Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shipping update

As you may recall we are waiting (anxiously) for our shipments from Congo. They were sent by US priority mail a month and a half ago and are somewhere in transit, caught up in the new "homeland security" regulations fiasco.

Today I received a message that went something like this. "Your shipment arrived in Germany ( a halfway transit point). Then it went back to Africa."

Of course the message was in Swahili so we may be missing some of the nuances here.

But somehow I get the general sense that we are not moving in the right direction here. Grrrrr...

And the great irony here, is that I think it really isn't Congo's fault. Or even Africa's fault. Of all the countless things that could go wrong when shipping from Congo, as far as I can tell, none of those has happened. It seems the packages arrived perfectly fine in Europe, as they were supposed to. No one ate them along the way, no wars broke out and stranded them. No, the end we are foiled not by the whims of Africa but by the United States. The only problem is that the US has decided to make it ridiculously hard to ship packages by plane. For fear of one blowing up. So Germany didn't want to take our packages, not because of where they come from, but because of where they are going. It is just to dang hard to ship to the US right now.

Now I am all for security. And I am always scared on airplanes, so I support anything that makes them safer. But it does appear that we have a tendency to base our whole regulatory procedures upon whatever the latest bomb scare was. And unfortunately for us the latest scare was a cargo package.

So now our packages sit in Ethiopia awaiting some solution. We really do need these packages to arrive. And we also need a shipping system that we can continue to rely on. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shipping Nightmares

Have you wondered what we are up to?

Admittedly, our shelves are getting a bit bare. (But we still have some great stuff. Check it out!) And perhaps you have been wondering if we at SHONA have simply decided to take an extended vacation.

Perhaps we are on a beach somewhere?

But no, the ladies sewing machines are still whirling and have been for quite some time. And I am still here, in New York, teaching ESL and keeping up with SHONA from this end.

For the past 4-5 months we have been working on a wholesale order for a fair trade website (more on them soon!) They ordered hundreds of skirts, dresses and tote bags. WOW. We're small and to us that is a plenty big order.

It has been quite an adventure, our foray into this type of wholesale order. Fortunately our customer is extremely wonderful, and has bent over backwards to work with us. And the sewing has gone along fine, it is all the other logistics that are slightly nerve wracking. Ok, very nerve-wracking. Our order is finally finished and in transit.

Which could be a good thing.

Or a bad thing.

We ship from Congo to the US through the international arm of the US priority mail. We've been using them for years and we haven't had any problems. But of course the problems start now.

You remember that bomb scare on the passenger plane in November? After that, the US put in increased regulations covering all packages coming into the US by air. That's us. I don't even know how one would go about shipping a package from Congo by boat, but I have the distinct impression it would be difficult. So we count on airplanes to carry our packages to the US.

And our packages appear to be sitting around, somewhere between here and there, waiting for clearance to board a plane and enter the US. Or perhaps at this point they are waiting in line at customs in the US. That would be nice.

But the most nerve-wracking thing is that we just don't know exactly where the packages are.

The tracking numbers from Congo don't work. They never have with any of our packages. I've been on the phone with the boss in Congo, who generously called Europe to try and locate our packages. He assures me that our packages boarded a plane from Europe to the US last week and are probably stuck at customs now.

But then again, what would he say if they had lost our packages? Or if someone had eaten them? Probably the same thing. We have found this shipping service to be extremely reliable and professional and they have never yet disappeared one of our packages. And we can see in many online forums that many, many people who are trying to ship by air into the US are experiencing the same delay as us with the US postal service. So we are somewhat comforted.

But in the end, shipping from Congo to the US has always seemed somewhat miraculous to us. There are indeed so many things that could go wrong.

So please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we (very!) anxiously await our packages, which contain not only our wholesale order, but also our new stock for our online store. And keep in mind that as we hold our breath and wait for this wholesale order to finally be finished (and paid) it is your purchases that keep us going. We're sorry we don't have more on our shelves. It's not because we haven't been working, or because we have forgotten our faithful customers. And in fact come check us out. There is still plenty on our shelves, and small donations to help us buy cloth are always very welcome as well. It is each little purchase and donation, that keep us going. Truly.

What we do is small but it is extremely real to the craftswomen and their families. Thank you for your support!