June 22, 2013
It is such a joy to be back on my blog and back in this community I am grateful to belong to, dear readers. I have a lot to tell you and pictures to share after returning home from…(It will be a surprise in my next post) But for now I would like to share something very meaningful to me. Before I tell you more, let’s take a pause, sit comfortably in the sun or in the shade, and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of your favourite fruit juice. I am so happy to tell you about a book I read recently, that I loved for many reasons. It is called How to Make an African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali. The book is written by Bonnie Lee Black.
This is a memoir, not a crafts book. It contains so much more than the making of an African quilt. Why am I telling you of this book in particular ? Because it touches me personally. The true stories Bonnie tells about her experience in Mali are about solidarity, friendship, determination, cultural sharing and hope. Bonnie created a women’s project that one cannot but love and feel proud of. This book is precious to me because it was written by a friend of mine, whom I did not know as a writer when I first “met” her.
About 14 years ago, I responded to an item in a French quilters’ magazine that mentioned Bonnie’s Patchwork Project in Segou. Bonnie was asking for used French quilting magazines with patterns she could use for her project in Mali. I found quite a few on my bookshelves that I sent her and her Malian friends. At that point we started writing to each other now and then, and we’ve kept in touch over the years.
Guess what ? Today I have the immense pleasure and honor to welcome Bonnie Lee Black as my guest writer on this blog. I am also very thankful that she has offered to share her life-changing experience in Africa as well as some patches of her life. Thank you, dear Bonnie, for telling us more about your book, your quilting project in Mali and what your hopes are.
“Thank you, Isabelle, for this honor to share with your readers my wonderful experience in Mali, now encapsulated in my new book, How to Make an African Quilt. The title, as you suggest, is really a metaphor for “connection” – cultural connection – and I’m hoping that theme comes through in its pages.
This book is actually the sequel to my Peace Corps memoir, How to Cook a Crocodile (Peace Corps Writers, 2010), about my two-year service as a health and nutrition volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa. When I completed my service in Gabon, I decided to go to Mali (rather than return to the United States) and do independent economic development work there. I was in my early fifties and felt I still had more to give.
Soon after settling in Segou, Mali (which is the textile “capital” of the country), I met a group of talented Malian seamstresses who asked me to teach them patchwork quilting. Well, that was a challenge for me because I’d never done patchwork quilting. But I soon taught myself from a quilting primer and happily created the Patchwork Project, which the women loved. In the book I share their stories and show their joy, especially as they sat together at the quilting frame (a makeshift contraption I made from lenghts of bamboo) laughing and singing as they stitched.
I took the project as far as I could in the thirty months I lived in Segou. But it could go much further to help the women there earn extra income. I wrote this book in the hope that someone, somewhere, some day might read the book and be inspired to take the project further. That someone would have the business-and-computer knowhow that I lacked – and still lack. When the talented graduates of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali begin to make patchwork quilts to be sold internationally over the Internet, then I’ll feel that my dream for these women has come true and my book has done its job.”
Bonnie Lee Black
Amkoullel, l’Enfant peul, 1991
by Amadou Hampate Ba,Malian writer and ethnologist, 1900-1991
Here is a link to the Wandering Educators website which shows a video about Bonnie’s book.
September 8, 2012
Some weeks just go by their own quiet way and rhythm. I do not mean a routine because there seems to be something special in each day. In some weeks though there are events out of the ordinary, people and places you will remember. The week described here was one of those.
Monday is sometimes a day when I try cooking new recipes. Pies or quiches are amongst my favourites. Some of them I find reading blogs such as Tammy’s. Her blog is not only about food but also about community supported agriculture. Well worth reading.
The recipe is about a tomato pie. Since I had a big and beautiful zuchini waiting to be picked in the garden, I added some of it in the pie (grated and grilled a little). This is the only change I made. It tasted really delicious, Thank you very much, Tammy.
On Tuesday I had to go to town and found a quiet lane to walk for a while with Nino-the-beagle. Guess whom we met ? Another beagle looking lonely behind a fence. What do two beagles say to each other when they meet : “Let’s escape together and go hunting !”
Wednesday morning. Brilliant clouds welcomed me as I opened the shutters. “O, beautiful golden clouds, what will you bring us on this day” ? As it happened, the warm morning turned into a stormy day. A rather temperamental weather this Summer but a rain that was well needed too.
A short break after work on Thursday afternoon. As we were sitting on a bench with a friend, a “school-boat” was floating down the canal. A lady was steering the little boat back to its mooring. Not as simple as it looks and she did very well.
On Saturday morning at our friend’s home, we were awaken by a ballet of helicopters. Every third minute or so, a helicopter would fly over the area, fill a big bucket of water (700 liters) and pour it down on the forest which had caught fire during the night. It took the pilots two whole days to stop it. Nobody was injured and the damage could be stopped in time.
Sunday was a happy celebration day ! Family and friends gathered around Alima, our youngest niece. The sun shone brightly for her. There were prayers, songs, dance and lots of African food and music. Another change of scenery in this particular week. Alima was quite comfortable and relaxed dancing in her proud grandmother’s arms.
Guess what I did on Sunday ? After a rest following the previous long day, I sat down on a lovely terrace between sky and earth, took my pen and some nice stationary; I wrote to a dear friend all about my recent week. Internet is not part of her world and we both enjoy exchanging letters every month.
