Monday, December 12, 2011

Final Holiday Specials!

The holidays are nearly upon us and this is our final Holiday Offering! SHONA truly makes great gifts for the holidays. Check us out.

**Order your holiday gifts by December 15th and we will make sure they arrive before Christmas (within the US).

**Plus we're offering FREE HOLIDAY WRAPPING. Just leave us a note in the comments box at check out requesting FREE HOLIDAY WRAPPING and we will wrap your gift for you. And if you want, we will send the present directly to your loved one, just let us know the address!

Matching Apron and Table Runner: Celebrate the colors of the Season!
$29.99 for the set!

Set of 4 Shoulder Bags for the price of 2!
These bags make great stocking stuffers, gift bags and meaningful holiday gifts for teachers! Choose the colors you like!
Set of 4 for $29.99

Matching Apron and Placemat Set:
Celebrate the colors of the Season!

$34.99 for the set!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

We Wait...

At 39 and a half weeks pregnant I feel as though my life has become something of a waiting game.

Waiting for this baby to come, waiting for our whole world to flip upside-down, waiting for a change that I can't really imagine.

It strikes me that this is actually meant to be a season of waiting, this advent season. There is the lighting of the advent candles at church each week. And each week we sing "O come, O Come Emmanuel".

I have tried encouraging this little baby inside me along similar lines.

But in general the Christmas season has rarely seemed to me to be much of a season for waiting. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is impossibly short. Too short for getting the holiday decorations out ahead of time; I'm lucky if we have a tree up on the 24th. And by that I mean a NY apartment size Christmas tree, that most of you would probably laugh at. Too short for all the meaningful holiday gifts I plan to find, leading to last minute trips to big box stores which I despise. The lighting of the advent candles each week seem to generally provoke in me a reaction of "Oh, no, we're that close to Christmas already? But I'm not ready!"

I am not ready for Christmas this year either, but at least I have got the spirit of waiting down this time. I know that I am impossibly ill-prepared for the baby's arrival (don't ask about a name) but I've given up the frantic rushing around, in the knowledge that nothing I do will adequately prepare me. So, I'm just waiting. And we'll see how it goes.

Perhaps I should surrender to this spirit of waiting at every Christmas as well. Surely Christmas isn't really about having all the decorations in place. After all, Christmas is the celebration of a king born in a stable. I'm pretty sure Mary had different plans for that birth, plans that didn't quite work out. It is about surrender to something that is in fact beyond us.

The Congolese people are also waiting right now. They cast their votes last week for President. And now the votes are being counted. Results were promised on Tuesday, but have yet to come. And in Congo, it is truly a spirit of waiting. I ask my Congolese friends how things are in Goma and they respond "tunangoja tu" (we're only waiting) The SHONA women have piled up two cartons of SHONA products that are ready to ship, but no one is ready to ship them. The guy in charge of getting our cartons on a plane out of Goma, says there are no planes right now. "You have to wait until we see what happens with the elections," he says.

There is a great fear that when election results are announced, the losing sides will take to the streets. There have already been promises along those lines.

I guess waiting can come in many forms, both good and bad. So as I sit here today, looking out at the people rushing past my window, bundled in coats and headed off into a busy world, I will enjoy this time of waiting. For me, it is the privilege of waiting for this little one's arrival. No matter how much I worry that I am not nearly prepared, I know her arrival is a blessing.

For the people of Congo, I wish I could say the same. They wait for news that their country will somehow manage to hold together. Or news, that it won't. They wait for peace which has proved elusive for far too long, and yet which is hard to imagine to this day.

In this season of waiting, it is perhaps important to remember all that we have. And all that the rest of the world continues to wait for.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A gift of Joy! And Free Shipping!

Give a gift of joy and hope
this holiday season!

And shop today to enjoy free shipping!

This is Argentine with her youngest sister.
Your purchases empower Argentine
to provide for her mother &
7 siblings.

Her family lives in one of the
most violent regions of Congo, with very few resources. Before
Argentine started sewing none of her
siblings were in school, and there was barely food on the table.

Today, with your purchases,
there is food on the table
and there are children in school.

Your purchases make all the difference in the world to their family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Congo in The Holiday Season

It feels a world away.

I am 38 weeks pregnant, in a nice cozy apartment with family and friends who drop by for a visit.

And all week I've been calling Congo, only to listen to empty phone lines and French recordings declaring that the party I am trying to reach is not available.

Phone connections are always unreliable in Congo. But it makes me nervous because the viability of cell phones in Congo seems also to reflect the general viability of life there. When things are calm, and life is somewhat stable, cell phones seem to work. When everything is falling apart, good luck getting a hold of anyone.

And things have been tense in Congo these past weeks. Presidential elections are coming up on Monday. These are only the second presidential elections that have been held in Congo in about 40 years. A lot of violence has already been surrounding the lead-up to the elections, and no one knows what will happen when the elections take place.

