Juan Sebastián walked into the Ibu Pop-up Shop in Palm Beach, having driven from Miami for this reason alone, to look and see for himself what Ibu is about. I work with artisans in Colombia, he said gently with an accent and with such humility and excitement that I had to lean in to get the story. You must come. And he said it with a kind of quiet conviction such that I knew my bags were already packed.
Last Friday, just six weeks later, I land in Medellin and find Juan Sebastián and his partner Juan Pablo, greeting me, carrying me over winding mountain roads into the city in the dark of the night. The next morning, we enter a gathering of indigenous artisans from the 87 diverse ethnic groups of Colombia to see their highly textural, organic, breathtaking craft.
The indigenous women I am meeting are from the Amazon, from Putamayo, the coast, the Sierra Nevada mountains. They have taken tiny boats, then small boats, and then larger boats, until they take buses, or whatever they must take - over the thundering rivers and high mountains to find their way to Medellin, this city of 2.5 million people. They are heroes, an insider whispered, speaking of the lengths these artisans will go to support their communities.
I meet the young woman, below left, five months pregnant with life, who takes off her ceremonial neckpiece and wraps it, still warm, around my shoulders. I meet the elder master of the masters, below center, the real Ibu in the room, who tells me that, together, whatever we can dream, we can create. I meet a refugee from the internal 50 year war, below right, who has had to flee her ancestral territories, still weaving her people's ancient craft in the city where she is a stranger.
It is because of two men who care about all of this that I am here. And it is because of these women, these heroes, that I am already planning my return.
Whatever we can dream, we can create, says the Ibu in the harvest of her years. The refugee, expertly winding fibers, needle in hand, dreams of returning to her home in peace. The mother in waiting dreams of offering her child a future as colorful as her people's past. As I hammer out an order, design a lampshade, revise a clutch, imagine a table setting; I, too, hold a dream that these women rise in sovereignty and dignity by the art and earnings of their hands.
And that, through these heroes, we will learn again how to belong together to this diverse, abundant earth.
Susan Hull Walker