" Chapter 3 in the lizard saga. "

Leon, Nicaragua

June 13, 1997

Carinos, todas;

Yesterday we had another of those torrential rainstorms, but when we came to work this morning, the studio was DRY.

The Monday after the last big storm, I asked Cecilio to find something to patch the roof. He came back with a can of mastic and some catalyst. He climbed up on the roof with the flat part of a broken hoe and a scrap of plastic to use as a putty knife and fixed all the holes. What a blessing it is!

This morning we have several dye pots going. The weavers have an order from Macasa, a workshop here that makes leather articles - purses, briefcases, wallets, etc. etc. They've been incorporating fabric from Guatemala in some of their products. Last year I had the good tact to tell them it looked like Guatemala, too. Not Nicaragua.

I love the woman, Reyna, who owns the work shop. We met several times last year. This year, when Ana and I walked in, she said "Elena! I knew you'd come back to Nicaragua" and gave me a big hug and a kiss.

They have an order for something they make that uses marron striped bright-colored cloth. They have an order they need to fill by July 10. So as soon as the yarn is washed and dried we'll start the order. They need 50 yards. The weavers are really anxious to learn the dyeing. They holler at me if I try to do anything myself. "No, Elena Sientece Yo. Yo."

We also have two pots going for yarn for colchas. They had these big one-pound skeins wound off when I got here. They'll be buggers to wind off. But I decided to dye them - what else could we do? - and they'll come out looking space - dyed. They tied the skeins so tightly dye can't penetrate the area of the ties, but I decided it would be a good lesson. 1. If you want an even dye job, tie loosely. 2. The dye job may be even better with the variation in the yarn. It's an effect I use often.

There is a problem for the weavers regarding their property. They told me the first day I came. There's been all kinds of meetings with a lawyer, and today Danelia and Miriam were summoned to Managua. All this after much joy last year being told by the Chamorro government that the place was their because they had been here since 1990. They've been here since 1984.

We'll hope for the best.

But while the big cheeses are gone, a man who sells yarn to them came by with a proposition. He wants them to make fabric to sell to some people who make hammocks in Brazil. They would use the fabric as a base and fancy it up with lots of hand-work. (They are gorgeous!) They hope to sell them in the U.S. We'll see what kind of a price he comes up with, after he gets the specifications clear. It could be a good thing.

June 14

We were really proud of the dyed yarn today. They hung it out to dry in the sun on the barbed-wire fence. It was gorgeous! All bright, intense colors, against the background of green foliage. The woman learned that blue and yellow make green and yellow and red make orange. We didn't have enough blue to teach them how to make purple - we're now out of blue.

A young couple from Spain came in today and bought one of the white-on-natural colchas for a wedding present when they return to Spain. They have bought one of the throws too, but they fringes weren't tied and they didn't want to wait. They picked one with an ecru and yellow combined weft. It's lovely. So you can bet the women stopped what they were doing and finished all the fringes. I had been tying fringes for them when I wasn't busy doing something else.. I'm one of those people who has to keep doing something or I fall asleep. So fortunately there were several ready for sale when a delegation of high-school girls from Minnesota showed up. They bought three of the throws - the colchas pequenas - that Mirna wove last week. And when I told them they were woven by a 17 year old girl who works five days a week and goes to school on Saturday, they had a special affinity for the colchas. These five girls were all seventeen. They are 3rd year Spanish students.

All four of the colchas sold today were woven by Mirna in the honey suckle variation I introduced last year, in color combinations I suggested. So I got lots of hugs and "gracias" from the weavers when everyone left. At least they are seeing my color sense at work. It's not the same when they send stuff to the States and they don't SEE anyone buy those awful sad colors Elena likes.

Lee came by Thursday to check on things and to do his regular interpreting for me in case there was something I wanted the weavers to know and wasn't sure it was getting across.

I had brought some six-foot wide plastic to cover the shelves in the room where they store their finished weavings. We lined the shelves with it, then folded the extra width over the top. I've been talking about the necessity of keeping things clean and dust here is ever pervasive, sneaking in the slightest opening. I used to try to keep from laughing when Ana would take guests into that room, pick up a colcha to show them and hold it against her body and swat it a few times. A cloud of dust would float up, but it wouldn't bother Ana. It was everyday life to her: doesn't every one live that way?

I had Lee tell them to keep the room clean and neat at all times and to mot store old cardboard boxes and stuff in there. I said threat their weavings as if they considered them precious, and other people would treat them the same way.