Finally, I did reach the SHONA women. They are doing fine, but report that things are not good in Goma. Everyone is tense. Last week Goma nearly disintegrated into rioting and looting when a popular singer was kidnapped in town and held for days. The event had political overtones as he had produced campaign songs for some of the opposition candidates. Eventually he was released and the tensions calmed a bit but still there is a lot of random shooting and violence and everyone is more or less holding their breath to see what will happen next.

And sometimes it feels a little surreal. Because I remember what that feels like in Goma, and yet I am here. And in these past few months I have been doing a lot of talking about the SHONA women. I've been trying to hit as many holiday fairs as I could before the baby arrives (she's due in about 2 weeks now!). So it seems almost every weekend I go to a nice little church and set up a table with SHONA goods. We did a good job at stocking up and preparing for the holiday this year and we have a great collection of brilliant colors. So I'm proud of what I put on that table, and of who made each item.

But sometimes it is hard to connect these brilliant bags and the smiling photos of the SHONA women, with the tension they live in the midst of. It is hard to imagine that they sew these items in a workshop without electricity, surrounded by the rubble of lava and poverty. And sometimes as people pour over the beauty of the bags, I struggle to find the words to communicate the world from which these bags come. A world which might go upside down at any moment.

And yet, I know I can't isolate the beauty of these bags, from the realities on the ground in Congo. To tell the story of these amazingly inspiring women, and the beauty they create, I have to tell the story of Congo, and all the struggles it entails.

Sometimes, I worry that story doesn't jive with the blaring holiday music and the spirit of "relentless cheer" that sometimes invades our holidays.

But isn't that dissonance what this season is really all about? Yes, it is a season of hope and joy. But set in a manger, in poverty and homelessness. And it is by embracing both sides of that coin that we see most clearly the beauty of that hope.

So please do read up on what is happening right now in Congo. I know it doesn't seem like good holiday reading, but when we have a whole country holding its breath, we should pay attention. And then go check out the brilliant colors and handcrafted work that continues to come out of this country. Check out the stories of the SHONA women and what they choose to do with the money they earn from your purchases. I guarantee that their work will shine brighter than anything you can find in a department store, coated with glitter and holiday lights. Because to see the true beauty of this season, we can't close our eyes to the fact that this world is in the midst of incredible turmoil, and people, the world over, are suffering. It is when we find ourselves in the midst of this reality, that we see most clearly the hope that rises above it.

So today, even as I nestle into my comfy apartment and drink a glass of eggnog, surrounded by an incredible life, I will make that phone call back to Congo. And listen to the stories of a world that sometimes seems a million miles away. And then I will turn to the SHONA stock and count tote bags, label purses and calculate exactly how much money I can send back to Congo this month.

And in the midst of all of that, a brilliant color on one of those bags will catch my eye, and for a second I will marvel how that color has traveled so far, and still shines so brightly.

And I will remember that this is what real hope looks like.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thank You

Thank you to all the many loyal customers and friends who have supported SHONA in this past year. Whether you have bought a SHONA product, made a donation or a loan, or simply liked us on facebook, you make a real difference.

You make everything we do possible.

Check out this 3 minute slideshow.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Holiday Purse Set: 4 purses with matching change purses for only $20

Many of our customers have been stocking up on our tote bags, using the Special Sale we are offering on our holiday tote set. It is a fabulous deal where you get 4 tote bags (your color choice) for less than half price!

But maybe it is our travel size purses that you have your eye on. After all they are super cute, with beads attached to the zippers and matching change purses inside.

So now we are offering a Special Holiday set of Travel Purses. You get a set of 4 purses for only $20! That's a great deal! and you can choose the colors yourself! Just drop us a note at check-out to let us know what colors you would like.

And remember we also have great table runners, placemat sets and aprons that are perfect for Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

34 weeks and counting...

I am 34 weeks pregnant. Well, I guess it is close to 35 weeks now.

I'm well aware that in Congo, I often saw women selling peanuts in the market, or carrying a baby on their backs and buckets of water on their heads. While they were probably 39 weeks pregnant.

Because someone still has to make the money, or carry the baby, or fetch the water. No matter what you are carrying on the inside as well.

But as for me, I'm a little tired.

It has been a busy season, trying to get in as many craft fairs and SHONA events as I can before the baby comes. In fact, I still have two more scheduled.

And in the meantime I have also been trying to wrap up the English classes that I teach.

Our house still looks exactly as it did 6 months ago. As in, we have not exactly established a baby's room yet.

Which is ok with me. Because I also seem to remember the homes of almost all my friends in Congo, did not exactly feature baby rooms. Even though they definitely featured babies. As I leaf through the magazines in the doctor's waiting rooms I am strongly convinced that we are being told that baby's need far too many things.

And I'm sure that is true for moms as well. So far I have managed to get away with only a few purchases from a maternity store. Of course, I am not exactly sure what I will be wearing in the coming weeks, but somehow I'll make it.

But, like it or not, one thing I am pretty sure that I need more of is time. And I'm sure this is just a shadow of how I will feel after the baby arrives.

