Thursday, May 19, 2011

Josephine, Claire & Pamela

Swamped. Underwater. Drowning in purses.

In fall 2009, after Stacey Edgar visited our project, we received our largest handbag order to date. We knew we were going to need more tailors to get things done. We'd brought all of our tailors under one roof in June 2009, but the ladies from Bobi and Unyama camps weren't quite ready to make our more complicated purse designs to the level of quality we needed. One day after work, Lucy and I were talking about our predicament, discussing our options.

The next morning was a rainy one, and I knew Gulu would be in a standstill. With most people traveling on foot or by bicycle, very little happens on rainy weekday mornings. I took my time waking up, made some coffee and unlocked the workshop door. I was headed to the office with my laptop bag, but out of the corner of my eye I saw three ladies huddled on the front porch.

Aol Josephine. Lajaro Claire. Akello Pamela.

Lajaro Claire lounges on the front porch with one of Aber Grace's daughters

All three women were wrapped in woolen scarves, shivering in the cool Gulu rain. Pamela and Josephine were nursing their babies. I smiled and greeted them all, and quickly realized that none of them spoke English. I had no idea why they were there. Suddenly my phone rang - it was Prisca. She apologized for being late to work (Prisca rides her bicycle several miles to get to work each day), and asked if any of the ladies had yet arrived. I glanced at the three women on the porch - they avoided my eyes.

Aol Josephine's adorable Jonathon

"Um, yes, there are three ladies I've never met - none of them speak English. I think they've been sitting on our porch for some time. Do you know anything about this?" I asked.

"Ahhh, sorry," Prisca laughed her short, now famous laugh. "Those must be the new ladies Lucy found - they are already tailors and they can sew well - they can help us with our order. I am coming Halle, let me come."

Pamela, Josephine and Claire would come to be a steady force within One Mango Tree. After just a few days of work, it was as if they'd always been with us. They made fast friends with the other women, and set an example with their punctuality, concentration, and consistent quality of work. Pamela's daughter Maria was terrified of mzungus (white people), and screamed bloody murder anytime I came near her. I enjoyed her cuteness from afar - Pamela always beaded her hair and tied a teddy bear to her back in the same way women carry their babies in Uganda. Eventually her fear dissipated, and she even started to shake my hand.

Pamela comforting Maria after a mzungu encounter

Josephine brought Jonathon to work every day, in a comfy cocoon on her back, swaddled with a piece of cloth. He quietly looked around the room, rarely making a peep, and always content for a nap after his feedings.

Josephine working with sleeping Jonathon on her back

This was all before Alice, our daycare teacher, and Maria is now in nursery school full time. Adong Kevin's daughter, Aber Juliet, has taken over the sassy "mzungus-are-going-to-eat-me" role. When I was in Gulu last month, Josephine and Claire were both pregnant, and getting close to their delivery dates - both the perfect picture of healthy mothers.

When I was looking through photos to use for the new blog design, one of Claire and Josephine - back when they first started with us and were working away diligently on that huge order - seemed the perfect choice.

Check out this great photo of Josephine, Claire and Pamela in traditional Acholi dress.

Photos in this post were taken by Crystaline Randazzo during her time at One Mango Tree with Momenta Workshops.

xo Halle

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