Facebook tells me that exactly three years ago today, and three days before I left Mampujan, Juana finally taught me some basic quilting. As she frantically packed to leave for another meeting in the morning, assuring me that she would say good-by, I stitched a tiny pink, naked looking figure into the corner of a piece of cloth, to represent myself.
When I woke up in the morning, Juana was already gone, without a word. I had no idea how to finish well, neither the quilt nor my time in Mampujan. I packed up two years of confusion and exhaustion, but left my quilt behind. A few months later, I heard that Juana had burned the quilt because a rat had died and rotted on top of it.
Through a series of strange, yet miraculous events, my finished quilt now hangs on my wall. Time passed, the first most miraculous miracle of all. A friend told me that Juana had left without a goodbye because it had seemed too painful to say. Juana eventually found my quilt in another pile of fabric in her house and finished it. When I went to Sembrandopaz’s tenth anniversary celebration last year, there it was, on display, and there I was in the corner, fully clothed.
Last month, I put on my red dress and presented a paper at a conference in Winnipeg. I wrote about the internal dynamics within Mampujan and their response to the court order for reparations, the process I had partially lived out alongside the community. To write the paper, I went back over all my notebooks, read newspaper articles and other commentaries and forced myself to objectively examine events, not just my feelings.
As I researched, I saw in a new way the challenges of the situation and the strength of the community. For sixteen years, leaders have done everything within their power to better their community. That effort has been complicated, political and overwhelming, but also speaks to the power of grassroots leadership and community storytelling. I arrived in Mampujan at an impossible and historic time and was a firsthand witness to chaos and determination.
I felt an enormous sense of pride as I sat down after my presentation. I am proud to be entrusted with this part of the community’s story, but I am also proud of myself. My enneathought of the day says: “Healthy Nines have patience, which is supported by a quiet strength and tremendous endurance. They are able to “hang in there” through hardships and difficult experiences.” I’m not always a healthy nine, but I am proud that I have been able to keep on exploring this story. Three years after leaving, I have finally reached a point where I can look back on my time in Mampujan with a little less self-doubt and a lot more perspective.
As any reader of this blog knows, I keep on telling different versions of my time in Mampujan because it still feels unfinished. Every year, as my perspective shifts, the story become fuller. Just like a quilt, life consists of multiple layers, pieced together, one on top of another. Sometimes we are clearly represented and sometimes we can’t even find ourselves within the triangles and the tiny stitches. Every so often, there are times when everything comes together, and you see yourself in a moment of grace, as a simple part of the story, stitched in the corner.
My last day in Canada, I had tea with a group of ladies from my aunt’s Mennonite church. Every year, these six women make over fifty quilts which they donate to MCC to be sent to refugee camps or sold at relief sales. They invited me to share a story from my work and it felt right to tell them about other life changing quilts. We sipped lemon zinger and ate chocolate cake, and I showed pictures and told the stories the women of Mampujan had entrusted to me. As the the quilters cried over the beauty of the story, I realized that I was adding another layer to my own. When women in Mampujan talk about quilting as a form of healing, that includes me.
Quilting is, after all, part of my Russian Mennonite heritage. I may not be able to hold a needle, but I can piece together a story. The colours may clash and there is often no discernible pattern, but my task is to keep on stitching.