Friday, April 24, 2009

Celf Awareness

What an awesome program we participated in yesterday! Students and their teachers/chaperones came streaming into Pace University Gymnasium equipped with environmentally focused questions to ask each exhibitor.

We were asked to write our own questions, which Celf organizers tweeted. Goody Goodies were: How do you know you're buying fair trade, slavery free chocolate? What makes these soccer balls sweat-shop free and eco-friendly? Ask us how you can become famous just by doing something you love. Do you know the answers?

While many students typically came to get their answers and left without much thought, far more stayed and had more meaningful questions and I hope walked away inspired to seek out fair trade products, to make the world more just and fair, to do something they love.

And while we spoke to 1500+ students, Macallan sat in the High School auditorium to participate in Rachel's Challenge. Rachel was the first person killed by the gunmen of Columbine. Her parents, I'm sure, tried to piece together some semblance of meaning from her untimely death and now dedicate their lives to her memory and her unfailing human spirit. Seems in her journal entries (the very journal found in her backpack the day of the shooting with a bullet hole ripped clear through) and an essay written a month before, she shared her idea of creating a chain reaction of kindness and respect.

Her father developed a school program that uses Rachel's spirit as inspiration for students. According to Macallan, the presentation showed how in retrospect, they see that her life had culminated in her death. Only after she died, did they find a note she had written and taped to the back of her dresser. The note was an outline of her hand and inside she scrawled that this hand would one day touch millions. A man 1,000 miles away, kept having dreams. He finally contacted Rachel's father and described this image he had that he claimed had something to do with Rachel. That's when everything took shape - Rachel had drawn a picture of weeping flower. When the tears (13, the same number of people that died that day) hit the ground, more flowers grew. Her father knew then, that he had to do something.

If I am to follow my idea that clues are given to us and we must follow, I see my work heading toward impacting youth. Recently, old Scholastic buddies have re-surfaced on Facebook. There was a time when I lived and breathed educational materials. That was the job I loved and had to give up after having Macallan and moving to Garrison (coming full circle?). With me concentrating on writing my memories in the past few weeks, the regret lingers and holds strong. I loved writing for students. I miss it.

At the Trunk Sale in Brooklyn, two young women came to the sale. They have since come to me asking what they can do to help. And before them, a Princeton student contacted me wanting me to make arrangements for her to go to Botswana to apprentice under Kushonya (Master Basket Weaver) and also spend some time with ostrich eggshell beaders to learn that craft...Impacting students. I think I need to get back to that love and bring all of our experiences to a generation that can and will do something about it. Can and will make the world a better place.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Life's Work: Women's Work

I've spent over one year and these two beautiful Spring days working on my book. I'm so close to having a finished book proposal that I'm celebrating with a little outdoor time and a little gloating.

Here is the premise of the book tentatively entitled: "My Life's Work: Women's Work":

Five years since that fateful day in the Kalahari, I sit here in NY with the same tears in my eyes. I know now what I couldn't’ have known then. I was given a gift.

Today, as the US economy fails, our friends and families worry about housing costs, savings, price of fuel, I feel thankful for the many lessons given to us by the San Bushmen. As perpetual Hunter/Gatherers, everyone today faces the same struggles as the San. The Gatherers pick up and make a home wherever the Hunters can find food, a livelihood. Like the San, a home is a temporary shelter that can be taken away by a storm, a fire, another person. The San believe the Earth gives us what we need and so whatever they have, they are grateful for.

From our adventure, I think people can gain some insight into life in a third world country, inspiration to follow their dreams, guidance to live simply, and if nothing else, spend a few hours being entertained by two naïve people running away from the rat race only to be blindsided into acknowledging the human one.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not fair

I was feeling hopeful and so I started making phone calls. Two of the women I do the most business with did not answer their phones. I guess they are out of range. My ostrich eggshell contact (who shall remain nameless until I can employ her full time) has been out of cellphone reception for weeks now. I'm getting frustrated. I have orders to keep and my stock is dwindling to just a few pieces. . .

I called a woman who had contacted me weeks before. I had encouraged her to send me pricelists but still no email. I am desperate for stock so I give her a call.

