Saturday, April 19, 2008

Buying Sewing Machines

Yves watches as salesman oils machine.

OK, so I'm still thinking like an American who happens to be in Bukavu. I assumed we would just go to the store and buy six sewing machines . . . in and out, done in a day, efficient. I forgot this is Africa. Three days, five stores, and a day of walking later, we were done. And I am delighted to report the mission was a success!

The first day Yves and I planned to go shopping, it rained so hard that the main street in front of my hotel turned into a storm-swollen torrent that rumbled down toward the lake, washing away everything in its path. Litter control. Needless to say, there was not a car or person on the road for several hours. But now I know why the streets in Bukavu are so terrible: a combination of bad weather and neglect will do it every time.

On the morning of the second day, a large demonstration blocked main street and turned the city into a massive traffic jam. Primary and highschool teachers who had not been paid in 6 months were protesting by stopping traffic. There were threats of tear gas, so I went to Dr. Florimond's office on the other side of town to wait it out.

Then the cell phone network went down. By the time Yves and I were able to connect, the sewing machine store had closed.

Teachers strike for back wages by blocking major intersections.

I had money problems of my own. Two donations were sent by mistake to Brazzelville (the other Congo) and had to be rerouted. And the name of the third donor (my cousin!) did not match the name of the sender (if she's not Lisa, who is she?). All that had to be remedied, so back I went to the computer for hours, while Google struggled along in Africa like the rest of us.

Things came together the third day, but not quickly. Once inside the sewing machine store (which is a general appliance store that blares Bruce Lee movies in English), Yves and I realized that we needed Wilonja, the sewing teacher, as neither of us knows anything about sewing machines, and there are no product guarantees here.

Wilo inspects the Butterfly.

Luckily the cell phones worked that day, and he came right over. Wilonja knows everything about sewing machines, and with supreme confidence he checked each one meticulously. After final inspection, we decided to buy one Juki, one Singer, and one Butterfly, all foot-pedal treadle machines made in China. They are very pretty, black iron machines with elaborate gold decals, old-fashioned looking like something great-grandma would have ordered from the Sears catalog.

At this same store we discovered the Mercedes, an electric machine which is truly top of the line. Wilo could barely contain his excitement as he experimented with several of the 48 different stitches. Talk about a fine machine . . . it will take the Center to another level, plus it sews really fast and it's white!

Wilo tries out different stitches on the Mercedes.

Because the Mercedes was so expensive, we decided to buy it rather than two treadles. The goal now being five machines instead of six, we had only one more machine to buy.

We had purchased every acceptable sewing machine the store had in stock. Apparently, there is a sewing machine shortage in Bukavu (why does that not surprise me?), which meant we walked around town trying to locate the remaining machine. There are no yellow pages, and Bukavu is a big city.

Wilo wanted a seam edging machine, because zig-zagged outside seams are popular with men here. We finally found two of them in another appliance store. Wilo and Yves had to choose between an Aksa and a Denson seam edger.

Wilo and Yves inspecting the seam-edger machines.

I have to add that I finally reached fashion relevance in Bukavu. The woman in this photo loved my matching lion print blouse and purse. She wanted me to give her the blouse. Then after she saw this picture, she wanted my camera. Ultimately, she was content when we bought the Denson seam-edger, as it was her store and the sewing machine was a substantial purchase.

Check out the artificial flowers in this very festive store.

You can imagine that I was both relieved and delighted when the sewing machine mission was over. Actually buying those five machines in one day, and getting what we wanted to boot, was a real coup in Bukavu. My Congolese friends are impressed by my American efficiency! Ha Ha . . . the guys knew what they were doing and took care of business. After all, we had to have all the machines for the grand opening of the center the next day. . . there was no way it wouldn't get done.

Sewing machines are loaded into a taxi for the ride back to the Center.

We weren't able to get the treadle tables with the foot pedals that day as they are not kept in stock and had to be ordered. On Monday Yves will return to the first store and pick them up, put them in another taxi, and transport them back to the Center. But Yves had a cutting table made that will hold the machines so they can be displayed for photos at tomorrow's party. No problem.

With love and gratitude,

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