August 28, 1999
Danelia is still sick. Mucha dolor (much pain) in her right groin area. She's still wearing that rope tied around that area. I wonder if it's supposed to be for a hernia or some such thing.
Yesterday she came to work with a badly infected big toe, all pussy. Looked awful. She went to the Dr. at 8 am and came back and put in the day. She went again this morning and came back and showed me the doctor's prescription for Ibuprofen.
Danelia and Mirian are changing the flanges on a warp beam for the new 27 inch wide warp they are putting on. They are a kick to watch, but they are so game as carpenters I love them for what they do.
Mirian did some screen printing for bolsos (bags) and I was her flunkey. She presses down so hard on the squeegee the rubber part is bent flat, and she drags so slowly across that she loses the details of the designs. I would demonstrate almost straight up and fast for her. She would say, "Ah, si, Elenita," then do it the same old way. When we have something like scrap cloth around, I'm going to give some more lessons.
Isn't it amazing, when you think of how we live in the States, how little cloth, rags, and paper they have down here? I've bought cloth for them to cover their weaving on the looms when they go home at night. There's a store that sells yardage that also has bins of assorted fabric it sells by the pound. It's pretty weird stuff and odd shapes but it's cheap. I bought a bunch to cover the looms from the 9 cordoba bin. That's about 75 cents a pound. You can also get gorgeous laces for 60 cordobas a pound -- $5. That's really cheap for what they are-- like about $20 a yard on the bolt in the U.S.. But these are odd lengths.
That textile paint you sent down two or three years ago, Lolli, is still good. And I can testify above all to it's color fastness. Naturally I got some on a good shirt, so now I have a shirt to use for printing. L I also needed to wipe paint off my hands last time and there weren't any rags so I grabbed my wash cloth. It never even dried, much less was heat set. I plunked it right in water. Tried hard to wash it. It's still blue in spots.
That Italian lady Catalina I've been talking about-- she isn't Italian at all. She invited me to her house Sunday, and asked what I'd like for lunch-- hamburger? I asked if she cooked Italian. She said the only thing Italian about her was her shoes.
Turns out the project she is working on is done wholly by Nicaraguans. The Italians who were here shortly after I arrived were looking over the coop to see if they approved including them as a part of their project. They finance it, but Nicaraguans do all the work. Supposedly, the coop will benefit by weaving cloth for them. Some day in the future they may do the printing.
This is another project that is supposed to find a new market for them, and a diversification of what they do.
There was an accountant here last spring who said they hadn't changed their product in 10 years. How little he knows.
So last winter they started painting plaster of Paris religious figurines. They have a whole bunch of them in a store room. They make their own molds, cast their own figurines. The painting is pretty good, too. They said they could sell them for Naviidad or Pascua. (Christmas and Easter.)
I wish them well, but with all the people painting "ceramicas", as they call them, and the price they get, I doubt if they'll make much money at this. I won't say anything, though, and I do wish them well. (Lolli sez: even some money is better than no money in Nicaragua with 80 % unemployment.)
Harold said they needed products that were less expensive to sell so they could reach a wider market. It was his idea that they should do sewing since they have all these machines now.
I think that's an okay idea, but I also want it to be something special. That's why I thought the cotonas would be good-- it's distinctive, and the traditional one has embroidery on it, which would make it expensive. With a Nicaraguan type silk screen design, I think they can be appealing and still cheap. And unisex.
I suggested they take the other two machines in for adjusting and repairs. Said I'd pay for it. "No, Elenita," Danelia said. "The man will come here where we can watch him so he doesn't switch parts."
I can remember when that used to be a big concern of people at home. I even know of a time when a mechanic took out a shiny new part and replaced it with an old one.
More temblores yesterday evening. Cerro Negro hasn't given up yet. More heavy rain, too, at the same time. If it's determined to shake, rattle and roll us, I hope it has the sense to do the big ones when it isn't raining. I'd hate to have to sit out in the street in the rain, waiting for walls to collapse.
Here at Mirna's they still cook on a stove that is a block nearly 4 feet square, built up of concrete blocks. On top, in one corner, they build a little fire surrounded by loose concrete blocks to hold up the pots and that they can poke wood through the openings.
The wood they use is called lena. It's limb wood, and they buy what they need when they need it. It may be one stick, or two or three. The wood is about 24 inches long and about 3 inches wide. It usually looks as if a limb has been split in two. To start a fire, the cook hacks off little slivers, whatever she can get, with a machete, a simple hand full.