So when the customers came today the room was marvelous. The boxes had been removed, the floor was freshly mopped, the woven goods were neatly arranged under the plastic covers. I was so pleased - they had come in early and done that before I got there at 7:30. AM that is!

One wonders if they've ever heard this sort of thing before. It's marketing in it's simplest form.

The other thing we've started is putting a price on each item with a tag signed by the weaver. The buyers today really liked that - never mind I'd had Hector sign Mirna' name because she was in school.

I scared the weavers a bit too. I reminded them the yarn they get from the U.S. isn't free and they still have to pay for this shipment. So they should produce hundreds of articles to go on the container in August so they'll get there in time for the October - November pre-Christmas buying.

Our lives are so different. It's hard for them to conceptualize the things I say we do and use. Dish towels mean nothing to them - they never dry their dishes. (But neither do I - it's unsanitary, isn't it?) They don't wrap up in a throw on the soft couch to watch TV of an evening. Upholstered furniture would be a storage place for all the dust that would settle on it, besides being too hot - give off too much warmth - to sit on. And who needs to wrap up against the cold in this climate?

That reminds me: I'd read much about the fighting during the revolution and during the contra war. There was always much talk about the soldiers in the north suffering from the cold. That has puzzled me more since I've been here than it did before. But I was talking to Mirians' brother David on afternoon. He told me that when he was in the war up near Honduras they had ice. Yes, ice. Hard to believe, isn't it?

I need to do some geographical research.

Chapter 3 in the lizard saga:

Alan says the big lizard I saw out in the yard at the co-op is a garrobo and it's delicious. He's eaten the meat - a tiny bit of a garrobo - shared with a family of ten. He calls it a dinosaur of the present and says they are really beautiful. Now I really want Cecilio to catch one so I can look at it up close. Maybe eat it, I don't know. But I'd love to tell Donovan, my grandson of seven who is a dinosaur expert, that I saw a real dinosaur and maybe even tasted it. I'll probably tell him it was one of those nasty little things that escaped from Jurassic Park :-)

I do know the green iguana is remarkably beautiful. Gorgeous in color and configuration.

June 15 Sunday.

I gave three haircuts today. It's getting scary.

After the first haircuts I gave I was down at the mercado and one of the vendors, who had her wares spread out on the sidewalk, had some barber shears among them, so I bought a pair. They're made in China and cost $1.25, and that's how good they are too! Lousy! Danelia got the first haircut with them, then Cecilio had me cut his hair shorter.

This morning Jorge asked me to cut his hair so I did. Five minutes after I finished, a neighbor came over and asked me to cut her hair. Then, just a few minutes ago Bayardo asked me to cut his. He's a dandy, with the top long and pulled into a ponytail in back. Everything below the top is cut short and he wanted that shortened all around. I was scared to death, he's so vain. Well, I've been scared with all of them. I really don't know what I'm doing and the darned scissors hurt my hand to boot.

Back when I was a Den Mother to a bunch of Cub Scouts - good Lord - can it really have been 45 years and more? Well, one of the projects we'd do was make plaster of Paris figurines using latex molds. Here it's kind of a big deal - they call it "ceramica" though there's no ceramics involved. Most things are religious figures and I like the ones that are painted up fancy like folk art.

Cecilio has done this type of work for years, and this past week I learned what takes it above the Cub Scout projects. They buy yeso (gesso, gypsum) in one inch thick slices and grind their own plaster. Cecilio bought a mold of a boy Jesus with his arms upraised. First he put wire for armatures in the arms. We den mothers would fill the mold almost full of water, then add plaster of Paris till it "formed and island" Cecilio mixed the yeso in a separate container, poured it in the mold, then poured it out. Then he poured it back in. In six minutes (timed) he took it out of the mold. Perfect!

He makes the molds out of silicone such as you'd buy for weather stripping. It's reinforced with cheese cloth. Undercuts don't bother him. Things have changed since my day. (For all I know, everyone may use this method now.) When they are dry, he paints them with an air brush.

Oh yes, there's also a plaster mold that fits outside the silicone mold. He ties it tightly in place before pouring the plaster in.

I learn something new every day.

Nicaragua has beautiful stamps but the stick-um isn't any good. So when you go to buy your stamps, there's a little pot of glue on the counter for you to use to put glue on the stamp with the tip of your finger. It makes sense, but there you are with a sticky index finger you have to hold straight out till it dries.



Back to 1997 letters.

Back Lolli's homepage