She was wonderful - articulate and knowledgeable, spouting those charming phrases that to me and apparently 7 million readers who love Alexander McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books find so endearing.

She worked "herself to death" with UNDP and other organizations in order to make "funds" to start her business. "How can one live knowing that others are sufferrrring?"(Setswana calls for "r" rolling that I just could never master.) She had "starved" so that her business could "live", she said, and "now with a recession, what hope do I have?" But she endures and with my kind help she hopes her sweat and tears will pay off.

How do you pay for the crafts that you buy? I asked her. "I have employed the women." She said frankly. "I researched and asked knowledgeable people how best to do business. I asked the women. And we all said, the best way to do business is to make everyone responsible. And so I employ women - at first there were 10 basket makers, now there are 6. At first I hired 3 ostrich bead makers, now there is one, with 2 that work part time. But if you have an order, we will work night and day, night and day for you to fulfill that order." I smiled, they would too. "I don't want you to do that." I told her. I would buy what they had if she can send me a pricelist and we can go from there.

So many people wanting to do what they can for others. She started her business "small in 2006." She said, "I strrrugggled for two years, only to be rewarded with a recession. Ah, that is life."

Familiar with her plight because it is much like mine. I too started the store in 2006, hopeful that I had great products and could fill a niche market. How could I fail? I was doing it out of love, out of a desire to help others? But a recession hit, hit hard. It's funny, coz I finally got a sign put up. Gorgeous sign (thanks to Todd Jones) so well worth the wait...but wouldn't you know it, the very month I had it hung, was the first month in nearly three years that my store couldn't pay for itself...

What does THAT mean?

It means that no, things aren't "fair" but it's up to us to make it less so. And that's what Fair Trade is all about...finding the best solutions to a more equitable existence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Calling all No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Fans!

Check back to find out the details for our No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Tea Party.

We're gearing up for the latest release of Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe series, "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" due out on April 21. With ceramics from Botswana, Rooibos Tea from South Africa and the books available, we are planning on a party to bring Mma Ramotswe fans together.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

American Idol and Women's Work

When we were living in Africa, we could have gotten satellite tv transmission, but we didn't want to spend the money. So, we asked our family to send us DVDs to watch. As a result, our children know Austin Powers movies by heart...good family viewing, right?!?
Since we've returned to the US, we religiously watch American Idol, particularly with our teenage daughter. I love that bonding and for what it is, you gotta admit, the production value is excellent. This is also our model for the TV show Peter is working on. Good family viewing so that grandma's and dad's will have something to discuss and enjoy together with their tough to please teens.
This year's show, more than previous years' is more about the singing and less about the human interest. But oddly enough, there were more single moms on the show than before-hmmm...
Last night, and I'm hoping I'm not giving anything away, Megan was booted off. Each week, this beautiful, bubbly, sweet tattooed young woman (I think she was only 23!) sang in her odd jazzy unique voice that often times did not work with the song choice (see, I could be a judge!), but she was beautiful and each week she hung on. What I noticed in her and another of the single mom contestants was that they were singing their hearts out but their hearts belong elsewhere. They missed their children. Each week you could see that heartbreak and as a mom, I thought, they are both saying, it's OK (which as Megan's exclamation last night as she heard the news) because she just couldn't wait to get home to her baby.
This is a show and a very well orchestrated show at that, but I believe the emotions of the contestants are genuine. I believe that they are singing for their careers, if not their lives, as is dramatically proclaimed by Ryan Seacrest. And so, I think they all realize what this exposure would mean for them as singers.
And with each of these single moms, I think they couldn't compete - not because they weren't able singers, but because their hearts were somewhere else.
This is the basis of Women's Work and every day I see the sacrifices women make. The importance our children have in our lives keeps us from fulfilling our dreams. Not that it's a bad thing - not that we who struggle with it resent it, at least I hope that's not what we feel - but our lives, values, priorities change with the birth of our children. For many of us, they will always come first.
I applaud the talents so many women possess and empathize with their choices to find a place for those skills within the values of caring for our children. Can Megan still sing? Sure she can. She just won't be doing it right now, away from her child for weeks at a time...