One of the best gifts this past year is my connection to J.R.Goudeau. She’s a kindred spirit in many ways – insightful thinker, gifted writer, drawn to the margins for friendship and wired for transformation. She’s easy to talk to, so easy that we can get lost in a four hour conversation without blinking an eye… and still have more ground to cover! Please see links below to find ways to connect with her and Hill Tribers…
When we pulled up at the apartment last Friday night, my kids couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. They raced upstairs, two at a time, and pulled off their shoes, tossing them by the door. There was a tumble of kids waiting to play. You’d think they’d been separated for weeks instead of days from the hugs and squeals that happened when they met. All the pictures we have are slightly fuzzy around the edges—they move a lot, this rambunctious bunch of lovebugs.
My little girls have grown up best friends with a group of Burmese refugee kids. Their moms are artisans for Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit my friend Caren George and I started a few years ago. Caren’s kids and my own little girls have never known a life where we weren’t trekking to various apartment complexes all over Austin. Caren and I take supplies for the hand-tatted jewelry, woven scarves, sewn bags and baby dolls to women whose traditional artistry is breathtaking and beautiful.
Our kids don’t really care about any of that. What they care about are little friends who run around with them in the fading twilight while their mothers talk. They come home with dirty feet and orange soda stains around their mouth, happy as clams.
When Caren and I first started Hill Tribers, it was triage for a crisis situation. The group of women we met felt desperate. They were overwhelmed and afraid. Their new lives were bewildering and strange. We were one of several groups who got involved in their lives and we were aware of our role as one of many, many lifelines being thrown into the crisis situation created by new refugees being resettled in Austin.
That sense of urgency has changed over time. The women we work with now don’t need help the way most of the people did when they first arrived. The community has stabilized—there are dozens of refugees who speak the many dialects represented by this group. They help each other with Medicare and Medicaid forms, they tell each other which dentist to pick and which bus line to take.
When we started this group, the reasons were simple: Caren and I, as mothers of young kids, couldn’t imagine starting a new life in a bewildering country. We felt urged to help our new friends adjust to their new homes while staying connected to their past as they earned money using their traditional artistry.
And while we still feel that way, we’ve eased into an equal friendship together as the years have passed. We partner with them. They design the products. We ask them questions and they tell us how to work best with them. We are building a community together. I loved what Kelley said in her She Ponders post about her kids being comfortable in the Burundian neighborhood: Like her kids, my kids are also growing up in solidarity with these friends.
Most of our jewelry-makers live together in one apartment complex. We get together for jewelry meetings on a regular basis.
We gather around Haung’s table to laugh and work.
They invited us last Friday night when my kids bounded up the stairs not for a jewelry meeting but for an old fashioned sing-along. The kids played on the porch outside (they dropped things off the balcony—kids will be kids). The babies ran around in the living room. The smell of rice and chicken filled the small home packed with Burmese people who were from the Chin and Kachin and Karen and Karenni hill tribes. I had a small pack of jewelry supplies for Haung, the lead designer who was our host, but we were there to be together first. They wanted us to hear the songs that mean a lot to their small community of faith.
The best singer in the group pulled out his guitar and we sang together. It was rocking. They knew every word. Some of them were translations of songs I know. My favorite was a catchy tune I’d never heard—they sang the chorus over and over again. I grabbed the video on my iPhone—it’s grainy and abrupt and spontaneous, but it seems just right.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TM6PTvuBWI (Sorry I could not get the embed to work… but follow the link to see and hear Jessica’s community of friends.)
Two open doors created a breezeway for the evening spring air. The shouts of the children outside punctuated the song with syncopated grace. I held a fat baby until he fell mouth-open, head-back asleep and patted his leg gently in time to the music.
If I had not known them in crisis, if I had never seen their desperate desire to work and to make a new life for their kids, this would have been just a lovely evening.
But to know where they’d come from and where they are now, to see how they’ve built this life and this community together, it took my breath away.
By the time the song was over, there were tears in my eyes.
The artistry that the women of Hill Tribers produce is not just the gorgeous handmade earrings and necklaces and scarves and baby dolls. It is this—an evening of music and food and raucous laughter, of enough sprite and orange soda for the entire neighborhood, of babies with dirty feet playing chase on the porch and friends catching up over delicious bowls of rice and chicken.
The deep roots of this community are their most precious commodity.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Hill Country Hill Tribers wants to give away a necklace made by Christine. Our signature flower necklace is in teal this spring—it adds the perfect floral accent to any outfit. It’s a beautiful gift for your mom (or just for you!).
To win this necklace, leave a comment every time you:
- Like Hill Tribers on Facebook.
- Follow Hill Tribers on Twitter
- Share about this giveaway.
- Or just share a memory about your favorite spring evening with friends.
The winner will be announced on Saturday, April 20th.
Kelley’s readers will also get 15% off of the teal necklace and other handmade products if you enter the code MOMSDAY13 at checkout. Find out more about us at hilltribers.org; click on the “SHOP” section to order handmade Hill Tribers products. If you order by May 5, we will ship it by Mother’s Day.
Celebrate the mothers in your life as you support the Hill Triber mothers weaving a new life here in Austin.