No hay garrob in Wenatch?

Leon, Nicaragua

Date: July 4, 1997

If I had been brought up knowing how to carry a pan or a basket on my head, think of the wonderful posture I'd have now.

Yesterday I wanted to do a big dye job - we'd skeined off 12 pounds of cotton for it. I asked Cecilio if he could go buy some big plastic containers. He came back with two big wash-tub size containers. They were stamped "food quality plastic", and Cecilio said they were often used by the vendors who peddle pan (bread). He twisted a cloth into a circular pad and put it on my head, then put a tub up there. I hadn't known the weavers were watching us, but when I tried to walk with it they all cheered.

One time I watched Danelia pack a big feed sack with colchas she was going to take home to knot the fringes of so they could be sold the next day. When she got the sack ready, it was too heavy for her to lift. A couple of the other women helped her get it up on her head and she took off and walked home alone. That should tell us gringos a lot, we who injure our backs lifting and carrying things in our arms. Another time Danelia carried my heavy suitcase on her head for over six blocks.

I try not to get up before six o'clock in the morning, but sometimes I've found my groggy self outside before 5 a.m. It's just breaking light at that hour, but invariably my hostess has already swept the yard by the light of the outdoor bulb, has a wash hanging that she'd done in the concrete sink, and a big pot of something (probably beans) cooking over a wood fire.

While I stay at Danelia's, we are usually here at work by 7:10. We hardly ever quit before 5:30 at night, sometimes it's well after six. We work Mondays through Saturdays. We've even worked a couple of Sundays. When the weavers get home they cook dinner, do household things, and maybe get a chance to watch an evening soap opera. Their days are long and hard. Work days at the co-op are often eleven hours long; the norm is ten hours.

And still they are a good-natured bunch. They sing along with the radio or spontaneously alone, while throwing their shuttles. They laugh, joke and kid each other all day long. They like each other. That's why it's so rewarding to be working here.

July 9

Diogenes finally caught a garrobo in a snare. He brought it home in his backpack. Live, of course. It was kind of a little one. He'd flipped the feet up on its back, and it had a long strip of cloth looped around it's jaws to hold them closed, then it went to the back and was tied there.

"What's wrong with his feet?" I asked. They'd been flipped up on his back so he couldn't run, of course. Dumb me. These creatures are really fast. They bite, too, when angry, and this guy was really mad and snapping when they untied his jaws. I didn't blame him.

Cecilio turned him over and counted some little dots that were on the underside, six on each side. He said that meant it was six years old. The skin was soft and felt kind of the way salmon skin that has the scales removed feels, but warm. No, it wasn't ever used for making gloves or shoes as snakeskin is. There was a short, stiff crest along the back ridge to the base of the tail.

The tail was really interesting. It was concentric rings of dentiled bony-feeling matter that got progressively smaller down to the tip of the tail. Kind of like joints. This little guy was about 18 inches long.

No, I didn't want to eat him. By the time I'd poked and stroked him, taken several pictures, and really looked him over, I was too attached to him to eat him. "He's just a nino," I told Diogenes, "take him back."

There have been many little garrobitos running around the co-op. I'd thought they were lizards until Danelia told me differently. The little guys have a yellow strip down each side, with a dark brownish line on each side of the yellow. They aren't as flat as the regular lizards. Too fast for me- I couldn't catch one and all I want is a good look. The adult garrobos are more of a greyish, wavy-striped light-and-dark color.

My time here is getting short, and everyone is trying to get me a garrobo. There haven't been any vendors peddling them on the street, and a couple of sojourns to the mercado never turned up any. Mario is trying for one in Chinandega tomorrow. "No hay garrob in Wenatch?" Danelia asks. No, we don't have garrobo in Wenatchee. Do I want to take one to seven-year-old Donovan? In a box?

I'd love to, really, that would be perfect if customs would let me. I'd be the greatest grandma in history, maybe even for a whole week.

July 10

Today Danelia bought a live garrobo at the mercado and brought it to the co-op in a plastic bag just like any groceries. This guy was bigger, and he was lively when they put a string around his hips and flipped his legs down. The ridge down his back was bigger. He still wasn't nearly as big as the first one I saw out in the yard, this guy measuring over two feet long, so that original one must have been at least three feet. I wasn't in much of an mood to eat him, but I'd already opened my big mouth a lot about that, how I wanted to try it. I kept telling myself it would be worth eating it just so I could tell Donovan and Zac that I had.

So Moises butchered it out and Danelia cooked it. I was surprised at how much meat there was. For lunch I got a plate of it, cooked with tomato, onions and potatoes. I was sure it was going to taste like frog legs, which to me taste like fishy chicken, even though I knew it didn't live in water and it ate leaves. It was hard to take that first bite, but guess what - it was delicious! It was tender and tasty and like chicken breast, only better. I still had trouble eating it. When they asked me, I had to tell them it was too much like eating a pet, after all the attention I'd given it.

