10,000 miles away, senior reaches out to Zimbabwe | ParkRecord.com

10,000 miles away, senior reaches out to Zimbabwe

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Rachel Metcalf, a senior at the Waterford School, has some unfinished business to take care of before she leaves Park City to attend the New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

Aside from the final exams and weathering the last weeks of senioritis, she hopes to give back to friends in Zimbabwe, a country she visited two years ago on an abroad program for high school girls.

Metcalf, along with Old Town Silver Queen Fine Art Gallery will host a reception and a three-day exhibit of nearly 50 batiks, hand-dyed fabrics made by Zimbabwe artists Patience Ngwenya and Nomatter Paida Nyamandala Zimbiru. The batiks will be on display and for sale throughout this weekend, and 100 percent of the proceeds will return to Ngwenya and Zimbiru’s community, she says a village, and one of many in the country, that currently has very little means to support itself.

Since a three-and-a-half month trip through the Traveling School took her to South Africa two years ago, Metcalf has maintained an e-mail correspondence with the husbands of the batik artists, Crispen Zimbiru and Japhet Ngwenya. They call her "Twiza" the Shona word for giraffe, a traditional totem name.

The e-mails Metcalf receives are typically short and infrequent, curtailed by the fact that Zimbiru, a chef and Ngwenya a safari bus driver have a better grasp of conversational English and also because they have only a limited access to Internet, according to Metcalf. She says they keep in touch only when they find a café while chaperoning a touring group to towns outside their country, enough to dispatch a "thank you, Twiza. I hope you are fit and well."

But her visit to the country and the e-mails have given her insight into how Zimbabwe’s astronomical inflation rate and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, have devastated the country’s quality of life.

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Accounts from publications like The New Yorker names the 83-year-old Mugabe a brutal dictator, a murderer of thousands of his own people who has "transformed one of Africa’s most prosperous and promising countries into one of the poorest and weakest on earth."

The magazine’s article states the country’s inflation rate was more than 1,700 percent in April. The figure ranks Zimbabwe’s inflation rate the highest out of any country in the world, according to the article.

"It’s illegal to make artwork in their villages to sell, so they sent their batiks to me in hopes that I could sell a couple of them, since they have no market," Metcalf explains. "There used to be a market for them 10 years ago, but now there’s no tourism to make money, Crispin and Japhet have to travel outside of Zimbabwe for work."

Metcalf says that Mugabe is being charged on crimes against humanity by the international Criminal Court, for, among other things, clearing out slums leaving over 700,000 people homeless. Metcalf quotes a new survey compiled by Zimbabwe’s public service and social welfare ministry: living standards have declined by 150 percent in the last decades. Zimbabwe is now a country with one of the highest number of orphans and whose female population has a life expectancy of 34 years the lowest in the world, she says.

While Ngwenya drove Metcalf and others through surrounding countries, Ngwenya learned that someone had killed his cows to make money, Metcalf recalls.

She says that she’s been working on a project to create a batik cooperative for a year, she says, and received a $20,000 grant, but the funds fell through when she found out that the Zimbabwe government would not allow it. Instead, she hopes that the art will create a greater market for Zimbabwe, and is looking into contacting fair trade organizations like Ten Thousand Villages, she says.

"This is not about selling batiks that will feed them for a day," she promises. "This is about finding a sustainable way to support [Zimbabwe.]"

Batik is a centuries-old form of Zimbabwe art. Batik artists use flour and water paste to the form outlines of the design on cotton twill, apply paint, then they allow the fabric to dry in the sun. The flour and water paste is rinsed off, leaving behind a white-line design, usually comprised of wild animals and flowers.

Metcalf says batiks are typically framed or hung, but they may also be used to decorate a bedspread.

Metcalf remembers her trip to southern African countries fondly, and writes on her batik Web site, "I did not know quite what to expect as I was packing my backpack, but I never thought it would be an experience that would change my life."

"It was definitely not what I expected, from the landscape to the forests and wild animals in the national parks and despite their situation, the people I met there seemed to be the happiest people in the world," she says. "I would go back in a heartbeat. I miss it every day."

While Metcalf received encouragement from the three teachers of the Bozeman, Montana-based Traveling School, she says the idea for her Zimbabwe project, and the planning, was her own.

"Absolutely we’re impressed with Rachel and absolutely supported what she was doing," said Lisa Kaplan, a Silver Queen sales associate.

Silver Queen’s owners, who specialize in bronze statues and contemporary paintings, will give the Zimbabwean batiks one half of their Old Town gallery space for Metcalf’s cause, she said.

Batiks will be on display a t Silver Queen Fine Art Gallery at 632 Main Street from May 11-13. A reception with hors d’oeuvres will be held Saturday, May 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. The gallery’s phone number is 649-6555.

To view Rachel Metcalf’s collecton of batiks online, visit web.mac.com/h.metcalf/iWeb/site/batiks.html. Batik purchases are also available over the phone at (801) 842-4420.