Mamajojo's Muse

"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say; here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58: 6-11

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shopping, Sustainability, 800 Wonders

Even before we started the workshop, our team enjoyed a visit to a local craft center. About 20 or more tiny shops circled a handful of tourists and visitors.  Shopkeepers beckoned from all sides, and shoppers are expected to know how to bargain for the best prices.  Many visitors find the whole process a bit intimidating.

I enjoy bargaining by now, after ten years living near a Tanzanian market. (Ask the price, look shocked, offer less than half, continue from there to shake your head and make small increases until you are satisfied or walk away...) There is no better way to meet people or get a sense of local hospitality and humor! It was hard to choose, but I found a few bargains: bags and bracelets.
 I tried to limit my spending: I had brought the money that I thought we would need to pay for all our expenses and those of the participants: room, board, and transportation for 20 new writers.  Would the amount I had brought cover all that?  All week the final tally of our budget worried me. Peter, their bookkeeper, tracks every meal, overnight stay, and water-bottle, with great precision. My concerns started back in the US the week before: I had expected to get another check for running the Drama Club at school, but it turned out that I had already been paid the whole amount earlier in the year. "Pray for my money to stretch!" I asked Suzie, our school secretary, when she told me about my mistake. Would my miscalculation make me $800 short at the end of the week?
Our workshop was five days long, and I was invited to attend the installation of the new Baptist Bishop of Rwanda on the following Sunday.  The staff at ALARM offered to take me on a tour of the local fabric shops, searching for the perfect traditional dress . This was to be a big event at the local stadium, with great choirs and traditional dance, and everyone decked out in a new outfit.

Cecile, a brilliant ALARM staffer, is now my new "shopping sister."  She led me to five or six fabric shops until we settled on this silky green and silver cloth. 
I waited patiently in the local "sweat shop" as my dress was created.  Actually, the tailors all make their own money there, elbow to elbow at their machines and ironing tables.  Only the temperature made it a sweat shop!  There was much laughter and gossip, as perfectly fitted suits and dresses flew out of foot-powered sewing machines. 

Her friend joined us in the search, and turned out to be the tailor that created my skirt and wrap in about 45 minutes. 

My dress was a big success at the Bishop's event, which I attended with Benjamin Nkusi and his wife. The Celebration was a five hour extravaganza, and we were then invited to a pool-side dinner at a beautiful local hotel. Rwandan food is truly delicious: chicken, beef in a great sauce, cooking bananas over rice, several kinds of potatoes, local veggies and fruit, and ever-present soda.
All through the week, as I worried about financing the workshop, I also spent time brain-storming ideas for the ALARM Center to develop sustainable businesses.  Contributions from the USA and England dropped off during the recession, valuable staff members had to be let go in each nation where ALARM works, and building stopped on the new conference building in Kigali. How could they become financially independent?
ALARM hopes to develop small business ventures such as a full-service restaurant,  event hosting, increased guest-house use, etc. I added some ideas to the mix: how about hosting language training in Kinyarwanda for new ministry and aid workers?  And, instead of sending all the craft and gift profits to outside shops, why not have a small gift shop for visitors? Many westerners are uncomfortable bartering for goods, and feel pressured to buy at the craft center. I suggested a set of hinged, locking bookshelves to hold tee-shirts, jewelry, carvings, baskets, etc. for ALARM's many visitors, who would be happy with a set price and no pressure to buy. 

 In fact, the same six-foot tall set of shelves, hinged together and lockable, with wheels on the bottom to easily move them from room to room, would also work for the "resource center" we planned.  New writers need examples of great writing, so our team had brought a big suitcase full of first-rate books for children. Writers can gather at the ALARM center to learn from the resources and discuss their own stories, and local kids can access the books, too, on planned reading days. When conferences or weddings take up the meeting room, the shelves can be moved out to the storage areas. 
But what would these shelves cost? This called for more shopping at the huge lumber yard/carpentry workshop down the road from the ALARM center. The smell of fresh woodshavings and the sound of hammering floated over the neighborhood every time we drove by. I had always tried to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, hand-carved furniture that was made in dozens of stalls under the tin roof or out in the open.  Finally I could see it first hand. 
And what would two sets of wheeled, hinged, double book shelves cost? $800: the $800 that I had NOT received when I expected it to come the week before our trip. Drat!  I would have to fund-raise for shelves as soon as I got home. 

This, of course, called for more shopping. Visiting the smaller shops in town, I was able to see how cheaply I could get earrings, bracelets, and other small items for a potential shop. When buying in big numbers, like 30 pairs, I could get them for one dollar each! This could be really profitable, and visitors would see a price of three to five dollars as a great deal.  

Thirty pairs of earrings went into my bag, possibly for selling at home to raise my bookshelf money.  But, to be honest, I was awfully tired of fund-raising.
By now, it was the end of the week, and I STILL didn't know how short our budget might fall, and how much I would have to add to it to pay for all our expenses. Not until the day we flew out of Kigali did I find out that, instead of falling short, we had a rather tidy balance on our account. How much? Almost exactly...
The money stretched to cover the needed shelves exactly.
The only thing wasted was time spent worrying.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Krissie! Love the life lesson learned! Love the pics!