Whispering Cloud. Singing Silk. Tea Silk. Soft Gold. It's been called many names over the past 2500 years, but all names agree about this rare luxurious cloth - it's liquid on your skin, and weightless as the sky.
Listen! There is something happening among the women of Northern Kenya. Something powerful.
Recently, 1300 women of Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and other tribes - have been exercising their incredible beading skills to not just earn a living - but to change their lives. And not just their lives, but 7800 family members, still living their pastoral, semi-nomadic lifestyle. They've sent 3500 children to school. They've protected their lands so that 1000 more elephants now graze there, and they've radically reduced the destructive practice of making charcoal by cutting down trees. That's some powerful stuff.
As the pandemic surges into the heart of summer, I feel some days as though I am walking through a cloud. Nothing is clear. No-one is certain. No path is plain to see.
It makes me think of a text I once studied, anonymously penned in the late 1300s, called The Cloud of Unknowing. The author traced the mystic's path: giving up - rather painfully giving up - all that we believe about ourselves and the world around us, in order to receive a glimpse of our true being, our true place in the world.
It's the symbol of our time - the whole crushing chaos of COVID distilled into a few thin layers of cotton. Overnight, fashion sprang on this new social canvas; because fashion is all about manufacturing identity, and what signifier is more in your face than a mask? But what, I am wondering, does it signify?. Is It a social firewall or a thoughtful gesture?
Depends on why you wear it, says Liz Bucar quoted in the Washington Post. If you are wearing a mask to protect yourself from others, you are forming a habit of fear. Every time you put a mask on, every time you see someone else wearing one, you will reinforce this fear.
Did you know that there are 75 million garment workers in the world, and almost all of them earn far below the average income of their country?
In China, garment workers make 20% of the national average wage.
In Bangladesh, where poverty is rampant, 65%.
In the United States, 51%.*
And across the board, 75% of these garment workers are women.
Less than three weeks ago, an esteemed English professor/poet laureate staying in my home pulled out his flip phone (no kidding), and pondered how to Zoom his new online classes.
Look at us now. Henry is sailing through his Zoom maneuvers; my niece Emily is streaming her Sunday morning service to an at-home congregation; my accountant is educating me via a webinar; Elton John and friends play for us from their homes; artisans the world over are checking in via What's App, friends on email and text; phone conferences play out at my home on the hour; grandparents celebrate their little ones on Facetime . . . I mean, the longer we are isolated, the more creative we get in banding together.
And then there are some, in the midst of life's strange calamities, who will rise into their full stature, and with fear, but not trembling, find a way through.
Even I'm a sucker for Amazon next day delivery. Retail is dead, they say. Madison Avenue is a mausoleum of the marketplace. Shopping is now a finger-click, and poof! - your next TV is waiting at your door.
Five years ago, the writing is on the wall. I open Ibu online, knowing the real market is rocketing into hyperspace. A team of five is working in my house - at the dinning table, the sewing room, the office, the kitchen - but know one else can see with their own eyes the handcrafted beauty pouring in from all over the world, which is, I think, a shame.
How do you make a button? The loop-de-loop kind of intricate things that march down a Moroccan djellaba by the dozens like a proud brigade?
Ask any of the twelve Ibu allies who traveled to the city of buttons to learn how. Sefrou, Morocco is where women know how to start with a tiny piece of paper and needle and whip up a chic little button, no problem; but teaching an American crew was another story altogether!
Cathie Black begins her book, Basic Black, talking about the importance of Drive. Persistence. Passion. A fearless forward motion in a woman that doesn't stop when set back.
I'd say she is describing herself. This woman who became the first to head up Marketing for a ground-breaking upstart called Ms. Magazine when women's issues were hardly at the forefront of public discourse - this woman threw herself into an almost impossible job and didn't give up. I'd call that Drive.
Maria spends her days sitting in the courtyard of her home in the rural village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Mexico, weaving on the ancient backstrap loom. She ties the loom to a post and secures the strap around her waist, sits down on the stone ground, and begins her craft. Each hand-woven garment requires two weeks of preparation and spinning, and another 3 months or 400 hours of weaving. The pieces created are nothing less than a language of love. When asked if Maria enjoys this type of work, she proudly says this is not work to me, this is my way of life.
And then I look up and see Sarah - herself head to toe in indigo, presiding over this beauty with a knowledgeable face, and I think: That's someone I want to know.
What a handsome number, 2020. Balanced. Strong. Sturdy. And clear, as in perfect vision.
Generous, too, throwing us a bonus day. I must admit, this leap year makes me want to leap - not just into a new year, but a new decade.
What illuminates this whole coming year is the celebration of women and our 100th year anniversary, in this country, of obtaining the right to vote. It is enough to make me pause. I mean, it is also the 25th anniversary of my life with my husband, which means that women have been voting only 4 times as long as I have been swimming in this happiness. Incredible.
Did you know an orchid can live 100 years?! (No one told mine, who grace my kitchen for a few fleeting weeks, max.) And this - orchids are 100 million year old, collectively speaking; fossils spill that secret. I had no idea.
What I did know is that deep in the three mountains ranges of Colombia, hundreds of varieties run wild and free.
Here in Sile, a women's community honors a 150-year-old craft tradition,
hand-looming organic cotton, washing it in the saline water of the Black Sea, and spreading out their cloth to dry on the quartz sands of their beach.