Had the chance to go to back up into Mustang this past week. This time to Upper Mustang: the Restricted Area: the Forbidden Kingdom. Upper Mustang is one of the last places on earth where true Tibetan culture still flourishes intact —where ancient traditions have been maintained unbroken for centuries.
My wife and I have a deep regard for both the people and the land of this region. It provides much of the design inspiration for the clothing we make. I decided to bring a few shirts along, in case some photo ops arose to showcase our work. I tried getting a few snaps of myself, but they just turned out so goofy! I kept my eye out though, searching for someone who might be willing. But it wasn't until towards the end of the trip that I found someone: the right someone, in the right situational context —a moment rooted in cultural appreciation, as opposed to, cultural appropriation.
I had just about given up, when I was walking into a small village late in the day, and there was a lovely, young woman sitting outside a tea house. She was soaking in the day's long late light, before the sun descended behind some peak, and temperatures rapidly fell.
The tea house happened to be where we were staying at that evening. So while enjoying a cup of hot seabuckthorn juice, I told her about what I did, and how I had brought these shirts up here for maybe some photographs, and would she be willing. And she was. Gladly even.
I know I'm not the best photographer; especially if coaxed poses are involved. And eventhough she made it easy by just being herself, still I felt as though no really useable images were to be had. But whatever, point is, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon high in the Hymals.
Turns out her name is Anita. Same as the young woman who wove the fabric of shirt she chose to model. She had gone to school up until ninth grade when it became necessary that she return to her family's tea house, in order that she and her father could sustain thier livelihood.
Her father, clearly a gentle soul, spoke with me about wanting his daughter to be able find a better life; maybe in Kathmandu; or maybe even in America. This sentiment seemed especially pertinent now that the Chinese were building a road into Nepal just outside their door, and everyday a small group of young road workers now gathers in Anita's kitchen to have something to eat; and perhaps to maybe have her brilliant smile shine upon them a moment or two.
I told him I would see what I could do when she came to Kathmandu next month, when the the tea house closed for cold weather. Perhaps she could do some product photos. I don't know. Something.
Nepal is a place of austere traditions and astounding beauty. The people are good, hard-working, and resilient. But in many ways, life here is fragile, and characterized by a subtle yet constant form of desperation.
The shirt she is wearing requires an entire day to weave a mere ten inches of fabric. Anita, the weaver, creates each of the individual flag-like designs by hand. And because all of our threads are naturally dyed, each one is like a little reconstituted flower.
I suppose it should also be mentioned, that Weaver Anita's salary goes to taking care of her and her mother. And it is a decent salary. Especially considering that being a weaver is not considered to be a very prestigious form of employment in Nepal. But we know better. Which is why it's hard not to say that they are the most important people in the company. But then again, everyone seems to be the most important people in the company: the dyers, tailors and seamstresses, our accountant, our manager, design assistant, cook, cleaner, bobbin winder, everybody.
So in recognition of everyone's value, we feel it necessary that people are payed well.
Perhaps one day Lisa and I will earn a salary from our work. But until then, "I will make shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot." Well... Maybe not quite. But suffice it to say, our prices exist promoting neither suffering, nor greed.