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Monday, September 29, 2008

Swept from the Himalayas

A Little Something is growing into a big something. Word is spreading throughout the refugee community here about our endeavor. Although we worked primarily with African women a year ago, we have diversified rather quickly as new groups have been included in the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

We barely got started with the Burmese Karen weavers when the Bhutanese started to arrive. A word about the Bhutanese. This group is almost exclusively ethnic Nepali. When the Bhutanese government enacted a policy to maintain an ethnic balance favorable to the ethnic majority, the ethnic Nepalis, or Lhotsampas, were forced to leave Bhutan. Most fled to Nepal where they have been living for the last 16 years. Through the United Nations’ refugee resettlement program, more than half of this population will be permanently resettled in the United States. Click here for a brief overview of the Lhotsampas’ culture and refugee situation, and click here for the addendum that gives addition cultural information (it’s quite fascinating).

The Bhutanese have been arriving here in Denver for a few months now. We found out that the women are skilled in several crafts, including jewelry making, weaving, knitting, and crochet. Several of the women wanted more information about A Little Something, so we scheduled a meeting. With the other groups, organizing meetings has been a bit of a struggle, as the women have shown little interest in organizing themselves this way. We were in for a surprise.

When meeting time came around, we were ready to go…almost. We were expecting eight women, but 24 showed up. It was disconcerting but exciting at the same time.

The group was lively, to say the least. My head was swimming with details as I tried to remember the do’s and don’ts of working with this culture…Caste system…age…more. The women all wanted to speak at once. They had dozens of questions, and, unlike our other groups, wanted to let us know that they were quite interested in learning to be businesswomen.

As the meeting concluded, seven of the knitters set out with Jaime and me to immediately embark on a field trip. Seven wasn’t a random number—it was the number of people we could fit into our two cars. Who knew we needed a bus? We grappled with seatbelts and automatic locks, and when everyone was properly secured, we headed off to buy yarn at The Lamb Shoppe (say it out loud and you’ll get the joke).

I’m pretty sure the employees at the shop weren’t expecting so much activity on an otherwise-uneventful Thursday afternoon. The women swept into the shop in a wave of brightly colored saris, a human bouquet that was chattering excitedly.

The next hour was spent touching yarn, comparing colors and discussing texture, looking at crochet hooks, choosing knitting needles, and carefully selecting just the right supplies for each person’s first project. There were a lot of questions…”Can I get this?” “I don’t know which needles to get. I can get both? Really?” “What size needles do I need for this yarn?” “Can I really make anything I want?”

In the midst of this, Jaime and I picked out yarn for our other knitters and for A Little Something’s supply stock. We reveled in the fun of it, the rich colors and sumptuous feel of alpaca, cotton, and fine wool. A few skeins quickly became armloads of yarn.

After the shopping was finished, Jaime and I took the women to the nearest major bus stop. As I approached the intersection, the bus was pulling up to the curb. I swung into the gas station so the women could get out of my car safely. They didn’t want to miss the bus, so they tried their best to wiggle out of the SUV in a hurry—no easy feat in a sari. From the rearview mirror, I watched them scurry toward the bus in a flurry of colorful dresses, arms filled with pink plastic bags full of yarn and knitting needles.

A bell was dinging in my car telling me that a door was open. I assessed the situation and saw that all of the doors had been left open by my passengers. I needed to move because another car was trying to ease around my Jeep to get into the station. Then I looked again. The driver, a woman with long blonde hair, was laughing good-naturedly at the scene before her. It probably was a little different than what one normally expects to see on a trip to the Conoco.

The women were so excited to start working on their projects, I would bet that several are probably well along in their creations. Jaime and I—and the women at the Lamb Shoppe—are all eager to see what our knitters have made with their first supplies.

Here is a slide show of the meeting and the yarn-buying excursion. Enjoy.

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