If you read this blog you are familiar with my stories of the challenges involved in doing business in a foreign culture, especially in a developing country. Communication with the indigenous artisans we
work with is often fraught with misunderstandings and assumptions about time, quality standards, commitment, and trust. The results are often comical, and in the end, we almost always compromise and move on with faith that we are all learning.
However, there’s another ongoing, rather curious challenge: our quest for new information and people’s willingness to share it.
Question: “Have you seen this blouse before?”
Answer: “I couldn’t say.”
Question: “We were told Rosita Ortiz made it. Do you know her?”
Answer: “Ah, I don’t know.”
Question: Do you know anyone who could help us find her?”
Or: “Have you seen this fabric before?”
Question: “Do you know where we can buy this fabric?”
Answer: “No idea.”
And so it goes.
In general, the artisans we work with in Oaxaca and Chiapas communicate well with us in all matters concerning the work we do together except when it comes to sourcing materials or the maker of a new product we have discovered. Of course, this complicates our work immensely, as one cannot just pick up the yellow pages or Google the things we need in these rural areas. So we spend weeks tracking down the meager scraps of information we are provided, only to find, for example, that Rosita, the woman who made the blouse, is the sister-in-law of the person we originally asked, and the new fabric we are searching for is being sold only a block away behind an unmarked door.
I realized, eventually, that these roadblocks and detours are created in the interest of job security. They are driven by the understandable fear that comes from generations of poverty and the insecurity of not knowing what tomorrow may bring.
We have learned to respect this, and to expect the extra time it takes to earn the trust of the people whose skills we value highly. Working together, we can create more long-term opportunities for everyone.