Artisan Gathering: I’m kind of proud of this one

A YAV year features a lot of screw ups. International YAVs do so with more frequency. I could write a pseudo-profound post about why that is, but far better for the purposes of this post is to take it as an established fact: YAVs don’t get it right very often.

That’s not to say we’re collectively inadequate, unmotivated, basic, or altogether horrible. No, no, we just spend most of the year struggling to keep afloat in Not Completely Wrong Ocean and trying to climb into a life boat sent by the S.S. Almost Right This Time.

Of course, my discomfort pales in comparison to how little my floundering improves the lives of those in affected communities, or rather, the unfairness imposed on them on a daily basis by an unjust system that I inevitably patronize.

So I latch onto any moment north of passable. Objectively successful events in a YAV year are like unicorns. Admittedly, I do not know if I have discovered a purebred unicorn quite yet, but the Bridge of Hope Artisan Gathering was arguably sporting a horn.

The March 19-20 gathering was the 12th in as many years, providing a space intended to bring together artisans from Huancayo, Huancavelica, La Oroya, and within Lima to meet, share ideas and support one another.

“Intended” is a key word here because it’s unlikely that all the artisans make it. Maybe it’s stereotypical Peruvian flakiness. Maybe it’s Spain’s fault for transferring that trait via colonialism. Maybe it’s the cocktail of patriarchy and poverty that increases the burden on women to manage the home. Maybe it’s that we didn’t make an official Facebook event. Maybe it’s an inexplicable truth of event planning that sometimes people just don’t show up.

There’s a host of possible reasons that Bridge of Hope struggles to get full attendance. None of them change the objective truth that full attendance is rare and irrelevant to event success.

In the case of the Artisan Gathering, it is more fruitful to focus on overall artisan takeaways, budgetary concerns, and selfishly, my own individual accomplishments. I’ll start with the latter because it’s my blog and I’m a big fan of Matthew 20:16.

I planned a decent amount of the event, though much of it was already in place. The event is always two days long, in celebration of Peruvian Artisan Day on March 19th. The first morning includes a discussion on the state of affairs, followed by some tourism in the afternoon. The following day is dedicated to celebration and sharing new designs and ideas with one another. This year, Daniela suggested I look to house the artisans from the provinces with those in Lima to save on non-refundable sunk costs before the event.

Essentially, I became the head of a factory churning out already-invented wheels and working out 90 percent of the logistics. First, I came up with the event theme, “Advancing in Unity,” inspired by the lack of communication within groups and with Bridge of Hope. I planned a short theological reflection on this matter and formatted a basic discussion on the past year and vision looking forward.

Also, I gave all 15 groups an initial invitation followed by one-month reminders, two-week reminders, one-week reminders, and reminders for days six down to one, you know, just to be sure. With a rough sketch of attendance in mind, I worked out several contingency housing plans balancing the burden across groups in Lima, budgetary concerns, and a need to separate single men from single mothers, which make up the majority of groups in Lima. You just have to accept some systemic issues as the reality when they are not the focus of an event.

I also coordinated an afternoon of sightseeing in Lima. Specifically, I called up a tour company and worked out a deal to get us a bused to the lookout on San Cristobal Mountain and back down to San Francisco Cathedral. At 400 meters above sea level, San Cristobal offers a view of Lima from the Pacific to the surrounding mountains. San Francisco Cathedral offers a view into Lima’s colonial history and a trip into its spooky catacombs.

Additionally, I coordinated a day for the artisans to share pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian dish, together at the home of one artisan member Anita. That’s included in this vdeo!

There were several other tasks that I took on as assigned in preparation including the printing of photos of my visits for each artisan and the production of a DVD of each group’s videos to show. I did a lot and I did it fairly well. Especially with consideration for the fact that I did it all in Spanish, over phone conversations with often shoddy service, and without having much reference for standard business practices (i.e. Keep calling a tourist agency the day before an event until you get a spoke confirmation. Daniela saved me on that one.)

Now, I just did a lot of ego-inflating. Seems about time for a solid dose of reality.

