Bowling for Garment Workers

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by Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing?

In my global quest to answer the question "Where Am I Wearing?" I picked my favorite items out of my wardrobe and traced them back to where they were assembled. I went to Bangladesh for my boxers, Cambodia for my All-American blue jeans, Honduras for my favorite T-shirt, and China for my flip-flops.
In addition to visiting with workers in their apartments, at their villages, and outside of factories, I always tried to find other ways to interact with them. Here's a glimpse at the experience:

The Thrill of Thrill Rides

I took 19 kids and one old farmer to an amusement park in Bangladesh for the price of a single entry ticket for a child into Disney World ($67): There are two roller coasters in Fantasy Kingdom: a big one that would be a weenie one at any other amusement park, and a weenie one that would be a child's ride at any other amusement park. When I pointed to the big one, the kids cheered. On the way, we passed a group of adults on the weenie coaster. We pointed and laughed. As we walked, some of the kids started hopping. The sun-baked stone was torture to bare feet, but they didn't complain. They just skipped.

For some in Bangladesh, $67 is more than a month's wage. Maybe I should have done something more practical for the kids with my money. After all, every kid deserves to have shoes and a shirt. But if while walking by on their way to work or while picking through trash, they look up at the park's high-arched gate, and remember the roller coaster and how their stomach was in their throat and the wind in their hair, and escape just for a bit, it was money well spent.

We live in a turbulent, imbalanced workd. It can be depressing to think about. But we all have the right to a little fun. For a few hours, we were the kings and queens of Fantasy Kingdom. And we had a blast.

Bowling in Cambodia

bowl.jpgRolling a three-holed ball down a narrow wood lane is not intuitive. Balls aren't lowered gently onto the lane, but heaved from the hip, echoing like gunshots. The lane and shoe rental cost me $27, but I'm afraid splintering the floor could cost much more. I wait by the foul line and give pointers, which is kind of like the swim coach I once had who couldn't swim. What I lack in actual technical knowledge, I make up for in enthusiasm. When Nari gets a strike, I teach her what I feel to be the most important part of bowling—the celebration, which is part jig, part 80s dance moves, and a lot of high fives and fist pumps.

Strikes, spares, gutters, smiles, giggles, dances, and indifference, bowling with this group of 20-something girls is like going bowling with 20-something girls anywhere. It's hard to see it sitting in their crowded room talking to them about my Levi's. But here at Superbowl, with Justin Timberlake singing over crackling speakers to an empty bowling alley, one floor beneath the Levi's country office where their orders come from, I'm able to see that they aren't garment workers. They're just girls.
In the past I didn't give much thought to where my clothes were made or who made them. But after riding a roller coaster with garment workers, bowling with them, meeting their families, and sharing bowls of rice prepared over gas stoves during power outages, I can't help but care.

Wednesday's Entry: The People Who Make Our Jeans

Go out and buy Kelsey's fascinating new book today at Amazon.com. (Seriously, it's great!) And if you want to see what Kelsey's been up to today, check out his website whereamiwearing.com.

December 11, 2008 - 7:14am
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