SO - did I eat lizard or dinosaur?

July 11

One more day after today and I'll be flying home. Things are really busy at the cooperativa, trying to cram in all the last-minute information I can. We spent a couple of hours today talking about dyeing, and color combinations. Ana Maria is the one who is most interested in the dyeing, and seems to have caught on to the method better than the others. She brought out a book about color combinations Beth had brought down five years ago and we talked about that. They do have trouble understanding why Americans don't want yellow and orange. I tried to explain that it isn't that the colors are "bad" or "ugly", it's just that they aren't in fashion now. Forty years ago everything was orange. It's really too bad Ana doesn't read or write. (Most of the weavers are just barely literate. They even bring me things to read to them if the younger ones aren't around.) I feel so guilty about my lack of Spanish when they seem to place so much confidence in me.

I'm going to have to work out some color combination charts for them. They don't shrink at the work; they'd rather work harder to get something successful, bless them, but to challenge their sense of what is beautiful is tough. Isn't it a shame the way we let outside influences shape our ideas of what is beautiful? The first cars that Japan shipped to the US were blue with orange upholstery or orange with blue upholstery. They thought they were lovely. If they hadn't been so cheap, they'd never have sold here.

I still say good taste is a fad; it changes with what is "in" at the moment in a specific place.

The weavers have been working long hours getting out products. Sixty hour weeks, minimum. The last shipment of yarn they ordered that was supposed to be here two weeks ago hasn't arrived. The salesman came by today and said the mill hadn't received any cotton. The drought? I don't know.

Danelia said they went three months last year without receiving any cotton from the mill. That's why they worked up all those striped warps we didn't like, whatever they could put together from what they had available. I don't know what to do about things like that. I've been hoping to teach them things they can make that depend solely on Nicaraguan yarn, since yarns in the states have become so very expensive. I've tried to show them how patterns in white on white can be especially lovely, and teaching them to dye yarns in pleasing colors for when they need color.

July 12

I've been fascinated by the jicaras ever since I saw the ones they gave me when I left here last year. About six weeks ago, when I saw there was a jicara tree near the co-op I tried to cut one of the little fruits in two and make a couple little bowls. I didn't have much luck, and when they told me it had to be boiled I thought that would be asking too much of the weavers.

The jicara is a fascinating thing, a funny round "fruit" that grows out of the trunks or limbs of the jicara tree. Most of the growing fruits (or are they nuts?) I saw were about four inches in diameter, but they can grow quite large, like over eight inches in diameter. They have a tough, hard, thin shell when mature that people here make into bowls, spoons and strainers. Some of them grow long and narrow and they make drink containers out of them. And spoons. The ones we see in the mercado are carved lightly and are lovely and unbelievably cheap.

But that wasn't enough for me. I didn't want to just buy one, I wanted to make one. So I asked Hector to go with me and get some, and he climbed the tree and got some of the bigger ones. I had no trouble sawing these in two, and soon was told they were immature and no good. I found one that was mature - the shell has to get hard on the tree before being picked, otherwise it will just rot, they said. So I started carving it before sawing it in two. When the weavers saw I was really interested, they joined in, especially Danelia, Rosa Maria and Mirian. Soon we were all working on jicaras. I was carving and had a terrible time with a dull pocket knife. My jicara disappeared and came back a while later, the carving finished by Cecilio. Rosa and Danelia scraped and sanded jicaras with no design, but when Mirian boiled them in water with ashes added, they came out beautiful. The ashes made them white (or nearly so) they said. Then Rosa started making a water bottle out of one. You cut out just the little spot where the stem is, and somehow manage to get all the insides scraped out. The last day Rosa came with a long tool with just a little round scraper on the end she said was made for this, and used that to finish off scraping out the inside. This one you don't boil and you don't scrape off the green outside. The outside green coating helps keep the water "fresca", she said, and will turn brown with time. She tied a cord around it so it can be carried from the shoulder and carved a little plug for the opening. So there you have a natural, primitive, sophisticated water carrier.

I was so impressed with the jicara and it's many uses I told them I thought it was the "jewel" of Nicaragua. Just imagine being able to get this fruit or nut or whatever it really is off a tree and to make bowls and spoons and drinking vessels and water carriers out of it with a little work. And of course, the ancient Nicans were the ones to discover how to do all that stuff.

Not only that, but the seeds are good, too. They make a liquid out of the immature seeds for ear problems. The mature, dark seeds are dried and eaten like sunflower seeds. They also roll the seeds with a kind of mortar and pestle to make a meal that they make into a drink, another fresca, to which they add water, a little vanilla and sugar. It's good for the blood, they say, and doesn't taste half bad if they cut back on the sugar.


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