Pre Trip Jitters.

The Early Daze. 1996

Date: Sat, Jan 13, 1996, 4:13 PM

RE: message from Elaine

Hello, Lee* and Alan*

(*.....Lee Cruz is New Haven/Leon Sister Cities program coordinator in Nicaragua.)

(*.....Alan Wright is New Haven/Leon Sister City Project coordinator in New Haven, Connecticut.)

It's past time for me to get on the e-mail and introduce myself. I've been letting Lolli do all the communicating between us, such as there has been. She's a busy, involved woman so it hasn't been much.

I've moved to Wenatchee, Washington. Guess I'd better give you my address now while I'm thinking of it: 102 N. Wenatchee Ave. #1001 Wenatchee, Wa. 98801

I don't have a computer since I moved. I'm using my cousin's, so just reply to this address, with "message to elaine", and I'll get it. Wenatchee, by the way, is where I grew up. Much of my family lives here, and it's nice to be among them again. E-mail to

I'm very excited about going to Nicaragua and working with the weavers. I'm taking a class in spanish at the local community college, and I practice on any poor person I can inflict my fledgling espanol on. I think somehow I'm going to be able to manage okay when I get there. For one thing, I'm going to get a little electronic spanish-english dictionary with 250,000 words. And I can always point and gesture.

Lolli has told me the looms need repair, and are much abused by hammer and nails. I plan to take an electric drill and bits, some 5" and 6" bolts with nuts and washers to get started. I'll take a saber saw and blades, too, and a crescent wrench, steel tape and clamps. What other tools should I bring? What is available at the Sister Cities Project and what can be bought readily in town?

I'm working on samples of woven patterns for the women to look at, to choose what they'd like to try. I think the choice should be theirs as much as possible. I also think they should work with Nicaraguan yarns whenever possible, but Lolli said they've been having a problem getting yarn at the local factory. Lolli tells me there is a container going down in March. I hope there will be a good supply of yarn going down in it, in case they can't get enough in Nicaragua. Is it possible for me to get a cone of Nicaraguan yarn? I'd love to be able to experiment with their yarn for setts and patterns before I go. It would keep me from making worthless suggestions once I'm there.

Lolli says she's working on raising my airfare, and I wish her luck. I shan't need any money above that, I don't think. My modest income should cover most of my household expenses while I'm gone, though it won't buy the plane ticket.

How much money for out-of-pocket expenses should I take with me? I won't have much. Is there an ATM availble in Leon?

Lolli comments: I never saw an ATM in Leon, and even travelers checks are hard to get cashed there. Cash is the best way to go.

Well, I guess we should talk about when I should go and how long I should prepare to stay. Unlike Lolli, I will not have to return in 30 days, so if I am doing any good down there, I would be willing to stay longer if you wished it. I assume I would acclimatize sooner or later.

Sincerely, Elaine Subj: Nicaragua: tools, etc.

Date: 96-01-27 18:38:32 EST

Hello, Alan,

Good to hear from you.

Is it presumptuous of me to suggest a 12-week stay? If I'm not doing a worthwhile job I'll leave before that. But I recall how things Lolli requested didn't get there before she had to leave. It's frustrating, not being able to follow through on things. And everything takes longer than you think it will.

To talk about tools: If your electric drills are all those heavy industrial types I'd rather bring my own. It won't be a problem for me if it isn't for you. The clamps I intend to bring are those short Jorgensen clamps. We'll use them to hold the cross beams in place while drilling through the two pieces. Also, if the shuttles need sanding down to fit better in the shuttle race, they'll hold down the shuttle while using the belt sander. They're easier to work around than most other types of clamps. Do you have a belt sander? I'd prefer a 3x21 sanding belt size--not so heavy, easier to manipulate. If you don't have one, I'll bring one. I believe I may have a source for cheap (i.e. free) 3x21 belts. You do have an electrical outlet in the studio, and an extension cord, don't you? We will need two 8" crescent wrenches, and will leave them in the studio for regular use by the weavers.