So, all that to say, how about a shout-out to the SHONA women? They are still working as hard as ever, we have a great stock for the holidays, but we need your help getting the word out. Right now our store is offering 10% off all purchases! And we have a half price sale on our holiday totes sets. PLEASE TELL PEOPLE ABOUT US! On facebook, in an email, or any other way you can.

When it comes to the holidays, I'm sure you have lists of things to buy. But I am sure there are also plenty of question marks. SHONA bags, aprons, table runners, and placemat sets make really great gifts for the holidays. Because they are totally unique and because they mean so much.

So as I wander through the next weeks, no doubt with many surprises along the way, I'll try and keep you updated. But remember that your voice (and your purchases) can play a real part in making sure that the SHONA ladies stay strong. They are amazing women, and I find them an honor and a joy to share with others. I hope you will too!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holiday Tote Set (Half Price!)

Set of four amazing SHONA Tote bags for only $24. That is only $6 a bag!

You can even pick the colors yourself. Just include a comment at check out with the tote colors you want! Or, if you can't decide, surprise yourself with our selection!

Either way, these bags are perfect for the holiday season!

Keep them on hand for last minute gifts, that come with a story, and with real meaning.

We all know it happens. At least it happens to me. Those last minute runs to the Walmart, or the pharmacy or anywhere that is open. Desperately looking for something, anything, that will somehow seem like a reasonable gift.

This year you can support amazing women in Congo, making a real difference in their lives, and at the same time, have a meaningful gift on hand, for anything that might pop up.

These bags are also great stocking stuffers, or fill them with goodies for a special holiday gift bag.

And don't forget all those teachers on your list this year.

Whoever you give your bags to this year, they can go online and leave a message for the artisan. They can watch a video and see who made their bag. They can make a real connection to women half way across the world.

What other holiday gift did you have in mind?

Not sure how long supplies will last so get your holiday tote set today!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Steve Jobs. Our Hero?

In interest of full disclosure, I have never owned an Apple device.

So maybe I am just missing something.

But the current conversations about Steve Jobs are starting to get under my skin.

I know he was a great business man, and that he built not just Apple, but also Pixar, into very impressive companies.

And I am sorry for the loss, to his wife and children and to all those who loved him.

But I am a bit bewildered by the fact that everyone seems to have loved him. Of course, I would expect to find that on the business page of the New York Times, or in eulogies by technology experts.

But I'm talking about regular people. For example, I am surprised at how many of my Facebook friends have posted very personal and passionate messages about about his death.

People are saying that we have not only lost “a great visionary”, but “a leader who completely changed the way we interact with our world”. I mean, these aren't media quotes, this is what regular people are saying. And feeling. That Steve Jobs somehow personally changed their lives.

I've read some of the speeches he has given and he was a wise and well-spoken man. I could understand that people might mourn the loss of Steve Jobs as a role model, a businessman or an innovator to emulate.

But the vast majority of people aren't even talking about that. They are talking about the products Steve Jobs (and his company) created. They're talking about this man with deep love, because he was the creator of commercial products that they love. In essence it is a celebration of iPods, iPads and iPhones. As though our lives could never have been the same, nor nearly as rich, without these products.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, died a few days before Steve Jobs. She was a woman who fought to literally reclaim our environment, by planting trees. Moreover she sought to empower local, grassroots communities to re-imagine their place in the world and their ability to enact change in the world around them. In the words that have been used to describe Steve Jobs she “completely changed the way people interact with the world around them.” And by that, I mean the real, physical world, this planet on which we live, and the power structures that often overtake it.

Yet, suffice it to say, I have seen far more comments on Facebook about the loss of Steve Jobs than the loss of Wangari Maathai. That is true even among my African Facebook friends. Most of whom, I'm pretty sure, have never owned an Apple device. And more frighteningly, I have seen more celebration of the “amazing, brilliant, world-changing work” of Steve Jobs than of that of just about anyone else.

Is this what makes a hero in our society? Brilliant commercial products? It this what we've learned to love and celebrate? Apple products are cool and trendy and innovative. They offer some real advantages. But I have also heard many news pieces citing the fact that Steve Jobs was amazing because he took a product, the iPad, that researches insisted the public simply did not need, and made it popular. Is this really to be celebrated?

Apple products are highly priced, heavily branded, and certainly part of our tendency toward conspicuous-consumption. Each new Apple release is surrounded by so much hype that one can hardly help but believe they have reinvented the moon. And each new release inspires endless talk from friends about whether they should upgrade to the latest version of the iPhone. Really? I'm just not convinced that this is the kind of “world-change” that I am looking for.

Most of Apple's products are produced in China, in factories that have come under serious scrutiny for high suicide rates, unsafe working conditions, and unreasonable working hours. No doubt this is an issue that applies not only to Apple but to the companies that make much of what we consume, whether it is electronics, clothing or food. Still, it seems to me that in some way we have become so enamored with the Apple's much-lauded effect on our digital worlds that we are willing to overlook Apple's effect on our real world.

