They come from across the city and they’re ever-moving. To gather all of our artisans in one place is not an easy task. We made phone calls, asked all the translators we could find to come, figured out bus routes and van routes and carpools, for this: Our first ever Refugee Rendezvous.
(My favorite thing about this picture is that from left to right, it’s same-same-same-JESSICA’S HEAD-same-same-CAREN’S HEAD-same. Taken by the fabulous Kelsi Williamson, who leaves today for Africa!)
There was a party feel that night in our church’s foyer, the only space big enough for these women and two men (Dr. Salai, our translator, and Htoo, a grandfather who watches his five grandchildren and sews bibs and Christmas ornaments for us–he’s in the back on the left, 8-10 in). Several of the artisans do not speak the same language. They come from hill tribes scattered throughout Burma and in their mountain villages, hundreds of dialects are spoken. Our more educated artisans, the ones who came down from the mountains for school or lived near larger villages, speak Burmese. Several of them do not, so they only know Karen or Karenni or Chin or Kachin or the many different dialects within those people groups. And yet, when I look at this picture, they are all mixed together, Karen next to Karenni, Kachin beside Burmese. There are few distinctions among them. They are a tiny diaspora in the middle of Texas, these hard-working hand-crafters, the keepers of their culture, the anchors of their homes.
I love them so much it makes me ache. Seeing so many people I love in the same room does me good. We filled out questionaires slowly, slowly–many of them don’t know their addresses, their social security numbers, or how to spell their children’s names. Several of them are illiterate, so the ones who can read and write filled out questions for the rest.
We showed them our plans for the fall, the prototypes we’ve been working on that we’ll be asking them to make over the summer. Some of the women have been designing new products and they have already begun teaching their friends how to make them. They are gorgeous and I can’t wait to show you. We’ll have sneak peeks up on our Facebook page every Friday until our new product launch August 28–like us to get the inside scoop. Here’s the sneak peek from last week:
I need to be really clear about something: I don’t really love to sell things or nor do I want to make you buy stuff. We do this so these brave artisans can actually earn some money for their families since the vast majority of them cannot work because of children at home or health problems or illiteracy or many other issues. This is it, the one thing they can do, and we are helping them carve out new lives with their traditional skills.
Here’s why I will spread the word, push to sell these products, knock on doors, peddle things out of the back of my car, do whatever it takes to get the word out: I love these artisans. I admire them completely. Their courage in the face of adversity is a never-ending source of encouragement to me. They have survived war and persecution and darkness beyond anything I can imagine and they smile with such joy, it breaks me every time.
Those faces, those people I love, are the reason for all of it. I will do whatever it takes to spread the word that these women and men are worth supporting. Their work is beautiful, their lives even more so. Being in that room that night confirmed it for me for the thousandth time–I’m so grateful to be in a place where I can watch the story of this group unfolding it all of its beautfy and complexity. And I love getting to tell that story to you.
And oh my word, the gorgeous things they’re creating–it’s amazing to watch true artists at work. August 28 is going to be good.