Tag Archives: Xindzala

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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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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Maputo, Arts Fair & Thanksgiving

Just got back from Maputo. I was there for the last 9 days for an arts and crafts fair, where we were selling the Xindzala palm baskets that are produced by the weavers in our project. The exhibition itself was actually more professional than I had anticipated. Our display looked dynamic, we had good sales, and the caliber and variety of other vendors was great.  

Overall the biggest success of the fair was getting at least two of the weavers involved in the actual sales process. By the third day Lucia, our top weaver and community promoter, was actually writing up the receipts and handling the money for the transactions.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound huge, but for a rural woman in Africa who has only gone to the capital once or twice, this was a big step in getting her actively involved in the process.  

Our Booth

(note: the central empty space was where a large basket was placed,  but we were waiting for the stand to arrive when I took this photo during set up)

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For Thanksgiving I worked at the fair all day. I snacked on some samossas at the little opening ceremony, then went back to my little hotel room to watch TV and read. No dinner, no turkey but happy. There are only 3 channels; CNN, A French African channel, and ESPN. After not watching television for almost 2 months, I was thoroughly impressed by the variety.

Maybe it was just the simple joy of listening to American chatter as background noise, but who’d a thunk I’d go all the way to mozambique to become an NFL football fan!?! I know all about the stats, injuries, whose on a winning streak, the plays of the week. I’ve never been more eager to wake up and watch Sports Center. 

Other choice competitions that were featured included, “TimberSports” – log chopping, pole climbing, log running, chain-saw cutting… it’s a rather competitive world for lumber jacks, and I was so unaware.

While it wasn’t exactly the most festive of holidays on my side of the planet, I wasn’t really upset since it just passed without making me feel like I was missing something major. Without meaning to sound pitiful, I really think it was more of a dress rehersal for the upcoming first solo-Christmas.  I think I’ll be okay. 

 

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