The people who make Apple products work in the real world, in conditions that we are largely unaware of, and should be opposed to. Meanwhile, our own country is spiraling toward higher and higher rates of unemployment. We are angry with the government for not fixing the economy, but what about all of the companies that despite massive profits, choose to have their products manufactured outside this country in pursuit of ever lower wages and lax regulations? And ultimately, what about all of us, the consumers, who are so willing not only to embrace these products, but to celebrate them as world-changing?

The digital world is amazing. I appreciate blogging on it. I appreciate its ability to bring the SHONA women to you. But if your purchases from SHONA helped the women only in a digital world, and not in their real physical world, would you really be so excited about your purchases?

Our effect in the digital world has to connect to our effect in the real world. I have no doubt that Apple products are beautiful examples of technology. But we must start to demand more of the products we consume and the companies we lionize. We must start to examine their effect in the real world, both here and abroad.

Right now, the Occupy Wall Street Protests are slowly starting to spread and gain momentum. I think there is a lot to be said about their demand that we hold corporations accountable. But ultimately we also have to hold ourselves, as consumers, accountable. When we find ourselves falling in love with consumer products, and turning their creators into our heroes, perhaps we should reassess our own values as well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Child-size aprons!

What is your little one wearing?

How about a SHONA apron! Introducing our all-new child size aprons.

These aprons are great for those little kitchen helpers (and we sell matching adult aprons so you can cook as a team if you like!). And think of all those arts and crafts projects that get a wee bit out of hand. Use these aprons as a painting smock and the colors your child adds will blend right in to this vibrant African cloth.

So we are offering a special deal today. Buy a SHONA child's apron. Then snap a picture of your little one wearing the apron. Give us permission to use the photo on our website (either with your child's smiling face, or cropped from the neck down, however you prefer) and we will give you $20 of SHONA bucks. Completely free! SHONA bucks can be used for any purchase in our store, and let me just point out, that at SHONA $20 actually buys a lot! The holidays are coming and this is a great way to start stocking up!

This apron is a good size for children ages 6-10

Meanwhile, all you grown people should come and check out our beautiful new stock! Like this...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Join us for some great opportunities!

Do you run? Or walk? Or maybe just shop?

Come and visit us at The Run for Congo Women in New York City on September 24th! It is a great event, and the money raised benefits Women for Women's Congo program which I have seen on the ground in Goma doing good work.

You can register for the run/walk here, and even if you can't join in on the run you can come out, cheer your friends on, and take advantage of a rare opportunity to shop SHONA goods in person! I know SHONA definitely has friends and customers in the New York City area and I'd really love to meet you in person! SHONA will have a table at the starting point and at the reception area, and we would love to see you there!

Or come and enjoy an evening with Eve Ensler benefiting Congolese women through the City of Joy and shop at the SHONA pop-up boutique there. This fabulous fund-raising event is organized by Women of the Congo.

Not in the NY area? Can't make it to either of these events? We also attend a variety of craft shows throughout the fall and are always looking for more events to attend. Let us know your ideas! We'd love to make more friends.

And in the meantime, we can definitely use your help getting ready. I attend these events in person (keep in mind I am already 6 months pregnant!) In fact I spend a fair amount of my Fall weekends at events like these trying to represent the SHONA women well. It is super exciting to get out and meet some of our customers, and is a great opportunity for SHONA, but it is also a bit exhausting transporting our stock and setting it all up (Many thanks to my husband and parents who always lend a hand!) But remember, we don't get paid and all those little expense just to get us there often end up coming out of our own pockets, as we try to squeeze every cent back to the SHONA women.

In that respect, our display could definitely use some upgrading, but I'm afraid we just don't have the cash flow. You would be amazed at the difference it makes for the SHONA women's work to be displayed on a new table cloth or on a nice clothing rack. The last event I went to was outside, and I must admit I spent a fair amount of the day trying to keep our little stand from blowing over, and our already humble display got a bit bruised. Having the right equipment would be great! And it will be used again and again throughout the fall and in years to come, helping us to represent the SHONA women with pride. So if you are interested in making a small donation to our display upgrade we would be very thankful. Here is what we need...

Tablecloth $10

Bag rack $30

SHONA Banner/Poster $30

500 Brochures $35

Portable Folding Table $50

You can click the donate button here and choose the amount you would like to give. You can also specify which item you would like to purchase with your donation. To be honest, these are purchases we probably will simply forgo without your donations, so we really hope you will consider it.

As a small token of our thanks we will add your name to our wall of thanks and we'll email you a photo of our new display in action, so you can see exactly what you contributed toward.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rethinking the hurricane

Maybe I shouldn't say this.

I understand that hurricanes are dangerous and that people are worried.

But why is everyone shopping?

How has mass consumption become the solution to every disaster we face, whether it is a hurricane or a recession?

Here, in New York, the grocery stores are packed. People are pushing around huge grocery carts full of bottled water, soda and juice, nearly colliding with each other. Piles of batteries and ready-made snacks line the checkout counter, as people murmur to each other "at least time is on our side and we can prepare."

