The Business of Batik

The guest on the CBC radio show said that every time you recall anything from the past, the simple act of remembering alters the memory.  To bring the past to mind  is to change it to fit into your present.  This was a very smart guest (Ironically, I can’t recall his name at the moment. If you really want details I’ll get them for you, but not till after this trip) and I choose to believe what he said.   It explains nostalgia.  It explains why the halls in your high school look so small when you visit it years after graduating. It explains why we call the past the “good old days.”

I know the details can be important, but those are the things that tend to go missing from my memories of Ghana when I’m in Canada.

Visiting Ghana brings me back to the reality of Ghana: the smell of earth, moth balls and soap when you walk from the tarmac into the airport; the process of going through customs, baggage check, security and security again; brushing your teeth with bottled water; bartering for a taxi cab…  The good news is that there’s such a thing as muscle memory.  While I might not recall it perfectly back home, I remember it clearly when I get here.

Some things.

Everything else, I’m blaming on the rapid pace of change in Accra.  Since my visit last year, there are buildings I don’t remember, rates that have gone up, cedi value that has decreased, finger scanning at the airport.  There’s a KFC in Ghana, people!

So I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel some slight uneasiness this first full day in Ghana.  I write that just so I remember it for next time.  When Leisha or Karen ask me whether they should bring water, what the washrooms facilities will be like, what they should wear,  how much will it cost, sometimes I just say “Yes.”

Honestly, though, we’re having a great time.  Well, I am and I think they are.  We’re laughing lots, so that’s a good sign.

Today was a little bit about taking it easy, since our trip here turned us into extras from a scene out of Night of the Living Dead.  We revived ourselves to pay a visit to Global Mamas, an amazing NGO which trains and employ women to make batik fabric and create beautiful products from the fabric, such as clothing, bags, aprons, tablecloths and napkins and doggie bow-ties?  Yes, they know their consumer demographic – pet parents love batik too!

I might have had maybe a tinge of jealousy perhaps when Leisha and Karen met with Renee, the woman who runs the show, to talk about partnership and then picked out some amazing samples to bring home to customers.


Karen and Leisha pick out samples from Global Mamas.

I’ve already bought too many souvenirs.  Usually one would ask, Now what can I get for so-and-so?  This time I found myself asking, “Now who could I give this such-and-such to?”  (Sorry, hon!  In a case like this, budgets are meant to be broken.)


I honestly don’t know what’s going on in this picture – something about it being too hard to make a decision.

We then visited another business partner, Esther, who runs a small shop filled with miles of batik fabric.  This is the lady who has supplied me with most of my batik for Big Village for the past four years.   Whenever John-Mark comes to Ghana on a mission trip without me, I always send him to visit Esther because he has Thee Best Eye when it comes to picking fabric.  It’s a God-given talent.  That reminds me, John-Mark, Esther asked me how you were, told me twice to give you greetings and to wish you God’s richest blessing. I think she likes you.


Me with Esther’s gorgeous batik fabric.  Only one thing in this picture lacks colour…

I explained to Esther that Leisha and Karen are the new owners of Big Village.  Esther didn’t understand why I would leave my own business.  I came up against this too with Big Village’s other partners, TK Beads, when I made the announcement.  Owning a business is a very personal thing here.  There’s no selling of businesses, unless perhaps it’s code for closing your business.  When business is good, you are surrounded by family members working by your side, who will eventually take it over.  When business is bad, you work harder to keep it going.  Esther’s prices have gone up.  They do every visit and she always reminds me of the state of Ghana’s currency, the cedi.  “We are dying!” she says, “We pray for change soon.”  When we lived in Ghana, in 2008, the cedi was redenominated; four zeros were slashed off the end to make it on par with US.  Now, it’s 1.80 to the US dollar.  The cedi goes down, Esther’s rate goes up, the price stays the same.  I feel things are changing so quickly, Esther says things aren’t changing fast enough.

Tonight we’re setting our alarms for 4 a.m. to head up north tomorrow, allllllll the way to the top of the country, Bolgatanga, to visit the basket ladies!  So curious to find out what I’ve forgotten since my last visit. I will be sure to explain that selling my business to Leisha and Karen means something wonderful for them.


Karen and Leisha in Esther’s shop


Esther’s sons sit at the sewing machines.


Esther’s grandson looks out the gate of the shop, where fabric and measuring tape are part of his world.


I didn’t sign up for this.

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Preparing for Ghana

Six times, I have prepared for a trip to Ghana.  I’ve anticipated each trip differently.  Sometimes I’ve been very excited about going, like that one time where we thought we’d sell everything to move there.  Other times I’ve worried about it because the responsibilities seemed great.  I can remember a particular tumultuous time in my family’s life and a trip to Ghana felt like the very wrong thing to do at the time. But the ticket had been booked and I had to go.  I remember bawling as I walked through customs.  The agents and officers were very concerned for me and I was whisked through every line with an accompanying pat on the back.  I highly recommend this tactic for ease of travel.

I’m now preparing for my “final trip,” as in the last time I will go to Ghana for the purpose of doing business.  If and when I go again, after this trip, it will be for the mission… although ONE DAY I will go just to spend time with my lovely friends there.  Just visiting with them seems like an exorbitant luxury.

This time, it’s not my business, it’s the business of the new owners of Big Village, the fair-trade business I started by accident when we moved back to Canada. I’m actually allowing myself to get excited about this trip!  I get to introduce them to this beautiful place, these welcoming people.  I get to tell them to ignore the Travel Report because there is no context given for the warmth and friendliness of the place that I’ve known for over six years now.

