So the one thing you probably already know about 40+ year old divorcees is that we take classes. Whether it's at the Learning Annex in Ann Arbor (amirite?) or for a real estate license in San Berdu, that's what we do to make ourselves appear well-rounded or open new income generating opportunities. Or, in our case, explore new income dispersal opportunities.
We took an Introduction to Indonesian Textiles today at Threads of Life, an Ubud-based textile arts center. It was, in two words, top-to-bottom fucking awesome. Not only are the textiles beautiful and their variety fascinating, this is an NGO that is actually doing something useful! SHUT UP! Total win!
Longtime readers know that we have a textile habit that goes back a long way. It started with kilims, moved into Caucasian carpets and diversified into so many different items that we have a giant plastic crate we call the "random textile box" hidden under the stairs. When a textile is under consideration for purchase, asking the purchaser, "what are you going to do with that?" is not constructive. Wise people never ask it because the answer is "put it in the random textile box or store it under the bed and take it out sometimes to pet it." Our heart beats faster when we feel a fine weave. Textiles make us happy. We have never been chased away from museum exhibits by angry guards, not even that one time in Ashgabat.
A good textile is like a book. If you learn how to read it, you learn history, anthropology, the environment, geography and the stories of rural women in cultures that offer few avenues for women to express themselves. It also helps map out how this big old complicated world of ours fits together. Plus, they are purrrty and nice to touch!
We started learning today how to read Indonesia's Ikat. Did you know that one of our favorite Central Asian textiles are known as Ikat? They aren't the same but maybe they both came from the Chinese? We don't know! We also learned a bit about Batik, and while we no longer think "monkeys could make batik," it isn't really our bag.
We think the thing that totally blew our mind about these textiles is that they are woven primarily by Indonesian Christians, followed by Balinese Hindus and Muslims, to a much lesser degree (most Indonesians are Muslim). Of all the things we rely on Christians to do (make booze and cook pork come to mind first), weaving doesn't even make the list. We usually trust Muslims for high quality textiles (as well as for thorough hair removal techniques). In the production of most Indonesian textiles, culture is much more important that religion and each piece serves a very particular cultural purpose. The same is largely true for tribal or nomadic carpets.
The other thing we liked about Ikat? The smell. Take a deep breath of a Caucasian Kazak and you'll breath eau d'assfat. Sniff an Ikat and you smell spices used to keep bugs away.
After the class, we watched a documentary of a big meeting the group organized, bringing 150 women from different communities in Indonesia (Indonesia has 16,000+ islands but only ten or 11 of them produce much in the way of textiles) together so they could share weaving and coloring techniques. This was an enormous logistical undertaking because Islands such as Flores aren't very accessible and many of these women had never left their communities.
As a sharp-eyed NGO observer, we immediately noticed capacity being built, engagement of local partners and even some cross-cutting programming (the women learned bookkeeping, management skills and budgeting) and possibly, some sustainability. We had to know more.
"This looks effective! Who funded it?" we asked the teacher.
"The World Bank," he answered.
"Shut up! Are you sure?"
This, it seems, is a project we can really support. While we probably learned more sitting in Ruslan, Carpetdealer to the Stars', shop in Baku over two years, we feel better that our purchases at Threads of Life will help preserve traditional weaving techniques in Indonesia, instead of, say, send Ruslan's kids to college or improve the sales techniques of native Daghestanis.
We have not yet made any purchases, but oh yes, there will be blood. Having lost a number of textile children in the recent divorce, replenishment seems like the responsible thing to do. When you buy at ToL, they give you a photo of the weaver who made it, a detailed description of the textile and a DVD explaining how it was made and how it fits in to the overall culture. How fucking awesome is that marketing? We know ourselves well enough to know we will be victimized by it.
We have spent five dollars on a lot of things in life, and this was by far the best five dollars we have ever spent. In fact, we misunderstood when we signed up for the class, thinking it was the Rupiah equivalent of $50 which means we have $45 in unallocated resources that can be devoted to textile acquisition.