Tag Archives: social justice

Out of Africa quilt show

Volunteering for Out of Africa quilt show arranged by the London International Quilt Festival was really cool.  My friend and I spent more time with quilts than we normally would have, and with the other volunteers and the circle of vendors around the room.

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 14' x 14'

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 12′ x 12′

A quilt, apparently, can be broadly defined as a fancy top and a back, with a batting sometimes in the middle.  At this show, there were very few, if any, quilts like the traditional ones my grandmother would make.  Almost all of these quilts from the African continent were meant to hang on the wall.  Stunning “quilts” from the Men of Cairo collective were actually tent walls, and resembled Persian carpets or mosaics. African animals, cultures, traditional and everyday life were celebrated with brilliant colours, sombre desert hues, embroidery and embellishments.

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

I didn’t get to the lecture on the African quilts, but I did meet a volunteer, Hasebenebi Kaffel who knew the subject in broader terms.  I mistook him for a member of the Men of Cairo collective.  He really works for the UK-based ACORD and has been to Cairo many times, he said.  Also a member of ACFOLA, he was at the show to volunteer his knowledge of Africa.   He told me how long ago he fled his home in Eritrea with nothing, and then ended up in front of the World Bank to deliver a paper on the importance of gender in the economics of developing countries.  Very interesting!

Alas, I did not make any purchases.  There were vendors from all over the world, but instead of getting into something new, I vowed to finish the quilt that I started 30 years ago.  I know, I’m amazed at how quickly time has passed. “The Wedding Plate” is pieced bits of fabric from projects that my sisters and I made in our teens–dresses, PJs, blouses, pot holders, whatever–and I need to finish the quilting and bind it.

It’s good that Africa came to London, for the education, inspiration, and the joy!!

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Setting the table

Linen napkins cut from a vintage tablecloth.

Linen napkins cut from a vintage tablecloth.

Maybe this is a generational thing, maybe it still happens, but family dinners on Sundays and holidays used be quite formal.

At the centre of it all was the large dining room table.  During the week, it might the place for doing homework, for cutting out sewing patterns, or once at our house, for a quilting bee.  On holidays, the table was extended to fit 12 or 14 people.  The boards that extend the length are called leaves, as though we were adding to a tree.  The final act of transformation came when the white linen cloth was placed on top.  Pure, fresh.  A sacred space created.

In the afternoon before the dinner, real silverware, bone china dishes, wine glasses, a centrepiece,  napkins, serving dishes, butter dishes, crystal stemmed salt and pepper shakers, and gravy boats were set out on the white sea.  The table was set.

Recently, I met Marilyn, who told me she is in her eighties and  how she found some table cloths that she had no use for, but there were memories attached.  She asked me over for coffee, then spread out her mother’s and grandmother’s linen table cloths on her dining room table.  They’d been well-used.  Here’s where the gravy spilled, still a large yellow stain.  And there were holes, small ones from the wear of weekly washings, and a large plate-sized one.  Perhaps a hot pan had burned through.  Marilyn asked if there was enough “good” fabric to make a set of large table napkins, as a keepsake for her niece.  To throw the linen out seemed wrong.

The Mary Campbell Cooperative on Talbot Street, London ON

The housing cooperative on Talbot Street, London ON named after Mary Campbell.

When I delivered the set of eight large linen napkins, Marilyn didn’t look at them right away.  Instead, she talked about another kind of table she’d sat around.  When she’d first come to London, she  became friends with Mary Campbell, also from the west, but an activist who would start a co-op movement in this rather white-collar city.

Marilyn remembers the Campbells’ table, how she read there, reading things she didn’t always understand: Communist treatises, trade union booklets, socialist literature.  She remembers falling in with a movement where working as equals was preferred, and then having the courage to leave a bad marriage and go to college to become a social worker.

Now it’s a choice for a woman to stay in a marriage, but 40 or 50 years ago, to leave brought on a lot of judgement and shame, like spilling gravy or red wine on the white table cloth.  I thanked Marilyn for her courage, for making it easier for the women of my generation.  It’s not that we don’t love the traditions, the white linen and beautiful place settings, but we know there are other tables, tables set with a different cloth.

