I spent last week surrounded by African cloth. It was in an over-air conditioned exhibit hall in Phoenix, where the outside temperatures rose to 118 during the week. One airline worker said when some of our friends arrived, “Welcome to hell.”
Our cloth booth was a heavenly place in what I wouldn’t call hell exactly but it was a sterile, artificial environment. It didn’t help that I was working the booth 11 am to 11 pm with little chance for solitude and no inviting nature nearby. Now that I am home I’m basking on my front porch, even though it is dark and humid and pouring rain. At least it’s natural.
I’m thinking of turning one of those lengths of bright cloth into a tablecloth and napkins for my porch table. It took five days of looking at the hundreds of fabric lengths in our display till I settled on that piece as the one I wanted to take home. Orange and yellow plaid with guinea fowl.
Maybe it was because my eyes got used to all the colors, since I was exposed to them for so long, and so I gradually came to love the brightest one I saw.
Maybe it was because I thought of how my granddaughter would enjoy the strange chickens on the design.
Maybe it was because I thought of how that tablecloth would brighten up my screened-in porch, which is all browns and grays and surrounded by green, green, green.
This is all true but really it was because no one else wanted it. We had two 6-yard lengths of this design and they were among the few pieces that didn’t move at the Mennonite Church USA convention last week. No quilters wanted a yard of it, no shirt makers or skirt makers or pillow coverers were tempted. This design goes with nothing. It is what it is, bold and bright.
This is how Congolese women dress, power to them in their confident beauty. They would consider it a waste to use it on a table. It needs to strut its stuff in the marketplace. But still, it finds its way to my house and that is something.
Our project, the Congo Cloth Connection, is about influencing each other, finding common ground, forming relationships between Mennonites in Congo and the USA. It is secondarily about raising money for projects in Congo. With the donations we’re collecting for this cloth we’re funding scholarships for Congolese Mennonite women studying for the ministry. This is a new thing–the church only recently approved the ordination of women–and it’s the feminist issue among our friends there.
This fall I will carry scholarship money for four women in Kalonda, DR Congo, age 21 to 62, who are fulfilling their dream of becoming pastors. While I dress my table in their cloth, they study the Anabaptist theology of our mutual heritage.
We’re not selling the cloth (hand-carried in suitcases by our traveling friends) online. This is not a long-term, big $ project. It’s just a way of making connections of beauty and joy between a few churches in the Midwest and our growing network of friends in DRC.
Orange and yellow guinea fowl crossing the continents, coming home to roost.