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December 24th, 2009
11:48 AM ET

Gift #2: Quality takes time

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

When Rwanda's master basket weaver Janet Nkubana walked me through the symbolism of her basket's designs, the image you see here left a big impression.

I asked her how long it took a weaver to get from the center knot at the bottom of that basket to the spot she's pointing to. A couple of inches of weaving.

"It may take a whole day to get from here to here," she said.

Janet is the master in charge of the masters. Her company employs 32-hundred women to weave baskets. Women who would otherwise have no way to support themselves and whatever family members might have survived the genocide in 1994.

How many of those women are master weavers?"

About 300.

300 masters out of more than 3-thousand weavers. Only one out of ten. Judging from the selection of baskets, the other nine weavers are just really good.

What transforms a child from a grass gatherer to a master weaver?

"It took me a long time to become a master weaver,” she says. “I was not able to sit down for long periods of time and weave. I'd go to school. They'd send me to fetch water. To look for firewood. I'd weave, go, weave, go." She could not keep track of the hours it took her to become a master.

Her mother offered encouragement. But not hollow praise. "Oh, you are not yet there," her mother would often say evaluating Janet's work. "This is not fine."

Now, Janet is the judge. How does she identify that small percentage of master weavers?

"Every woman puts her name on a basket. When we see an outstanding basket – we make a point to locate the weaver and put her in our data base. That's how we follow our master weavers."

"It is by seeing," she adds.

It is by touching too.

When I asked Janet to help me pick from about a dozen baskets with the same design she looked, and then she touched.

She rubbed her hands over each basket. And when she got to basket number 5 or 6 she handed it to me and said: "that's the master weaver."

All of the baskets looked beautiful. The master's was the smoothest of all. No rough surfaces. The fine finish takes more time. More care. More skill.

Janet trusts her eyes. And her hands.

Janet Nkubana knows quality when she sees it and feels it.

Go here for Gift #3: Don't spill the words


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
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