In one of my earlier posts I talked about my Afrikaans teacher, Aunty Martha. She was such a wonderful and interesting person that I felt I needed to tell you all about her. The thing is, I’m constantly meeting wonderful and interesting people, which is only reasonable since I’m in a wonderful and interesting place. (Duh!!!)
Anyway, I thought I’d start sharing some of the stories of the folks I meet and have been lucky enough to call my friends. I’ll call out these types of posts with the title: Namibia: Close and Personal. Since Aunty Martha was the first, this post will be the second in the series. I hope you enjoy them.
When I’m in Swakopmund on business, which tends to be during the weekday, I try to get around town by walking. It isn’t the fastest means, I could and catch taxis for that, but walking lets me see more and I get my miles (or kilometers since this is a metric country) in.
On one of my jaunts I walked passed a fairly nondescript building with these words painted on the side, “Karakulia Weavers, Handmade Rugs”.
“Ok,” I thought, “that could be interesting.” And I filed it away in the back of my mind to investigate later.
Walking also means that I put a hurting on my shoes. I have a pair of Wolverine 1000 mile boots that I’ve worn a hole in the sole and had to get repaired. I figured I needed another pair of shoes to walk around in and some friends, Georg and Xenia (hopefully they’ll be the subject of an upcoming Close and Personal), recommended some locally made shoes. As it turned out, the shoe shop is directly across the walkway from the rug maker. The shoe shop didn’t have the color or size I needed, but promised they would soon and said I should stop back. Since I was there and the rug maker was open I thought I’d stop in.
I’m glad I did.
Moses Helao owns Karakulia Weavers. The small factory is one of the oldest businesses in Swakopmund. It was established in 1979 by Ms. Jenny Carvill. Mr. Helao started as a wool cleaner in 1991, learned the business and ultimately bought the factory in 2011.
Moses Helao, Owner of Karakulia Weavers
When I walked into his shop Mr.Helao was emerging from his office. He is a tall man who smiles easily. I guess he’s used to curious tourists dropping in all the time, but tourist season is only just beginning, and I was alone. Not your typical camera toting sightseer. Mr. Helao must have recognized that I was different and, after our greeting, he asked where I was from. I told him.
“What brings you to Namibia,” he asked?
I gave him a brief version of my story and he said, “Ahh! The Peace Corps! I know of them. They do good work. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
Mr. Helao shaving a rug.
He then offered to give me a personal tour. I was happy to accept. He showed me a video of a sheep getting shorn, then the resulting bales of raw karakul wool sheared from local sheep. We moved on to stations where the wool is cleaned, processed, and dyed. The dyed wool is laid out to dry in the sun, then spinners take the piles of freshly processed wool and turn it into yarn in a way that is not too different from how its been done for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. I passed bins containing skeins and spools of spun yarn in such a variety of colors it would shame a rainbow. And then there were the looms. Maybe 20 of them, each manned by artisans who took the yarn and turned them into beautiful rugs and wall hangings.
Rug being made to order
Mr. Helao’s pride shown brightly as he showed me each station and explained each process. His is a story of hard work and a passion to preserve a manual process in an increasingly digitized world.
Rainbow in wool
Mr. Helao is humble and soft spoken, but lights up when asked about his business. He’s a man who has worked hard to get where he is, yet he hasn’t lost site of his humanity. His company employs over 20, and ships it’s products worldwide. Whenever I come into his shop Mr.Helao stops what he’s doing and greets me graciously. He does this for everyone who comes in whether they buy or not. It’s who he is and I am happy to be able to call him a friend.
Check out his website: http://www.karakulia.com.na/workshop/