Monday, January 30, 2017

Special Medicine against Trump-stings found in North Sumatran Kampung

Trump-stings are some of the worst in the world. There is much malice that is aggravating them at the moment.

I cannot help but feel terribly grateful for goodness and for the seeds of goodness that we can plant despite the ugly faces shown by politics. Specifically I am referring to gratifying new developments at the Simalungun Weaving Centre.

Not long ago the plan was conceived to offer seed money to young people in and around Lasma's village if they want to learn to weave. There are young women who have finished high school and have no future. There is no money to attend university, no jobs, and with the drought not even the possibility of working on the land. This is a recipe for human disaster: loss of hope, depression and desperation. These young women need a lifeline, an opportunity to build a future, a chance to make something of themselves.
One of the few remaining Simalungun houses. This is what cultural
drought looks like.
Lasma and I calculated how much money an aspiring weaver would need to purchase yarn and a loom and also to pay for a teacher willing to help her learn to weave. I polled everybody that I know who has expressed a benevolent interest in the Simalungun Weaving Centre and asked if any of them might be interested in purchasing the "first textile" (hiou parlobei) of aspiring young weavers for a price that would pay these initial start-up costs. Many responded immediately and I gave Lasma the green light.

Elderly teacher excited to be part of the
Simalungun Weaving Centre
Today I called her and was regaled of a long story about what this little spark of hope has done. I have never heard Lasma sound so excited and fulfilled. She has been crying tears of relief. One young woman named Nita has started to weave and she wants to involve some of her friends. Her new goal in life is to become a weaving teacher! An elderly weaver (in her 80s) is thrilled that she can begin to share her skills. Another elderly woman is going to ask a skilled friend to teach ikat techniques. Everybody wants to move to the Weaving Centre to live together and share stories! Chickens must not be counted before they hatch, but there seems to be enthusiasm to start a veritable weaving colony!

The elderly weaving teacher and Nita Damanik, her first pupil.
Ma Tika, Lasma's weaving teacher, has been weaving patterns from the antique textiles that I had photographed for them and she is selling her textiles with extra profit without the involvement of a middleman. She has a unique product and is working on developing her own clientele. She wants to move to the Weaving Centre, too! Such merriment.

I was finally able to transfer the donations for building Lasma's house which will serve as the Centre until we are able to erect the central building. Lasma will receive the money this week and wants to start building immediately.

Interestingly, what inspires the young women is being able to earn a living. They hope to be able to earn more by weaving than by working in the fields. They are gratified if they can achieve this while promoting their own culture.

I have started to think about building an education fund. It would be wonderful for the young women if, by becoming a member of the Simalungun Weaving Centre and learning to weave, they could also gain access to an education. That would truly stand them in good stead for the future.

Why is this Trump-sting medicine? Without going deeply into the nature of Trump-sting maladies, suffice it to say that they all have to do with the misery caused by thoughtless and uncaring greed and malice. Hope and opportunities in zones that have been made arid culturally, socially and economically are antidotes to poverty and bad seeds. It will keep people on their land and help them believe in and perpetuate the values taught by their culture. These are the people who will be able to nurture their children and create a warm and loving environment. This is the goal of the Pulang Kampung projects that are all aimed at replenishing the villages that have been milked and bilked to their deathbed.

The biggest thanks to those who have contributed to Lasma's house and the first textile weaving program. You have provided the medicine that is so desperately needed.

(All photos in this blog by Lasma Sitanggang.)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Culture not Business

Many people encourage me to build a Weaving Centre or a Weaving School in the Batak area, a place where I can share my knowledge and where weavers can learn to get ahead with their craft at the same time as they perpetuate their culture. Of course the idea appeals to me as I have reached the age when I want to "give back". Financial issues aside, the question is: how to go about it?

I am usually encouraged to take the 'rational' approach: clear goals, clear budget, clear plans, clear timeframe, the right people, a good location and begin! But I have a reluctance to be business-like in this way. The reason is the cultural goal of the Weaving Centre. My concern is that my initiative would then only last as long as I am there to determine and shape it, in short: employ weavers. I conceive of a different path. It will most certainly be slower -- but I hope it will be more long-lasting than the business that has to close down when the head drops dead.

