León, Nicaragua October 21, 1998
Ana Maria came back from doing an 8-day fair in Bluefields, the “Nicamar Bluefields 98" fair. It’s a “first annual”. The government is trying to find ways to promote Nicaraguan crafts.
Ana said Bluefields is beautiful, she could hardly stop talking about the beauty of it. But it rained and rained, and the fair had to be moved indoors and not many people came. The mosquitoes and ants were everywhere, ants all over the floor of the hotel room, ants in her food. There were lots of people who spoke English, not Spanish. She kept talking about the Oceano Atlantico, but it’s really the Carribean. And yes, people ate lots of fish and shrimp.
I told Ana I really wanted to make that trip by bus and boat. “No, Elenita, no good for you,” she said. The bus trip takes hours and hours on the mountain roads, her legs ached terribly, and the boat was so crowded she couldn’t move and it listed to one side and you had to hang on. “No good for you,” Ana said. Maybe she’s right.
The wide loom with the double-bed colcha is in good operation now. Each of the weavers took a shot at weaving a colcha on it and they each found out how difficult it is to weave that wide, how much physical energy it takes. Now it’s down to just Rosa Maria weaving on it. She does a good job and weaves without errors.
This morning I had a Washington State Red Delicious apple for my mid-morning snack, courtesy of Rosa Maria. They are sold not only in the “super” (the local super market) but this year I see them being sold on small tables on street corners, too. And I see people eating them on the town buses.
We’ve had rain every day for some time now. Every afternoon we get great blasts of thunder and then a sudden downpour. It’s weird to watch 12 inches of water rush down the street or cover yards. Then the rain stops, and in an hour the water is gone. In two hours the puddles are all soaked in. Most places would be flooded if they had that much rain. I like it.
But all my envelopes are stuck together with that humidity and I have to work them apart as best I can. Clothing hanging up is damp from the moist air – clammy, really. And towels never get dry.
One day there was a group of Americans visiting here. They sat around a table in the middle of the room while Ana narrated the history of the coop to them and a woman translated. Ana told them how this group started in the 1980s, how this building and all the equipment was new and beautiful, there were lots of lights, and one shift worked days and one worked evenings. What she didn’t say was this was done with a big grant from the United Nations. She told them how someone donated a truck to them, and they would take their colchas to Jinotega where it is colder and they would sell lots of them. Everything was wonderful and they had lots of money.
When the Salvadorans went home because the UN money ran out, everything went to pieces. This building was ransacked. (They work without lights now.) Only a handful of the original 80 weavers stayed and tried to keep it going, but they had plenty of money. There was nothing to buy in the stores, but they had lots of money.
Then in 1990 Violetta Chamorro was elected President and in one day their money was worthless. All their money had no value and the government printed new money. The weavers were left with millions of cordobas in old money that wouldn’t buy any yarn, nor even a loaf of bread.
I thought it was the saddest story I’d ever heard. After all these years, there are still people who don’t know that their “plenty of money” was no good when they had it.
In 1996, my first year, one of the weavers gave me a piece of the old money. It was printed in 1986 and started life as a 1,000 cordoba note, but inflation had grown astronomically and the note was over-printed, by the government, with an assortment of fancy curlicues and the value was raised to 1,000,000 cordobas. One thousand was raised to one million. Quite a jump. I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw it. Imagine how fast inflation must have been rising here.
It’s sad to me that some of them still don’t seem to understand why a government can’t just print money with nothing to back it.
This week Rosa Maria planted tomato seeds in a little raised starting bed. They are still using some of the seeds I brought down two years ago. Good. They are planning to plant more vegetables like cucumbers, peppers and squash, and if they have enough they plan to sell them in the months of January to March, they say, when they don’t sell woven goods. Those are hungry months for them.
My days here are getting short and there is much to do. The weavers say they are reluctant to let me go. They told me that Mirian said, before I came, that Elenita brings them luck. The sales are always better when she is here.
They’ve certainly been good this year, and they have been buying up yarn against the first months of the year. Last year they say they went three months without yarn – couldn’t buy it at the factory until April. Even though those are months of few sales, they need to weave constantly so they have stock to sell when people do come to buy.
I’m really proud of the weavers. The one word I heard most from the
Americans and English who came to the coop was “quality”. “The quality is so
good. These will last for years,” was a frequent phrase. And everything is so
lovely, really. The people who are in Nicaragua long term such as the women and
men in other help groups, told me the quality has improved tremendously in the
last two years. Indeed it has.
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