactly what I was realizing as you said it. In two totally different areas on the map, it’s still progressing forward for better and change. Oh, yeah, that’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful.

[00:11:42] Ziddi Msangi: So it’s always a little bit on the horizon, but you can kind of see it because everyone’s trying to articulate what that place looks like, which is what, you know, um, design process, your, your thesis process, right? It’s this thing, idea that’s kind of in the, in the distance, you can kind of see it, but you’re working towards it. 

[00:12:01] Lorilee Rager: And you don’t know exactly what that is, it’s fuzzy, but you’re trying to, uh, live the questions and define it as you go. Well, that, that is literally the, um, the safe space that you allowed me to work in when you started to talk about, you know, sense of place and, and helping me connect, you know, how does it support your creativity and how does it support your work? And it was a big blind spot I had. Um, I think I really had tried to ignore it or in my case felt a little shame about where maybe I was from and just being Southern or worried about being thought of as ignorant or just different, different things in that culture space. But when you mentioned sense of place and our really, as the metaphor, dug into the roots of it. I discovered such joy and happiness. I thought I was going to uncover negative, but I really saw the learning lessons and the goodness of my sense of place.

[00:13:11] Ziddi Msangi: And you were open to that discovery, which I think is why it was so successful, um, because sometimes it’s hard for us to appreciate where we’re rooted, where we’re from, what that means. Um, and, um, as you described it, you were able to move past those sometimes the externally imposed views of where we’re from or internally, and then were able to really appreciate what was there. And that, similarly for me, um, because at some point it was clear that I wasn’t going back to East Africa. So I really had to just sort of embrace where I was and what that had to offer. 

[00:14:01] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. I love it. Yeah, to appreciate it. That’s absolutely right. Okay. So going from that to say to appreciate it, um, which is a beautiful word and a way to think of it, is, um, thinking of the human centered design aspect of it. And one of the biggest moments that I see surrounded with the sense of place is how, when we worked together, how I saw how you really do honor the student’s lived experience. And I had just never, the word human doesn’t come up a lot in my previous training in undergrad of design and process and rigid and grids and, and that. So tell me a little bit what human centered design means. 

[00:14:49] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. It’s, it’s, um, so a few years ago, I was introduced, uh, to the work of the Institute of Human Centered Design here in Boston. And so the IHCD had this grant to work with Boston area design schools and look at their programs to introduce the model of working with user experts. And these are people who have, uh, functional limitations. Um, and so the goal was to include them in the critique process, uh, when in a classroom or in a group you’re putting together a design program, including the user experts. Um, and this could apply to interior architecture, user experience, packaging. And so user experts are people who have a functional limitation, that might be eyesight, limited eyesight, or, um, because of advanced age, your ability to hold things may start to decline, so limited grasp, or it could even be, um, neurological cognitive, um, issues that you’re you have. So that the, um, having that person’s lived experience and\ their ability to critique your work completely transforms things. Because at that time, um, you know, our, we were really focused on typography, the systems you’re working with, you know, all of the basic training. And, um, we might have an abstract idea of who the user is, but, um, it’s really different when someone with maybe a broader range or a different range of experiences and perspectives comes and critiques the work. So like for instance, in this particular class we were dealing with packaging and someone with limited sight, um, that small type suddenly becomes, or the contrast, right? So, or the ability to hold it. So it was, it was really quite remarkable, the transformation within the classroom, and of course within myself, in that thinking. So the IHCD, their goal is to sort of democratize this approach by making sure that sort of all the design disciplines consider the needs of people with functional limitations specifically. I think, um, what I also took from that was, you know, students have their own centered experience, we all do. So really, um, bringing that into the dialogue of the classroom is like a really important component. Um, and making sure that design is centered on the widest range of people operating in the sort of the widest range of situations. Embracing humanity in all of its diversity and expressions kind of at the core. 

