Friday, September 17, 2010

The Small Battles

I never realized how important ironing is, until I worked with the SHONA ladies.

In sewing, it's indespensible. Cloth gets ironed, cut, ironed, sewn, ironed, packed. In the cloth business, it is hard to do much of anything without ironing. Or at least, it is hard to do it well.

And ironing, takes electricity.

But in Congo, that is hard to come by.

In Goma, and throughout Africa, the solution is a charcoal iron, which doesn't depend on electricity. It is basically a hollow box of iron, with a handle. You can open it, pile charcoal inside and close it again. Then you push it along the cloth, just like an electric iron. Except of course that the heat is a tad bit hard to control. First you have to start a fire, and heat your charcoal, which incidentally does not come in neat little bricks like it does here. In fact, it looks remarkably like exactly what it is. Chunks of wood turned black and ashy. It is light-weight and prone to flaking. So the charcoal iron, unless you are very careful, can get soot and ash all over your carefully sewn work. It also goes from too hot to too cold in a matter of minutes. For the SHONA ladies, whose work will be rejected if there is a single black spot on it, the charcoal iron is not their friend.

So we need electricity. In Goma, electricity comes and goes. The SHONA ladies have been known to leap out of their beds in the middle of the night, when electricity finally arrives. They carefully plan and re-plan their work, around the appearances and disappearances of electricity.

For the past three days there has been no electricity in the neighborhood. Why? because three days ago a fire started down the street. It burned down eight shops, and those businesses lost everything (no reported deaths thankfully). What caused this fire? A gas lamp, a charcoal fire, a cigarette? Nope. Too much electricity. the city of Goma, there is never enough electricity, until, there is too much. The power surged in the neighborhood, started a fire, and then was cut off completely. Sometimes you just can't win.

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