I was a reporter a good while and heard many amazing stories, but few of them like Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa’s. It is an epic tale of survival, determination and courage. Congo, often called the “rape capitol of the world,” has been torn by vicious conflicts and civil war for decades, they call it the Black Past.
Mawulidi made it out of the Congo, his family perished except for him and his brother. His brother died in the refugee camp where Mawulidi and his wife were to spend the next 20 years of his life.
A carver by trade, Mawulidi lost all of his carving tools on the way to America. He now has the tools he need, and has begun producing some remarkable art. I wanted to take a portrait that tried to capture his sweet, soft, demeanor and also his fierce determination to give rebirth to his art (see the posts below). I will it will be another great chapter in his remarkable life.
It was important to see Mawulidi at his home, a small apartment walk-up near downtown Albany. Mawulidi’s wife was camera shy, she retreated into the kitchen. He has two older children, and two young ones, Makato and Movita, above, holding his new African Protection Mask, soon to be finished, painted and sold here on the blog.
It is a great pleasure to know this gifted artist, who has endured so much, but never lost his dignity, or the Creative Spark. Mawulidi believes his own Protection Mask, left behind in the refugee camp, helped save him.
I visited Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa in his walk-up apartment in downtown Albany.
He told me he is working on 10 carving projects now, including five birds and an astonishing African Protection Mask – this one is nearly finished, he has some more carving to do, and then some vivid painting.
I didn’t know about these masks, Mawuldi said they are used for protection in Africa, they are everywhere in Southern Africa, especially in countries ravaged by war, genocide or disease. He says he can vouch for their power, he survived a civil war and 20 years in a U.N. refugee camp.
The masks are believed to protect whoever has them in the homes, or up in nearby trees.
They ward off thieves, demons, militias, enemy soldiers, robbers, and all kinds of bad luck and evil people.
He will be finished with the mask – it will be brightly painted – and more birds and carvings in about two weeks. it is sometimes hard for Mawulidi to find time to work on his carvings, he has no car, and has a long bus ride to and from his work as a bread maker in a bakery in Albany.
And he has four children, two of them very young, and still at home. His days are very long and exhausting. I had a long talk with Mawulidi, I asked him what his goals and plans are. He says he would love to be a carver full-time, but he didn’t know if that was possible.
He is a quiet and shy and determined man, he is smiling more when we are together. I think he thought I was a spirit from some other world. I suppose I am.
I said Maria and I believed he had the talent for real success, but we had to move slowly and patiently, and see how much he can produce, how much he can charge for his work and how many people want to pay for it. So far, so good.
This will all take several months, and no one can predict what will happen. I told him I would support him in every way I could for as long as he wished.
I said Maria and I were excited about selling his work for the time being, I gave him a check for more than $400 dollars and Francis Regabo a check for $137 as a donation for RiSSE, the immigrant and refugee support center in Albany. This is his first art sale in America, may it be the first of many.
Mawulidi asked me again how much money I was receiving for this work, and I said none, I didn’t want payment. He said that was wonderful but it bothered him and he wanted me to make some money from his carvings if I was selling them.
I said I was a writer, my income comes from my books and that is how I wish to make my living. I said my wife would want to charge a commission if she took on the sales of his work for the long haul. But we were far from that.
I told him about the Army Of Good and the growing waiting list for his work – Maria and I think the mask will draw great interest, we are trying to figure out what to charge for it.
Mawulidi said he was very happy and very grateful. He never expected to carve again in this life. If would be wonderful if Mawulidi could some day make a living off of his carvings, but the odds are very long, and I won’t make any false promises to him. We would love to support his work.
I told Mawulidi about Etsy and Facebook and other sites where artists sell their work. Maria is a real champion of Mawulidi, she just loves his carvings.
She can be a powerful support for an artist she loves, I’ve seen it over and over again.
The Army of Good is pretty potent as well, many artists have started and succeeded with much less.
We shall see.
It really depends on him, on how many carvings he makes, how special they are, how strong a market there is from them. Judging by the reaction last week, there is real promise.
But let’s see what happens. I told him if the Gods want it to happen, perhaps it will, and he smiled and nodded at that. We spoke through and interpreter, he speaks almost no English. Maria says she wants to meet with him when I make my next trip to Albany.
So my best guess, subject to change, is that Mawulidi’s Protection Mask – I can’t wait to see the final result – will go on sale just after December 22, or whenever it is finished. Maria has a waiting list for Mawulidi’s work. If you wish to be on the list, you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
It is awesome to see a gifted artist reborn. Come to think of it, I could use some protection these days.
Ruth and Ken have been at the Mansion for about a month, they are the only couple living there at the moment. They are quite devoted to one another, they are inseparable. I brought a stuffed animal to Ruth today, and asked if she wanted it. Yes, she practically shouted and held it close and gave him a name. She said she would sleep with him at night, he is a stuffed lamb.
At first, I was very reluctant to give the residents stuffed animals, I was concerned it might be infanticizing, even inappropriate to give adults toys for children. I always try to treat the residents with respect.
But I have learned that stuffed animals are a wonderful gift for many people in assisted care. I’ve learned in my work how lonely some of the residents are, how desperate for human affection and connection, how much in need they are of things to love and nurture.
The most valuable and important gifts the residents ever receive are your letters and messages. They remind them that they are not forgotten, that people care about them and want to reach out to them. I can’t tell you what a difference that has made in their lives.
Stuffed animals cannot replace the dogs and cats they have lost and left behind, the children they rarely see and cannot nurture, the sense of caring for something young and comforting. I see that stuffed animals are a loneliness balm, as long as no one is looking, some of the men love having them as well.
They usually get to sleep in bed, and are held during naps. Stuffed animals are therapeutic, I collect them whenI can and I find they are among the most treasured of gifts. I am convinced these stuffed creatures help with memory issues, the residents never seem to forget their names or lose them.
When Ruth and Ken came to the Mansion, they had no clothes other than the ones they were wearing. They have enough clothes now, and good warm clothes for the winter. It is very touching to see them, their love is fresh and very real.
Ken loves read and keeps asking me to have someone take photos of me, him and Red. That will happen. You can write to Ken and Ruth c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.
I call it my “Whispering” clothing drive, I walk through the Mansion with nice stuff I’ve gathered online and in some good Thrift stores – some of it has been sent to me – and I pull hats, scarves and sweaters out of the bag and show them to the residents. I don’t call it a clothing drive, I just walk down the halls like Santa, passing things out, and I love the smiles they generate and am surprised by how big a hit these gifts are.
Tim was thrilled with his new blue wool hat, he is out riding all day on his electric walker dispensing home-made wreaths – they are all over town.
I’ve become a skilled Thrift Store hound – learn and grow. They have a lot of great stuff there. Tomorrow, the last bag.