Please look carefully at the small, embroidered squares above and below. Shake your head, shout to the skies.
My friend and dharma sister, Barbara Wegmueller, talked to me in Switzerland about the project she and her husband, Roland, supported. It started when a friend of theirs received these squares from Afghan women in a small village. They were embroidering these squares and sending them to the West in the hope of getting money to sustain their families.
If you read the newspapers, you know the distress Afghan families are undergoing. There is very high unemployment, and many of those who’re employed don’t get paid. Earning money in this way is not just crucial for the family, it also gives women respect in the eyes of their families and village.
Barbara’s friend asked her Swiss friends to incorporate these small jewels in their own arts and crafts, and she made an exhibit of this artistic fusion, Afghan and Swiss women creating their own works of art integrating two very different styles and evoking two different cultures—all in the same objet d’art.
As you can see, one woman sewed the square onto a purse that she created. These beautiful art pieces were then sold with the money going back to the Afghan women.
Years ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to such an effort. Of course, it’s nice to get money into the hands of women who are homebound, covered now from head to foot, trying to feed their many small children, but how much was this seriously going to improve things?
All that’s changed for me.
Imagine that you’re carrying the purse pictured above. You’ve put in your money and credit cards, your checkbook and car keys, all the Western artifacts so crucial to a Western way of life. But that purse is no longer just functional, it’s combined with a gorgeous piece of embroidery created by a woman far away, who may never see a credit card in her life, no checkbook and no car keys, but who works exquisitely with shapes and colors, creating a small work of art and sending it out into the world.
Now it’s part of your purse. It’s part of you.
When you look at your new purse, what occurs to you? That you’re not alone? That you’re part of a world and life that defy categories and labels? That rather than being separated by names and geography we can create combinations that integrate both? Something throbs through that purse: an Afghan culture, Afghan womanhood and family, mothers looking through the all-covering burqa and seeing what we all see—green leaves on brown stem, yellow sun, white-topped mountain and blue, blue sky—all pulsing with color, pulsing with life. Sisters.
I took photos. “Take them home,” Barbara said. I think she hoped that I, too, would find something to combine with them that would honor the eye and hand of those that made them, that could even send them money in exchange for these patches of beauty.
I’m not an artist or craftswoman, so if you have ideas of what we could do with these squares, please make sure and write me. The purpose, down the road, is still to get some funds for these village women.
For the sake of full disclosure, let me add that since the Taliban took over Afghanistan no money has been sent until its safety and security could be verified. But the money is there, in Switzerland, waiting to be transferred, and I believe it will be very shortly.
I saw my friend, Jimena Pareja, yesterday. I brought food cards with me and was also asked for burial money. Anita (not her real name) lives here with two young children, having left her husband in Guatemala with their two older ones. Split families are very common here. Maybe one adult made it across and one did not. Or maybe one stayed back with the understanding that he’ll take care of the older ones with the help of money his wife will be able to make working on farms here.
But Anita‘s husband, who lives in a small village, got sick. He went to the city for medical care, got covid at the hospital, and died. The family needs money to bury him because they have nothing.
“What will happen to the two children back in Guatemala?”
“She wants to bring them here,” said Jimena, then shrugged. “We’ll see.” As if to say: That’s life.
And that is life, unpredictable, waves crashing and receding every minute.
I also asked about Hilaria. While I was in Switzerland Hilaria’s brain lesions began getting bigger once again. They had diminished in size and the plan was for her to undergo surgery once the lesions were small, but now they’re getting bigger. She’s stressed out, afraid of losing her apartment, afraid of what will happen to her sons (they’re being cared for by other families). Her deafness doesn’t help. I told Jimena that, one way or another, we will continue to pay her rent and utilities so that she needn’t worry about that.
How does a single mother feel when she can’t do anything but wait for tough surgery, her sons uncertain and afraid? Of course, she’s told that stress makes things that much worse, but is that enough? If you can help, please do so.
I myself will leave for Maryland tomorrow to help care for a family that is very dear to me, visited and revisited by cancer. I’m taking Aussie with me—she better behave! I plan to blog from there but won’t know anything till I am there. I promise not to stress about it.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.