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Melanie Reim FDGA 2017

TEACHING INSTITUTE GRANT REPORT
SABBATICAL PROJECT

Another Woman's Life
Documenting the Bani Weavers

Bani, Dominican Republic
Winter 2017

MELANIE REIM
PROFESSOR, ILLUSTRATION

As my sabbatical year came to a close, it grew increasingly important to me to try to spend more time with the family of weavers that I had been documenting during the past year. I had made a trip to the family in September, and unfortunately, arrived to find the padre, the father, was extremely ill. They welcomed me into their home nonetheless, but one could see that their hearts were heavy, and not very enthusiastic about weaving at all that day, instead, trying to get him to eat and to sit outdoors for a spell. It was so endearing to me that he made this effort to come out because I had come to visit. 

It was in October that I found out that he had passed away. By the time that I returned in January, we got word that the family was simply not up for continuing their work at this time. Though I desperately wanted to pay my respects, I honored their wishes for privacy amongst their family. Thanks to some of the contacts that I made over my time in the country, I was able to organize another trip to see a host of working women along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, in the overall region of Bani, and further west to Baharona. The trip was filled with a number of visits that started with a trip into the mountains, passing carpets of yellow that were actually plantains and banana trees, an export the region is known for, and into the village of El Lim6n, in Bani. We drove the two hours from Santo Domingo to Bani, where we met a man on a corner who hopped into our car and then, proceeded to direct us, waving right, left, right, straight, as we drove further and further into the mountains, up through dirt roads, passing cattle, donkeys, towering palms and small houses that were painted the colors of cotton candy, The tejedoras (weavers), two beautiful sisters, lived at the juncture of where three dirt roads converged. No sooner had we gotten out of the car, did a group of young children, clearly groomed for our arrival, gathered. Voices and laughter bubbled over during our meet and greet, and then, one young girl ran running down the hill, screaming "Come quick, an American is here!" I found myself surrounded by a village- smiling, beaming, beautiful faces. We took lots of pictures. The sisters explained the nature of their work. Unlike the family, they worked for a corporation, and were hugely dependent on others to deliver them the cane and materials needed to weave and to make the bags and baskets that they were trained to do. On this day, they were waiting for supplies. One could sense the frustration, as they are paid by the piece and without supplies, they could not produce.

In the days that followed, we visited a number of villages that were well known for the production of the indigenous crafts of the country. This included Mufiequeras (Doll makers) at the Villa Fundaci6n, Bani, the Escobera (Broom maker) in Galion, Bani and the Piloneros (Pilon makers) in Carreras, Bani.

As with all of my experiences over the years in this country, I could not have received a warmer welcome. My working Spanish (thanks to my classes at FIT) provided a platform that delivered not only a good laugh but also, good faith, that I was interested in the language, culture and craft of the country. During this latter trip, I had the support of the publication Diario Libre, who was filming me as I was drawing these craftsmen and women. The sight of a Diario Libre truck, film crew and a white woman was quite an event in these small villages, adding to the fun and the honor that I felt to be experienc­ing this at all. For the duration of the trip, I was able to, with the help of a translator, ask the women that I was drawing some questions about their entrepreneurship; How it was for them to have developed their own business? Did they garner respect for it? Were the young women in their families interested in carrying on the tradition? I am not sure that most ever considered what they were doing was anything out of the ordinary, and moreover, that anyone was interested enough to give them this kind of attention. Most responded politely, and sparsely. It was not until I visited the broom maker and her husband, who made drums, that I had the most interesting exchange of my trip. This couple had been married for 44 years, and clearly, still loved each other deeply, looking fondly at each other, but also, laughing easily together and with us. They spoke about having to adapt to the changing times and how their children and their generation were not much interested in carrying on tradition. Though Hilda still made brooms to sell from the side of the road, she also moved on to open her own bodega, where she made her own bread and sold candies and small household necessities. It was adja­cent to their home, and had become a kind of gathering place for those who lived close by. She also explained that women assumed that they would be working, finding ways to help support the household, but they did not consider themselves "entrepreneurial." This all at once enlightened me and saddened me and instilled in me a renewed respect for the women in this country that I have come to love. 

It was not until the very last, and accidental stop of my trip that I met someone who epitomized the pride of the working woman, She was not a craftswoman, but instead a cook, and a good one at that. Nereyda had a restaurant down through a few dirt roads, close to the beach. The delicious aroma of lunch wafted up the roads as we twisted and turned to find her, urged to do so after we explained to a local doll maker what my mis­sion was. A beaming face, greeted and then, welcomed me, inviting me to sit anywhere that I would like. As I drew and chatted, Nereyda bustled about her kitchen, her wood burning stove, keeping no less than six pots of stew, chicken, beef, root vegetables, and spices going, all the while keeping her eye on her young daughter and the endless stream of people who came to eat a meal there. She explained that she was doing this for her daughter, and had already worked to educate her older daughter, who now lives in France. "I will work and then, maybe go to France. You cannot do this forever. But while I am here, I cook for everyone with a smile and a purpose."

It was one of the best meals that I have ever had in the Dominican Republic and being able to document it made it that much more tasty.

While this might have been the end of my sabbatical year, it will not be the end of my work in the Dominican Republic.

I will always be grateful for the support that I received for this project.

Respectfully submitted,
Melanie Reim

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