Bib & Tucker Sew-Op's co-founder and executive director, Lillis Taylor, recently returned from Arusha, Tanzania where she conducted two volunteer trainings. The first was for the artisans who produce clothing for Birmingham-based brand, Maasai Chic. The second was for The Nuru Trust Children's Home. Lillis' trip was facilitated by Stacey Scott and Jafari Msaki, co-directors of Africa Integrative Medicine (AIM). Located outside of Arusha, AIM has many missions, but community development and economic opportunity are the common links between AIM and Bib & Tucker Sew-Op. Lillis visited AIM for two weeks to learn more about the organization's work and to share sewing skills.
We are publishing some of Lillis' journals and photos from her time in Arusha. To learn more about how you can help any of the organizations mentioned above, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"There is so much that is still with me, even though I've been home for almost two weeks. While I was in Tanzania (also for two weeks), I wrote daily and recorded the details of what was happening and also my feelings on these details, all the while trying to process my first foray into Africa. I can synthesize all of my musings into a funny little contradiction: everything was different, yet nothing was unusual.
After one week, my hosts took me shopping in Moshe and I bought the coveted "wax" or Kitenge cloth. When we returned to the AIM compound, I was unwrapping my treasures and noticed the phrase "Keep Calm and Love Africa" stamped underneath the telltale image of a crown. It became my mantra. It's rainy season. Keep Calm and Love Africa. The Dala Dala "conductor" is sternly requesting that I share my seat with two other people. Keep Calm and Love Africa. There's a mosquito in my mosquito net. Keep Calm and Love Africa. That young man keeps trying to sell me a plastic watch through the window of the waiting Coaster and when I don't move to purchase it, he pushes the window open to get a better location for the plastic watch: IN MY FACE. Keep Calm and Love Africa.
I'm happy to report that not only did I keep calm, I also wholeheartedly love Africa. Rather, I love Northern Tanzania. By the end of my two weeks, none of us were ready for my departure and truly, that is an amazing feat, given the fact that I was totally and absolutely embedded in the lives of AIMs co-founders. Every time I sit down to write about my experiences, I find that I am overwhelmed about where to begin. And so, I have decided to present a series of photo essays.
Africa Integrative Medicine
The Africa Integrative Medicine (AIM) Compound. Behind this gate lies the small staff of AIM, who are committed to integrating Eastern medicinal practices into the community they serve. Jafari Msaki, Stacey Scott and their team support and draw attention to the medicinal practices of African Shamans. AIM is also committed to economic development in their region and this is where my trip comes in. Stacey has been working with local seamstresses to produce the garments for a Birmingham-based brand, Maasai Chic. More on that later. For now, just know that the compound was designed and built by Jafari. Both he and Stacey have big dreams for this property.
This is the room I called home for the majority of my stay in Tanzania. The mosquito net was my best friend, though for the most part, mosquitoes would laze about, hovering just on the periphery. Stacey warned me when we were driving in from the airport that my walls would "squeak" and that I shouldn't be alarmed as that was just a pair of lizards coming across one another and saying "hello". I also had a little yellow bird that would literally knock on my window in the morning, though the window was mirrored so most likely he thought he was greeting a friend. Stacey had also warned me that the power would go off and (possibly) on quite frequently. It being the rainy season, I expected this to happen more than it actually did. But the one time that it went out and stayed out for good, I became truly cut off: my phone died and that had been my only touchstone to "back home". I loved that our lives weren't much affected otherwise, since food was - for the most part - cooked and prepared fresh (AIM has only a dorm-sized refrigerator).
If AIM is committed to bridging Eastern and Western medicinal traditions; Stacey is committed to bridging African and Alabamian cuisines. Stacey is from Birmingham originally. She's lived all over the world and yet, when I asked her the night before leaving for Tanzania if there was anything "from home" that I could bring her, she had an answer. Early the morning of my departure, I made my way to the Pig and purchased a box of "Just Add Water" pancake batter. It was the only thing Stacey craved from home. For breakfast my first Sunday in Tanzania, we had pancakes, scrambled eggs with sauteed spinach, sausage links, and fresh fruit. I even had a cup of coffee! (Of all of the instant coffees I've sampled in my life, this one was quite delicious. Could it be its proximity to the land of coffee beans?) I'm sorry I didn't get a picture of my Ungali with Daga: a grits-like starch that is used to scoop up the Daga, or stew made from dried fish that are flash-fried and cooked with okra, tomatoes, onions and garlic. But you can imagine, the more unusual meal to me was those pancakes, y'all! On the left you can see Stacey instructing Linda in the ways of cooking the perfect pancake. Linda, who made most of our meals, had to cook things one at a time, because the propane tank had the fixture for only one pan at a time. I admired her ability to deliver hot meals of rice, stew and spinach, while also always having ginger-infused black tea, piping hot on the side.
Headquarters. This living room acted as much as a girl-talk salon as it did the hub of a thriving NGO. Meals were served here; I met the chief of the village here; Stacey and I dreamed and schemed here; I sewed and ruminated here and I learned to love Eva + here. When I first arrived, Stacey and Linda were enthusiastically catching up on the lives of some very dramatic people: "So, did Camilla really drop Max to marry her nemesis, Ezequiel López Méndez?!" and "Wait, did he become a priest before or after he got the daughter of his father's enemy pregnant?!" - I would come to know these people, too, as they were and continue to be the lead characters of a show on Eva +, an English-dubbed Telemundo syndicate. At first, I was lost. By the end of my time in Tanzania, I knew the names and plot lines of upwards of twenty characters. And somehow, I learned all of this despite the flakiness of the satellite TV. I wasn't able to take a hot shower, but I was able to enjoy pancakes and soap operas!
Doesn't this photo say it all? I spent more time sewing in two weeks as I have in the previous five months here in Birmingham. *Someone* needs to learn to step away from her work. Stacey taught me a lot about acupuncture and acupressure and even referred me to a practitioner in Trussville. One the right is an embroidery block completed by one of the supervisors at The Nuru Trust (his name is Baraka) and I turned it into a pillow with a zip closure and presented it to the children at TNT when we returned for leaf pounding. There is so much happiness in this photo.
Maji Ya Chai means literally, "Water for Tea" and it is the name of the region we were in. The actual neighborhood (the one you say to the Dala Dala and Coaster conductors so that they let you off at the mouth of the village) is N'Jiang G'ombe which means "Cow Road". Stay tuned for a photo of cows blocking the road in N'Jiang G'ombe!
Bib & Tucker Sew-Op is a sewing co-op located at the convergence of Woodlawn, Crestwood North and Avondale.