Abataka Zambia: Travel Notes to Inspire
These are the travel notes of Same Sky founder, Francine LeFrak. In November 2011 She visited the Abataka Collective in Zambia to train artisans and evaluate their progress. Her words are a glimpse into the lives of Same Sky’s artisans. Hope you are as inspired as we are:
The plane landed in Lusaka, Zambia a country in sub-Sahara Africa ridden with aids. One in seven adults is living with HIV. I traveled here to meet the same sky HIV+ women artisans and visit the house Mary Fisher and I rented for them to work in. I went through customs got a visa where they fingerprinted both of my hands (did they think I was a drug dealer?)and headed out the door looking for the driver named Medicine. He was supposed to meet me with a sign and as I looked out guess what happened ? There in full voice were the Abataka same sky women singing and howling and smiling with smiles you only see in Africa. They were Singing the Francine song in njenja their language. They sang chichitekelo Francine,which means Believe and refers to the belief that you have in us that you traveled all this way to believe in all of us we believe in each other and you and we celebrate the people that think about us. The second song was balamupapa, “Francine we shall go with you and tie you on our back we are moving with you for a long time we are together on this journey we hold you like a baby on our backs that can never fall off.” The third song they sang was inkonto yandi, my stick. Meaning, “you brought us hope and you are our stick so even if we fall we have a stick to lean on for our long journey together.” They sang their hearts out meanwhile the people in the airport asked them what church they were from and they said no church they said “we are the HIV women who have changed our lives by making jewelry”. The whole airport watched us and looked at me as if I was Michelle Obama arriving in Zambia. The Women were full of joy and heart. Tears welt up inside of me I couldn’t catch my breath I was deeply touched by their love and transported by that feeling.
Then though I felt weary from the plane ride and was wearing not a stitch of makeup I got in the car with Medicine and his dazzling Clark Gable smile and drove straight to the house that we rented for the women. I had tasted the drug and I couldn’t leave them.
They continued singing in their cars madly waving out the window yelling Francine.
When we arrived at the house the women made me turn backwards to enter the house; I was sandwiched in the middle of the women all walking backwards through the front door. The women said it’s a new house and because I have never seen it before we need to go through this ritual. This house, they never dreamed of having, represents a start of their new life. It was a dream they didn’t even dream of so it was important to enter by celebrating this way and walking in backwards. Then the most amazing thing happened, the women got down on the floor because they had never met me before and it was a sign of respect to show their appreciation and love. When they got up they proudly walked me and Mary Fisher from room to room showing off their place of work where they gained self-esteem, bonded and improved health and wrote all of the songs they sang to me.
The women were once Struggling with aids but now that their illness is under control they are struggling with social issues. Working in a collective with other women and making a sustainable income empowers them to face their challenges.
We all began working. I measured the bracelets for proper sizing and judged their closures to make sure they were seamless.
They continued singing in 5 part harmony and I was surprised to discover that they wrote all the songs they sang while working together. The atmosphere was charged and full of life. How blessed I felt to be present and see the impact this work was making first hand.
Then I tried to design a few bracelets with the remaining beads. I wanted to give them more work and basically we had no beads. I knew my office would not be too happy because If these bracelets were popular we could never duplicate them but I did it anyway. The desire to give the women work was most important.
The next day we continued our work and that night ate dinner at Ida’s house. She made a feast pots and pots of food. She put a scarf on my head and chitenge around my waist and we began to cook Nshima together. It’s a grits like substance made in a huge pot. Once that was ready She served endless pots filled with mysterious things including caterpillars and many other delicacies all laid out on the floor. She was so proud of this feast and so excited we were in her home. The grits became the forks for eating the rest of the food but I asked for my own fork anyway.
The next day we visited the Mother Teresa compound with the aids babies and children. They danced for us and handed us flowers. We then went through the cribs of the sick babies. It was well organized and they each had one stuffed animal that they clutched. These two American doctors live in Lusaka with their children and toured the facility with us. How brave their three children were trying to play with the babies. Many were not responsive but the kids kept trying. The doctors told us they gave the center ARV drugs and the kids were getting better. The nuns got confused because the facility is to prepare for death and dying not for people to get up and walk away.
Then we visited Ciders center for disease. Mary Fisher’s family is building an amazing health center to serve the community. There is so much hope here for a brighter future. This has been such a wonderful experience.Filed under TRUNK SHOWS | Comments: 0