Exactly what are we preparing for? And where do we think we live?

We seem to be provisioning for a doomsday scenario in which we might need to live off our household supplies for months at a time, completely out of contact with the rest of the world.

The reality is that yes, the power might go out for a few days. And yes, we should have some water set aside, and a couple days of food.

But take a look at the average American kitchen. I keep an extremely poorly stocked kitchen, and I still counted at least 8 cans of beans/chick peas/tomatoes not to mention a number of canned soups. I have peanut butter. I have oatmeal and bread and potatoes. It might not be a party, but we are not exactly likely to starve in this house any time soon. Even with a pregnant lady on board! :) The one real thing we need is water. And that was easy enough. We just took some buckets and other large containers and filled them up with water. You know, that stuff that comes right out of the tap.

If you have ever bought something from SHONA (and many, many thanks if you have!) I would like to pause here so that you can go look at that item again. That item was sewn in a workshop that has no electricity. Ever. And no running water. Check out the stitching, the attention to detail. And let's pause to consider the amazing strength and talent of these women who live in quite literally in one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world, without any of the security with which we live.

Because it is is not just that they don't have running water or electricity or stores of food in their kitchen. They live in a town that sits beside an active volcano. National Geographic called it "the most dangerous city in the world". When the volcano erupted in 2002 not only was there no clear evacuation plan, but many Congolese fled to the Rwandan border, only a few miles away, only to discover that Rwanda had closed the border and for a while stranded them inside. There is no doubt that the volcano will erupt again, with even more strength, and yet the city continues to grow larger by the day. Why? Because despite the natural threat of an active volcano, Goma still seems safer than the surrounding countryside where a war that has killed millions in the last decade continues to this day.

When we lived in Congo, there was a time when the fighting got so bad, that shooting and pillaging swept into Goma, forcing everyone to lock themselves into their houses. And no one had any idea how long that would last.

So, here in NY, I am thankful. I am thankful for a government that is responsible to the public. That issues evacuation orders, provides shelters, and monitors safety. I agree that the transportation system should be closed in New York City this weekend and activities should be canceled. This is a storm and it is dangerous.

However I refuse to believe that this is a call to shop. To stock up on the ridiculous amount of resources that I already have access to. Because, to tell you the truth, I can live without electricity and running water for a few days. And perhaps, I should have to. It is the way much of the world lives everyday.

I guess that is why all this shopping seems particularly obscene to me. Most likely, our society's over-consumption has played a significant role in the global warming which has caused extreme weather to increase. Yet we see a hurricane and flock to the stores. We have got to find a way to live with less. And to understand that most of the world does live with less everyday.

Instead we are sticking our heads further in the sand. Reassuring each other that we somehow have a natural right to live in a world where we never have to stop, where the lights never go out and the water never stops flowing. When things become scarce we simply buy more.

You know what? It may be a hell of a storm but our electricity will come on again. Our water will flow. Our government will send people to clean up the streets and treat those who are injured. And very few of us are likely to starve. There are an awful lot of people in this world, who live with worse conditions everyday.

Sure, we can be scared of the hurricane. The power of nature is awesome and terrifying.

But let's not pretend that shopping is the cure for all of our woes. If we do face real danger, it is because we are in a flood zone or because a tree falls or a roof crumples. It will be, because some things are out of our control.

It will not be because we didn't buy enough snacks or batteries. We probably already have too many anyway. And perhaps we should use this time to consider those who live everyday with none.

PS: If you do want to shop, how about supporting the work of these amazing artisans, and helping to share a few of our resources with those who can only dream of them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come see our new fall stock!

Just in time for Fall, we have a beautiful new stock!

Come check it out! Your support makes a huge difference to our amazing craftswomen, who can use a few more sales this month, and at the same time you will get a FREE TRAVEL PURSE with your order (this week only!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Would you be willing to make a small loan to SHONA?

To make a loan just click the button. You can enter any amount you choose. We will record the date of your loan and return the money within 3 months. The money can be returned by paypal or by check, whichever you prefer. And of course if you actually prefer to make your money a gift, rather than a loan, just let us know in the comment box at check out. Many, Many thanks for all your support!

Would you consider a 3 month loan?
of $20. Or $50? or $100.

We don't want you to give it to us.
But would you consider letting us borrow it for 3 months?

Think of all the times that money just sits in the bank. And what do they do with it? Where do they invest it...and for whose good?

How about turning the tables just a little? How about taking a tiny amount of your savings and investing it with these amazing women.

Of course we can't offer you interest on your investment, but it is a deeper type of investment, in dignity. And really we are just borrowing the money. In three months you will have it back. Guaranteed.

And in the meantime you will have invested in some amazing women. In their hard work and in their future. Your money will allow them to buy cloth, sew it and ship their work. So that it is here for the holiday shopping season.

