Once known as the “Granary of Rome”, the Bekaa plain in Lebanon resembles a vast and colorful carpet when seen from the top of the mountains. Up close, you can see that its multicolored patterns are composed of fields of wheat, sunflowers, beets and all sorts of vegetables. The landscape unfolds into fig and apricot orchards, vineyards as far as the eye can see, and pastures for large flocks of sheep, direct descendants of a species dating back to antiquity. Here, on their way to and from the Orient, caravans passed each other as they travelled the Silk Road. Today, the richness of the land is matched only by the poverty of its inhabitants.
With its livestock and plants, the Bekaa has always been an abundant source of wool for weaving and plants for dyeing. In Ersal, a small village on the plain, under the leadership of Halime El Houjayri, women weave kilims according to a geometric pattern, one that has not changed for thousands of years. However, the region is infested with fundamentalist and other violent groups. Its economy is shrinking. A terrible acrylic yarn dipped in chemical colors replaces wool, which becomes rarer and more expensive, and natural dyes are too hard to obtain and too difficult to stabilize in comparison.
In 2014, after bloody incidents that left the village in even more misery, two patrons, writer Dominique Eddé and Isabelle Helou, went to Ersal to help, to do what they could. They discovered a chain of home workshops organized by the women of the community. They noticed the distance between the skill of the craftswomen and the ugly products they were producing. Aware of the need for added value, their idea was, at the beginning, to bring back the softness of natural pigments in pieces that were being made with low quality components. “We were struck by the scope of what had not been used: their memories, their imagination and their physical universe, the nature that surrounds them,” says Dominique Eddé.