About designs: People in this country tend to think of ethnic designs textiles as thick, lumpy, colorful and not intricate. Too bad. When I was first married and moved to California we traded at a Mexican grocery and I became friends with the women there. They did a lot of handwork and were sent beautiful, delicate, intricate drawn-thread work, crochet, embroidery and weaving from Mexico. They taught me how to crochet the bedspread they were doing, too. So when I think of Mexican craft I think of those exquisite pieces, not the serapes and blankets one sees everywhere.

I believe there may well be a market for finer work. As long as we have to develop the market, why not try for something--I don't know, shall we say more refined for want of a better term--as well as try to produce something more casual. The popularity of Chinese lace and crochet pieces should show that a strong market can exist for "nicer" pieces.

But yes, a casual line would be excellent. The problem is the type of looms and work the weavers do. I really like textured yarns of different sizes in a warp, but that isn't practical when they put on 60 to 100 yard warps. It would be a mess with different take-up for the thicker and the thinner yarns. So maybe we could work with color. I am not familiar with the colors of yarns available nor the colors of the country. Suppose we used some warm colors, slightly greyed in tone, in an orange-tangerine-gold-beige wide stripe and called it Managua Sunset? Or some blues-greens-light greys and named it after a prominent beach? Maybe we could even do something to evoke those volcanos and put a Nicaraguan place name on it (Leon fume?) THEN, if we get something pretty, see if we can get Martha Stewart to give it a boost on her TV show? Or Williams-Sonoma.

Alan replies: Refined: sounds good to me. I leave it to the experts when it gets to this level of detail. My gut tells me that the tourist and the export market want "finer" things, and that the weavers need to learn the discipline of attending to detail. This will make them more skilled in whatever they do.

Colors available: are whatever colors we send them. We have, until Lolli's arrival, always been able to count on a good basic natural (cream colored) untreated yarn 10/4 I believe was the weight designation. Your idea of picking up volcano and beach themes ( color, patterns, names) is a great one. Leon has these things in abundance and it is a powerful reality which any visitor feels immediately.

How many cans of "Off" should I bring? Is it available in Leon so I won't have to bring a suitcase full? Bugs, especially flying bugs, just love me!

(Alans reply:     My wife used the "Skin so Soft" product with some success. I took concentrated garlic oil capsules which made my "blood bitter" (say the natives) and the little buggers didn't care so much for me. At night, when you are most vulnerable, some people rig up a hanging mosquito net, which works as long as there are no mosquitoes inside the net when you enter. Other people (like us) slept with an oscillating fan. It takes a little getting used to but I found the breeze very cooling, (as your perspiration evaporates) the gentle hum comforting, and the bugs hate it! Other very sensitive souls use both net and fan to good effect as long as you can keep one away from the other.")

Is there an ethnic style typical of Nicaragua? Sorry, but all the books I read have pictures of people dressed like K-Mart, just like the rest of the world.

(Alans reply:    "K-Mart is the dominant style of dress, although there are "trajes folklorico" which are mostly dance and parade costumes probably coming from the Spanish rather than from the Indians. They are colorful, beautiful, and typical.

Hey, it's great talking to you. Keep up these good questions and good preparations.)

Cheers! Elaine

Subj: Re: Nicaragua: tools, etc.

Date: 96-02-01 20:23:24 EST

Hello, Alan:

I think I need to clarify something I said about money. I didn't realize I might need to consider room and board. My finances just cover my regular living expenses, which will continue monthly to be the same whether I'm here or not. So I don't need to plan for money to cover my living expenses here, but won't have any for Nicaragua. So I guess living expenses there need to be covered with the fund-raising. ?Es claro? Probably not.

You are going to send me a press packet so I can get in touch with the local newspaper, aren't you? And soon, I hope.