Big stores have a huge stock going into the fall season. They know this is the most important time of the year for retail. We are tiny and without you, we can't have much of a stock. But with your help, we can represent the beautiful and talented work of these four women. I will start going to fall craft fairs next month to represent the SHONA women. And I hope to have a full stock that represents all that they are capable of. Will you invest in that?

It will make a world of difference to us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Words for Aunt

In Swahili it seems there are a million different names for “aunt”. Of course all of them mean different things. On your mom's side you have “mama mkubwa” (big mother) if she is your mom's older sister and mama mdogo (little mother) if she is your mom's younger sister. On your father's side the word is usually shangazi. At least, I think.

I used to get frustrated all the time in Goma, trying to learn the various names to identify different family members. Where English might offer one sort of generic word like “aunt” or “cousin”, Swahili would offer a very precise word, a description of each person's exact relationship to you. To me it always seemed a bit over the top, and I often resorted to generic words like “ndugu” (relative) or “jamaa” (family). But my Congolese friends rarely referred to their own relatives in such generic terms. The specificity was important.

Yesterday morning my Aunt Pat died. She was a strong and independent woman who I admire deeply. She was incredibly loving and generous, in a way that everyone felt like her little house was home. She was at the heart of every family gathering with her love of card games and Trivia Pursuit, her voice that carried from one room to the next, and a hearty laughter that belied the fact that her body has been giving out on her for years. Even when she was very sick, she never stopped welcoming people into her home and into her heart. As one of my cousins said, she was the aunt who has always watched over all of us, and who still does.

As I was telling the SHONA ladies about my aunt's death, I suddenly got it. Speaking in Swahili, the term Shangazi suddenly sounded so much better than “aunt”. There is a weight to it. Something about specifying the relationship makes it more personal. While in English an aunt might be distant or close, the term Shangazi automatically carries with it the understanding that this is a second mother. This is a woman who as a young child herself, probably took your father under her wing. And when you were born, did exactly the same for you. The term just carries that sense of the wise and strong older woman, who has cared for a generation.

And that indeed is my Aunt Pat. She never had children of her own, but to all of her many nieces and nephews she is Shangazi. Or actually, to be exact in good Swahili fashion, to some of us she Shangazi, to some of us she is mama mkubwa and to others she is mama mdogo. You see it can get confusing with all of these names.

But Perhaps it is not actually the specific name that matters so much. But the value it communicates. The African understanding that family is infinitely important, and that each member is specific and irreplaceable, each relationship unique.

So maybe I will go back and learn all those different classifications for family members in Swahili. I've always been lazy on that front. But at least for now, the term shangazi seems to stick in my head. And I am thankful to have one more word to help me describe my Aunt Pat, a woman for whom there are never quite enough words. She was a woman who we all admired. A woman who we were each shaped by. A woman who we all will carry with us forever.

And that, also, is why the Swahili sounds right. In remembering that she is both Shangazi, and mama mukubwa and a thousand other names too, each one to a different person, I realize what she has meant to so many people. In good Swahili tradition, she deserves not one specific name, but a thousand, for each of the hearts she has shaped along the way.

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Uncommon Thread

Check out the beautiful review of SHONA on the website An Uncommon Thread . And while you are there, take a look at all the great information on the site. Do you try and shop ethically? This is the place for you. The website offers real reviews based on actual products that they have tested. We all know it is important to buy ethically, but sometimes it is hard to know exactly what products are truly ethical, and whether they are worth their price tag. This website is a great place to start!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Free Travel Purse Set

Summer Special!

Receive a FREE TRAVEL PURSE SET this week with any order!
This won't last long so visit soon
And please spread the word!

Our Travel purse set is the first item SHONA ever sewed and remains one of our most popular. With its long, cross body strap, zipper closure with beads attached and matching change purse this set is hard to beat! And now you can get it for free!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

And the winner is...

Ryan and Hannah! We'll be sending you the deluxe satchel bag that you wanted to check out!

In case your wondering: This is from the give-away that we hosted last week. We went to and got a random number to pick the winner of our give away. The website gave us number 6, and that is how Ryan and Hannah won! Congratulations!

So maybe you have been out on the beach, or somewhere else on a lovely vacation. And you missed our give-away. Sorry about that!

But you should definitely still come check out SHONA's fabulous summer colors. Really, what can capture summer better than brilliant African colors? We're down to our last few summer wrap skirts. Check out this super cool blue swirl, and this beautiful red and blue wrap. There are only a few left and there is nothing better in this hot weather than these great wrap skirts!

We've still got our free shipping offer posted, so come and take advantage while it lasts!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Loss and Hope


The child was named Asante. What a beautiful name. In Swahili it means "thanks".

Unfortunately this was the child that I mentioned earlier. The child of Solange's sister. Solange has only 1 sister and 1 brother. Although she is only 20 herself, Solange is the eldest in her family. Her parents died years ago and her younger siblings have had a hard time of it. For a while they were living in a refugee camp. During which time, Solange's sister had a little boy and named him "Asante".

