Tag Archives: work

The Solution

Sometimes it’s easy to slip into the bad habit of generalizing and lumping together the entire population of Mozambique as a single “they”. Ei: “They just don’t get the concept of monogamy.”  Extremes and perspectives differ but that is not a complete truth here or anywhere.

Then again, there are certain generalizations that I find are pretty much always true. Stereotypes come from somewhere, don’t they?

Anyway, last week I went down to Maputo for a national arts fair. The whole experience was great and it was satisfying to see how far our products have come in terms of quality, quantity and sales, not to mention how well our two weavers did doing all the transactions and interacting with the buyers.

That being said, I am pretty sure I have discovered the root of all Mozambican underdevelopment (are you ready for the big general “they” commentary…). Their problem is disorganization. Yes, that is it. Pure simple messiness.

I came to this conclusion when after spending several hours setting up the display and organizing our back stock, I looked under the table and our baskets were all over the place.

The vision of this heap of products all tumbled together with trash, chip bags, baby clothes, purses, pens, and who knows what else instantly made me fume with a feeling close to rage. WHAT. IS. THIS!?!?!

So I gathered my wits, took a deep breath and set about cleaning up. Circle patterns with circles, checkers with checkers, etc. If they don’t stack, sort them by general size. Right? When people wanted to see more of a certain size or design, then all they had to do was quickly pull out the appropriate goods.

The next day I walked up to our booth and looked under the table… and it was all mixed together. BAHHHHH!!! – what was I going to do!?

I took a deep breath and explained to my counterpart and weavers that I had spent a long time the day before sorting so that we could find “the one basket” they always wanted to sell. Of course they had even witnessed me sorting and stacking the day before, but when I mentioned that I wanted them keep it clean Sonia said, “Oh I hadn’t noticed.

I am not the most OCD person when it comes to keeping organized. I tend to stack and get lost in the mix of to-do lists, files, and random “stuff” that doesn’t seem to have a proper home. However, I stick to my theory – if everyone here in Mozambique was a bit more attentive to being tidy and less oblivious to their personal mess – then I think the world would be a better place.

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Take Your Parents To Work Day

On our last full day in Vilankulo together, I took my parents to work with me. I had several important meetings with some new weaving groups in Inhassoro, the town just north of Vilankulo. So we hopped in the CARE car and I took them to the field.

It was a bit funny having them watch me ask questions in Portuguese, then have it translated to Xitswe (via the extentionist), but I know it was interesting for them to see some of the women I am working with. They even met one of my favorite weavers Fatima, who showed us a new basket design she’s come up with. 

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Product Development Workshop

The beginning of My Mozambican Life, Part II was marked by an extended excursion into the field for a training workshop –a big step both professionally and personally.

Inhassoro is a sleepy fishing town about an hour north of where I live and it was the location for twenty day product development workshop that I helped plan and co-lead. The objective was to train 25 participants, representing 10 of our weaving groups to create new products using their traditional materials and technique. The goal was to create products that were smaller, more accessible for the local transient tourist market and quicker to make – thus more financially lucrative for the women.

Our design consultant, Sivuyile came in from Durban, South Africa to help with the workshop. Luckily he had worked with our groups on a previous training, so he was aware of many of the limitations of the Xindzala technique and the sometimes stubborn personalities represented amongst our weavers. (Visit his design company’s website here.)

Before we left for Inhassoro Sivu, Sonia and I went to a local carpenter to see if he could produce some wood accoutrements we wanted for potential jewelry designs. It was rather fun to be able to draw something then explain your vision and see what would come out of the wood shop.

After accidently breaking one form in half, Sivu and I mutually agreed that the new broken shape was actually more dynamic than our first ideas. So we modified. 

 

 

The jewelry was meant to follow a mixed media trend – combining hand carved wood along with softer woven palm details.  

 

Our first 3 days in Inhassoro, we worked with our top 5 weavers. These women were selected because they represented either our fastest, most talented or team oriented of our groups. We wanted people we knew would be able to pick up new ideas and also help instruct other weavers throughout the training. I will proudly say that this was my idea to bring in the top weavers for the first few days –it was a great opportunity to see early on what designs were working and which were not; saving us a lot of time and material. Plus, it meant that we had finished samples already made and available by the time the rest of the group arrived, thus avoiding the awkwardness and anxiety of tackling new products from scratch.

Then 20 more of our weavers arrived. The first week we concentrated on the accessory designs, consisting of bracelets, earrings and necklaces. Then the last week all attention was focused on producing bottle shaped vases. These vases were an exercise in interpreting 3 different wine bottle shapes – but using the same stitch that is normally used for wider flatter baskets.  From the beginning we understood that each bottle was destined to be a bit different and unique. So we embraced the organic quality of the vases and encouraged the women to really look at the forms and follow what they saw.

We tried out a new stitch technique that had the potential to be faster and cleaner – however, after several samples, we decided that it was not unique enough and the quality was rather inconsistent. So back we went to the traditional stitch – which was a good decision since part of the objective of our project is to maintain the heritage of the traditional Xindzala. 

