Tie-ing Together Two Continents: My Holiday Experience Gift

Tomorrow I’m flying to Johannesburg where I’ll be one of two American counselors at Camp Sizanani,* a camp for HIV-AIDS affected teens who come from Soweto, a large township rich in the history of the struggle against apartheid.  Poor housing and infrastructure, overcrowding, and high unemployment are still the norm.  In addition to regular camp activities; sports, theatre, storytelling, dance, poetry, and arts and crafts, HIV/AIDS prevention education and life skills are integral components of the program.

I’m bringing two large duffel bags, filled with an impressive assortment of fabric remnants, shoelaces, zippers, seam bindings and dozens and dozens of richly patterned men’s neckties. All will be used for an arts and crafts project I’ll be doing with the kids, that consists of finger crocheting chains from the shoelaces, seam binding, or other material, then taking the ties apart, cutting or ripping the deconstructed ties and the fabric remnants into strips, and finally, tying these strips onto the chains.

These refashioned materials will re-emerge as necklaces, bracelets and whatever other objects spontaneously arise in the course of this creative art play. I learned how to make these from Debra Rapaport, one of the advanced fashionistas I wrote about in a blog post a few months ago (http://www.shopaholicnomore.com/research-news/can-advanced-style-retreat-compulsive-buying/).

Through my apartment building’s listserve, I sent an email to my neighbors, told them where I’m going, what I’m doing there, and described the kinds of supplies I could use; ten of them responded with generous donations. Some left shopping bags with the doorman or in front of my door; others invited me to come to their apartments to pick up and, in some cases, pick out, the hauls.

Some of the items still had price tags, others showed the wear and tear of being well-loved. The panoply of labels and styles suggested that these gathered riches had been purchased on a number of continents over a number of decades.

A few of my neighbors shared personal narratives about their contributions.  These stories of stuff ranged from hearing about one neighbor’s half finished sewing projects, long ago abandoned, yet never discarded, to hearing from another, who wrote that her husband died six weeks ago and had a lot of neckties for me.

When I went to her apartment to pick them up, I learned that her husband, Jack Greenberg, a noted civil rights lawyer who once represented Martin Luther King, spent a good deal of time in South Africa. Beginning in 1978, he traveled the country, introducing the concept of civil rights legislation to members of the South African Bar and to South African law students. At Columbia University Law School, in 1989, he taught a seminar on post-apartheid Constitution, which was attended by a number of the South African lawyers who later drafted the historic document.

How incredibly fitting to be bringing ties to South Africa, worn by someone who has positively affected the lives of each of these campers. I’ve put these ties in a separate bag so that each camper can include a piece as a tangible reminder of devastatingly hard won freedom.

My neighbors have been delighted to learn that their materials are going to live out their days, not in landfills, but in the hearts and minds, and on the bodies of these campers and their loved ones. Jack’s widow said he’d have been touched to learn how his literal and figurative ties would be revived.

May your run up to the holidays be relaxing and peaceful.

Warm regards,

April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

*Sizanani means “helping each other” in Zulu

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