Eventually they moved back to their family home, in an area that has been all but deserted because of ongoing fighting. That is where they were living, way out in the bush, and in the midst of insecurity, when Asante became sick. Medicine didn't seem to help. They had no money. They took him to a "kishenzi" doctor. That is a "traditional doctor" or an "herbal doctor".

I am sure there is a place for this type of medicine, but I also know that these are often the doctors of last resort.

When there isn't a hospital nearby...
when no one knows what is wrong with you... when you think someone is poisoning you... or when you just don't have much money...

you go to these "doctors".

You get the idea.

The Kishenzi doctor gave Asante some form of treatment. But he died. And now the family owes $50 to the doctor anyway.

But what other options did they have? Doing anything feels better than doing nothing.

When Asante died, Solange was summoned by her sister and brother before she had a chance to get a hold of me.

She had no money in her back account because all her savings went into the small plot of land that she bought 6 months ago. She is still waiting to save more money to build a house on that plot of land, so her brother and sister can live there in safety.

She planned for Asante to live there too. But he didn't quite make it.

Solange went back to her rural home, full of shame, because in Congo it was surely her duty to contribute to the cost of a funeral for this little child. And yet she had nothing, but the promise of some land she bought for the future. They couldn't bury Asante for 2 days (a long time in Congo) because no one had the money for even the simplest of burials.

I can't think of a more clear example of what it is like to live in Congo. There is an endless, unimaginable balancing...where somehow you have plan for a future when the present is barely hanging on by a string.

Do you save money to buy the land and build a little house, so that a year from now your family can live in safety? But what happens in the meantime?

Or do you cover the emergencies that arise each month, shelling out month after month, but building nothing for the future. The tyranny of the urgent, leaving you just as destitute next year as you were the last.

It is a balancing act. Solange has now paid for the medical debt to that kishenzi doctor. And she remains with the promise of a small plot of land. If only she can find the money to build upon it, her brother and sister could have a safer place to live. It may seem a small consolation to the loss of a child, but it is also the best way to avert the next disaster, before it happens.

A tiny house in Goma, can mean a lot. It means better security, and better health care, and it means hope to continue forward. It is SHONA sales that bought that land and it is continuing SHONA sales that will allow Solange to build upon it one day.

I wish for all the world that Asante had a different life, the opportunities he surely deserved.

But I remain forever impressed by the strength of those who face these losses, often too many to count, and still believe that a different future is possible.

Please buy SHONA products and reward that hope. For Solange and her family your purchases really do make all the difference in the world.

Having Children

In case I haven't mentioned it, I am pregnant. 21 weeks. It's a girl!

We're of course very excited. As are the SHONA women, who have been wondering for quite some time why we don't have children.

So far, I have been feeling quite well and things seem to be going ok and the baby looks fine. But as I am sure anyone who has been pregnant here in the States will probably tell you, pregnancy seems to involve a lot of numbers these days. Especially here in New York, it seems there is a lot of blood screening and testing of various sorts. The results of these tests are often statistics. You have a 1 in X chance of having a baby with this problem or that. Sometimes those statistics can be reassuring, and sometimes not. But in any case, I am often left with 2 realizations.

1. It is fascinating how much they can learn through a blood test or see on an ultrasound
2. And yet there is still so much about life that can't be seen...

At my most recent ultrasound I was thinking how I would describe an ultrasound to the SHONA women. There are no words. I don't think they would believe me. Or else they would believe me wholeheartedly, and assume that we must be able to see and control everything about this baby.

But it is hard to describe this middle ground where our fancy machines can help us know so much, and yet still leave us guessing.

I'm thankful to be pregnant here in the US with the benefits of medicine and technology. And I wish that women in Congo had these same benefits. But I am also aware that in many ways, no matter all the technology, pregnancy is a reminder of all the ways we cannot see or know the future. And in surrendering to that, I understand a little bit more, the resilience of Congolese women.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When It Rains...

I received a number of phone calls in the middle of the night last week. That is not entirely unusual, since the middle of the night here, is morning in Congo. Yet usually the women will call me once, all of them together. This time it seemed each woman was calling on her own.

When I finally talked to the ladies they said "problems zilisha kuwa mingi" which means something like "Our problems have become many." Don't worry, the ladies will survive, and they are still eager to buy new cloth and get back to their sewing ASAP, but in the meantime they and their families could also use your prayers. It does seem that when it pours.

Mapendo is in the hospital right now. She had what sounds like a boil, or some other kind of swollen bump, which grew to unreasonable sizes. The hospital operated on her last week, and she started to get better. But then it appears to have gotten infected and now she is back at the hospital so that they can keep her on IV medicine for the next week.

Solange's 2 year old niece died. This was the only daughter of Solange's younger sister. The little girl had been in and out of the hospital with malaria. She had just been released from the hospital and seemed to be getting a little better, when she died. Solange has gone back to the rural village where her brother and sister live for the funeral.

Riziki is also visiting her family. Her mother is back in the hospital and Riziki is there to help take care of her.