The new owners of Big Village have done some amazing things already with the business.  They’ve already gained a couple fantastic contracts and are making new partnerships all the time.  I spent some time with them the other day and got so excited about their plans and developments, I had to tell John-Mark all about it as soon as I got home.

“They are doing so, so, so well!” I said.

“Do you wish it was you?” he asked. Jerk.

“Not at all!”

What a great peace I have about it, to know that I could be so very happy for them and their success and not want even a smidge of it.

Not only that, but I had suspected God was pulling me deeper into ministry.  I didn’t know how to say that any other way.  I wrote about it when I sent out that final newsletter to my customers back in the fall.  I imagine that many didn’t understand because I couldn’t articulate exactly what that would look like, where it would be, or how that sentiment would pay the bills.  Mostly it was J-M asking me about that last one.

I prematurely told my friends, don’t worry, I’ll ease off on the use of “Ghana” a little now. I won’t add to the end of all your stories, “Well in Ghana…”  It is so annoying.  I know.  I can’t stop.

But then as J-M talked to me about the ongoing mission partnership with our church.  There is such a great forward momentum happening in Ghana, with new ministerial candidates approved, churches joining in and growing, the land purchase and construction for the women’s college… and yet not a lot of news getting out over here.  There is a lot of work to be done, as much as there is work in Ghana.

Well, hello! My passion is blabbing, either by mouth or by keyboard.  I already talk about Ghana ad nauseum.  I already know and love the people on both sides of the ocean who are committed to this project.   I can do this!

I’d stepped away from the Ghana project for a time – not in heart, but in task – because I needed to.  I was feeling a little burnt out by it all.  So I made up my mind after an intense debrief with good counsellors who said it was OK to let go.  Rob Corey stepped in just in time and had the exact skills and energy necessary to take this partnership to the place where it is now.

Since then – for 2+ years – I’ve been a big cheerleader, especially for J-M, who saw his job morph into the position of Pastor of Missions.  He now co-leads with Rob on the project and they have a great planning team.  But as I mentioned, it’s growing!  It’s growing in a way that needs full-time support.  I find myself with some time on my hands, a desire to spread the word, and the ability to do it.  With Rob and J-M at the helm and a great team besides.  All I need to do is write words?  All I need to do is tell people about it?  No brainer!

Now as I pack my bags for Ghana (that I’m getting really good at), I find myself again thinking of new possibilities, ways to communicate, pictures to take, questions to ask, stories to tell.  And still I feel the pull deeper.


We are currently developing a website (launching June 3) for the Ghana-Canada partnership, Arise Ghana.  (In the meantime, check it out on Facebook.)

One of my self-appointed tasks is to track down photos from old teams and projects to help us have a good memory of the project and how far we’ve come along.  This is also distracting me from packing because I discover pictures that move me to tears.  I see the friendships that have been formed on both sides.  I see the way people connect at a deep level because of the shared love of Jesus.  I see us ministering to each other.  I’m not saying that there hasn’t been bumps in the road, but there are many, many moments of celebration.

When I was going through the photos of our time living there, I was asking J-M which ones I should put on the public site?  He said only those that are ministry related.  That helps me not at all.

See, I think this counts…


Pastor Charles praying for the future Women’s Business College (2007).

…and so does this.


Mallory and Sophia find a unique way to cool off in the Ghanaian sun.

Thunder in the distance

It’s never a good idea to post when you’re emotional.  Ah well.

Tonight I’m sad for a couple of reasons and they’re both tied to Africa.  The first is for the same reason you might be sad and shocked – or soon to be – by the video put out by Invisible Children about the war criminal, Joseph Kony, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, made up of over 30,000 kidnapped children.  Hard to stomach, hard to believe.

I know this is one atrocity of many in our world and a sober reminder of the evils we don’t often witness firsthand, just by video.  I’m so glad there is an action attached to this awareness campaign.  The work has just begun.

I’m also upset about my business.  Yes, the one I sold.  I’m not sad because I sold it – I totally love the two women who bought it and am excited about their vision for growing it.  But someone has put a damper on this time of celebration for the new owners.

Another bead store in our own backyard has ridden in on the coat tails of Big Village. For 3 1/2 years, Big Village worked hard to introduce Canada to these cultural beads from Ghana and spread the word about them and the amazing, resourceful, ingenious people who make them.  The business was built on relationships and fair-trade principles.

But another bead store – in town, no less – has used that hard work to their advantage. Unfortunately, we might have marketed too well!  Customers loved our beads and so they asked this particular bead store to bring them in.  But they chose not to go through Big Village and purchased the same kind of beads from another supplier. As the new owners host their first Open House, the other business is doing a big promotion of their new African stock.

But that’s business, right?  Nothing personal?

Of course, they had every right to!  But it seems unkind and uncool-operative.

I won’t go on, other than to say that the bummer of it is this heavy rain on our parade.  Big Village will go on and continue to build business, of course it will!  But the timing sucks.  RIGHT NOW, when we are celebrating the continuation of this great partnership with our guys in Ghana, the other business is crashing our party and taking a piece of pie for themselves.

I leave for Ghana with the new owners of Big Village in April – perhaps my last trip for a while.  I’ll savour every moment.  It will clear my focus too.  Whenever I go, when I see my friends and the hope that absolutely fills that place, I can’t help but gain a brighter perspective.

You know, Ghana has so much to offer.  Even in terms of what Uganda is going through right now, as a fellow African country, it can demonstrate hope to them.  Ghana can show her sister what it looks like on the other side of adversity, to live peaceful and productive lives. All the hard work happening here and over there, now and in the future, will be worth it.

If that’s true, then SURELY both businesses can share a piece of Ghana.

The storm clouds are lifting.