Late last year, we asked artisan groups if there were any other skills they wanted to learn besides basket weaving that we might be able to help with. Most of the artisans wanted to learn other skills which would directly lead to higher income, such as soap-making, tailoring, or animal rearing. One group surprised us with their answer though. “We’d like to at least be able to sign our names,” they said.
In the past week, we have received 2 major orders from new customers in the U.S.! This will considerably raise the average artisan income for our members and will also bring us much closer to our goal of self-sustainability by 2013.
The only thing keeping our entire staff from jumping for joy all day every day at the office is that fact that one of our artisans was brutally killed last week, her body found burnt and decapitated in the bush days after her disappearance. While the motives behind her murder are unknown, police have arrested 4 suspects, and it is likely that land ownership issues are behind the crime. She was one of the best weavers in the group and also had an extremely warm personality and strong leadership skills. She will be missed.
The day after we got home from Bujumbura, I took off for Kigali, Rwanda with our Logistics Manager, Edson, to ship some 700 baskets to the U.S. via air freight. It was our first ever air freight shipment, and considering that fact it went extremely well. We followed the step by step instructions from East African Cargo, our shipping agent in Kigali, and things went smoothly. We did, however, manage to lock our keys in the car at the border which was slightly awkward.
Luckily a local kid with a bike was willing to sell us one of his spokes at a very low price, which Edson then used to pick the lock. Another great moment occured at the airport when a German Shepherd came running up to sniff our boxes and Edson’s eyes just about popped out of his head. First, he had never seen a dog that large, and secondly he’d never heard of dogs who could sniff out drugs.
The products were shipped off to Chicago without a hitch, where they were then picked up by volunteers who will be selling them at the Ethnic Arts Festival in Evanston, Illionois this July. Those lucky Illinoisers! 😉
Greetings, long-lost friends! I apologize, because (as my mother has kindly pointed out to me) I have not keeping up on my blog. Things have been quite busy lately. In the past month, I have traveled to Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya. We have also received 4 new interns at our office. This has not left much time for reflection and cross-Atlantic communication, but today I’m turning over a new banana leaf, as it were (you’re welcome, mom).
First Burundi. I traveled with two of our interns to Bujumbura, the capital of tiny Burundi. A direct bus travels from Dar es Salaam to Bujumbura, passing through Ngara. We hopped on thinking that we would arrive in 4 or 5 hours as we had been told at the bus station. However, it took closer to 9 hours. However, the winding roads passed through beautiful hills, making the trip more enjoyable. Once we arrived we managed to find a convenience store still open for a meager yet sufficient dinner of bread, water, and Laughing Cow cheese.
Although we did participate in one drum circle and visit a “museum,” (which had a few different animals including a chimpanzee who lets you fill his water bottle only to start spraying you with water), we spent most of the next two days relaxing at the beach of Lake Tanganyika, the 2nd largest body of freshwater in the world. You wouldn’t know it wasn’t the ocean if someone didn’t tell you – it’s huge. I also hope there is not bilharzia in the water as there is in Lake Victoria, because we did swim in it.
Our second day at the beach happened to be Easter Sunday, and the locals all came to the beach in their finest to snap photographs of eachother. It was interesting that the beach was segregated (unofficially) into the foreign, hotel-going tourists and the local section. Of course, we got tired of the tourist section quickly and migrated down to the local beachfront, where we found an oasis built on stilts that sat over the water. The staircase was a bit sketchy, but once atop, we were rewarded with a more integrated setting and a nice “sea” breeze. I got quite burned on that second day as well by foolishly lying on my stomach in the sun with my bathing suit on and no sunscreen, so the next day’s bus trip was a bit uncomfortable on the ol back.
I have now visited the 3 largest freshwater lakes in the world (Superior, Tanganyika, and Victoria) so apparently I’m on a roll. I’ve also visited the world’s largest salt-water lake or smallest ocean depending on how you look at it – the Great Salt Lake. Therefore, I’ve considered making this lake touring a new hobby – similar to my hobby of living at high elevations – by continuing to visit the world’s largest freshwater lakes in descending order, although I’m not sure how far this world ranking is extended.
