The blind will see, the lame will walk
The sun peaked along the horizon, and the rooster crowed as our Bajaj driver rang the doorbell. With backpacks, ipods, and our cameras in hand, Erin and I were ready to face the adventure of the day: a 9-hour bus ride from Dar to Iringa to visit Neema Crafts, a fair trade organization where Karama purchases many of beautiful handcrafted and designed goods.
But first the bus ride.
If you’ve never been on an African bus ride, let me paint you a picture. Imagine a crowded space, no AC, and holding on for dear life, as the driver flies through the narrow streets and mountainous ravines at 70 mph. Yes, it’s quite exhilarating. Maybe that’s a tad dramatic, but honestly, Erin and I are forever-grateful for your prayers of safety!
During the long trek, we made quite a few memories. One in particular will keep us laughing for awhile to come. During our first bathroom “bush” break (6 hours into the drive), Erin and I planned on taking turns to use the restroom. So as she returned, I rushed off the bus to use the restroom, and as soon as I found a spot, the driver started driving away. He literally made me run and jump onto the bus as it was moving. I’m sure he found it amusing to watch a mzungu run from the bush and leap into a moving vehicle. Oh, only in Africa.
On a more exciting note, we also traveled through a game park, where we were able to watch a giraffe cross the road, elephants run wild, and zebras stop for water. And all the while, my mind kept thinking that God couldn’t have created more intriguing and magnificent animals … ah, such beautiful creatures!
After quite the eventful day, we arrived safely into Iringa at 6:30 pm, and by that time, we were ready to quickly get settled into our rooms at the Neema Crafts’ guest house.
Now there’s one thing that I need to mention about the organization. Neema Crafts Centre was started in October 2003 as a beacon of light and hope to many people with disabilities in the area. With an alarmingly high rate of 15% of the community deemed as disabled, there was a dire need for jobs, support systems, and love for the marginalized groups in the area. And Neema has done an incredible job providing for those needs.
The last time I visited Neema in 2009, it opened my heart and mind towards the fair trade industry, and it was such a blessing to be able to return. Katy and Ben, the directors of Neema Crafts, are doing such a fabulous job creating new products and designs, developing leaders and workers, and keeping the daily tasks running smoothly.
During the day, we captured the artisans stories via photographs and videos. Hearing how their current job has empowered them to take care of themselves and their families was truly inspiring. One of the workers named Joel even walked us through Matthew 25:31 where Jesus says that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” My heart broke, and it made me wonder … how am I really serving the poor, the hungry, the naked?
Most of the artisans have been completely abandoned by their families, and without their job at Neema Crafts, would be completely shunned from society. These physically disabled men and women radiated joy as they shared about the ways their lives have been changed through their opportunity and employment at Neema. The respect they’ve earned in their community, the confidence they now exude … These changed lives are exactly why we do what we do at Karama.
The day came to a close far too early. Only a few hours with the artisans, and I wanted to sign up for both Swahili and Sign Language classes. Most importantly, developing relationships with the workers made me grateful for the ability to hear and speak. What a small gift, that we so often take for granted.
And so the time came for us to put our cameras away, say our goodbyes, and get ready for our early bus ride back home to Dar es Salaam. Even though our time spent in Iringa was short, it was worth every second. From getting to see the smiles on the artisans faces to getting to learn more about what’s new in the Neema Craft world, we feel overwhelmed and blessed to have the privilege to work with some of the most talented, beautiful, and creative workers and designers in the fair trade industry.
Not to mention, Neema Crafts is developing some seriously catchy, stylish new products. Be on the lookout for them in our store soon! ; )