May 9, 2010
The mother was standing at the side of a country road on the highlands of Madagascar, her baby snuggled on her back. She was selling wild flowers and a few oranges, tomatoes, rice and this special kind of spinach they grow there, “brèdes” (a French name I found no translation for).I stopped and asked to buy the flowers and some tomatoes. I never tasted again such sweet tomatoes. The lady was shy, her baby curious and serious. They both looked so beautiful and in harmony, I asked her could I take a picture, please. The taxidriver translated this for me, she agreed with a half smile. Then a rapid conversation went on between the mother and the driver. I was to give the picture to her later. She never had had a picture of her and her baby. I did drive to this area again some weeks later, stopped in the curve and climbed a steep earth track to a hamlet of red houses. They were of the same colour of the soil, as if they had grown out of it. By the time I arrived, I was surrounded with children who screamed of excitement and brought mothers out of their homes. The shy lady was there, she embraced me gently and looked, and looked again at the picture, hardly believing it was her and her baby ! Emotion and laughter and… more demands for pictures
I took more pictures (with my precious Nikkormat!) and for some unfortunate reason, they were lost at the photographer’s in town. The mother and her child is the only one I still have of this episode. The village I went to looked very much like this one. This tapestry (cross-stitching with local wool on the lining of a well-worn carpet I was going to throw away !) is a unique gift I received from a dear friend as I left Madagascar.
So, these are my thoughts and good wishes for all mothers today, we celebrate their special day. Happy Mother’s Day to each and everyone of you ! A loving thought also for all mothers who will not celebrate with us but who stay in our heart forever.
Des mots d’enfants, kids sayings… and others’ who were kids too
“When mom is tired, why do I have to go to bed “?
“For the others, my mom may not be the most beautiful, but when one looks at her with My eyes, she is the prettiest”.
“A mother who tucks you in bed leaves behind a scent of sleep”
“Mothers always forgive; this is why they were born”.
“A mother’s love is like air : so obvious that one does not even notice it. Until one misses it”.
July 29, 2009
Some years ago a friend sent me the manuscrit of a book she had just written. The novel unfolded in South Africa, a story of love and adventure in a vast and beautiful country. Men and animals were never far from one another as soon as one left the big cities. Several episodes were set in colonial houses at teatime. Peace and quietness on luxuriant terraces or inside cool rooms. All around the houses there was wilderness, unindentifiable sounds and cries, strong smells and traces on the soil that meant : animals were close.
This story my friend wrote stayed in my mind for a while. I lived in Central Africa for a few years and those sights she described were alive in my memory and brought back images I thought I had forgotten.
One day as I sat in my sewing room, I came across a pretty English fabric : teapots, cups, flowers on tables, the perfect setting for teatime. Then I had this idea of sewing a quilt that would show my feelings as I read my friend’s novel.
It was not long before I found in my baskets of African fabrics all I needed to create my own story : Teatime in Jo’burg. A moment when animals would be even closer to men.
The main material was a green and golden batik I had bought in a women’s co-operative in Rwanda. The other fabrics came from various countries: Tanzania, Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Each with its own colour and symbols. A kind of United Colours of Africa.
It took me a few days only to sew the top, joining animals and cups of tea. My own version of my friend’s book. A quilt I truly enjoyed imagining and sewing.
June 24, 2009
With Every Breath
With every breath I take today,
I wow to be awake;
And every step I take,
I wow to take with a grateful heart–
So I may see with eyes of love
Into the hearts of all I meet,
To ease their burden when I can
And touch them with a smile of peace.
(author unknown to me)
These are my wishes for you on this cool but sunny Summer day.
Here is a quilt I made with so many various fabrics, all from Africa. As many fabrics as memories of people, friends, places, particular circumstances. One of my favourites because of all it evokes to me.
January 25, 2009
One thing I love to do while travelling is visiting market places. Especially in Africa. I used to live in different African countries. Markets are the places where you meet people, you hear the music of various languages, you see the eating habits, you smell unknown food or wonder at local medicines. It is a place to learn so much about a country and its people ! If you look for something you cannot find in any shop, just go to the market, someone will help you find it. You also learn how to bargain : a must ! Since I have always been interested in fabrics, a visit to the tailor’s shop is a priority. The amount and variety of materials that are sold on market stalls always fascinates me.This is the market place (or Zoma in malagasy language) in Antananarivo, Madagascar, a fabulous place to get lost.
African fabrics, mostly in coton, are extremely colourful and original in their patterns. Many of them have their own designation : “palm, vines, my rival’s eyes, comb, shells, my foot and your foot, the prosperous husband, etc…” and many more very descriptive and sometimes funny names. I immediately fell in love with those bright materials and bought quite a lot of small or larger pieces which I used for quilting. Friends offer me presents of fabrics, tailors are happy to give me the left-overs of what they sewed. I even receive worn clothes that my African friends are happy to share when they get new ones ! Nothing is wasted.A few years ago I sewed this “African Mosaic”, a log cabin pattern (2m20x2m10) with bits and pieces of many materials I had bought or received during several stays or journeys through different countries. These fabrics were made in Madagascar, Kenya, Burundi, Cameroun, Mali, Niger,Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, maybe elsewhere, I don’t know.
It is one of my favourite and precious souvenirs of the people I met, the places I visited, the wonderful moments I spent on this great continent.
Here are some details of my African Mosaic :Each square of this log cabin quilt is 10x10cm and there are about 200 of them. Each one unique.This is the very center of the quilt, golden, bright and warm as the sun that shines in Africa.