Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Refugee Spirit

Today something rather amazing happened.

For several weeks, I had been working with a young woman from Bhutan who is in our yarn group. A gentleman wanted a 6 foot long red scarf with black lettering that read Steve the Chimneysweep. He had asked for a black border around the edge of the scarf.

This order had been placed many months ago, but I had not found anyone capable of creating -- or even willing to attempt -- such a masterpiece. Then Pabitra stepped forward and said she would like to crochet the scarf. She is a lovely, intelligent young lady, and she speaks almost perfect English.

Sharon Koerber and I enjoyed working with Pabitra as she planned out the lettering and calculated how much yarn was needed for the project. Sharon bought the yarn, and I wrote out the instructions on the back of the customer's business card.

Today Pabitra arrived with the completed scarf. As she unrolled her creation, my eyes went wide and my heart nearly stopped beating. Pabitra had painstakingly crocheted the entire set of instructions from the back of the business card. The scarf read Red cotton scarf black letters black edge Steve the Chimneysweep. What to do? What to say?

Pabitra was rightly proud of her work, and I was amazed at the careful effort she had put into the scarf. But this was definitely not what our customer had ordered. Not only that, but the cost of the yarn had already eaten a large chunk of the money Steve the Chimneysweep had offered to pay for the scarf.

I couldn't make words come out of my mouth. I had no idea what to say. So I just started praying, "Lord please tell me what to say to Pabitra!"

The words began to come. I told Pabitra the scarf was beautiful. I said there was a problem, and I explained it carefully. She said, "But I did exactly what you told me to do." I said, "Yes, you did. You crocheted exactly what I wrote. And you did a wonderful job."

After the momentary shock (hers and mine), we came up with a solution. Pabitra will keep the part of the scarf that reads Steve the Chimneysweep and add a long section of red crochet with black edging -- and NO letters.

I will keep the rest of the scarf. Red cotton scarf black letters black edge is a concrete visual aid illustrating the incredible difficulty of communication between people who speak different languages -- no matter how fluent. But it's more than that. You see, as we were discussing what to do, Pabitra said, "I will do this, because I want to please the man who ordered this scarf. That is my main interest. I want that man to be happy with his scarf."

I have no idea how many hours Pabitra spent crocheting all those instructions on that scarf. But she was not defeated by news that might have left others weeping and wailing. I have decided that we will pay her the full price of the scarf, not deducting anything for the yarn.

Pabitra is a perfect ambassador for the refugee women we serve here in Georgia. She is indomitable. She is determined. She has the spirit of a survivor. Whether it's ethnic cleansing or a set of confusing instructions, she will not be defeated. Ever.

I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by such women.


Bird Watch Stone Mountain, GA said...

Great story.

Shannon Bledsoe said...

I just about fell on the floor laughing when I saw the picture of the scarf! I can see how easily it would be for her to be devastated by the situation. I am happy to see she was not and all turned out well. You have a wonderful mission going, keep up the good work.

God bless

Carla Gade said...

Oh, my! I'm sorry, but I also laughed, though I'm sure it wasn't very funny at the time. I work for an adult literacy organization and as you were sharing I had a sense that something like that might happen. Instructions are not an easy thing to translate for people who are learning English as a second language God bless her! And God bless you for your patience.

By the way, it is a beautiful scarf. Very nicely done!