Sunday, December 16, 2007

And that is how Charkhas for Africa began #2

My project to introduce charkhas to Africa spinners acquired a name and gained momentum thanks to two spinners from Pennsylvania: Angela Place and Reenie Hanlin of Material Whirled. They had brought Lexi Boeger to Harrisburg, PA for a two-day workshop and I had signed up. That was how we met.

We kept in touch and when they learned about my having gone to Ethiopia, they offered to help with a fundraiser. I'm not a go-getter and am squeemish about handling money donated by other people. We made an arrangement where I would procure the equipment and Angela and Reenie took care of paying off the suppliers with proceeds from donated yarns.

With the fundraising momentum in full swing, we bought 10 Indian box charkhas, a few Babe wheels and lots of hand carders from Otto Strauch. I redeemed frequent flyer miles and arranged a visit to Segou -- noted for weaving -- three hours away from the capital of Mali. On the way, I stopped in France for a spinning retreat with francophone spinners who also pledged yarn to sell for the project.

The trip was not easy. First of all, traveling on my own, I did it on the cheap and lugged everything through train stations in France. In addition, the Little Gem was also traveling with me. Upon arrival in Bamako, arriving passengers have to take their luggage to an x-ray machine and the customs people saw the charkha boxes. I was being asked to pay taxes on the items! I had to explain they were donations to spinners in Mali. Eventually, they let me through without having to do anything else.

I hung around in Bamako a couple of days while I waited for my friend, Dr. Youssouf Diallo, to finish his office duties during the week. I had requested for a driver and a car, but he wanted to drive me personally so we planned to go on a Saturday. He said, "You've done so much for my country; it's the least I can do".

Youssouf was thinking of driving to Segou leisurely and driving back the next day. I said I wanted to make it a day trip. He then accelerated his speed. He wanted to avoid being on the road in the dark on the way back. Problem was, the road was filled with potholes and it was only a matter of time before we hit one that badly damaged the rim of one of his tires. The damage produced a loud and alarming noise, so we had to stop. At this point, we were in the middle of a forest reserve.

Youssouf tried to phone for help, but his cell had lost signal. We tried to flag buses and other motorists; no one wanted to stop. Then we heard a shot. "What was that?" I asked. "Oh, hunters," he replied, more concerned about the tire than the presence of poachers. I got nervous as I was reminded of Dick Cheney and his well-publicized hunting trip.

We had no choice but to ignore the wheel noise and just drive on. Eventually, we left the forest reserve and commercial activity resumed along the highway. There were shacks serving as phone booths and bottled liquid for sale like vinegar or oil. I asked what were in those bottles and Youssouf said nonchalantly, "Gasoline." Needless to say that was a concern for me, but we soon found a car mechanic to change our tire and we were back on the road.