Léon, Nicaragua            August 23, 1998

The dormitory building on this property that was originally for housing the Salvadoran refugees was rented out to families last year, after years of being taken over by squatters.  Ostensibly, having someone living there was supposed to keep kids from trashing their garden and fruit trees.  It seemed to me to be a case of their kids bringing in other kids, and little fruit was left for the weavers.

Things have changed.  The people who live there this year are real gardeners.  There’s a huge patch of summer squash (pipian) from which we eat several times a week.  Also corn, tomatoes, green beans and I forget what else.  In the space between the coop and that building, their patio, it has a solid border all around of potted plants in buckets, boxes, cans – anything at all that will hold soil.  She has at least five different kinds of Diffenbachia, and many of the exotic type plants we see in nurseries at home.  Roses, too, which are a rarity here, and huge coleus.  It’s really lovely.

I started my stay here at Ana Maria’s house, and I was happy to see that things have improved for her.  She now has a 3-burner Coleman butane stove to cook on so she isn’t chopping wood every morning at 5.  There’s a new concrete-block wall at the front of the yard where there used to be just barbed wire.  There’s a new wall for her bedroom, too, where there used to be rough, patched-together boards.  It’s a real wall, with a 2x2 frame covered with hardboard and actually has a door made of the same stuff, with hinges instead of a hanging cloth.  Not common in the houses I go to.  She has a new color TV, too.
Danelia told me the house Ana Maria lived in before this one had a six-foot ceiling and was like living in a cave.  I see Ana constantly scrabbling to improve her lot and believe me, it isn’t easy.
Cecilio seemed surprised to learn I was going to be spending part of my time at Mirna’s house this year.  “Mirna cook for you?” he asked in English.  I shrugged.  “No,” he said, “my mother cook for her mother.  Father sick.  No eat milk, no eat – how you say queso?”  “Cheese.”  “Yes, cheese.  No eat cheese.”  Here he pantomimed someone in distress hugging his stomach and vomiting.  “Mother have sugar (diabetes).  But is beautiful family,” he said, “Beautiful family.  Love for God.  Church.”

The home lot of these women doesn’t seem to change.  They have one day off, Sunday.  On Sundays, Ana Maria had the yard swept and started washing clothes at 6 a.m. at the concrete sink. My clothes, her clothes, clothes for her three sons, sheets, whatever.  She finished her washing at 6:30 p.m., taking time out only  to disinfect the shower and toilet stalls.
August 25: We’ve been doing quite a bit of dyeing of the cotton yarn.  With the equipment they now have and thanks to Cecilio’s good work, they can crank out skeins really fast.  The problem is getting them to stop, most times.  And with the washing machine to spin out the dye water, the dyeing process is no longer a back-breaker.

We have to crank the dyed skeins into balls.  That’s the most time-consuming part.  Cecilio and I have been working at that and little by little are getting that process speeded up, too.
I’m really pleased with the colors we’ve been producing and their “¡Que linda!  ¡Que linda!” tells me they are, too.  I hope by the time I leave they’ve got it down to a smooth routine.

People who come here keep telling me they should change the name of this coop.  So I’ve told them they should change the name.  I find Cooperativa Telares Manuales Farabundo Marti y Sandino a very unwieldy name, to say nothing of being politically disadvantageous now.  I’d like to see them called Las Tejedoras Manuales de Léon (The Handweavers of Leon).  It says what they are.  I don’t know if that name has already  been taken.  I don’t know how hard it will be for them to change it.

We’ve had several groups of visitors since I’ve been here.  There was a woman from the Peace Corps whose job is helping groups business-wise.  She said she was really impressed with this group of women, had been for some time now, and said she’d like to work up a brochure for them that could be put in hotels and travel information centers.  I told her to go right ahead, she couldn’t have suggested it at a better time.  It would be wonderful for the weavers.  They’ve depended on word-of-mouth advertising all these years, and I think it’s amazing they’ve done as well as they have, considering that.

Some people from Potters for Peace came by.  One of the men, he’s from Calistoga, California, has been living in Nicaragua for eight years.  He has a sailboat he sails off the southwestern Nica coast, and is in the process of building an 18-room tourist hotel.  They plan to furnish it completely with Nicaraguan crafts.  Doesn’t that sound great?

On Saturday the women sold several throws, place mat sets, table runners, etc.  It was a pretty darned good day for them.  When the tourists left, Danelia and Mirian put on their good clothes and took off.  When they came back they showed me a series of receipts.  Earlier this year they borrowed some money to buy yarn at 15% per month interest.  They had just paid that all off.  I totaled up what the yarn had cost them (it was like buying something on a credit card, with high interest) And they agreed it was too expensive, they wouldn’t do that any more.  Their margin of profit is so small they don’t need interest like that.

Since this is winter here, we have rain frequently, usually in heavy downpours that don’t last too long.  I’ve walked in water above my ankles to get on a bus.  Once the rain stops it drains away quickly.  There’s plenty of lightning and thunder (wicked stuff – worse than in Crown Point, NY).  The mornings and evenings are cooler than when I’ve been here before but the days are hot and humid.  This year I finally remembered to bring a thermometer with me (both C. And F.)  I’d always believed the center of the weaving studio was an oven, and I was right.  It’s been 102 to 106 degrees F. every day except for four or five days when it was 94 or 96 degrees.  It’s usually four to six degrees hotter in the middle than at the outside edges.  This is humid heat I’m talking about.

We’ve had a few temblors, too, little every-day-type California-type earthquakes.  They jiggle your feet and swing pictures off the wall.


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