[00:17:52] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Well, that, that concept, I know for a fact changed who I am in the classroom versus who I would have been before VCFA and before, you know, having you as an advisor. I would, I mean, I can almost, uh, see myself if I was in a back to the future situation, standing in front of the classroom, A probably not listening to any of the students, but telling, talking one way, about Helvetica and the light, you know, minimalists, and, and things like that, using ultra light and light gray or whatever, my just personal preference may be, versus turning it around and asking them to make something in any type you want and say, why, why did you do this? And seeing that in, in a classroom and in the world, in the grocery store, you’re around completely different humans. And, um, in my, in my particular area where we’re near an army base, so there’s a lot of attention to PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and, and working with students who are brilliant, um, that have some disabilities. And I just know that before VCFA, I really probably would not have listened to them as well and started with asking them first, why would you do it this way? Um, 

[00:19:20] Ziddi Msangi: And what a wonderful experience as a student to, um, be in a classroom where that is the norm. I think of the gift and the way that the, what you’re modeling for them being in the world.

[00:19:39] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s just a really important topic, so, um, that’s why I wanted to ask you about it and talk about it too. But, so now jumping into another, another aha moment through grad school that you helped me through was liminal space. And, um, you know, what is that space between what we understand our reality to be. 

[00:20:07] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah, right. It’s, it’s interesting, right? 

[00:20:11] Lorilee Rager: Is it. It is. Um, and yeah. Well, I was just going to say the example is, of course you helped guide me through the liminal space, um, that kind of brought me face to face with those inner fears, and this question came out of it is, why am I here? So tell me, and we may have to explain the liminal space, especially to some of our listeners, but 

[00:20:38] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. And it’s essentially it’s in between, the sort of in between-ness. Um, so if I think about it, um, you know, a story pops to mind, um, as a child, I remember asking my father, we were Lutheran and I asked him probably after church, um, why some people in church who seemingly were holy people, I was young so that’s how I understood it, often acted in a manner contrary to their beliefs when we were out in the world. And he reminded me that people come to church as they are, and often aspire to be something else, but in the meantime, they’re in the process of becoming. So there’s sort of this space they’re in. And so I carry that with me, um, as an assumption about kind of our evolution as we move through life that, um, we’re in between who we have been and who we’re becoming. Um, and this is very evident to any parent who’s observed a child and, you know, you know, in those early years, um, of formation when things are happening really quickly, um, you have a sense of who they are, but they’re becoming more of themselves over time. And it’s, I think it still goes on, we just don’t have the, um, the visible, uh, milestones as we did when they were younger. 

[00:22:19] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That’s so true. That’s absolutely, as, as a child you do, you do physically and change so rapidly. It, you have a visual for the liminal space milestones. Then as you become a young adult, yeah, you definitely lose those, but it is definitely still happening.

[00:22:38] Ziddi Msangi: Right. Because, um, and, and for me, that’s thinking about that it’s comforting because while we may have greater expertise and competence in specific areas, as we advance, um, and accumulate, accumulate experiences in life, uh, we can also have areas that are still developing or just being discovered. 

[00:23:04] Lorilee Rager: Right. Um, it made me think of it as I began to write and, and think of liminal space is, how did I show up in the world, in this space in between of yes, where, how am I currently showing up and where do I want to, and it was this mysterious space that, um, you know, you helped reveal both strengths and vulnerabilities. 

[00:23:37] Ziddi Msangi: Yes. 

[00:23:37] Lorilee Rager: So, that was, 

[00:23:40] Ziddi Msangi: Right. Because those are always there in play, right. And, and we, we have a sense of, um, who we are and if we are still enough, I mean, the strengths are what are affirmed in the world. And often we base a career on, our identity on, and people affirm that, and we move through life. But our vulnerabilities are right there with us and often give us the drive and the strength because we’re trying to overcome them. Um, but what power, when we can be vulnerable and recognize that. Um, so, yeah, I think there’s, there, there’s wisdom we gain when we can be still and recognize that. 

