Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cultural Survival at Tiverton, RI

The sun was shining, the temperature was mid-70's and the crowds were out and shopping.

Before we were set up, a couple came to the booth. A big burly man and his wife were excitedly asking questions about the ostrich eggshell jewelry. "We didn't get a form yet, they told me. Will you put this necklace aside? We'll be right back." The bazaar hadn't officially opened and so a volunteer wasn't yet set up to hand out purchase forms. They had to hunt one down.

Now, we all know, the first rule of sales is not to let your customer out of your sight. I should have gotten them a form, but I had more to put out and it's the type of event that draws people who are supportive, so I put the necklace aside and let them go.

A flood of women came by. Chatting, pointing, touching everything they could reach. A flurry of buying and I knew it was going to be a good day. One woman, there's always at least one, befriended us right off the bat. Peter says I draw it out of people. I don't know about that. But she was very friendly and spent a great deal of time in our booth. At some point, someone else needed our attention and after waiting on those customers, she was still there. "I'm waiting to see if that woman is really buying that necklace." she confided in me. "I will buy these things but if she puts that necklace back, I want it." I had to smile. "Another woman took a necklace right out of my hand and bought it!" she told me indignantly. I apologized. "Oh no. It's not your fault. I just didn't move fast enough." Gotta love that!

The "other" woman did decide on another necklace and my new-found friend snatched it up. "Write me up before she changes her mind!" she and I conspired. One day, she'll email us about going to Botswana. I just know it.

The rest of the day brought interesting conversation, some die-hard and new fans of marula oil. I brought black soap products and a couple bought several bars of soap saying they didn't know you could get it in the USA!

Toward the afternoon, a young woman came by the booth. At first, I noticed her lingering just beyond and when her companion (her father?) caught up with her, she whispered to him, "I think it's her." She approached me with such eagerness I met her halfway. "We met at your house in Ghanzi." she began. I tried to place her - was she a Peace Corps volunteer, a wayward tourist, a friend of a friend... As she continued to describe our meeting, she finally saw recognition in my eyes and told me her name. "Of course." I said and it was like we were long-lost friends. In reality, we had only met once for less than an hour. She had come with our friend because their car was broken down and we never heard from or had seen her again - until yesterday...

Several people had come by surprised we were from Cold Spring - we were nearly 5 hours from "home". One woman goes to church with my mom and aunt. Another is working in Garrison at an acquaintance's home. Such a small world, made smaller by a common interest - fair trade.

We don't make a tremendous amount of money at these Cultural Survival Bazaars, but we have made some good good friends, some supportive customers, and some great connections. And the beauty of the work, the surroundings, and the many people who make the event a "success" is a great enough reason to keep going. . . going to the events but also keep going with the sales and awareness of fair trade products.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In the Spirit

The Spirit of Women's Annual Meeting played host to us last week in Washington DC. Our participation came out of the Snowmass Institute in Texas after meeting Spirit of Women's founder, Tanya Abreu.

Coincidences, Good Fortune, Wishes it what you will, the universe guides us with gifts of plenty.

First, Tanya invited us to set up a cash and carry booth, wanting to expose the participants of SoW's Annual Meeting to fair trade and us to over 200 hospitals with gift shops spread out throughout the country. I couldn't go at first, since I had signed up to teach a summer camp that fell during this week. I tried to work out many different scenarios so that Women's Work would be there even if I was not...but in the end, my course was cancelled and I was able to attend.

Second, with sales in the shop so low the past few months, I had to wait until the last minute to buy more product. I ordered various things and prayed they would arrive on time. The paper beads didn't show up until after we'd left for DC and they were sent to my store instead of my home. This turned out to be a stroke of good luck since I had cleaned the store out of every last paper bead and now at least there were long strands and chunky necklaces for the Cold Spring shoppers.