My Spanish class is going great, but better yet, I have a poor victim to practice on occasionally. I no longer get just quizzical looks and a vapid smile, but often get real replies. How's that for progress? If the weavers are good-humored and patient, I think I'll make it.

Adios, Elena

February 6, 1996

A reply from Alan Wright, New Haven Sister Cities Project Coordinator and Weaving Cooperative "Angel".

Estimadas y recordadas Elena,

(Congrats Elaine! You even got the gender and the plural correct. Here's another common salutation: "recordado". I believe very strongly in the "one word a day" school of language acquisition.)

About yarn from the U.S.:    Webs: the contact person has been the owner: Art. The deal has been "take it as it comes". Each year is different. He has been supportive, but it will be up to you to negotiate the best deal you can for the best yarns he's got. Just remember the obvious, higher price means less yarn since we have a fixed budget for yarn. Also, when the price started to creep up towards $4 per pound the women were not making any money on their work. With 2+pounds of colored yarn in their blanket they were spending $10 on materials alone, when the item was selling for $18-$20.

Mosquito net won't offend. In the event that you don't plan to use it in SF you could leave it behind with your host as a thank you present. They might get some mileage out of it too and thank and remember you every night.

Printing: I don't know if they still are but I can check while I'm with them during the last 2 weeks of February. Printing on MFG cloth. We're now taking a weaving coop and turning it into a print shop. Sewing machine in OK state, at least it was 6 months ago. Oil is a good idea. They probably need parts which are jerry rigged that I'm unaware of.

Lolli comments: Alan had asked me to try to come up with a way to introduce indigenous designs from pre-Columbian pottery into the weaving during my stay with the weavers in June 1995. Since their equipment does not permit elaborate designs to be produced efficiently, I introduced them to printing on handwoven cloth. To teach them the basics of printing, I brought T-shirts with me and they practiced on those. There was some interest in the Coop for printing on T-shirts and bags commercially, thus the question of turning a weaving coop into a print shop.

Hope this is useful. Best to you.

Yours, Alan

Date: 96-03-16 21:56:09 EST

Hola, Lolli--Como estas?

I don't know if we're getting any money. I just asked Alan, but the question will go out when I send out this letter, too.

Note:    Over $2,500 was raised in private donations to cover Elaines plane ticket and living expenses. Elaine stayed in the homes of the weavers and they were paid a stipend to feed and house her.

Did you get the letters from Alan I forwarded? Sounds good in Nica, doesn't it? Do you know how many shuttles they have for all those looms? Pam Whitehead gave me one of her Mailes shuttles with 11 pirns to take down. Bless Pam. Have any others surfaced?

I'm busy sewing cotton things to take down. I almost flipped this past week, and when I got your note I realized I was getting exceedingly nervous. Just as you asked. But I'm going to heed your earlier advice, at some stage. Remember you said I would never be ready, and just go. That's what I'm going to do. And I will go on April 14, return July 13. I just got word that my reservation was moved ahead to the 14th from the 7th. I don't know if that's a blessing or a curse. I may have time to do another flip-out!

Will I have to wear pantyhose down there? Surely not! When I dress up, will I have to wear nylons? Did you? If I make my dresses and skirts long enough, maybe they won't see my legs.

(Alan's response:    "Panty hose---not even bank robbers wear them. Too hot.")

About tu y usted: I asked a Puerto Rican, she said, "I always use tu. I think they are more formal in Mexico. They may use ud." I asked my friend from Mexico, Rosa Rosales. She said, "Usted is for respect, like judges and important people. Tu is for friends, equals and children." The next day I was practicing using ud. and I used it on her. "No, no," she said. "Don't say ud. to friends. The first time you meet someone on the bus, you use ud. The second time, use tu." I'm going to take your advice and try to practice ud anyway.

