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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Life beyond beads

Fatuma sat in on the Saturday beginner's lesson. She was very quiet despite my attempts at engaging her in conversation.

Fatuma has come a long way in her jewelry-making skills. Still, she needed the refresher lesson. She tried so hard to get everything perfect, she started making more mistakes in frustration. She really was doing well, and by the time she was ready to leave, her work was OK. She said she had something else she needed to do, and out the door she went.

Once the Bhutanese women had tidied up, I headed outside and put my things in the car. I spotted activity in the community garden, so I wandered over to see who was there. Htee Ku Paw, Fatuma, and a couple of the other ALS women have plots in the garden.

Fatuma was hard at work hacking at the dry, compacted soil. Watching her, I saw a stark contrast to the peaceful and gentle jewelry making we had just done together. Fatuma was now bent over, working extremely hard. The jewelry lesson and all things bead-related seemed so frivolous now.

Fatuma's work was unbelievably difficult. She showed me the plot she had last year, where someone had already prepped the soft soil. Fatuma's new area had obviously been neglected. It didn't look promising in terms of drainage or sun exposure. This year's drought hadn't helped the soil any, either.

I noticed that Fatuma was wearing flip-flops. She rubbed her hands and I saw that she had no work gloves. When I said that she needed better gardening shoes, Fatuma looked at her feet for a second and just shrugged. I scanned the garden and realized that almost everyone there--the Somali Bantu group--was working in flip-flops and no one had gloves. It seemed particularly hard for the kids. They haven't grown up farming so their hands are the soft hands of school kids who watch TV when they get home. One of Zahara Mahmud's sons was in obvious pain. Like Fatuma, Zahara also worked without comfort items as she swung a pick into the hard soil. Another jewelry maker in need of decent footwear and some sturdy work gloves.

When I asked Fatuma what she planned to grow in her garden, she said, "Everything!" Upon further questioning, Fatuma decided she wanted to plant cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, and maybe corn, plus a few things she can't remember in English. I looked at her woefully neglected garden space and wondered if it would be ready for planting in May. I asked Fatuma where her children were. Why weren't they helping? I thought, This family desperately needs the food that will come out of this garden. Shouldn't everyone contribute to Fatuma's gardening efforts?

Fatuma chuckled and told me that this was her "alone" time; it was quiet for her head. That makes sense--she is the mother of eight children.

Flip-flops. No work gloves. Shared tools. I will never complain about how hard my own garden work is. I work in luxury compared to the A Little Something women scratching at the earth for the same reason they make jewelry: So their families can eat.

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