Untold Stories

The Congolese seamstress fighting the coronavirus crisis with culture

15 May 2020

Becha opened up her Lavapiés tailor shop two years ago with a big ambition: to get Spanish people wearing African clothes. But what she never anticipated was that her workshop would become a small hub for African migrants and, further still: a food bank for the local community. 

I pushed open the door to Becha’s workshop, “a portal to Africa,” she explained. “You’d normally be surrounded by my clothes, but I’ve put them all away”. In their place, meal parcels from World Central Kitchen, an international relief effort founded by Madrid-born celebrity chef José Andrés, now fill the shelves.

Crates of vegetables, oil, pasta and hygiene products that have been donated to Becha occupy much of the floor space. Political flyers protesting against institutional racism are stacked high on her sewing table alongside lists of families who come to her daily.

At the age of 21, already trained up as a seamstress, Becha’s mother sent her off to Spain believing that her opportunities for work would be better here than in the Congo. Young Becha began working as a carer for the elderly and a nanny for children, finally pursuing her career in fashion in 2014 and opening up BeshaWear two years ago.

Fourteen years since arriving in Madrid, Becha sits in her little Lavapiés tailor shop, where she has firmly planted her African flag. She clutches the pendant of her necklace, a large wooden carving of Africa, and tells me her heart aches to return to the Congo even just once. But as she explains,

I love Madrid. Madrid is my home. I have to help my neighbours, especially now. It’s just what I feel I have to do.

Becha doesn’t work alone. Five volunteers – her ‘Madrid family’, as she calls them – are here to help today. They’re from all corners of Africa: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ghana, but her extended Lavapiés family cover much more of the neighbouring continent.

A woman knocks on the window and one of Becha’s volunteers rushes out to sign her up to their distribution register, and hands her a lunch parcel.

Then suddenly, there’s a rush at the door. A dozen people turn up all at once, and the team get into position. They don’t make anyone wait around, and the queue dissipates quickly before another surge of people arrive.

A photo of the late Mame Mbaye, a Senegalese migrant who passed two years ago, on Becha’s shop window

It’s widely accepted that coronavirus and its economic impact disproportionately affect ethnic minorities worldwide. In Madrid, those who have tested positive for Coronavirus are concentrated in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, which are also home to a higher percentage of foreign residents. Becha has her work cut out, with people from Morocco, Bangladesh, Africa and Madrid, who come to her every day for food.

For those who can donate food or money to her food bank, Becha continues to spread the love for her culture through self adornment by offering her masks made with African fabrics. Becha’s dream to dress Madrileños in traditional African clothing is her method of achieving equality – the opposite of cultural appropriation in her eyes.

Becha asks me where I’m from, and I explain that I’m British but my Dad is Indian. She loves it: I’m mixed race, live in a different country, and now I’m in Africa wearing her mask. The fusion I represent in this moment makes her smile so much she begins laughing and says,

If the whole world mixed together, everything would be ok.

I agree, and we elbow bump.

INFO

  • Visit BeshaWear and swap any amount of food (pasta, vegetables, tins) for a face mask made by Becha.
  • Location: Calle de la Esgrima, 5, Lavapiés
  • Opening hours between 11am – 2pm & 4pm – 8pm
  • Donate money directly to Becha using her association’s IBAN: ES 05 2038 1850 4160 0040 1408 or Bizum with +34 692 177 762
  • To volunteer, send Becha a WhatsApp message or call her on +34 602 070 678
  • Stay up to date with Becha on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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