Friday, January 23, 2009

Stitching for Survival

It’s Friday night and that means for most folks here, the party starts at about midnight and goes through the night at some of the local discos. The usual fare of music is heavy salsa beat into Reggaeton into an occasional foreigner treat such as Madonna’s “Just like a Prayer.” My arthritic ankles have no interest in dancing salsa all night, especially when sitting down is considered highly uncool. Besides, I am convinced that no gringa can ever move like a Latin woman. I surmise that there is an ingredient in Latinas that gives them the ability to move their hips and butts in expressive ways that are not contained in my Polish-German genes. I once tried to show one of my English classes here how to dance the blues in one evening class and put on a version of an old classic, “Fever;”needless to say, they were thoroughly amused at the slow sway of my hips. Once again, humor is a saving grace in the “Other Eyes” Adventure.
Today we visited some of the women from the village bank “Jehova es mi Pastor.” These women live very humbly out in the campo (farmland). Nora and I caught a “combi” (minivan) to outside of town. A combi ride is always intriguing because it is the locals’ mode of transportation. These rides cost about 25 cents and the entire objective is to pack in as many people as possible into a minivan to maximize profit en route to the destination. Passengers come along with tarps of vegetables, buckets of milk, and other interesting surprises like gas tanks and bundles of herbs on backs. The worst seat in the combi is the way way back seat as you have to forage your way through everyone in the van to get to the door. It would be fairly easy if people got off and made room for you to move out, or moved over and allowed you to squeeze by…but for some reason there is a prevailing manner I call “combi-blocking” where no one moves for anyone for any reason. Literally, you have to push against people to try and squeeze out through the crowd with your bag on your back or whatever you are carrying. All the while, there is some “combi caller” who manages the money by the door who tells the driver when to stop and tells passengers to get off and on. As you are attempting your move through the sardine can of people (sometimes up to 20 or so in there), the driver keeps yelling “Baja (Down) Baja Baja Baja Baja Baja…” until you get off. Imagine someone in the U.S. being like “Get out get out get out get out get out” to you until you left the bus?!
We left the combi and headed for greener pastures, literally. Nora and I walked about twenty minutes on a water filled pothole dirt road in the crisp afternoon haze with the smell of animal dung looming amidst the wet mud. Small farms plots of corn planted within groves of trees decorated the side of the road and the sight of an old bent-over campesina woman herding her group of sheep running toward us was a journey favorite. We were an interesting sight— two white women speaking fast English, dressed in rain slickers, running shoes, and backpacks. We looked like the REI magazine order form walking amidst the traditional locals in their wool skirts, big hats, and muddy sandals. Sometimes I wish I could see instantly from another perspective—I wondered what the locals were thinking as they passed us by. Was it, “I wonder if she got that jacket at REI or Sports Authority?” ….OK, just a touch of humor to move you along, but the humor sheds light on the divergent thoughts we and they might have in the course of a day, as my ridiculous question wouldn’t be an irrelevant question for us. All of this thinking was much too much, so I stopped on the roadside and co-contemplated with a cow. Nora was brave enough to snap a picture of this moment when I was in existential bliss.

We turned the corner of the narrowing path in a sea of green that surrounded several houses made of mud walls and corrugated tin roofs. Ahead was a group of four people about 50 yards, and when the little boy saw Nora he darted over in pure ecstasy and yelled “GRINGITA” in joyous excitement as he embraced Nora. It was such a darling site, and said so much about the trust and love she had nurtured in this little community. Every woman who came to meet us under the small tin covered area of dirt shared the same proud smile to see her as they declared to her how much they missed her. The whole scene really warmed my heart. The cool air began whipping in and the rain began to fall, and I felt really amazingly content sitting on the seat they offered me to “rest.” I began thinking about how far I was physically from everything I know and the people that I care for, yet I felt really full watching the people live with so little and be at such peace. The same little boy and his sister wanted to joyfully take me through the grass field and show me their animals…the piglets sucking on their mother for food, the cage of cuys (Guinea Pigs) squealing in the wooden hutch. They were overjoyed by me taking digital pictures and then showing them the shots on the screen I had taken, it was an absolute experience they had only known through our Presence there.

The purpose of our gathering was to look at weavings the women had done while Nora was in the U.S. This group is one of our only groups that creates weavings organically from beginning to end. The women raise the sheep and shear their wool, they spin the wool by hand into balls of thread, they dye the thread organically from plant derivatives, and then they weave the wool for countless hours into their creations. They’ve never done this for an “audience” before, and thus, much of our gathering was spent viewing their weavings and giving them advice about colors, thread weight, designs, etc. for the future. Part of what we strive to do in our export class sessions is to teach them that in this selling context, customer service is an important business concept. This is a foreign term here, because business doesn’t revolve around the customer at all, business is for survival purposes. These are new understandings for them, but they listen intently and absorb the information like sponges...they want to know what they need to do to produce the best things possible. Much of our discussion today gave rise to new class requests from the women for Nora to coordinate insofar as teaching the women to make products out of their long weavings.

The rest of the discussion came down to what we were going to buy (quality) and what we could buy (that I can still fit in my suitcase since I’ll be dumping out most of my clothes now I think). This is always a difficult balance for us and for them. For us, it means building a successful bridge between what we provide for them as a nonprofit (classes, etc) and what we desire as purchasing customers. This process can be draining. I mean, let’s face it, all over the world people obsess about money and they are no different. They need it for survival, not just to go buy the latest techno gadget. People end loving relationships over money and in essence, the energy of money is so powerful it can shape shift any situation. But…for me, the energy of Love is more powerful. Love is the greatest of all human capacities. This is why, during this situation, my main objective was to remind women about the circle they are participating within. I wanted them to know their goods come to us on our side, we buy them and enjoy them in our spaces, and the money goes back to fund more classes for them to learn and make more. I think they enjoyed understanding how crucial they are in this process, that they matter. You can see the pride and meaning in their eyes and their work. Every stitch is for survival, and so for those of you who end up with one of these creations in your home, I hope you know how blessed you are to be part of the circle also.

To being a participant in the energy of Love, MM

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Those weavings would making beautiful table runners.