(Alans response:    "In Nicaragua, with the Revolution, virtually everyone went to the TU form, and even better a third (and virtually unknown in Spain) form: vos! (remember vosotros? That's a plural of vos). It's very Nica to speak in the "vos" voice. You'll often hear people say, for example: "para mi, es mejor asi. Y vos? Que queres vos?" Even the conjugation is different. You shouldn't try, in three months to learn to speak in the vos form, but you should be aware that it exists and that you will hear it around you. As for whether you should say tu or usted, either will be accepted. Nica is less formal than many other Latin countries and so, the tu is used more frequently. You would never say Usted to a child or to an animal. Because we are now older than the great majority of Nicaraguans with whom we work, the TU fits. Ironically , despite what I just said, the women still say Usted to me! Partly because I'm a foreigner, and a male, and because I'm helping them and they want to show me respect. Most of my friends say TU with me, although there are a few Nicas who still say Usted to me after years of knowing each other. I've asked them why and they just shrug their shoulders. They know in their genes that I'm not one of them and so merit some special treatment

Grammatically speaking it will be easier for you if you master one form (tu or usted), which ever you feel most comfortable with, and use that. Switching back and forth is hard. You can begin a relationship with a disclaimer (not really needed because they will know automatically, but it lets them know that you are aware that you don't speak perfect Spanish): "Disculpame mi pobre espanol. Estoy aprendiendo poco a poco." With that, they will forgive anything. If you are 45+ years old, you will be older than almost everyone. 50% of the population is under 15! So by that measure tu is safe, but so is Usted. You can decide according to what you feel comfortable with. I almost always say Tu---or vos!")

Saludos, Elena

Date: Mon, Mar 18, 1996, 4:32 PM

RE: trip? what trip?

Gee whiz, Alan--

You really gave me a chill, Alan, when you said that about 45. Are you saying that's the life expectancy? I thought that sort of thing was reserved for Afghanistan, where I get chills about THAT, Or did you mean there are so many kids they lower the age average?

Alan's response: As for the age-it's both but more the latter than the former. There has been a baby boom resulting in Zillions of kids being born in recent years. Also lots of people die at various points in their lives, fewer live to be 80. Some do, but not like here where it's the norm.

Lolli adds: Nicaragua has the fastest growing population in Central America.

I wasn't talking about dying, Alan. I was talking about dyeing. (I'm not ready for the former yet.) I'd love to go there with some fiber reactive dyes and experiment with some shorter warps with them. These dyes are very fast on cotton. As I said previously, the problem would be getting the floating surplus dye out. But wouldn't it be wonderful if they could turn out a completely Nicaraguan product? Design the product to fit the material avaiable, I say.

I'm getting quite excited at the prospect of Lolli and me going down there and instituting a dye program. Seriously, if there could be available an automatic washing machine, I'd sure like to try it. And we wouldn't wash the yarns by machine--it would be used only to spin the yarn to get the excess color out, and through each of the rinses. This would have to be done by someone responsible enough to not let the machine go into a wash cycle. There'd be tangles beyond redemption. Or get a centrifuge. Not so common, but better. Any sewage system available?

Lolli comments: I never saw an automatic washing machine while I was there, not even a laundramat. I did hear of washing machines in the homes of some of the gringos and wealthier Nicaraguans, but all the people I knew did their wash by hand on a cement rub board built into the drain board of a sink. The sink at the Coop had exactly that set up.<

(Alans response:    "I'll ask around for a centrifuge, although I tend to agree with Lolli, pollution concerns should not be minimized. After you leave even modest controls might be abandoned.")

Lolli comments: I had heard that the weavers did some dyeing at some point in their early days, and I had thoughts of introducing it again but thought it would add too much expense to their products. And once I got there and saw that there was no sewer hook-up, that water from the sink just ran in a trench out into the orchard and down into the gully behind the Coop property I decided the pollution and safety concerns were too great. Even the screen print screens had to be washed out onto the ground. Still its tempting to do dyeing to get custom color and additional design capabilities.

