For most of my first week at work I observed a 5 day training session for 19 women who represent the weaving communities in the area. The training focussed on production quality, the distribution plan, and discussing what it means to have business integrity (ie. fulfilling orders but also the benefits of being honest about how long it might take to fill them) and a few other topics.
One of the interesting aspects of the training was teaching to women how to take orders from potential wholesale buyers. Since most of the women are illiterate, we’re working on a system that uses symbols and images on an spreadsheet. For example, if a weaver cannot write her name but she is to be paid and given credit for her basket she will have a specific shape that is her own (like a star or a triangle). The symbol will be drawn on a tag on her basket and the community promoter will have it on a list. Something like that.
Of course, the training was all in Xitswe (pronounced sheets-weh) so I didn’t understand it, but every so often one of the CARE employees would translate what what going on. It was really wonderful to observe the group dynamic and watch from the sideline. Plus it gave me plenty of time to sketch and hold their babies.
My favorite part of each day was lunch. Since I wasn’t really interacting too much with the women during the training sessions, I would sit with them and eat whatever they were having – be it grilled chicken and rice or a whole fish shima (kind of like a thick pile of grits or cream of wheat eaten with your fingers). After finishing up with my meal the first day, I noticed that several of the women were eye-ing the fish bones and fish head that I had left on the plate. Finally the oldest woman got the nerves to gesture if I was done. I quickly offered my plate to her with a big “oh yeah!” which got everyone laughing and cheering. So everyday, after I was done I would wait for someone to start staring, then I’d pass the rest on to a roar of giggles and exclamations.
I know it sounds silly, but I started looking forward to that opportunity when I would finally have something to contribute and the language barrier only helped to improve the moment.