Argentine's father was recently arrested and put in jail for marrying a 17 year old girl.This was despite the fact that he is still married to Argentine' mother, not to mention the father of 6 children who barely have food to eat.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2 More Days!

...To join our free give-away. Just read this blog entry and leave a comment, to win your choice of a free SHONA product delivered to your door.

And please help us get the word out about SHONA by sharing this link with others!

We've got a bunch of things happening right now in Congo, with the SHONA ladies, which I'll write about soon, but in the meantime come out and support the work of these amazing women! We really appreciate it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sticky Summer

Recently we had a free shipping sale, and many of you came out to shop! Thank you! Your purchases allowed us to pay the SHONA ladies and ship the work they had completed. That is huge, and we couldn't have done it without you.

But we didn't quite have enough money to buy new material. So the ladies have been waiting. Anxiously, of course. I've told them wait until we sell a few more things.

So we've decided to extend our FREE SHIPPING for 1 more week, to help us get those last few dollars to buy new cloth. Just select the FREE SHIPPING option at check out!

To be honest, the summer is always a little bit sticky for us. Everyone goes on vacation and gets busy with summer plans. There is less shopping and more barbecues. Of course I fully support that type of a world. But the thing is we need your help to keep going through the summer and get ready for the winter. We do great in the months leading up to Christmas. In fact we sell out of most of our products by December and wish we had sewn many more.

But you see we can't sew many more, because NOW is when we should be sewing our stock for the winter. And we don't have the money to buy the cloth!

I consider myself anti-consumerism. I do not want a world where we shop MORE, but I do want a world where we shop better. I want us to buy meaningful gifts and meaningful clothing. And I want us to choose purchases that have a positive effect on the world.

One way to do that is to shop early. Consider it a little Christmas shopping in the middle of July. Just tuck your purchases away and in December I promise you will be happy to have them! That way your purchase is a double blessing. It is a blessing because it supports the woman who made it. And it is a blessing because it buys her more cloth to sew.

If you already took advantage of our free shipping week, maybe you can help us out by sharing this link and telling people about our sale!

And don't forget, we have a free give away going on right now. Right now, you have a 1 in 5 chance of winning a free product from SHONA. So spread the word!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Would you like something free?

Would you like to win a summer skirt? Or maybe a shirt? Or a travel purse, or placemat set?

Just enter our lottery below and in 1 week we will pick the lucky winner! The winner will choose any product from our online store for free!

Here is what to do...
1. Go to our store and choose your favorite item.
2. Leave a comment on this blog post telling us what your favorite item is
3. If you want your name entered twice (double the chances of winning) spread the word! Mention us on facebook, twitter, or your blog and we will enter your name in the give-away twice! (Just be sure to let us know about it!)

We'll assign each comment a number, and on July 12th we will pull a random number from a hat. We hope you win!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Free shipping this week!

Great stock in our store and

Take a minute to check us out!
And please take a minute to tell a few other or in person! :)

I went to a summer festival here in NY this weekend. It had some great artists and fabulous music...and not very many people there...

There were hardworking vendors, selling handcrafted work (including us!), but there just weren't many people walking by. And there were truly awesome musicians, playing with all the heart, to an empty street. And it reminded me again, how hard artists work, plugging away at their craft and trying hard to get it out there...and sometimes that means playing to an empty street.

And for that, I am deeply thankful to all of SHONA's friends. Because without you, sharing links, telling people about us, and buying our products as gifts for others... we too would be playing to empty streets! The internet is a vast world, and easy to get lost in. We have no marketing budget, and no brand recognition. And each of you, helps make it possible for new people to find us everyday, and not just find us, but stop and listen.

People check us out, because you vouch for us. And we really can't do it without you! Many, many thanks to our loyal friends and customers and Please DO take a minute to post a link and let others know that we have free shipping this week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


One of the hard parts of life in Congo is the "insecurity".

We use this term often to talk about the sense that Congo somewhat teeters on the edge of violence. Fighting could always break out, armed robbers could always show up at night.

But the insecurity amounts to more than that.

We have a friend who is a poor farmer, in a rural region. He owns a small piece of land next to a big piece of land owned by an important person. And so he stands always on the brink of losing his small plot of land, his only livelihood.

Last week, people came onto his land and began taking his crops. He complained. And so he was put in jail for a week. He just didn't have friends on the right side, and someone else did.

His extremely poor family then spent the week buying the guards beers and handing off cash trying to get this elderly man moved to a less harsh prison.

Eventually they borrowed enough money to pay the system off, and get him out of prison. What will happen with his land is unclear.

And this is precisely the insecurity with which many Congolese live everyday. That which they have can always be taken away.

In the grand scheme of things, all that anyone has can disappear in an instant. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. All of our lives are in fact, teetering on the edge.

But here in the US, we live with the illusion of security. And with some sense that only God, or a huge natural disaster or some other force beyond our control, can rip out of our hands that which we believe is ours.

It is a different type of insecurity to know that the people living next to you can do the same.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Check out our all new summer stock!

We can't fit all the pictures here.
So check it out at