In truth, 11 of 15 groups made it. One group declined two weeks out, having forgotten and scheduled vacations on that date. Two other groups waffled until the day before when one of the 30+ members of all ages needed to take care of their children (my inability to fully believe that is irrelevant) and the other group backed out when one of their two representatives could not attend. Finally, the last group informed us that they had not gotten on the night bus to arrive and would not be attending because of family emergencies.

Each “no” is understandable. Admittedly, it’s kind of a bummer to be on the receiving end of mild disorganization, or last minute answers, or lapses in memory. I’d be lying if I denied that a few choice words were muttered under my breath in frustration, but at the end of the day 11 groups still made it.

Of course, one artisan surprised me, by showing up on Thursday after telling me that he had no idea the event was happening for his third day reminder. While a pleasant surprise this required some last-minute housing adjustments, this time featuring a few frustrated tugs on the curly follicles.

Later that evening, a male artisan informed me that his mother, who he had not told me would be coming, was unwilling to be separated from him. This came after I asked him three times to check with her to ensure that it was okay that I separate them. Smiling as I dug my nails into my palms, I informed him that I had one hotel double open for him and the artisan who had surprised me. Luckily, that double had a queen-sized bed and they graciously agreed to share the room.

Actually, I was quite taken aback at the amount of grace that the artisans offered. Say what you will about frustrations of planning and attendance and logistics, Peruvians let a lot more go.

For example, the bus broke down as it dropped us off at San Francisco Cathedral and the bus driver informed us that they would not be able to offer us a ride back. The tourist company also denied to offer us a refund, to my chagrin, but Daniela’s acceptance. Likewise, the group was happy to walk back through downtown and take the chance to see several landmarks and explore non-fair trade artisan shops.

They modeled something AJ mentioned during the last YAV retreat. Peruvians, he observed, just let a lot of the small stuff go that folks in the U.S. get up in arms about as the greatest injustice, while they get up in arms and protest major injustices like climate change, which those in the U.S. think cannot be swayed. It’s a slight oversimplification, but it certainly explains what I witnessed during the Artisan Gathering.

The artisans joked about the walk, invoking parodies of classic Peruvian protest chants, “Si no llegamos ya, la lucha continua,” meaning “If we don’t arrive already, the fight continues.” Instead of weaving a tapestry of choice words targeted at our tourist company, I focused on their high spirits, conscience of how indignant a typical group of Westerners would be in the same situation.

There were plenty of other miscues. Only seven groups remembered, despite umpteen reminders to bring new designs to share. Likewise, I struggled to wrestle our opening discussion from mansplained monologues one artisans success over his thirty years in the trade.

In both cases though, there were positives. Several groups received much-needed feedback on their new samples. During the discussion, several artisans found their voices to share issues that go unheard.

Likewise, there was clear progress made towards encouraging self-sufficiency among the artisans. Many artisans nodded knowingly as Daniela stated that Bridge of Hope is not there to stand behind each group and hold their hands through the completion of an order or creation of new designs. A message they received through slow deliberation, not accusation. By the end of the 20th, members were brainstorming new ideas for the future of the group.

Of course, Bridge of Hope is not magically better now. Plenty will seem to go unchanged on the surface, yet seeds have been sown on the move towards more self-sufficiency. Maybe next year’s theme should be “Turning Point” with an emphasis on taking advantage of new opportunities.

We took a few steps further than where we were. And even better? We stayed over $400 under budget, in no small part due to my own efforts, Daniela’s strategic budgeting plans, and a few other surprise savings along the way. As an economist, how can I not love shrinking the bottom dollar and increasing the overall benefit to cost ratio?

Honestly though, the artisans inspired me to keep perspective. It’s exactly what they did when we had to walk unexpectedly, though no fault of their own. I know I worked my hardest to pull this together. I also know that miscues are far from my fault and I responded to the best of my ability. With that perspective, and admittedly even without it, this was an objective success and worth noting in an otherwise rocky YAV experience.

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