Third, sales were horrible and I was losing sleep. Having to try to make money to pay bills, I had very little time to work on the book. Wanting to get out from under the pressure, I cried, wrote in my journal, and finally talked to Peter about what we were doing and where we were going. We decided I should try to spend as much time as I could writing my book and he would work in the shop. He was determined to sell the $10,000 wagon wheel table handcrafted from Zimbabwe which would pay off a lot of my credit card debt. He didn't sell the table that day, but we were given a very nice gift from his father - out of the blue and without provocation he wrote us a check for the "magic" number...

Four, Peter didn't sell the table, and I didn't write the book. When he got home, I told him why I didn't get anywhere with it. I couldn't/wouldn't write about our time on the game reserve. I didn't really see it as MY story. I knew it was the part of the book that would be "sexiest" for an agent to sell, but I just didn't see how it would progress the story of the women...and that's when Peter said it, "If I were writing this book, I'd be able to write it." Bells, whistles, angels sang from on high. Yes! He would be able to write about the 10 foot escaped croc he wrangled, the 15 foot python that sunned itself across the roadway, the elephant hiding behind a skinny thorn tree, President GW Bush slipping him a donation after he took Colin Powell and Condeleezza Rice on a game drive. So, that's when we decided to do a he said/she said book. Brilliant plan and do-able for both of us, but an idea that wouldn't come to fruition until we were both ready.

Five, on our way home from DC, Peter and Markham weren't feeling well. We decided to stay over at Leon's. I called and Leon said he was going to Peter's brother's for the girl's birthday. We've missed most of their birthdays - living in Africa, going to Africa for the summer, so it was great to just stumble onto their celebrations and share their special day.

Things most definitely happen for a reason. One last example, occurred over the past two days. My aunt had postponed surgery time and again, fearful of the procedure and of what the Dr. might find. She finally made an appointment but it was for a Thurs - Thurs are the days I work in the store and I would be the one to drive her. Not wanting to give her another excuse, I said I'd take her (anyway) and I'd just have to find someone to work for me.

As luck would have it (since I'm broke and can't really pay someone else to work), the Dr. rescheduled for Tues and I was able to take her to her appointment with no extra expense. But I must say, after several days of being away from home and taking the weekend Off from work (sort of), I'm frazzled. I have three projects coming up that I play an integral part in and so much other work to do...but I need to be with my aunt and so everything else has been squeezed in between dropping her off at the hospital, visiting her in recovery, picking up my mom to go see her, picking her up the following day and filling her prescription before heading home.

All that AND my husband has had a fever for three days now and hasn't been able to help with laundry, grocery shopping, food prep or care of the kids. My son has been throwing up, has a fever and a bloody nose. Between their two fevers and his bloody nose, I've been doing laundry, laundry and more laundry - fingers crossed, I too don't get sick! Hectic is an understatement for my life since DC, but I've been able to juggle things and I'm trying very hard not to freak out.

But back to my aunt...she was frightened to enter the hospital. So much so, she even made sure she saw her nieces and nephews "just in case". I can't help but wonder what she's afraid of? It's a minor procedure - thyroid removal and a biopsy. She is an extremely religious woman - carrying rosaries in her bag, reading from the bible all day long, praying constantly, going to church EVERY DAY, participating in bible study several times a week. Doesn't that kind of faith dictate a life without fear? Don't you then believe that "God" will take care of you?

I am not religious in an organized way. I actually shun Christianity and Catholicism in particular. But I am deeply religious in that I believe there is a higher universal power. I may falter, but for the most part (lately), I have been fearless. I see my life as blessed, that I am being taken care of, that I am given what I need which most of the time is also what I want.

The spirit (of women, but no exclusively so), is all around me, guiding me, comforting me, shielding me. If I turn to a good book, it is a Deepka Chopra book, not the Holy Bible. If I speak to a higher force, it is usually a collective being or on some occasions, my older brother or my father who have passed on. If I feel crazed, I know I can manage because I have faith, faith that my life has a purpose, a greater purpose than one that serves just me, faith that I am worthwhile and therefore, I have faith that everything will work out in the end.