The boxes you got from Lolli are the 20/2s yarn, cottons, that I told you about before. They're FREE, Alan, FREE! I sorted them out when I was in Calif. I hope we can get going on some of that yarn while I'm there. There'll be enough to do quite a bit with.

You'll have to wait for the invoice from Susan Druding for the yarn I ordered. Last I talked to her, she was in Yuma. The yarn is supposed to be there in time. Her workers said.

School is over for the quarter, but this a.m. I had a couple of conversations in espanol with willing and helpful people who are turning out to be good friends. I was petrified again, but somehow managed to get my points across by not giving in and using english. I laugh like crazy at some of the stupid mistakes I've made in the past. Es necesito yo practico mi nombres. Y todos cosas. !Ay, carramba! Try me in July!

About your idea of taking seeds to plant. 200 pound watermelon it is! I'll get a packet this afternoon, for fun if nothing else. Boy have I got a selection of seed! I read in an encyclopedia what kind of crops grew there, and selected a variety of melons, squash, beans and corn mostly. If they want lettuce, they get their own seed. I think it will be fun.

(Alan replys:    "I'm so happy you will be working with them in MY garden. I was so frustrated to see this productive land lying unused. It's all over the country, but not in my back yard! So we upgraded the soil, planted plantains, started compost piles, and of course, fenced the property. They've had some luck, and some thefts. But it will be great to have a weaver come from North America who says: "Hey, growing is a cool way to get mother nature working for you, and it's a good thing to do when you don't have any yarn, or money to buy food!

Have I told you or Lolli today how much I love these Nicaraguan weaver women and the two of you?")

Would you contact Susan Druding at Crystal Palace Yarns in Berkeley to see when the yarn was shipped. They indicated to me it would go out on Wednesday last. It may be too soon to expect it, but yes, I've been having nightmares that it might not get there till the July container shipment.

letter from Alan: Dear Elaine,

The colored yarns supposedly are now in New Haven. They arrived on Monday afternoon. The container left New Haven on Monday morning! None of these yarns will make it to Leon while you are there unless the high school students bring some of them. (ed.. The Sister City Project takes delegations of people - ie the high school students-- on working tours to Nicaragua, and these people frequently carry things back and forth in their suitcases.) I think it makes sense for you to work with the women on designs which might include some use of these yarns, otherwise the women will be on their own when the new yarns arrive. Hence, of the 500 lbs., I can probably send you 250 with the high school students. Please give me some guidance as to how to select-unless you want me to just send half and keep half, making the two halves identical in terms of color.

I just got a call from Dale Nichols at Pueblo to People. They were consulting with me on shipping crafts out of Nicaragua. While I had him on the phone I took advantage to tell him about you, remind him the Coop and Pueblo have had a good relationship in the past, and that perhaps Pueblo would be willing to consult with you about what kinds of goods they would be willing to buy in the future. Well, it turns out that they are in the middle of a consultation paid for by Aid to Artisans in which two consultants are helping Pueblo to determine what products to carry in the future. I call Aid to talk with my contacts there and they thought this was a magical coincidence which could be very fruitful for everyone.

The goal here is not just to get a few good ideas, but to get a reading about very concrete specifics: what kind of household textiles would Pueblo be willing to consider from Nicaragua? What colors, what dimensions, what price range? My experience in this business tells me that there is a very long and fragile chain which links the third world craft producer with the first world consumer (it includes the supplier of raw materials, the shipping company, the middle person in charge of marketing). One mistake can break the chain and leave the producer empty handed.

If we can work with Pueblo and their consultants before you go down to nail down a few product ideas, then you will have guidance as to what they are looking for, but even more important, they will be ready and waiting to see what you come back with in July. Persumably, if we can meet the interests of Pueblo, then we will have a product line more robust to interest the other ATO's.

What do you think? Alan

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