Now you might ask yourself, what the heck did YOU do this whole time Camille? Wellll, mostly I just sat under the tree with the women either trying to learn how to weave, tinkering with designs, or occasionally offering my approval and advice. There was a lot of sitting and watching. Luckily the women are great singers, and they would often break into song or get up and dance. 

We sat under this cashew tree:

I also had great company – since Sivu is rather lovely. It has been a long time since I actually got to fluidly speak English to an African person. And I will admit that it was with great relief and surprise that I rediscovered I have a sense of humor! It’s not that I haven’t laughed here, certainly there have been countless lost-in-translation moments, but actually being able to respond in a timely and witty manner – well, that was a novelty.

So the weeks passed with good company and creative juices flowing. At the end of the training we had many great samples produced. I’m sure we’ll have to continue working on quality and production, but there is real potential for our new goods.  Personally, I found a great sense of satisfaction seeing several of my designs actually come to fruition. 

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Visual Aids

This picture above is just a journal entry about my sketches- the real ones are a bit bigger and better.  The purpose of the drawings was to illustrate the different steps in the production cycle and help teach the rural women about the business model. Since most of the women we work with are illiterate, we rely on many visual aids and games for training workshops. 

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What I (try) do here

I enjoy my placement in the SEED project quite a lot. I work with several people, mainly a woman named Sonia and 2 extensionists that relay between the office and training in the field. There is much to be done in developing the arts and crafts sector, which is both great to be involved in deciding which direction the project will go, but it’s often very overwhelming. Where to begin? What’s already been started? Who do I need to talk to to get things moving? Is this even productive? What is the true capacity of the weavers and our training sessions?

The list goes on and on…

I get to work on all aspects of the development, from the business to the creative side. The pricing scale and business plan are not quite as fun as developing marketing products, such as appropriate sales tags that tell a bit about the Xindzala weavers and the baskets. I have yet to come up with a really sustainable way of developing marketing material that would be technically possible for others to continue once I am gone but also projects the image of the baskets as high-end artisan goods.

Because the baskets are made in the limited free time of rural female weavers and the quantity of products developed is not yet very high, and the price reflects that.  They are rather expensive, perhaps not to most tourists, but definitely to locals. I have been responsible for setting up displays in the lobbies of several local hotels, as tourist season is about to peak for Christmas. The sales have been really encouraging, but now we don’t have enough stock to maintain the displays. The biggest challenge right now is getting the production quality and quantity up to par with the demand.

How do you simultaneously get poor people to spend their time producing something if there is no immediate fiscal reward? But then, if there is a market, how then do you get a retailer to sell your goods if you can’t guarantee your production?

Ooooh what a learning process this is.

I keep thinking about the mantra: Under-promise & Over-deliver. Begrudgingly I feel that I am struggling on the latter part. 

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a day in the life of

I realize as I review my postings from the past few months, that I have done a poor job in describing my day to day routine. So I offer a quick snapshot of how I spend most my weekdays here: 

4:30 AM – The sun rises. I, however, do not. When I first got here, a mixture of jetlag and the novelty watching the sunrise helped me to wake up bright and early. But now, I usually sleep through the first morning light.

6:30 AM – Time to get a movin’!   Up up up.

7 AM – If  I’m being good, I’ll listen to a 30 minute “Pimsler’s Portuguese” audio tape while I eat my muesli and yogurt for breakfast.

8 AM – Either get a ride to work with Andreas (the boss) or take a 25/30 minute walk to the CARE office. Work work work (* more on this later)

1 PM – Walk or get a ride home for a quick lunch. Usually scrambled eggs, with tomatoes and feta cheese, maybe on a roll or perhaps with rice. Maybe cut up a mango bought from the stand outside of our gate. 

2 to 3:30 PM – Work

3:30 PM – Portuguese “class” with Hamida, my tutor

5 PM – Walk home with Courtney and Sarah, the Peace Corps volunteers

5:30 to 9:30 PMish – Sit outside before the sun sets, play with Flora and Caspar (boss’ kids), write emails, drink tea, listen to NPR podcasts, make dinner, maybe watch an episode of Lost or House at the Peace Corps’ house

10  to 11 PM – Off to bed

2:30 AM – Sleepily battle ants that have gathered in my sheets (they are so tricky and have outsmarted even my most clever barriers)

Not exactly action packed, but it’s a nice routine. There are always things that are mixed into the batch. Portuguese classes often get canceled. Some days I go to the field. On Tuesday afternoons, I leave early for yoga with Helga (boss’ wife). On Wednesday afternoons Helga’s housekeeper makes a big African meal for the group. So Courtney, Sarah and I go over to indulge in the pleasures of goat stew, squid curry or Matapa (a local traditional meal of mashed up leaves, coconut, and crab over rice). On Fridays, the work day usually ends at 1:30 or 2 pm, so I’ll stop by the post office or the market.  

*more on my actual work next posting

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