A Kind Voice radio interviews our founder, Adele Hammond, about social entrepreneurship, fair trade, and what it takes to create handcrafted apparel and accessories for women in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.
Category Archives: Living Abroad
One of the great challenges we experience in working with indigenous artisans from remote villages across Oaxaca and Chiapas is communication. Apart from the fact that most of them speak Spanish as their second language, in many villages there may be only one house in the entire village that has a phone where people can pay to make and receive calls. Of course, things are much easier today as many young people now have cell phones and there is surprisingly good coverage, even in rural areas.
Telephones are great for communicating once there is a sound relationship, but until then, it is all about face time. We have worked for the last two years to gain the trust of the people we work with, traveling to Chiapas every month or two to meet with artisans directly. For these families to invest time in producing the textiles they create for us, they need to know that: A. we will come back when we say we will, and B. that we will buy what they make at a fair price and give them work, even if what they create the first time or two is not quite right.
Intrinsic to the culture is a fear of what tomorrow will bring. Failed crops, sickness, political and economic problems are but a few of the familiar issues they face. As a result, it is common in the culture to grab what you can when the opportunity arises. This translates to selling what you have to the first person who comes by. But, with a consistent, regular presence their lives, they begin to trust and that in turn is great for everyone, building more stability for all.
On one of our last trips to San Cristobal de la Casas, we brought up to a group of women the idea of mailing blouses to us in between visits. Only one or two of the younger women had even heard of the post office, let alone know how to send a package. So, last week when Celina, our Oaxacan LTT manager, was in San Cristobal de las Casas, she took groups of women to the post office to teach them how to do it, making sheets of paper with the address information to tape on the box and walking them through the process. All seemed very enthusiastic, especially with the knowledge that they could be paid more frequently than once every month or two. (All of the women have at least one person in the family with some sort of bank account or way to receive money.)
Practical issues aside, the challenge of communicating well with anyone, whatever the language or culture, comes down to listening with respect and speaking from your heart. When my Spanish fails me (as it does regularly), I hope that at least my intentions are understood… which goes a long way, wherever you are in the World.
Embarking on an experience living abroad is full of surprises, to put it mildly. I for one, LOVE surprises. My husband always gives me a hard time when life gets complicated living abroad, chiding me when things get rough with comments like ” yes, you are the one who wanted to experience “real” Mexico”…but, to experience the true texture of a place, one needs to be ready for the inconvenient, the embarrassing, and the unknown.
The thing is, we arrive with expectations and an uncontrollable personal “ruler” with which we gauge our lives against those of the people who surround us. …It is hard to avoid, and a little ridiculous to assume, that we can shed our histories to participate in a “new” culture without comparing life to what we know. Even after years in Mexico I catch myself making assumptions about people and life in our village. I assume there will always be running water. I assume people have a cell phones or email addresses. And as for the children, I assume they all can attend school.
The real privilege of living abroad is to experience daily life first hand, in its most raw form, be it good, bad, or ugly. There is no greater way to appreciate every moment of living than to spend time in a foreign culture where even a trip to the grocery store can be full of challenge and gratification! I invite you to seek new experiences in life, to build bridges between the familiar and the unknown, and to know a culture other than your own.