Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Piecing Together a Relationship

Top Row: Huang Nan, Heh Ler Pa, Bo Meh, Meh Mo, Ko Meh
Middle Row: Ee Ee Phioye, Hser Ku Moo, So Meh, Ku Lo and Ma Lay
Bottom Row: Law Gay, Oo Meh, Neh Meh, Not Do Hen, Kar Noo
These are (most of) the women of HCHT. They are some of the most beautiful women I know. They are also some of the hardest women to get to know. Our three years in relationship with the artisans of HCHT is full of tales of miscommunication. When we said bring back one rice bag tote bag and we'll see how it sells, we received more than 100. When we were out of town for 4th of July, we prepped the class for weeks, but still heard that a group gathered outside the locked Village Center wondering where we were.

It's been difficult to establish meaningful relationships when much of the time we feel like we're not able to communicate basic information. This year when we met with the Board (yes, we have a Board!) in January, we felt called to immerse ourselves deeper into these relationships instead of expanding our reach wider to other refugee groups. We've been blessed to have Dr. Salai come to our meetings and help bridge the language gap. We've also been able to meet with many of the women in their homes and hear their stories. They share stories of struggle and--without exception--incredible strength and faith in the midst of it.

This week, I've been sorting through the bags and getting some ready to sell online. It's interesting to see how the personalities of the women are apparent in their weaving and sewing.

Meh Mo's weaving (her blue diamond and X pattern is below) is meticulous and symmetrical, precise and professional. She's the go-to weaver for new product design. But I've also noticed that she enjoys experimenting with different styles, patterns and colors. She likes to play and be creative. Meh Mo is the oldest girl of 10 children. While her other siblings were able to go to school, she stayed back and helped care for the younger children, the farm and the house. She told us that her mother wasn't a big weaver, but she would visit other women in their small village and learn from them. Then she would come home and "play around". I see Meh Mo now so clearly in her work--the perfectionism of the oldest child, the years of careful research and listening, and the joy she finds in the creative play in her craft.

Not Do Hen has been with HCHT since close to the beginning. I've always had a crush on her bags (2nd down on the right). They are rustic and raw and pretty and soft at the same time. She weaves by putting stakes in the tiny patch of dirt outside her apartment and sitting on the ground to weave.We also know her through her daughter, a beautiful teenager who radiates the love and warmth we're sure she received from her mother. I've come to think of her as a hardscrabble woman who is raw and honest, but overarchingly nurturing, loving and kind.

Ku Lo is our super sewer. It's been a struggle finding sewing projects that are easy to make, easy to sell and use sustainable materials. She has had the patience of a saint as she sewed bag after bag and earned little. She has the kind of sticktoitiveness  I admire. And she's also one of the most positive, energetic and funny people I know. She has the entire class in stitches at least once a meeting. Dr. Salai will just look at us, shrug his shoulders and say, "Doesn't translate." Even without translation, I know her through her work. The simple, perfect stitches, the odd zippers I'm guessing she gathered from used clothing at Goodwill, and her ability to stay upbeat when months and months go by with little results from hard work.

It's been so much fun this week playing with bags and realizing that the clues to knowing these women are threaded throughout their work. No wonder I'm having a hard time putting them up for sale!  I'm reminded of a passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus says we will know people by the fruit they produce. In their weaving, in the character of their children, and in their stories of interminable faith and strength, we have come to know the artisans this year on a much deeper level. And for that, we are truly grateful, blessed and honored.


No comments:

Post a Comment