Sorting it out!

Leon Nicaragua

Sunday May 25, 1997

Hola Lolli and Alan,

I wish it would rain. It is dry as can be and hot. The crops aren't growing-the beans, rice, corn, soya, cotton and there is no work. Leaves on the banana trees are shredding and turning brown from lack of water, the bananas are small. Rosa Maria brought in 3 1/2 inch bananas to share. They looked like toys, but tasted great.

The women tried the new "Nicaragua" screen before I got here. When Lee was there, they said they had a few pieces to practice on if I would show them what to do, but I had him tell them it would be a waste of pigment if they weren't prepared to print a lot of them. We'd wait.

What they printed was bright blue and the color looks awful. I hope I'll be able to impress on them that the blended colors we used last year on the place mats have the flavor of the ancient pottery designs.

The place mats yarn has changed from the heavy to the 9/2. The 9/2 is a lovely yarn-I think its absolutely marvelous. Plain weave is beautiful and handwoven looking in it, lovely texture. I'm quite excited about it's possibilities.

But, they tied the 9/2 onto the old warp and the place mats are coming out too narrow to print. Too narrow for place mats, even, and they have a whole long warp on. I've asked them to widen it. I hope we'll be working on that next week.

They said they needed two more looms if they were going to do the tote bags and the colchas domesticas. Cecilio has been working on them and they are almost finished except for the fly-shuttle pickers and tie-ups, I think. And maybe a bit of sanding here and there. He's a weaver so he goes right along without asking questions, seems to know just what to do. Modifies things he thinks should be changed. Of course, getting two whole new looms out of the bone pile hasn't been easy, especially since they want big looms. We've had to buy lumber for cross beams and "benches"-or those things they call benches. Instead of hanging by cord, he's got these bolded in place. No give, but the weavers will tell him if it isn't okay.

The day after I got here, Danelia took an assortment of things to Mama Delfina's in Managua. I didn't see what she packed, but when she came back she said "Mama Delfina said no white, no pay." She wants white, that's what sells for Mother's Day. (La Dia de la Madre is May 30, a national holiday.) I wasn't sure whether that meant she was unhappy with what was delivered or not. But they have hardly anything in color, so most of it must have been white.

All week they've been fighting that 100 yard gray warp. They got tangles to start with and they've been getting bigger and bigger as they come to the end, everything being complicated by the fuzz that grabs adjacent warps as they roll. It will be finished tomorrow. Thank Heaven! (I told them I'd have cut it off.) The white yarn they ordered finally got there Friday. Now they can get warps on and start producing.

Friday at 5:05 a woman came to the coop and talked for quite a while. She placed an order (I don't know if it is for cash on delivery or consignment) and they packed all-white things for her Mother's Day sales after she left. They filled a Pullman-sized suitcase with white colchas so full they could hardly close it. Then they made a roll of colchas and smaller weavings, wrapped them in plastic and tied them. Ana Maria took the whole bunch of it - suitcase and big bundle-home on the bus, and Saturday she would take them to Managua by bus to deliver to the woman's shop (not Mama Delfina, otra.) You cannot believe how heavy those things were. That little woman could barely carry them to the bus stop here, and she's going to muckle them to Managua all by herself! They all do what they have to .

We're going to Corinto today, to show it to me. We're all going except Mirna and Cecilio, and we're going by truck. The white truck is operational, sort of, but I wish my AAA card was valid here. There is a man, Marco, who is the truck driver and sometime handy man. He is also Rosa Maria's cousin and Ana Maria's boy friend. He's at the studio a lot. They are packing a lunch that includes a giant papaya. Containers of water. I hope there's water for the truck.

A few years ago when I was traveling I bought a cheap 8-inch radio so I could get news when I wanted it. I hadn't used it for a long time and thought about putting it is the trash. When Cecilio was in Wenatchee he saw it sitting put away on a high shelf. He was packing a box for home and took out the radio. Para las mujeres? He asked and I nodded, but I was embarrassed when he put a sticker on it that said "to the weavers from Elaine." I was embarrassed to be sending that cheap junk to them in may name. When I got here, they had the radio playing in the studio, every day they play it. Mirian took it home at night that first week. Now Ana is taking her turn taking it home at night.

"Don't the women have radios?" I asked Cecilio. "No, too expensive," he said. When we went to the store Friday I looked at radios. They cost almost twice as much here as in the U.S. and the people who are employed don't make in a day what Americans make in an hour.

It's 9.30 cordobas to the dollar now. Too bad. Prices are going up. It costs 1 1/2 cordoba to ride the bus this year. It was one cordoba last year. Coca Cola has gone from 3 C's to 4.

Friday I asked Cecilio to take me shopping. "To the mall?" he said. "Safeway?" Reminiscences of Wenatchee. So we went to the super mercado. There are many many more American products in the store than last year. We bought the things we needed (toilet paper, red beans and onions for the Coop, Wenatchee apples) and returned to the Coop. It was Cecilio who noticed it: he held up the blue plastic bags we'd brought the stuff back in and said "Wenatchee!" I couldn't believe what I was seeing-they were all WalMart bags! WalMart!!

The weavers all were thrilled to get the pictures of Lolli, Beth and me, especially their being so recent. They ask and ask when Lolli and Beth are coming back. I finally told them Lolli and Beth have to work for a living, they aren't retired as I am. They seemed to understand that.

There are two words in Spanish that I love: soda pop is gaseosa, and retired is jubilado. To me gaseosa is calling it like it is, but I'm not sure retirement is jubilation, though I've certainly been enjoying mine.

We need that washing machine pronto, Alan. The weavers were proud to show me the colchas they had dyed the weft blue for. They did a good job, but I want to wash it to test the rinse job on the dyed yarn. Can you get a washer on the next container? Then it will be here when I come back.

There hasn't been anything to try the sewing machines on, so we didn't break out the Elna until Danelia brought in a shirt to mend. Then I had to try to read the instructions in dim light with the women pressed up close - touching - behind me in that cooking center of the building. It was a sweat box! But we got it going an Danelia sewed the shirt using the knee control. Oh she was so pleased with the machine! Thank Doug and Tony from all of us.

I've asked Cecilio to build a small sewing table. It's a bursitis factory on top of that table for me, so it would be torture for them. And the plastic base to the other machine is pretty much broken up, so I think I'll ask him to make a wooden base similar to the one on my machine for it. Cecilio sure comes in handy.

Barbara Woodward sent me a clipping from the San Francisco Examiner newspaper about a little factory near the airport in Managua that was making denim shorts for a U.S. company. The ones in the picture were headed for Kmart. So I went to Kmart before I left home and found both men's and women's, and on sale. So I bought a bunch of them for the teenagers, thinking they'd be proud to have something made in Nicaragua that was sold in the U.S.. And are they ever proud! "No hay en Nicaragua, Elena!" Danelia said. Probably not. I got mostly the smallest sizes they had, but varied it a bit just in case. Could have used smaller yet, actually. Some of the kids need belts to keep them up. It made me take another look at the women. The ones who look pudgy wouldn't look pudgy if they were 5'6" tall.

Showing the women the clipping and telling them the workers there made $22 a week (at least that's better than Nikes $1.50 a day in Vietnam) got a unanimous reaction: they hope for many more U.S. factories. And little by little, things will get better, they said, but they need the factories.

Mirian's sister-in-law, who lives next door with her family, has gone to Guatemala to work in a factory making T-shirts, leaving her teenage daughter to run the house for her older brother and father. "There's no work in Nicaragua, Elenita."



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