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Never Cry Wolf, another model, a lot more love

The reference to Farley Mowat was right, and I must have liked the workings of Mowat’s anti-bureaucratic mind enough that his philosophy and a bit of his wisdom has stuck.    Never Cry Wolf is about a young, naive, biologist flying into the north tundra, and his literal face-to-face meetings with the wolves.  His openness to what he really saw, a de-bunking of the myth of the wild, and of wolves beyond self-serving human narratives like Jack London’s, has become a model for wildlife management.

The best descriptor of the Never Cry Wolf relationships can be found in the Duluth Model of Equality, the changes needed to encourage a shift to non-violence in an abusive relationship.  Mowat would encourage us to give up our violence and learn a more peaceful way from the wolves.  I learned about the Duluth Power and Control Wheel through volunteer training with the London Abused Women’s Centre.  It describes the use of violence to exercise control, and I have posted them below, with love.

A great guide for any relationship.  Wish business/government culture would adopt it universally.

A great guide for any relationship. Wish business/government culture would adopt it universally.

Call of the Wild approach, so old-school.

Call of the Wild approach, so old-school.  No need for aggression.

And so Mowat does pee out a boundary and you’ll have to read the book to see if it really does work.  And so my short story was built on the wisdom of an elder, who offered a great alternative to the violence of conquering.

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Parts of Canada we seldom see

My friend Charlotte and I went to the opening of the medium gallery (yes, it’s all lower case) in the Old East business district on Saturday night.  In 2011 a photographer, Johan Hallberg-Campbell, had flown into the bush of northern Ontario with the Canadian Red Cross to photograph their efforts to supply Attawapiskat with sleeping bags, heaters and winter clothing.

Attawapiskat

This poster photo is the least representative of the exhibit, a romantic, christianized image, and it was placed next to a photo of a beautiful but very sad young woman living in the crawl space beneath the floor of a house, her arms marked by cutting.

Hallberg-Cambell said, to paraphrase, that while he was in Attawapiskat, he didn’t want to traumatize the citizens there.  He found them to be gentle and kind people, and he knew the general media was using images for articles that would result in misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, that would further politicize the situation.  The images he chose for the exhibit were personal and sincere. It was well worth the visit.

Years ago I lived on another northern Cree reserve in housing that was trucked in, just as the housing is being trucked into Attawapiskat.  The 3 months I spent at the Red Earth IR have had a huge impact on me.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.  The only new buildings I saw on the reserve.

The trailer i lived in, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The trailer I lived in while teaching in Red Earth, Saskatchewan, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The housing I lived in was considered “new” housing on the reserve, a used trailer with frustration already punched into the walls. The gas for the stove came from a big propane tank that looked like a bomb at the edge of the clearing, beside the tree that the bear liked to maul. Our neighbour in the next trailer had a small gas explosion after he came home and lit the pilot light.  The hospital was over 80 km away, but luckily his burns weren’t severe.  And we were teachers, told that our housing was “nicer” than most of the residents.

As the seasons turned from Saskatchewan prairie summer to fall and then winter, I came to know more about the resiliency of the people who held on despite the incredible patronizing system that kept the once vibrant community dysfunctional for decades. I can relate to how Halleberg-Campbell photographed both the life-threatening poverty, the trauma and the beauty of the gentle souls in Attawapiskat.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears.  The Cree at Red Earth still rode them, just had to round them up first.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement on Red Earth 29, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears. The Cree still rode them, just had to round them up first.

All those years ago I was shocked at discovering the biggest “secret” in the Canadian family closet.  The missionaries of my childhood church had us folding bandages and diapers, collecting school supplies and donations for Africa.  Our grannies should have have been knitting and praying for those on the reserve I worked at. I didn’t know third world conditions existed in Canada.  Our schools should have told us about contemporary “Indians.”  Our treatment of them remains appallingly political and needless to say, less than christian.  As a direct result, I became a feminist, an atheist, an activist.

The medium gallery is part of a community economic development project in the Old East area of London, Ontario, where a large percentage of the residents are also struggling with neglect, poverty, mental health, drugs and prostitution.  The anti-poverty advocacy group, Life*Spin has spear-headed this new development.  Their neighbour, Artisan Bakery, also opened on the same night.

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