French is the official language in Burundi, but Kiswahili is also spoken (along with Kirundi), so we used a mix of languages to get by. Not long ago, Burundi was a war-torn country, and Ngara hosted thousands of Burundian refugees. It was during that time that WC began – as a means of increasing income for Burundian refugees and incorporating them into the local community. Now, Burundi is peaceful, but there does seem to be tension under the surface, and people on the street warned us not to walk around after dark.
Advice for would-be travelers: the 3 day visa fee has increased to $40. Also, don’t forget your yellow fever card!
When I fist arrived in East Africa at the end of July, I came through Kigali, Rwanda because it’s the closest international airport to Ngara, Tanzania. As I climbed down the stairs and onto the tarmac – my very first time breathing African air since being medically evacuated from Cameroon with severe malaria in 2008 – I caught the somewhat faint scent of smoke in the warm air and knew it was the end of the dry season. Farmers in the areas around the city were clearing their fields by burning them, and the smoke was collecting in the city.
I had a fleeting glimpse of a major East African city then (outside of Africa, Kigali is best known as the epicenter of the horrific genocide of the late 90’s, but today it is a peaceful, bustling, and rather prosperous city), but since then I had not left the remote region of Ngara, Tanzania (nestling the border of Burundi and Rwanda, Ngara is the former site of a large UNHCR refugee camp) for 3 months. In the past month, however, I have finally had the chance to experience two more East African cities – first Nairobi, the capital of bordering Kenya, and then Dar es Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania.
Traveling to Nairobi by bus with our Production Assistant, Edron was a somewhat tiring but overall very positive experience. On the first day, we took a 5 hour bus ride to Mwanza, Tanzania, the nearest city to Ngara. The most direct route from Ngara to Mwanza is through a narrow finger of Lake Victoria – the third largest freshwater body of water in the world (after Lake Superior and Lake Tanganyika) – and so our bus drove onto a ferry while we sat on the deck and looked North to see what we could of the giant lake for our short ferry ride.
On Sunday, I’ll be travelling to Nairobi, Kenya with our Production Assistant, Edron. SERRV, a large fair trade importer from the U.S., is having a training for their East African producer groups, and invited us to attend as a potential future trading partner. The idea of the workshop is to build the capacity of SERRV’s current and future trading partners, so it’s an amazing opportunity for us. Also, if we are able to work with SERRV, our 380 artisans will have work for much more of the year, and our products will gain a large amount of market exposure in the U.S.
Plus, Mama Mpinzile made a connection in Ghana with a customer from Nairobi whose products we’ll be delivering as luggage. Plus, I get to hang out with Edron and see Nairobi! Woooohooooo!
Just a friendly reminder – if you’d like to order a package of 50 prepackaged ornaments for a host party, please let me know by October 10th so we can get your package ready and shipped in time for the holidays. Ordering requires no cash upfront, and is as easy as sending me an email at email@example.com
For those who have already placed an order, thanks so much for your support – the artisans and all of WomenCraft appreciate it!
Friendly Blog Readers,
If you’re interested in WomenCraft, and want to support our work there’s a fun and easy way for you and your community to get involved. This holiday season, volunteer for a Christmas Host Party, and you can help WomenCraft improve the livelihoods of our artisans as well as the appearance of your Christmas tree!
New Products for Christmas!
Our new selection of handmade Christmas ornaments direct from the tri-border region of Tanzania combines traditional designs with a modern sense of style, featuring a range of ornaments in colorful African fabrics. For a complete price list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How it Works
If you would like to be a Host, please email email@example.com indicating your interest and include your full name and shipping address. WomenCraft will email our Host Party Information Packet to you, which contains all the necessary materials for conducting a successful party at your home, school, church, or other organization. A standard pre-selected package of 50 ornaments and 3 product samples from our current line will then arrive between mid-October and early November (please let us know if you would like to alter the standard package to better suit your needs). After your sale, we ask that profits be returned to WomenCraft via bank transfer, and unsold products may be returned to the address listed in the information packet.
Connecting in Gratitude
We realize this time of year is often a busy one, but we also believe in the potential of communities to connect for the common good. WomenCraft would like to thank the many of you who have faithfully supported this enterprise thus far. We feel a deep gratitude for your contributions over these many years, and look forward to even greater successes in the years to come. Asante!
Megan and the WomenCraft Team