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Mother's Day 2011

Three of the Mapusha women weaving a rug.

Regina has to climb down off the scaffolding, move from the plank of wood where she and Angy and Gertrude sit all day weaving on the big rug for the woman from Joberg. She descends the ladder with that particular grace that she has, a dignity born of great humility and a deep committment to letting the words of her scripture infuse her every action. She wears a neat bandana around her head and her shirtwaist dress is covered by a length of cloth tied over to protect her clothes from the fibers of the wool she works all day. We are having a board meeting in the storeroom of the Mapusha Weaving and Sewing Cooperative and Regina, as chairwoman of the cooperative, must be present. She joins us in the small room round the desk, 2 walls of the store room are covered with shelves bearing dyed skeins of wool and woven tapestries. This is both the business office, the storeroom and the showroom of the weaving coop.
Wonder is there representing the younger generation of women in the room. She was an apprentice at Mapusha but weaving was not her style and she has instead headed up a sewing coop within the coop working with the designs of Helene Loon, also present. Helene is the mother of two children and the wife of Rafe, a bird specialist of the lowveld. She came 2 years ago to the coop in search of women to make her bird design pieces. Wonder, Ambrocia and Emma have been working with her for 2 years and they finally have a winner design of fabric animals on beaded and seeded strings being sold in the top gift stores around the country. They can’t keep up with the orders.
I am back in South Africa after my relocation to Portland Oregon six months ago. I’m thrilled to be sitting here with the women of the coop, happy to be talking about raises for the Mapusha women and taking notes in hopes of turning in a reasonable financial report to the NPO folks in Pretoria.
Wonder begins a heartfelt thank you speech to me and to Helene. She turns to me and says, “Judy, you don’t know it but we all, even Regina, think of you as our mother.” I am startled by this. I thought they were, in a way my mothers. I had come there with stubbly hair and new born nails after a year of breast cancer treatments. They were in desperate need of help and inspiration. We worked together and now they seemed to be on the verge of succeeding, moving their salaries into the realm of minimum wage, getting attention in Johannesberg.
I visualize the tapestry Regina wove from Leslie’s drawing of St. Anna, Mary’s mother. In it St. Anna, wearing a purple robe, stands behind Mary with her cape like wings of support to her slender daughter. I see that image of the Mother going back and back through all sorts of incarnations and ending in the sky itself. We are all Mothers when we act from the heart, caring and caring and caring some more. And so, somehow, I am the mother to 11 rural South African women between the ages of 34 and 67 and they are mothers to me from another angle. We all get merged in the river of compassion.

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