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Monday, December 31, 2007

Growing into the New Year

The year is coming to an end, but for A Little Something, the last day of the year brought us more new beginnings.

A few weeks ago, Sharon and Anna met Mama Moumina, the undisputed doyenne of the Bantu community. Mama M is a force to be reckoned with. In a community where major decisions are made among the council of elders, it is Mama who often determines the outcome of those decisions. And she is wonderful. Her commanding presence is softened by her mischievous sense of humor and her theatrical expression. Mama M is a comedian, a diva, and a little bit intimidating.
And so it was we were honored and maybe a little bit nervous when Mama M said she wanted to join the crafts group and try her hand at making jewelry.

Today was Mama M's first lesson. When I arrived, I walked into a curtained off bedroom where Anna, Bakhara, and Moumina were seated on the floor, a pile of beads and jewelry-making supplies spread on the floor between them. Bakhara's two-year-old daughter was peeking around the curtain, trying to decide whether or not to come in or just launch an ambush on Anna from behind the curtain (it was the latter). The heat was cranked up high and the windows had long since steamed over.

I settled in to watch the lesson. Bakhara was patiently showing Mama M how to make earrings. Bakhara went through the first steps again and again, demonstrating the procedures and then assisting Mama M. The language was Mai-Mai, but the tone was that of an encouraging teacher. Mama M was a serious pupil but relaxed enough to shrug off her mistakes and move on. She really wanted to get it right, though--no false praise would do. I wondered: Would I risk learning something so unfamiliar (so publicly) at her age and station in life?

I looked at these women and thought about how it had been only a few weeks ago that Anna took a picture of Haiffaa teaching Bakhara, and as has been the way of things in this project, the newly-acquired knowledge was passed on to another woman almost immediately. I was struck by how Mama M, this respected woman of status in her community, patiently took instruction from a 20-year-old.

When Mama finished her first earring, she modeled it with more than a bit of sass. I took her picture, but it didn't really capture the playful showing off, the raised eyebrow, the hand on hip, the tilted chin and the flair that came with the pride one can only feel after finally figuring out how to do something that has been a challenge. When I thought about it, I realized that although Mama is known for her fiery personality, on this afternoon she was actually somewhat reserved and totally absorbed with the intricacies of turning a headpin.

The afternoon drew to a close after what seemed like just minutes. As we prepared to leave, Mama M asked for our phone numbers--in case she were to need further consultations. She smiled and in eloquent Mai-Mai, thanked us for our help. Anna responded quite competently in Mai-Mai. As we stepped past the curtain, I glanced back and saw Mama was still busily sorting beads. The curtain fell back into place, and Anna, Bakhara, her girls and I bundled ourselves up, said our goodbyes, and trundled out into the cold, snowy twilight.

It was a fine finish to a pretty good year.


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