It’s 8:00 in the morning. The Heart Women have walked to Dr Luka’s compound. It takes up to two hours for some of them. These are all women that, some just freshly returned, some within the last year or two, have come back to their home turf after years enslaved by their Northern Sudanese fellow countrymen. Ellen has started a breathing/meditation group with them. They have been coming to Dr Luka’s to gather, talk, laugh, heal. They probably haven’t heard the term “post-traumatic stress”, but they’ve surely got it as they have been beaten, raped and have seen loved ones murdered.
They have spirits that have seen the dark side of human kind, but choose to look for goodness. I can see that they are great with their hands. They make meticulous baskets out of the grasses. Ellen has asked me to come to this place to show them how to make a beaded heart that she can market for them. She is calling it “Have a Heart for Sudan”.
The first group is about 15 women. We gather in the shade of a tree and they sit on cloths spread on the ground. They are looking at me with innocent and expectant eyes.
The film crew is around. Barbara Koppel knows her craft. There’s a reason she’s won two Academy Awards. She can work good stuff out of people and onto film. She suggests that I start with a song, Charlie and Inez Fox’s “Mockingbird”! I dive into it, acapella. The women’s faces light up. They smile, clap and cheer. They have this really cool way of applauding after a song, where they all clap in unison. Be prepared, if you’re at one of my shows, I’m going to ask us to try this together.
I go into my “Shebop shebop shebop my baby” and they join in. It becomes our theme song for the next three days of beading sessions.
I have an interpreter, and I ask him to tell them that I have just learned this technique myself, it took me a long time to learn it, and I haven’t had a chance to try teaching it to anyone. I ask them for patience. They nod. They clap! I am loving my Heart Women already.
Ok, here’s what the finished product will look like, I tell them. I hold up some samples of the hearts. 73 beads, one step after the other, and there’s no room for a misstep. Don’t be afraid to cut the work apart and start again.
Step one, step two, step three. Put one bead on the left hand string, two beads on the right, and cross the left string through it. One bead, one bead.
This beading technique, the right angle weave, is not for the faint of heart. These gals have lots of dexterity and smarts, and are nowhere near faint of heart. After each move I check their work. We move along through the steps, and we’re at it for a little over a couple of hours.
It’s going slowly only because it takes a while to check every one’s steps and correct where necessary. It feels like we’ve just about had it for the day, and we take a break. I start up with the next group of 15-20. We start from the top. These women are like the last, cheerful, game and quick. But, it is still taking time, and we stop at the same place we’ve stopped with the first group. I will be seeing them tomorrow.
One bead, one bead. This becomes another mantra, along with Shebop shebop shebop my baby. I ask the interpreter to translate “my baby” into Dinka. I can’t remember what it was, but they think this is really funny.
The next day there are fewer of them, the ones who are there will show the others.
We go on like this, laughing and singing and going in and out of frustrated as we work through the technique.
You’ll know what I mean when I show you if you’re interested. It is worth the work, the hearts are pretty.
By the third day of work sessions, we’ve whittled the group down to 8 or so, and they finish their first hearts.
I could go on and on about it, but suffice it to say that these women are talented, resourceful, funny and bright. They are not afraid to work and want to very much. I wish I had more time with them, but I envision them sitting in the shade right now, singing and stringing. One bead, one bead. Shebop shebop.
While the Heart Women and I are at this stringing thing, my fellow tent dwellers are at another slave group one day, the governor’s house the next. They go back to the polio people’s place and deliver 25-30 goats that Ellen has raised money to buy for them.
Late in the day one afternoon, we all go to the brand new basketball court that Ellen has raised money to build. There’s a coach and a teams worth of young men and a couple of girls, running drills across the courts. Ellen and her brother have brought them bags filled with new sneakers.
The final morning we are there, I gather with a few of the Heart Women and they watch while I string up one heart so they can see it done without the stops and starts we’ve had to go through together. I go through the supplies with an elder and one of the younger ones. I have the interpreter read through my written instructions. I give them the photo album I have made of each step.
Our little pod of people loads into the Rovers and heads to the airport. Our last hour and a half of bumpy roads. Good bye dear new friends, good bye South Sudan.
We head back to Nairobi for a night with some running hot water and indoor plumbing. The next day is filled to the brim with stuff we do. Would you like me to tell you about our day in Nairobi?
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