Friendship between seams

“Brown copper with stitches of beige and green. Background music, animal noises, the wind. The people, the stillness, the exuberance, so simple. The first impression is feeling at home because of their warm welcome, and even though I feel an acute grief for leaving something behind, I hope for everything at this new place. Time goes by, the days are pleasant and the nights are cold, like a good day in the so far away Spain. There is so much beauty in this place, I have a feeling it will arrive like a revelation without prior notice. I will let the people here show me.”

I wrote these words the second day after arriving in Livingstone and I had no idea of all the things that could happen to me while living in a small place in the middle of Africa. The arrival impacted me, but the cheerful welcome of the people made me quickly feel at home.

I arrived in Zambia to work with Mary, a housewife resident in the community of Mwandi, and the person who makes products that Kubuka sells in Spain.

The volunteer who introduced us realized that not only Mary, but her daughter as well as my self had the same name, she told us it was a good sign and that many good things would come out of this collaboration. Our first look at each other was a look of understanding, knowing that we would work together hand in hand for the next six months surrounded with chetenge (fabrics), threads, patterns and sewing machines.

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Starting to work with Mary wasn’t all easy. Understanding her ways of thinking and doing, as well as how she spent her time was a challenge. It wasn’t what I was used to. I dedicated myself to try hard, so while at her house I would follow her steps everywhere. I think she noticed from the start that I was willing to learn so she accepted the challenge.

She showed me how to greet people in the streets of the community Mwandi since both the children and adults calls for your attention. You should always greet them regardless if you don’t know them, because you share the same space and you should accordingly treat them with respect.

Further, she showed me how to eat the Nshima, a typical Zambian dish, with my hands and how to cook it as well. Enjoying meals together became our time to share impressions of both our cultures, and I enjoyed observing the behaviors of the different family members and visitors that came into the house.

Usually we had all the chetenge (fabric), patterns and threads in the middle of the room  and we there tried out the different types of products to understand better what we could improve. Many of the people that visited Mary came inside to se what we were doing, some sat down next to us while we were talking and sewing, and we got to ask them for advice or that they tried on the products. We then realized that many of the women were interested in learning, so slowly we started to share some valuable moments with them.

From these encounters we acquired different work habits and adapted to each other.

Mary was accustomed to name the products after details they remembered and not after their actual name. I quickly identified this habit and I remember that we for example called the shopping bag the banana bag because the first model we made was with a chetenge (fabric) with a banana print. As well, we referred to other products with the name of the person that previously had taught how to make the pattern. When we realized all these little details we burst into laugh.

Because we worked with an electric machine I was able to teach them some techniques and tricks on how to secure their sewing, thus transmitting all of my professional background. Her ability of remembering all those small details including my words by the end of the six months, made me finally relax, knowing that without a question we were all learning and assimilating what the other had to offer.

It’s impossible to explain in only a few sentences how these six months has made me see things differently. How the life experiences from every person working with Kubuka has made me learn and grow.

When returning I realized that the feeling of being at home was very different of what I originally had envisioned. A home can sometimes be hidden in places we didn’t even imagine and Mary’s house, with time, became my home in Livingstone. In that place in the middle of Mwandi, Mary and I shared and learned what united us, the sewing, and little by little, we formed an unforgettable friendship.

I have realized that the path contains details that you could never imagine and it is important to be present at that precise moment and that precise place.

María.

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