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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Humming along

On the third Saturday of each month, the members of A Little Something are invited to meet for a few hours of crafting instruction, to learn, drink some tea, and enjoy the company of other women. Sometimes we have a dozen members in attendance, and sometimes just a few. We never know for sure who's coming or who even understood that it was this Saturday.

Sometimes, when the turnout is small, we wonder if we're losing momentum, or maybe the women just aren't that interested after all. This year has been a year of big changes for A Little Something, as well as a year of growing pains and trying to envision a realistic, sustainable future. All of that forward thinking has sometimes meant that spending time with the refugee women has been secondary to getting the business on track for a healthy future. It's not a stretch to think the women might drift away.

Eventually, we find out things like the fact that many women have no access to a buss pass and no cash for bus fare, so they don't attend the meetings. There are weddings and funerals, and this weekend, a major holiday for the ethnic Nepalese. It's not so much about enthusiasm as the realities of modern and traditional life all at once.

This week was no different. Women we had expected didn't come. Others came unexpectedly. Just when we thought the group might be small, our two translators from Burma arrived and eagerly jumped in and joined a lesson on making beaded key fobs. Fatuma and Hajia showed up after their Saturday English class where our project originated three years ago. Then, eight Burmese Karenni/Kayah women arrived, tentatively entering the room. They were there to learn about the weaving co-op.

Almost an hour-and-a-half into the meeting Guadence, a slight, middle-aged woman from Burundi, came in, carrying her tools and a bag of finished jewelry. Jaime looked up and said, "You're late!" Gaudence shook her head and said, "No bus pass. I come by leg."

It took a minute for that to sink in. Gaudence had just walked five miles from her apartment across town to our meeting location, determined not to miss it just because she lacked a bus pass.

This was a sobering moment for us as we realized that Gaudence had done what other women probably wanted to do but could not manage--she got to the meeting the only way she knew how. Once there, she was quickly absorbed in the keychain lesson, and was happily selecting beads for her projects. She never complained. She was happy just to have made it.

Refugees are amazing people. Challenges that many of us wouldn't even consider are not seen as unreasonable by many of these people. They have negotiated their way through situations we cannot even imagine.

Gaudence and her friend Rahima are almost desperate for the chance to spend time with other women, quietly creating beautiful crafts. The weavers were reserved at first, but eventually chatted excitedly about the idea that they were going to get the tools they needed to do something that is as culturally comforting as traditional food or speaking their first language.

Everyone comes to the gatherings for a reason, but we can't really know how important a respite or opportunity these gathering are for the members. The most we can do is keep showing up on the third Saturday of the month and being open to the experience that unfolds.