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!