[00:24:32] Lorilee Rager: It was, it was, um, where I really began to learn, um, mindfulness and, and, and it’s just the small moments of feeling my feet on the carpet or the water on my toes in the shower, when, when there were prior to this thought and this work and this time with you, I could get into the shower and not even know when I got out if I washed my hair or not. I was like, wait, did I wash my hair? I have no idea. Did I just get in and get out? What? So the mindfulness that came out of it was just really, it was really a great, um, topic, um, to, to begin to understand. And so my question, my next question is, because of that, you know, because of the strengths and the vulnerabilities and everything that comes up from it in the mindfulness, you, um, you have multiple narratives that form and they form a perception. And why, tell me why you think they matter, those multiple narratives. 

[00:25:39] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. Um, as I alluded to earlier, when I was talking about this movement from East Africa to California, um, as we grow older and our identity starts to shift and it certainly, for me, it can start to get tied up in our profession, you know our status within our community, our relationship to our family, and like, these are all different identities, um, and there are often, these are identities that are projected on us in a time, um, we develop them and look for, look towards others for affirmation. And so then you’re the teacher or you’re the friend or you’re the, you know. Um, so our truth may sometimes lie outside of these roles. Like, can we have these roles that we have in the world, but then, you know, our true calling or who we are, can sometimes get lost in there. So I think there’s this tension between what we understand our reality to be and these multiple narratives that form that perception of that reality. And so, you know, ultimately, as we were talking about with the liminal space, to be human is to be in process and how we understand that in ourselves and others often dictates how we respond to the world. Um, so I, I do think these reflective practices give us a space to see who we are becoming and understand these multiple narratives. 

Um, I also am aware that, um, certainly in my family, there’s a narrative behind, uh, like my father, for instance, you know, he told me at some point the story of how his mother, who was a subsistence farmer, so she literally, they lived off the food they could grow, um, while his father was across the border trying to earn hard currency. So in the colonial system, you had to pay taxes and that meant you had to use hard currency, so you have to find a job that allowed you to make, you know, hard currency to pay taxes so that, you know, so they pulled my grandfather away from their small village up in Sangay to go to the border, he was a tailor, to find work. And so it left my grandma with her six kids to kind of fend for themselves, and so they grew food. And my dad was not a farmer, he was, you know, um, and this was you know, they were just using hoes. And, um, and what he would do as the, as the youngest child, was be in the corner drawing on the dirt, right. And, and his mom, what I find that amazing, instead of scolding him and saying, hey, come help us cause we need all hands on deck, she sat down next to him and prayed that whatever he was doing would fulfill him and give him a life and that, that, that was her prayer for him. And so what an amazing affirmation, because I’m the beneficiary of that. You know, he went on to go to school, to become an artist, to become a university professor. And that, that narrative it would have complete, I would have a very different life had it not been for that. So I think that’s like one major narrative that’s, um, it’s with me. And, uh, and it was only uncovered by a conversation with my father some time and maybe I was in college and he told me that story and I was like, oh my gosh.

[00:29:33] Lorilee Rager: There it is. There’s the connection. There, there it is. There was, uh, an anchor in the timeline through the sense of place and everything. Oh, you know, you know, my, you know, my background very well cause you had to read all about all about it, through school, but you know, my, my roots in farming for sure. But it’s so, so something else that’s so amazing to me in, in the research and sharing and the process that we went through through school is connecting that thread that makes you and I, um, you know, a female from Kentucky who’s a little younger, and your story of now your grandfather in Tanzania, where, how it connects. Because my grandmother was one of nine children and their farm was exactly the same. They only have, they were known for their garden because it was so epic and wonderful. But it was so they could live. That’s what they worked in. And one of them was a painter and he was known, so his role was really to paint and upkeep those types of things. And he wasn’t shamed for it. And he’s, his legacy in this, in this community as a sign painter, um, it’s still here today. And his son does it, and, and that sort of thing. I didn’t even know that. So I love, that was a beautiful story. And the way, and the way I didn’t think of the economy when they start to say, you must, you must pay taxes, so someone in the group, that’s very, doing very well sustaining their family on their own land with their own food, now has to go out to get hard currency. 