The starting conundrum is how to build a cultural centre when I am not a true member of the culture and my position in the community may mean that people follow my wishes rather than expressing their own? To my mind a culture centre is about something that is located in the hearts and minds of the people, fully integrated, part of their daily lives, respected, loved, second nature. I want to facilitate something that they would want, whether I was there or not. I see my role as facilitating not leading. Keeping my ear to the ground and not dictating. Playing the devil's advocate not the employer. Holding hands.

Lasma and Ma Tika examine photographs of a variety of textiles of the
same design type. (Photo MJA Nashir)
Ma Tika in Lasma's village, for example, already weaves for a middleman to whom she sells her finished work. She has no idea how much the middleman gets for her textile from the consumer. She lives a hamster-in-a-wheel existence. Her delight in weaving is something she keeps to herself. She is self-taught. She explores the art privately. For the middleman she does what she is told. When I met her, I wanted to plug into her hidden, creative side. She had to learn to trust me and that didn't happen quickly or in a vacuum. She had to hear Lasma's explanations about my choices  and experience me firsthand. Initially she expected orders from me but I was interested in talking with her! I wanted to know her capacities and the things that thwart her greater success. She lives in a hard dog-eat-dog world and that is antithetical to the creative spirit. Slowly, gradually, I knew what I should do: she was excited by natural dyes and needed recipes. She was interested in higher quality textiles, but didn't know the technical adjustments that had to be made. I facilitated her obtaining the knowledge that she needed. We do not earn money from each other, but in the long run I hope that she will enjoy a more satisfying and lucrative relationship with her loom and that she will share her stores of knowledge with other young people.

 In the case of Lasma, my relationship with her involves high telephone and travel expenses. My strategy is the same. I listen to her stories. What is she trying to make? What are her stumbling blocks? How can I help: with my network? with materials? For me our relationship has taken unexpected turns as I have learned of her wishes. Now we have ended up purchasing land so that she can grow cotton and dyestuffs. We are planning to build a place where she can work more comfortably and efficiently. All of these decisions have taken years of trial and error, waiting for the urges to emerge and then listening carefully and "thinking with" to come up with the appropriate solution. I facilitate where I can; Lasma builds her own future. She learns to listen to her own intuition, express her own needs and execute the solutions. I am being a kind of "Mom". In the end it is spirit and drive that will carry the Simalungun Weaving Centre. It needs to be nurtured.

I could not have made a road guide in advance. Happening upon Lasma was a piece of luck; she is so bright and dedicated and with her heart in the right place. Another person would have entailed another approach. We inch along in what mas Nashir describes as "mengalir seperti air": flowing like water. My guide is the spirit of "Pulang Kampung": returning (any and everything) to the villages as needed. The villages in North Sumatra have been bled dry by generations of exploitation. They are like a desert longing for water, but a flood would be of no use. The bit of water that I try to sluice towards them is obtained with thoughtfulness and sometimes difficulty; it is precious and has to be utilized wisely and carefully, bit by bit, so that its benefits are maximized, making a little go the longest way. Strategies need to be carefully devised and revised.

When I am gone, Lasma will hopefully be left with a foundation from which she will be able to share with others. If she has been nurtured by generosity, she will be generous in turn. Things flourish through generosity.

I have no specific goals for the Simalungun Weaving Centre; I have a general goal. Above all, I want the Weaving Centre to be a place where young Batak weavers are free to 'grow their culture' and take it into the future. I want it to be a place where their creative spirit feels inspired and nurtured. They must do the hard work of integrating the past with the future and find the ways to make it work. As an outsider to their culture, that is not within my capacity. I must rely on them. 

My approach is not "rational". I will not earn money or "meet measurables within a certain timeframe", but that is not my goal. I want to make it a option for Batak women to grow their weaving culture. Their success will be my reward.