By Bev Lyon
Hope you were at the meeting on November 20, ‘cuz we had a good one! Our special guests were Peggy Peterson of Asylum Down and Yabobo and Eileen Jorgensen of The Magic Carpet, all businesses in Nevada City. Both women and their businesses support economic justice for impoverished people of the world, especially women. The discussion was facilitated by Judith McCarrick.
For all their similar interests, the women could not have had more different backgrounds. Peggy Peterson said she came from a very ordinary family of three daughters. Raised in a rural area of the Midwest by parents who did not set any limitations or impose any expectations on their daughters, Peggy took that freedom and ran with it. To Africa. Alone. Traveling throughout the continent for fifteen years. She fell in love with Ghana and the baskets hand woven there. Eventually she came to Nevada City and started her business selling those lovely baskets. By the way, “Asylum Down” is the name of a place in Ghana where an insane asylum is perched on the edge of a down. It is a crossroads and meeting place, and she liked the sound of the words.
Eileen Jorgensen was raised in New York City, living over her parents’ bar. In some respects her upbringing was very 1950’s with the traditional expectations. However, she was the daughter of immigrants and had strong female role models. Her mother came alone to the United States from Ireland at age 14, expected to work and send money back home to her mother and younger siblings who had been left destitute because of the father’s death. Eileen’s own sister became a nun, joining the Good Shepherd Sisters and founding Hand Crafting Justice which works helping women become independent in twenty developing countries. Eileen joined the cause and came to believe that women are the answer. Interestingly, Peggy mentioned that the nuns were the most impressive people in Ghana.
The indigenous art that Eileen most resonated with was rug weaving. She showed a rug hand woven in the traditional manner with vegetable dyed yarns. Even today, she says the women do all of the weaving, but the men make the looms and control the money. The world market for hand made items is becoming saturated, she said. Machine made replicas flood western markets where the virtues of quality and cherished heirlooms are diminishing. That is why it is so important that new skills be taught to women in impoverished areas.
In response to the question of how they saw the future, Eileen said that in the countries where she travels, Turkey and India, conditions for women are improving. However, in the twenty or so countries where the nuns work, conditions are getting more difficult. On the other hand, Peggy said that even when she first went to Ghana, the market women were in control, and that things are getting better all the time. However, she cautioned that much of Africa is unstable, and instability can spill across borders, even Ghana’s.