[00:31:19] Ziddi Msangi: Right. It was, uh, these are the, um, when we look at the spread, sometimes it’s historical spaces, we don’t understand how disruptive, because you know, the, the British in East Africa were interested in coffee and sisal and whatever they could, the local population could produce as cash crops, they, people, they’re not really interested in the individual lives of these families. It’s like a bigger machine. And that’s, you know, how the capitalist economy works. It’s really focused on, um, really specific products. And my family, you know, is a very good example of, um, people just kind of caught up in that and the necessity, cause you know, my grandfather wanted to abide with the law, and also the hard currency allowed him to pay school fees. Um, it, maybe in an older system, people would have taught traditional, you know, there were just entirely different systems that were kind of, uh, over overtaken and changed. So yeah, it, it, it, I never understood why he had, I mean, and he, you know, he took his sewing machine and his stuff. He put it on the back of a bicycle and rode a hundred miles to the border in 1935 in East Africa. I mean, that’s amazing, but just so he could go to a town where he could actually work as a tailor because he couldn’t do it in the village. 

[00:32:57] Lorilee Rager: Right. Oh, wow. It’s just, it’s really incredible what we do as humans, um, to survive. And that’s, that’s huge. And I even remember when I was looking at the sense of place and learning about things like after World War II and how people left the family farm, uh, to go work in industry, to go work factories, and that sort of thing, to make the hard currency. And, and it’s really, it’s so interesting. It’s super, super interesting. And how important it is, um, to, to, to our story and in our, in our careers and lives. 

[00:33:40] Ziddi Msangi: So, yeah, and I, and I do love how, you know, both of you, you and I can trace her story back to the land and sort of rooted in that and our discovery of that in sharing our stories. 

[00:33:51] Lorilee Rager: Yes. It was a big aha moment through our semester together, for me for sure, so. Um, okay. So, still along the same vein of sense of place, I want to talk more about your work and, um, your work with, with communication systems. Because, you know, I was reading online and your AIGA article and I was, um, thankfully in-person uh, years ago, just two or three years ago, um, for you to give your lecture on, um, the East African cloth wrap, they, is it the kanga? 

[00:34:30] Ziddi Msangi: Kanga. 

[00:34:31] Lorilee Rager: Kanga. 

[00:34:31] Ziddi Msangi: Yes. 

[00:34:32] Lorilee Rager: Okay, kanga. So, yes. Tell me a little bit about the, uh, East African textiles and their role as communication systems, and your work there. 

[00:34:43] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. So, um, kanga cloth, uh, is produced throughout East Africa. Um, I encountered it of course in Tanzania and Kenya. And it’s a cotton cloth with a printed pattern. And, um, what’s significant about it is there’s an area where there’s text that’s set. And, uh, it can be a religious saying. Um, but also there’s sort of these, uh, sort of, uh, common slang or, um, racy sayings. Um, and so they’re on the, on the bottom, you know, if, if, and a woman, it’s typically worn by women, will wrap it around their waist. Um, and so you can’t really read it when they’re wearing it. I mean, it’s this awkward thing of like, almost like text on a person’s t-shirt. Like, right, there’s there’s the negotiating of, how would you read that? But if you know what it says, like if you see the I Heart NY, you kind of have a sense of what that is. And so kanga have many messages on them, um, and over time, a person will accumulate a, um, a wardrobe with a variety of kanga cloth. And so that’s, that was just a common fact in my childhood. I just saw these sort of everywhere. Um, and, uh, somewhere in college, I think as I was studying graphic design, um, I realized that, um, well, this is, you know, a communication system, this text and image. And as I looked a little more closely, I realized within different groups, um, so if you go on the coast of East Africa to Swahili people, in their, um, culture there’s, uh, usually, uh, you are, it’s a much more polite culture. Um, the Swahili, one thing that I’ve found with, uh, Swahili people are, um, they’re incredibly polite. So if you think of that, um, if, for instance, if I wanted to invite you to my home and ask, um, hey, Lorilee, after we’re through this meeting, uh, why don’t you come join me and my family and break bread with us. Uh, in America, typically you would either accept, or you might have another engagement and politely decline, uh, basically by saying, you know what, I’m sorry, I can’t do it. Um, but in Swahili, um, if you can’t accept the invitation, you’d never go straight to answering no, but would artfully find a way for the person who was inviting you to sort of let you off the hook. You know, so you would say like, um, well, you know, I have to go to my sister, drop off, her off somewhere, then I have to attend such and such. And as you’re going on, um, I would relieve you of the obligation inviting you to come over and would say, well, you know, don’t worry about it, you can still come some other time. There’s always this, 

[00:37:58] Lorilee Rager: Oh, I do this.

