As we stood around the boiling stew of purple dye and old table cloths, I laughed to myself and thought, “Wow, this is the most random 4th of July I’ve ever had.”
It all started last Friday when we visited the New Jordans Womens Bank in Isiolo, Kenya. All of them are big mamas with huge smiles and loud laughs. They see us and clap their hands shouting “Karibu tena!” (Welcome back!), kiss us and hug us like we are their children returning home. We are at the Mama Joanina’s house, the biggest mama of the group and my favorite. I remember the first time I met her I thought “Well here is the embodiment of Mama Hope.” She spends her time visiting and comforting the sick and eveything she says is heartfelt or flat out hilarious. We have come to Joanina’s to attend New Jordan’s weekly bank meeting. In 2007 when we first trained these 15 women in community banking, I told them that Mama Hope was founded in honor of my mother who passed away and they all hugged me and said “Well WE are your mothers now!” And believe me they take this role very seriously. Before we are even seated all of them start in with the questions. “Ny-eela, how is the USA? How is your family? Why are you so skinny? Do they not feed you in your home? Why are you not married yet?…etc…”
After the initial grilling ends. Everyone gets quiet as Madame President (Geraldine) calls the meeting to order. They each take turns paying their dues to the bank. Each women has her own business due to loans from their New Jordan’s bank. Five years ago they started the bank with 330 Ksh ($5). And over the last year they have saved over 104,000 Ksh ($1,195). They also have used 39,000 KSh ($500) to bring food to people in the communitiy with HIV/AIDS, pay school fees for children who cannot afford it and pay for the transport of sick people to the hospital.
Then Madame President announces proudly, “We have learned to Tie and Dye!” Everyone else nodds with excitement. She tells us that a man came and taught the bank how to tie dye old clothes and make them new again. She also says that, “No one else is doing this and these tie and dye clothes are now in high demand in Isiolo! We want to come together and have a Tie and Dye shop where we could sell our clothing!” Bryce suggests they should name it “Haight Street” Again everyone nodds excitedly and then they invite us to come tie and dye with them on Monday.
In college, I used to run a summer camp so tie dying is something I have done many times before and I thought I knew what to expect. A couple buckets with colored dye, some old tshirts and rubberbands. I was totally wrong! This was like extreme Tie Dying!
We all sat around with a bunch of old clothes, some twine and a butcher knife. The women started tying the twine around the clothing and we started to mimic them. They laughed at us and told us “No you need to make the twine TIGHT or it won’t work.”
Outside a few women were preparing purple dye in a pot of water being boiled over fire wood. Once the the clothes were ready they were are all submerged into the boiling pot and stirred with a giant stick. The fire was crackling and spitting, threatening to set our skirts on fire. I felt like we were a bunch of witches over our cauldron. Once everything was at a steady purple boil, Hadija looked at her watch and said “Now we wait 45 minutes”.
During the down time Amy and I decided to teach the women how to do the Macarena. They loved it and in return sang us a song and taught us a traditional Kenyan dance. We were all having a great time when the buzzer went off. Everyone then headed outside, pulling their items straight from the boiling hot water with their hands. Then they put fire wood on again and started boiling the water for the blue dye.
Needless to say Tie and Dye is an all day activity. And right around 3:30pm we finally got to see the results of our work and they were really beautiful. Everyone stood around admiring their old material transformed into new bright beautiful sheets, shirts and skirts.
At the end of the day Mama Joanina came out dressed from head to toe in Tie Dyed clothes dancing around and cracking everyone up. She then took me, Amy and Bryce and gave us each matching tie dyed outfits while all the other Mamas clapped proudly for us like we were their children. Bryce said it felt like camp graduation. Amy and I just could not stop smiling.