Thursday, 9 September 2010

"So how many hours does it take

to make one of those?" people keep asking as they stand there and look at the quilts hanging on the walls.
"Well that particular one took about a thousand hours to make," I tell them. The quilt is large enough to cover a very large bed and hang over the sides. It has been made entirely by hand. I explain this. Oh.
I can almost see the questioners wondering why anyone would bother to do this. They wander on and I wait for the next person to ask the same question or ask of the shawl I am making, "How long does it take you to make one of those?"
There seems to be a preoccupation with the time it takes to make something. The process is secondary.
People keep wandering into the area where things have been displayed. Most walk around and out quite quickly. I suspect they do this everywhere else until the reach the "fun" area with the sideshows, the rides, the fairy floss and hot dogs and the funny bunny ears which are all the rage this year. For them the visits to the animals, the flowers, the farm machinery and educational displays are secondary. They do those out of a sense of duty and then head off to enjoy themselves. That is fine. It is their choice.
There are other people, often older, who move more slowly. They are there to see things that remind them of their childhood growing up in the country or because they enjoy gardening or handicrafts or have an interest in livestock of one sort or another. There are still others who look more closely. Some take photographs. A very few ask technical questions which those of us working there try to answer. "Try this site on the internet" or "A group meets at X on Y day at Z time" or "you can buy supplies for that from the following places" etc.
There are school children in small groups with their teachers. The spinners fascinate them. The fine yarn of lace knitting is a "wow" factor. Sock knitting from the toe up or the top down? Why do it one way or the other? Yes, they want to know how long but they are also encouraged to ask about the process. They move slowly on, several with a reluctant glance behind as if they would like to stay and join in.
A young French couple are interested in the process. How are these judged? What specific points is a judge looking for? They thank me enthusiastically - in French.
Then there is a group of dark skinned, elegant young women and handsome young men. African. They look almost overawed. Each quilt is examined by both men and women in detail. They are talking among themselves. It is some sort of bazaar Swahili. I can pick up a word here or there because of loan words from English.
Then one of the boys comes up shyly. In careful English he asks if they might be allowed to look at the reverse side of one the quilts. These people really want to know how it is done. Someone turns it back for them. Paper and pencil are produced. Notes are taken.
I make eye contact with one of the girls. We smile cautiously at one another.
"Hujambo," I say. My Swahili is almost non-existent but it is clear she is not willing to try to use English yet.
Her face splits into a grin. She nudges the girl next to her.
"Unatoka wapi?" I ask, "Where are you from?"
"Natoka?" They are from Uganda. That explains the difference in their Swahili.
The boy who speaks some English is listening. I explain I know only a very few words but it has been enough to make contact. He interprets a little more. They are at last ready to move on, to really look at more.
"Nafurahi kukuona," they tell us, "Nice to meet you."
"Asante. Kwaherini," I tell them. It is about the last of the Swahili I can actually say with some degree of intelligibility. "Thankyou. Goodbye."
They start to leave and then the boy who has been acting as interpreter comes back and says,
"Asante sana."
It means "Thankyou very much."
No, it is we who have to thank them. They did not ask how long it took to make something. They asked how it was done. Asante sana!


Sheep Rustler said...

I'm impressed that you know any Swahili at all! I also hate it when people ask the 'how long' question. No matter how long it took, whatever it is, the maker was having a wonderful time doing something he or she adored doing, and creating something of beauty/usefulness/whatever. There are so many worse ways to spend time than doing something along those lines. I much prefer to know how things are made! I certainly look at some things (and traditional quilts are, I admit, one of them) and think 'I can imagine how long it took to make and I would rather spend that time making something else', but I remain grateful for the person who put that time into it themselves.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that so many pastimes are judged on how much time it takes to make something. It's not like they have to pay for the time taken to make an item which isn't for sale!
On the other hand, I wonder if they ever think about the time they do have to pay for when buying anything from a sandwich to a house.

Judy B

catdownunder said...

I wish I knew a great deal more Swahili Sheep Rustler. All I really know is enough to use a dictionary and a couple of (apparently) useful phrases. I do like to know things like "hello" and "thankyou" but I have never formally studied a language! All of us were so thrilled by their genuine interest in the construction rather than the time.
I know what you mean Judy!

Weaving a Tale or Two said...

I only know one word--Uhura (means freedom).

Can't tell I'm a Trekker, can you?

catdownunder said...

My favourite is "amani" - it means "peace". I knitted it into the pullover I have with peace in 32 different languages - in a prominent place because it is easy to say!