[00:37:59] Ziddi Msangi: Right. So there’s this negotiation of, um, not ever really speaking directly. And so, and even more so if you have, um, um, uh, the kanga cloth can also operate in this system of not speaking directly. So you might have a neighbor who’s nosy and you might decide to wear your kanga that day that says mind your own business or, you know, or something that, to that extent. And so it’s a nonverbal verbal communication cause your neighbor who’s next to you might see you wearing that and, you know, did you really say that to them, did you not? 

And now this is not true for all of, you know, Tanzania or East Africa. I mean, this is, um, so in, in my research, I was able to travel to Dar al-Islam in 2018 and interview actually women who sold this cloth. And they were very specific, even the sellers. Like, they have this collection of the kanga that are, have these more biting messages that they kind of keep at a different part of their supply. And yeah, it’s kind of hidden. And the ones that are more shown are the more typical ones, you know, love, you know, love will grow. And, you know, the, the, the more positive, quote, unquote, messages. Um, but you have to sort of ask, can I see the, you know, the sort of more biting messages. And there’s a whole collection of them, um, which are used. So, so that, that that’s been, um, interesting to observe and, um, how that evolves and, um, and then just, it helped me, um, understand even the kanga cloth that my mom wore as, growing up. And often they’re also, um, shared generationally. So if someone is passing away, um, one of the gifts that, um, like say my aunt, when she passed away, um, I’m sorry, my great aunt, all the women in the family were given a kanga from her collection. 

[00:40:19] Lorilee Rager: Oh, okay. 

[00:40:20] Ziddi Msangi: And over the, so my mom, if you look through her collection, she, each kanga has a story, she can connect it to either a person or this was an anniversary gift from your father or this was, you know, so they also become these little time capsules. 

[00:40:36] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. 

[00:40:37] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. It’s really fascinating. 

[00:40:39] Lorilee Rager: That is what I remember. And thinking of design and then looking at human centered design again, and the story behind it and the information it, it held. And it does it communicates so much without really saying anything right. 

[00:40:58] Ziddi Msangi: Right, right.

[00:40:58] Lorilee Rager: And, um, I had read and pulled out the quote in one of the articles where you, it had said that it can help us make more of a bid for more information versus placing a critical eye or tone into the interpretation of the conversation.

[00:41:17] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. Yeah, and, and I think, um, you know, this, this also comes to the idea that you just touched upon about listening. Um, you know, ’cause, it’s, it’s maybe one of the most powerful things we can do and share is to give someone our full attention, you know, and then if asked to reflect back what we’re hearing. Um, so, um, yeah, kanga, really opens up, for me has opened up this understanding that there can be multiple communications going on in this setting and multiple ways of, uh, being, um, at the same time. 

[00:42:09] Lorilee Rager: It, another point that, that resonated with me in, in my experience and my story, the, um, the little bit of oppression in the south with women and, and the, and the way we were raised in church and, and that women are not to have a voice and men were to, to speak and, and be the leaders. And that sort of thing is something that, you know, I grew up with and it was very normal across the board for my, everyone from my grade school teachers, to my Sunday school teachers, to my grandmother. And what resonated with me with your work, um, on, on this communication system was how, that it provided a way for women to speak their minds. You know, maybe I don’t know, they’re particularly, but in a society that maybe doesn’t allow them to do so in public. 

