New Sewing Machine

“I came to see your sewing machine,” Dorcus announced as she arrived at my courtyard gate just after ten. Her four month old son Ability slept on her back, wrapped tightly in a two-yard. I invited her inside to admire my new Butterfly sewing machine.

I showed her my in-progress sewing project – a market bag made from fabric inserted into clean pure water sachets.

I anticipated Dorcus would complement me on my in-progress market bag, glance at the machine, visit a bit, and walk back to her house within thirty minutes. 

When I pointed to the metal hand-crank sewing machine sitting on my dining table, she smiled and nodded. She walked to the chair in front of the machine and sat down to examine the hunk of black metal with brass-colored trim.

“Very nice.” She patted the machine’s upper arm and tilted the machine back on its hinges to see the underbelly hidden within the brown plastic case. “It is new.  How much did it cost?”

“I borrowed it from a friend in Kpassa.” I’m glad I didn’t feel obligated to state a price. If I told anyone how much I pay for something, the price would be known throughout Jumbo within a few days – much like the machine I had carted on my bike the previous day was now common knowledge.  I can imagine the discussions. Wumboridin paid X for a sewing machine. She has so much money.

Dorcus removed the bobbin case. I winced when she also removed a couple of metal discs from behind the bobbin case. The machine sewed perfectly before she sat down. Would it sew at all after she stood up?  “I fix this.” she told me when she saw my concerned look.  Would it do any good to tell her it wasn’t broken?  She examined the two pieces of metal and returned them to their positions. She reinserted the bobbin and looked around for a scrap of material. I kept my fingers crossed as she placed the fabric under the presser foot with her left hand and used her right hand to turn the hand wheel towards her.  She sewed a few inches and then removed the cloth. Smiling, she held the fabric up so I could examine both the top and the bottom to see the stitch tension was perfect. “Thank you. Very nice.” I acknowledged her competency at fixing the unbroken machine.

“It is a good machine.” she told me as she returned the heavy metal machine to its plastic foundation. “Plastic.” she noted, tapping the inadequate case.

She stood up. I thought she was preparing to leave. Instead, she moved to the chair on the opposite side of the table and slid Ability who was waking up and fussing a bit around to her front. She slid her dress from her left shoulder and started nursing her young son. I sat down to be polite and showed her the two inside pockets of my in-progress market bag.

“It needs handles.” I explained – adding gestures to show where each handle would be positioned.

“You sew. I watch.” she said pointing to me and the sewing machine. I moved back to the machine and sewed the handles onto the bag.

“All finished.” I announced and held up the blue and purple bag. 

“I like. For me.” she declared.

“No. It’s mine.” I countered. “I made it for me. You can make one for you.” 

Dorcus, one of six seamstresses in Jumbo, has access to a sewing machine and the skills to make her own bag.

“OK.” she said. She placed her well-fed and now sleeping son on the floor and moved to the sewing machine. 

Oh. Time for a quick “make a market bag from pure water sachets” sewing lesson.  I gave her a handful of empty pure water sachets and showed her how to cut off the seam with the bite marks to make a 4.5” x 6” sleeve.  I used an old sock to dry the inside of each sachet after she sliced off the top. I cut cotton fabric rectangles and slid a piece of colorful material into each sleeve. She sewed water sachets together to make strips and then sewed the strips together to make a large rectangle piece-work “cloth.”

It was 12:30. I was hungry.  “Would you like to eat?”  She nodded. I put left-over beans and rice from the fridge into a skillet over a low flame. Dorcus sewed pockets to the inside of the bag. When the left-overs were heated through, I asked her if she was ready to eat. “I finish first.” she said as she started to sew the side seams. After she folded over and sewed the top hem, I asked her about eating again. It was almost 1:30, but she still wanted to finish her bag before taking a break.  Her two year old son and ten year old nephew came over, sat on the floor, and watched our sewing project. I played with Ability while his mother created the handles. She asked me to sew on the handles while she gave the baby another feeding.  Finally the bag was finished. She smiled and placed it over her shoulder.

Blending Ghanaian and American customs, we ate lunch. We sat on the floor with our community bowl on a small table (Ghanaian). We all ate at the same time and we used spoons (American).  When Dorcus and I finished and there was still some food left, the bowl was handed to the children to finish (Ghanaian). When I peeled two oranges and broke them into halves, I placed each half in a section of the bowl anticipating each of us would take the piece closest to us (American). Instead, ten year old Solomon picked up the bowl and held it towards his aunt so she (as a guest) could select the first chunk of orange wedges. He offered me second choice since I was oldest. He took the third option and two-year old Baba received the final piece (Ghanian). 

After eating, Dorcus said something to Baba and he disappeared for a few minutes – coming back with a couple of his shirts that needed mending. “The cobbler’s sons have no shoes” ran through my mind as Dorcus used my sewing machine to mend Baba’s torn shirts.

I took a few more pictures on the courtyard before Dorcus and her family headed home at 3:30.

What a fun way to spend the day – not doing anything on my “to do” list, but developing a connection with my neighbor. As a Volunteer, I am expected to spend time with community members. “Hanging out” is part of my job description because spending time with Ghanians helps them better understand Americans. I didn’t just spend time with Dorcus and her family, I worked on Peace Corps’ “Goal Two.” 

And writing about my experience helps “promote a better understanding of the peoples on the part of the American people” – Peace Corps’ “Goal Three.”

And, recycling pure water sachets?  A definite link to Health: Water and Sanitation (my Peace Corps’ “sector” or focus area). Peace Corps’ “Goal One” – providing trained individuals to interested communities.

Ca-ching. Progress on all three Peace Corps’ goals. 

Just because my neighbor stopped by to see my new sewing machine.

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5 Responses to New Sewing Machine

  1. bill carter says:

    I have to wonder if Dorcus could, indeed, fix a broken machine or, better still, fix that hole in the fence allegedly left by that #&%@ goat. We may never know. At any rate sounds as if you connected with your neighbor in a very positive way while accomplishing Peace Corp objectives. Hmmm…what is that they say about two birds and a stone? And what to do with that #&%@ goat?

  2. Gabriele says:

    I loved the writing….I could feel the tension in the relationship and wondered how it would all end. It was excellent. Great culture piece as well. Wow….thanks for writing that down and sending it our way.

  3. sharon says:

    Sounds like u are going to be the go to place for sewing project. Does your neighbor have a machime also that she seemed to “know” it needed fixing. What other projects do u have planned with it or it a loaned so u could male your shopping bag. Life is an adventure isn’t it

  4. says:

    What a wonderful description of the visit and the customs of the Ghanans.  You had such patience and trust and definitely bonded with Dorcus and the children.  You are really fitting into the community.  I admire you so much.Sandi

  5. Pingback: we’re all inspirational – Very Inspiring Blog Award « Hey Infinity

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