Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Blessing

While in Botswana, I was lucky enough to work directly with many women's groups. There are many wonderful aspects of each of their cultures, but the culture I identified with most, was the hunter/gatherers.

The Kuru Artists were made up of a group of distinct San people who had a particular gift of self expression. Whether it was painting, handicrafts, dance, song...these natural born story tellers were able to convey their sentiments to their audience - whether or not they spoke a single click or pop! The artists painted or created linoleom block prints of nature and their interaction with "her". The San Bushmen depicted hunting scenes. The San Bush women depicted gathering scenes. Cgoise, one of the older artists, has a beautiful oil on canvas painting where women in modern dress, pick berries from desert bush. Its significance is evident. It touched me profoundly.

When I went out into the desert to meet the ostrich eggshell beaders for the first time, I identified with them. They wanted to stay home to care for their children. So did I. They wanted to help support their family by getting paid for something unique and beautiful that they created, so did I. They wanted to find a happy medium between the expectations and demands of the world and those of their children, so did I. I wanted a sense of purpose, a place of belonging, a way of life that was of my making, and here it was.

Remote as that village was, I never felt so connected and so welcome. No electricity, water, roof over my head, and still I was safe. Never having met any of these women previously, I was moved by the sense of the familiar, familial and they soon became my extended family.

Picture a place where there is nothing between you and the next tree but some shrubs and a vast expanse of red sand. That tree is nearly 15 miles away. Picture the night sky, inky blue with twinkling diamonds sprinkled from one edge of the horizon to the other. Picture a group of chattering women surrounding you with bundles of babies and ostrich eggshell beads enfolded in blankets. Picture a fourteen year old mother crying as her jewelry is returned to her. During this buying day, the buyer from the nonprofit returns her necklaces because they do not meet the quality standards. Nonchalantly, the other women begin unstringing, restringing polishing and piecing beads together to make more acceptable designs. Why is the girl cry? Was she embarrassed? Was she hungry? Was she sick? Or, more probably, she was afraid of being beaten by her child's father if she didn't bring in money for his drink.

I don't remember this incident because I identified with the young mother. I remember it because of that sense of community. That sense of unconditional support and understanding. I remembered it because I wanted to be a part of their group. I wanted to support them and have them support me.

Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22 for the past 40 years. For the San, earth day truly is everyday - as much of a cliche as that sounds, if you waited for rain to bring life to the parched plants that you relied on for food, lived with little shelter from the grit of sandstorms, and felt the burning earth on your tired calloused feet, then appreciating the earth's blessings would come every moment of every day.

And as a woman blessed by the San presence, I see the value in appreciating the earth's bounty each and every day. I am thankful for the gathering of women I am fortunate enough to be associated with, many women that unite under the auspices of Fair Trade at my store and beyond. But mostly, I am made aware of the fact that no matter where we are on this big beautiful planet, we have a connection, we are connected on April 22, 23, 24 and so on from the beginning of time - and that's the blessing I learned from the San Bushmen, the first people.