Since the people I know here seldom have any paper in their houses, they start their fires with kerosene. They burn the limb wood as "poke-wood"-- they poke one end of the stick into the fire, however many sticks they decide to use. The cooking pan goes on right away. When they are through cooking they pull out the wood that hasn't burned, pour water on it and save it for next time. They don't need to burn anything for heat.
Some of Mirna's and Pselda's clothes line is smooth and needs clothes pins, but part is still traditional barbed wire. It gives me the beebie-jeebies to see good clothes tossed across barbed wire, but they seem to get it off with no damage.
Pselda's husband, Mario, has what I think is a birth defect. His legs curve backward at the knees. It's a crying shame, to see Mario throw his legs sideways to walk, but at least he does walk. Its the sort of thing one never sees in the U.S., what with the Crippled Children's Society, the Shrine Hospitals, and Welfare for people who need it. I am frequently distressed here to see children and young people with problems long ago eliminated at home. Mario has a wonderful personality. He teaches "computacion", but he doesn't own a computer himself.
Mirna's and Norma's classes in computacion look pretty good to me. They do a lot of written work which I think was especially good when they were studying accounting. Right now they are studying Excell.
I never studied computer anything and I've always wanted to. I just plugged in a computer and went for it, asking stupid questions along the way. Maybe I'll take a class this winter. With these kids getting Corel, Word Perfect, Microsoft Word, Accounting, Excell, and all the prominent programs, I feel ignorant.
I told the weavers that I'd cook lunch for them one day. The young ones suggested Mexican tacos. I think that's a great idea. My style of Mexican tacos. I checked at the "super" and they now have Herdez Salso Casera in medium and hot. I couldn't find any chili powder, but I did find cumin. I think I'll do just fine.
Whether they like them or not is another matter. Nicaraguan tacos are different, are rolled and are sweet.
The last time I went to town I noticed that a new stand had opened near the "super" with a big sign saying "Mexican Tacos". I'm going to watch them put one together one day, see what they do. I didn't much care for the "Italian" pizza I had here last year, probably the first time ever I wasn't crazy about pizza. But I'm sure the Italians dont make pizza the way Americans do, either.
One year here when I was having trouble with the food, I bought as loaf of "American style" bread (it's really close) and a jar of mayonnaise. Cecilio's mom had brought me a big cucumber. I thought, "That's it-- cucumber sandwiches!" and I wanted to make my own but they wouldn't let me. They went out and bought Tomato and lettuce and onion, and it was great.
But cucumber stuck in their minds, and I can't have a sandwich without cucumber now. Even when they make me a "hamburguesa", it has cucumber, when they have a cook make me a hamburger, it has cucumber. And Dios Mio-- I hate not cucumbers. It's too late to say anything-- I can't tell them they've been doing the wrong thing all this time, can I? I do love a crisp cucumber.
Estoy rica! (I'm rich). I found a coin of 500 cordobas lying unsought on the ground. It is about the size of a quarter and is aluminum. On one side it says "Republica de Nicaragua, 1987" and has a picture of Sandino's cowboy hat. On the other side "En Dios Confiamos, 500 Cordobas, Patria Libra o Morir." (In god we trust, Our country free or death.")
It's a remnant of the days when Ortega decided he could cancel Nicaragua's international debts then cuss the World Bank because they wouldn't help him. He started printing money willy-nilly. That coin today-- well, 500 cordobas today is worth almost $48.
The other day when Catalina was asking the history of the coop, the reports of the money they made was amazing. "At one time we had over 500 million cordobas, here, in the coop," Mirian said. "But we couldn't buy anything," Danelia said. "We couldn't buy yarn to weave, or clothes, or bread. Nothing. It was no good." I can well understand how they felt when the old money was declared no good and new money was circulated. All those millions just gone. Distressing.
Ana came back from the fair in Managua and said the people liked the cotonas but they want Che Guivera on the front.!!
Somebody also told her she could make a lot of money selling in Miami, so now she wants they coop to pay for her to go to Miami-- pasaporte, air fare, hotel, meals, and fair entrance fees.
Mostly, the people who make money at fairs are the people who put them on. I think there is a big potential market in Florida with the great number of homesick Nicaraguans there. Homesick, but knowing they'll go hungry if they come home.
Speaking of hunger, tomorrow I'm going to fix the Mexican tacos for lunch. The tortillas here are different, but I think they'll be okay, even if I'm the only one who ends up liking them.
Wish me luck,
Back to 1999 letters.
Back Lolli's homepage