[00:43:07] Ziddi Msangi: Right. And certainly, certainly the more biting the, you know, the hard words like, um, maybe we’d call it impolite talk, wouldn’t, would be sort of frowned upon. So kangas certainly provide a channel. I mean, you know, there’s gossip behind people’s back, but you wouldn’t, you know, directly. And again, I’m talking about these very specific case studies that, um, were conveyed to me. You know, someone like my mother who is an educator, um, she, she speaks her mind. So it depends on the context of course. Uh, but yes, it, it certainly, um, does provide sort of this outlet, this art. It’s almost an artful way of being able to, uh, communicate ideas without, um, without them, without maybe disrupting the social norms, which, which are rooted in patriarchy, um, you know, admittedly and, um, so that sort of reverence for elder people. And so, um, that is, of course, dictating the terms of communication. And the other thing to realize with kanga cloth is, um, a lot of the authors and designers, as I found, are men. But they’re listening to popular sentiments that, because otherwise they won’t sell. So, so these are, they’re all out in the world and a person is curating and collecting the kanga cloth that they’re going to have in their, um, in their own personal collection. And in a certain area, uh, a new one might come out which has a certain set of messages. So within that geography of that limited time, when that was released, people will know the message on that. So they don’t even have to necessarily read the text, but they’ll know that pattern because I can recognize the color and pattern of that has that message on it. And then if you don’t want to communicate the message, you just flip over the helm so you can’t read it. 

[00:45:27] Lorilee Rager: Ah, that’s right. That’s perfect. That’s so, and it’s so similar to what I do every day in graphic design. It is a perfect connection and branding and how you can recognize what, what that is without reading it. 

[00:45:43] Ziddi Msangi: Right. 

[00:45:45] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:45:45] Ziddi Msangi: Right. It’s pattern recognition. Yeah. And kind of knowing what that is.

[00:45:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, it’s a fascinating study and work that I’m so glad you did and brought, brought to VCFA. So yes, absolutely. Well, um, I believe we’re at time, so we will wrap up and have one last question. For the Ground and Gratitude toolbox, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve began to collect is tools and takeaways from people like you and all the amazing things I’ve learned. And I would love to know what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:46:33] Ziddi Msangi: Ah, the sandbox. So, uh, put that in context. Uh, before any meeting where I’m gathering with a group of people, um, and we have hard work in front of us, I hold this image of the sandbox I used to play with, uh, with my friends at kindergarten. And I try to imagine that each person sitting at the table, what they look like then, you know, when they were kids and what their personalities would have been, what kind of person they were and how they interacted with others. And, and when I take us all back to this place of being children, you know, playing and creating, um, it just gives me a much greater capacity to listen and to engage and also to sort of be delighted. Because, you know, I remember myself in kindergarten and, um, in my mind, I’m actually the same person. 

[00:47:31] Lorilee Rager: Me too. 

[00:47:32] Ziddi Msangi: You know? Um, and so I know, I know a few more things and then I’m taller and, um. But you know, we knew how to laugh, um, you know, laugh at the person who was being really performative. Um, uh, we could include, you know, the introverted person who was on the side, um, and you know, we would just, were able to just make space. Even, even the grumpy kid who, you know, we knew he was hungry or was going on, like, cause we were just playing. And so I offer that, you know, that, um, whenever you’re in a difficult discussion or even along meaning, uh, meeting, put yourself in the sandbox and see how things become just a little lighter and easier, uh, because ultimately we’re all just making stuff. None of this is permanent, but it is so important while we’re doing it to be engaged and to be present and appreciate the time we have together.

[00:48:30] Lorilee Rager: Oh, my goodness gracious, the sandbox. I mean, it, it instantly makes me think of the importance of thinking of your eight-year-old self or your five-year-old self. And, and it, it does it lightens. It would lighten any room in any situation. And then you listen again, like we mentioned again, listening is so important. That is so good, Ziddi. Thank you so much.

[00:48:56] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you for giving me the space to share.

[00:48:59] Lorilee Rager: Yes, absolutely. It has been wonderful. And I’m so, so glad that you were able to be here today. 

[00:49:07] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you Lorilee. 

[00:49:08] Lorilee Rager: Thanks Ziddi. All right. We did it. 

[00:49:11] Ziddi Msangi: We did.

[00:49:19] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again, Ziddi, for sharing his wisdom and having such an amazing conversation with me today. Thank you guys for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more information about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.

Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AO McClain LLC