I lived in Africa for three years, living and working and making a life. My home was in Uganda and I traveled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda for work. I first went as a part of my International Development graduate program, stayed for an unpaid internship, lived (literally) in the office, and walked away from a path of high-paying marketing work in the US. I spent my days sourcing local materials in the markets and working on designs that we could teach to the women we worked with. I spent my nights working on completing my masters degree. I met some of my best friends in Uganda, went on some epic trips, and met my (handsome, adventurous, Texan) husband there. I found a new type of work in Uganda, where business had purpose and design required a resourcefulness and flexibility on a completely different level. I found it challenging, thrilling, and deeply meaningful.
Growing up in a developing country is different from living and working in one as an adult. I grew up in a remote area of Indonesia and, to me, that was just normal. As kids we define the entire world by the one life we’re living. But as adults, we see many more options, weigh the pros and cons, and give it a shot. We put down roots and pour into what’s meaningful to us. We make up our minds to stay when it gets hard and uncomfortable. During my time in Africa I was challenged to my core, saw what my most burned-out self looks like, and the things that keep me going when everything looks the darkest. Living away from your community and in another culture is not easy. And also full of adventure and opportunities you never imagined.
My husband’s graduate school brought us back to the US at the end of 2013 and last summer was the first time I had been back to Africa since leaving. It is a massive continent, each country and region uniquely its own, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect as we touched down in Mozambique. What I discovered were crystal blue waters, white sands, and grass-covered ocean bluffs. It took my breath away… a whole new Africa I had never imagined. This country that’s been off everyone’s radar since their civil war that ended in the 90’s… this country that is stunningly beautiful and laid back, hard-working and kind.
In Mozambique, I met Luke and Kristen Rider, who have lived on the coast for 12 years, surf in the water outside of their home, speak Portuguese fluently, and cruise around in the most iconic beach van. Inhambane is their home and, as they’ve met basket weavers, they’ve unified them under one name: Awavehi. Together, they’re able to create more products at larger quantities and higher frequencies. The weavers each work from their own homes but unite for opportunities for work and income that they could not get on their own. Luke handles the logistics so the weavers don’t have to deal with shipping companies and packaging supplies. Kristen communicates design ideas and limitations between the designers (like Marra) and the weavers. Together, the Riders and the weavers dream of opening an artisan training center where the weavers can physically come together to work in a safe and inspiring workplace, take courses on financial management, and further develop their job and life skills.
Artisan images by Kristen Rider for Awavehi/Marra
I love working with Awavehi because they are bringing weavers together and showcasing their work in the ways of old Mozambique. Long before the civil war, Mozambique was a bustling country of industry, port cities, and international business. 15 years of war depleted business and tourism. And now they’re rebuilding. Finding ways to connect hard and willing workers with job opportunities and international marketplaces.
Our Mozambique Collection gets to be a part of that. These baskets that have served as ordinary, everyday pieces to carry fresh catch home, sort peanuts, and display produce at the local market. Woven with the skill of craftsmen and women that know it by heart, the same way their parents and grandparents did, but a little different because it’s their basket and their artistic expression. The work of their hands that provides income for their families and flings open doors to the global marketplace and opportunities far beyond their quiet fishing village.
I love that this collection is humble in it’s materials: 100% ilala palm fronds from the beautiful shores of the Indian Ocean. That the designs are from the local marketplaces, ordinary Mozambican baskets that are beautiful in their simplicity and meaningful in their heritage. That they’re all a little imperfect because they’re made by hard-working fishermen and farmers and there’s no point in a perfect basket anyway. And, most of all, that through this collection we get to be a part of a country’s rebuilding, dignity, and pride.
All images by Carley Rudd unless otherwise noted