Monday, February 1, 2010

Global Women's Work

A young woman entered my shop. Monday was particularly busy after Sunday's newspaper article. I even kept track of people who came in for the first time due to the article, who had seen the article and bought something and those who had been in for the first time without seeing the article.

"I cannot believe I am standing in a store called Women's Work" she told me in her charming Bangledeshi accent. She had just decided to put more effort in her cousin's business. Her cousin 'lives in India where there are so many poor, poor women you cannot even imagine.' she told me. Her cousin teaches them how to do different things so that they can get a job. Because the women are many generations of homeless, they don't even know how to clean properly, use an iron, sew. Her cousin, with her own money and that her of husband, bought these things and takes in these women and teaches them to earn a living.' Smiling from ear to ear, 'and here I am in Women's Work.'

She will bring me some of the things the women have made. Over time, she had taken their things and sold them for her cousin. But now, her cousin asked her to put more effort into it. The women need some success to feel hopeful. They need to sell some things to encourage them to make more. This is a life, she told me, that can change for this woman and her daughter and daughters yet to come. Prostitution, rape, acts of violence are part of their world, their way of life. With income coming from another source, with some self respect, self sufficiency, self reliance, this can be stopped.

Many women came into the store yesterday thanking me...Once, I stammered, "oh no, no need to thank me," I started to say. 'Thank you for having a store like this in Poughkeepsie." she finished. "Oh, yes. Well, it only seemed right."

From the first sale we had in 2006 days after we landed back on New York soil after our life in Botswana, the Unitarian Church Fair Trade Bazaar welcomed us wholeheartedly. That was this very same community.

Today, I got a call with a long lag time. The number on my cell said unavailable which usually means it is from overseas. I don't get as many long distance calls as I make, but lately, people had been seeking me out. This call was from an American who had lived most of his adult life
in Mexico. He was inviting me to come and help the women in his village. I had to smile.

On Sunday, a woman called me while we were doing the show in Long Island. She didn't know if I could help her, but...that's how the requests, inquiries, phone/email/postcards/packages email on Saturday trailed off with, "I'm not sure how to articulate what I am asking now..."

People wanting to help, wanting a venue, a reason, a way. Sometimes, I can't help. Sometimes, all I can do is offer advice. Sometimes, it feels so right and then the project, the idea, the emotion/drive falls away. Sometimes, it all clicks and it all comes together - complete and satisfyingly easy.

I never know what's coming my way. I have gotten much better at dodging trouble - you know, the scenarios that seem too good to be true, and after a long and painful progression, you realize it all too late. The ideas that seem to fit your current state of mind, only to find out that it was a square peg you wanted so badly to fit into a round hole. Or the right premise, but the wrong promise.

I am open to the signs that come my way. I sometimes even write them down. "Today, out of the blue, three people mentioned New Paltz." that kind of thing. Later, you can take a look at those messages and see where you went "wrong" or go "aha!" I knew this would work even way back then!

One sign that keeps creeping up on me is India. I've never had an affinity to India, but time and again I am confronted by it - in Alanna's relationship with the children of the dumps in former Calcutta, in my buddy Jay's connection with the women who weave the trash bags, the popular treeless gift boxes from Sustainable Threads, most recently the young woman and her cousin helping women find work. I say this now because in a year, five years, ten years from now and I've got a store in India, we can all ohh and ah at my astuteness.

I wonder how people find me. Why they choose me even though my website is Botswana-centric, my story too, totally about the San in Botswana, about the ostrich eggshell jewelry. I am astounded that people approach me not just to buy their crafts but also for guidance, kindness, friendship and affirmation. I say I wonder how they find me, but really, I know.

There is a collective mindset that exists and connects all of us.

I chose the name and focus of Women's Work in 2005 because I believed that by targeting women, helping women, empowering women, I could affect the the elderly (our past) and the children (our future), all being taken care of by the caregivers, the women. CARE also adapted that notion in their latest campaign. And over the last two years, women have been the target for many organizations, telling me that my idea was the right one.

Retail/Wholesale in these economic times has been particularly difficult. Many good businesses have had to close. And while Women's Work isn't doing well enough to afford me a salary, I have done what I can to make sure it stays open - for the women artisans, those looking for ways to help, those looking for answers and those needing inspiration to set them on their way.

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