June 27, 2023 at 2:38 p.m.
Schreifels has treasured keepsake of African experience
Karen Schreifels has fond memories of Tanzania in east Africa. Now she has a quilt, filled with African memories, she can wrap herself in.
That quilt of many memories, hanging on a rope between two trees in Chuck and Monika Kraker’s Melrose yard, blew in the wind June 15 as Schreifels and her friend, Sister Chrispina Lekule, a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, from Tanzania, east Africa, explained how this quilt, made from material from Africa, came to be. Also listening, and asking questions, was Schreifels’ sister, Marlene “Molly” Schneider, and Pat Luetmer, friend and quilt collaborator.
“I liked all the material because you (Lekule) and I were together (in Zanzibar-Tanzania) when we bought all of it, and that’s a memory for me,” said Schreifels, a 1976 Melrose High School graduate who lives in Crystal.
Schreifels has been to Africa a few times. The first trip in 1999 stemmed from her volunteer work in Nicaragua, when another volunteer said her sister, who was a Franciscan Sister in Little Falls, knew there were two nuns from Little Falls going to Tanzania.
“I drove to Little Falls and knocked on the door. I said, ‘I’m Karen Schreifels, and heard you have two nuns going to Africa. Do they want someone to join them?’ We had lunch and they said, ‘Karen, we have to interview you,’” Schreifels said.
The interview went well, and they said to her, “We will see you in November, if you want to come.”
In 1999, Schreifels helped with teaching at a school on the islands of Zanzibar in Tanzania, at a village called Cheju, where she first met Lekule. Schreifels’ initial plan was to volunteer in the school for six months, but her stay was shortened when she had to return home following the passing of her nephew. In late 2019, Schreifels took another trip to Tanzania where she met Lekule, with whom she had worked, along with the Franciscan nuns during her first trip in 1999. This time she had the chance to visit Lekule’s family at a village under Mount Kilimanjaro, where Lekule grew up.
During a shopping trip at an African market, Schreifels couldn’t resist purchasing the colorful batik material to have a quilt made.
“It’s beautiful work, all hand done,” Schreifels said.
To make room in her suitcase on the return trip home, she gave her clothes to the Sisters who would in turn donate them to needy women.
“I didn’t need the clothes, but I really needed the material,” Schreifels said.
Fast forward to 2023, and Lekule is in Minnesota during a one-year sabbatical from teaching at St. Augustine University of Tanzania, where she is a professor. It is a return trip for Lekule, who attended St. Cloud State University from 2006-2010, and she is reconnecting with friends, like Schreifels.
Lekule’s trip was a push for Schreifels, an admitted procrastinator, to get the quilt done. Schreifels enlisted the help of Monika Kraker, a long-arm quilter, in April.
“She is a lovely person and did a wonderful job,” Schreifels said. “It became a project, not just with me and Monika but it involved my two sisters (Molly Schneider and Judy “Mutz” Schreifels).”
Schreifels’ goal was to get the quilt done so Lekule could see it.
“It has come full circle, from 2000 when I first met Sister in Africa, she came here to go to school and returned home to teach and now is back again,” Schreifels said.
There was plenty of laughter June 15 in Melrose as memories of their time in Africa were shared, including when Schreifels and Lekule went on a four-day safari, and slept in big house-like tent in the Serengeti National Park, a protected area in Tanzania, famous for its large lion population and other wild animals, including elephants, zebras and wildebeests. They had 24-hour night protection from game rangers, who are trained on the wild animals and wear green so the animals recognize them, Lekule said.
One night Lekule heard an elephant walking and a lion roaring, and she looked outside and saw an elephant. She called out to Karen, who was wearing what she said were “ear blockers.”
“It was a big experience. We had lots of fun,” Lekule said.
Schreifels shared the story of her special quilt, which Lekule was excited to see. Initially, she thought Schreifels was buying the material to give as gifts to friends.
Material in a purple block is from a dress made for Schreifels when she worked at the school in Tanzania.
“They had a tailor shop, measured me and made the dress right there,” Schreifels said.
A green quilt block evoked a memory of a second dress.
“It was a gift from the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Zanzibar (the Rev. Augustine Shao) given to me,” Schreifels said.
A burgundy block is material from a shawl she received as a gift from The Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, the religious order Lekule belongs to.
For Schreifels, the quilt is a treasured keepsake of her African experience.
“The quilt means so much to me,” she said. “It’s a story in itself.”