Leon, Nicaragua

April 21, 1996

    I love these people!  I wish you could share this experience with me.
    It was about 87 degrees F. when I got here and Iíll guess itís been about the same with slight variations ever since.  So far the heat hasnít been a problem for me, not much different from Wenatchee in the summertime.  But this is still the dry season, so I guess the best is yet to come.  Soon, in May, will be rains and high humidity and mosquitos, zancudos they call them here.  No mosquitos yet.  This is not jungle, by the way.  Itís very dry, with brown grass that is being burned off all over the place, so there is constant smoke in the air.
    The woman I am staying with, Mirian, has two teen-age daughters and a son, Hector.  Hector is 17 and is a member of the weaving co-op.  You couldnít ask for nicer people.  I love them all dearly.

    The weavers are a wonderful group.  The women are working hard with equipment that is deteriorating quickly.  I hope I can help with some of that.  Iím certainly not going to be a cure-all.
    There are two young men in the group: Hector, Mirianís son, and Cecilio.  Cecilio is 21 and is one of the smartest young men Iíve ever met, though I suspect heís not well educated.  Heís an artist and has been painting plaster figures of saints and crucifixes and such, and decided he wanted to join the weavers.  Right away, from the first moment I came here, he has been anxious to learn.
    I brought down tools with me but the electricity was off all the first day, so Lee Cruz brought in a brace and bits.  We started on the looms by replacing the nailed back beam on one of the looms.  Every time they wound on a warp, they had to take the old beam off.  Since the beam was nailed in place, not bolted, repeated nailing had chewed up the wood.  I indicated to Cecilio that the chewed-up wood should be cut away and the beam set into a notch.  You know I canít speak Spanish, so we did this with gestures.  Cecilio immediately measured and sawed, then because we had no chisel, I showed him to use the claws of the hammer to break out the wood in the notch, which he did, then he smoothed out the notch with a screwdriver and a kitchen knife that has no handle.  When I told him the measurements had to be exact (this by gesture and a piddling few words) because the weaving on a long piece would be longer on one side than the other and a little looser, if there was only a one-quarter-inch difference.  Cecilio made the loom exact.
    He has gone on to repair several of the looms this way.  Heís quick to comprehend, and  efficient and eager in his work.  I have difficulty believing I was able to communicate that well, and that I havenít been here a week yet.

    Much has been done this week.  The cords used in the loom tie-ups were frayed and the weavers complained they stretched.  So I asked where to buy cord.  They looked puzzled.  They donít buy cord, they make it out of leftover warps.  So we made a cord and I showed them how to tie snitch knots between the lamms and the treadles.  Thatís a traditional weaverís knot that is easy to adjust as the ropes stretch.  Cecilio tied up the first loom.  The next day, he brought a chair over and put it behind a loom so I could sit and watch, and he started tying up another loom, this one with a blanket warp on it.  Pretty soon Danelia was sitting under her own loom replacing all the ties.

    Danelia is the sweetest of sweethearts.  She mothers me and sheís not much more than half my age.  Good natured, caring, and laughs a lot.  Says in three months Elena will be Nicaraguan.  Hector and Cecilio both are eager to learn, learn anything, and keep trying to pull information out of me.  Hector is studying English in school, and Cecilio is learning out of a book.  The yearning to better themselves is so obvious my heart goes out to them.
    I just now got back from an excursion with Lee Cruz.  I had to make a phone call and send a fax.  It ended in a day of sightseeing and shopping, and guess what?  The big supermarket here had lovely, cold Golden Delicious apples from Stemilt Growers, apples from home.  I splurged and bought one for each of Mirianís family and myself.  What a lovely surprise that was! I had brought down in my purse one big Fuji apple that Andy gave me to eat on the plane but I forgot.  Mirian cut it up and everyone had a taste.  Loved it.  (Said they did, anyway.)  A big treat, Lee says.
    There are treats here for me, too.  Mango trees in the yard.  Papayas in the market that are 24 inches long and cost about $1.15.  Some strange but delicious tropical fruits that I havenít learned the names of yet.  And bananas from the yard, too.
    I havenít taken pictures yet because I feel as if I were intruding on their privacy, but Lee assures me they are used to it and no one will mind.  I hope by the time I leave I will have taken lots of pictures.  I want you to see the beauty of this place as well as the reality.

    Mirian has a concrete baŮo in her back yard.  It has a flush toilet and a shower.  I take showers in the morning and at night.  The shower is unheated water with only one water tap.  Itís not too bad though, and I think I am already used to it.  The first day here, I left my towel at the co-op by mistake, but I took a shower anyway and it was warm enough it was okay.  I mean the outside temperature was okay and I air-dried quickly.  I wasnít that crazy about the water temperature at first.
    Mirianís house is concrete-walled with concrete floors.  The gable part of the house is wide-set boards so there is air circulation through it.  There is one window with wooden louvers, no glass.  With all the volcanic dust there is around, the house is immaculate.  They  mop the floors at least at least two times a day.  They sweep and hose down the yard.  And they put their best rocking chair out in the patio (back yard) for me to sit in and cool off.  
    They have two dogs, one that looks as if it might have a little German shepherd in it named, what else? Ė Lassie.  The other is a 10-inch long, three month old Chihuahua named Lady.  Lady has finally accepted me and bites my toes with her needle-sharp baby teeth.

This has to be it for now.  To wind up, these are exceptionally lovely people.  I cherish them all.  And it makes me more than ever want to take a baseball bat to Oliver North.
Want to join me?
Love, Elena




Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996 07:09:38 -0700 (PDT)

To: roadcow@mcn.org

Subject: Re: A message for Lolli

Dearest Lolli,

Elaine hit the ground running -- no surprises I suppose. I've sent her $40 worth of corner braces so she can rehab the old looms. I've got a local weaver ordering shuttles and bobins so I can take them down to her in two weeks. My High School Student delegation left this morning with 11 suitcases of beautiful yarn all bound for the Coop. They will be with her and the Coop on Tuesday buying things and learning about the work. It feels like we are all working with and for Elaine to guarantee success and it feels totally appropriate to me!

Before leaving Elaine mentioned that you are still hungry for woven goods. I do have a small supply of colchas and things which I could ship you if you think they would be useful. Let me know what you think.


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