Thursday, April 16, 2009

In case you missed hearing about local artisans...

Last week was another week of school, visiting artisans and relaxing. As of last Thursday, we have 2 more weeks to go (we leave on April 30th)

On Monday, we walked through part of the town in which we are staying. We visited 4 different artisans and while I wish we could support them in some way, two of the artisans produced items that would be too large to bring home and the third didn't have a lot to sell at the moment.

The first woman we met was supporting herself as well as daughters who are deaf and mute. She had a sewing machine that reminded me of my grandmothers. With this she gave sewing lessons to women and girls in the area. She and others also weave purses, vases, and placemats with rafia.

The second artisan we met worked with his family to produce wooden trucks. The trucks come in a variety of sizes from small to very large. We saw one of the large ones which the family uses to transport buckets of water from the nearby water source. The wood is sourced locally and comes from olive trees. All other materials are recycled from bicycles and other items that they find. The trucks are brightly painted and make nice toys for children. While we did see a router, most of the other work is done by hand.

The third family makes large baskets from thin slices of olive wood and plastic strips that are used to wrap cargo boxes. The family used to be able to get the plastic from the airport for free until the airport personnel caught on and now they charge them a fee. The strips of wood are painted in bright pastel colors and the plastic woven through them.

The last artisan was a man who made various object out of hickory. Hickory is a large gourd like seed which he cooks until the outside becomes hard. He then cuts the piece into bowls or cups, paints them and then carves pictures into them. He gave a demonstration of carving. It took just about a minute to carve a medium size maraca. Several of us did buy items from him as they are much easier to transport.

In most of these cases, these people are doing relatively well, but their situation is still hard. Competition can be fierce and a lot of time is spent bringing their wares to a market, often on foot.

On Wednesday we went to the Panama school. This is an elementary school about 20 minutes from the hotel. It's in a remote area of the town and is constantly buffeted by fumes coming from the volcano nearby. It's amazing that people live here as the sulfuric fumes not only corrode anything made of metal within months, but also cause several health risks. The community is quite poor with pineapples being the primary export. The school was in dire straits until Paulette began to support it. While it does get some help from the wives of diplomats, the "Damas" efforts are rather misguided. This group of women thought it was a good decision to put up toilet facilities for the school. While that was a much needed thing, they insisted in putting in flush toilets in an area where there is no water and what water there is is needed for more urgent necessitities. So essentially, these nice toilets are sitting there not being used at all. Another brillant idea was to install a swing set that was almost directly over a crevase. After a few broken bones, they took the swings down. In both cases, Paulette is trying to raise the funds to create a useful toilet and to move the swingset to a more appropriate area. (another ridiculous position the Damas are taking is that Paulette can't use the existing walls and roof of the non-functioning toilet for the new one)

Aside from the political battles that rage around the school, the children are getting a good education with the limited supplies that they receive. All the books, pencils, paper, etc. have come through donations by students at the Mariposa. We sat in on one class of tiny tots (around 4-5 years old) as they were taught addition. Most of them were incredibly attentive and enthusiastic. Of course, like any class, you have the class clown and the kid who always falls asleep.

Near the school was a group of women who make baskets, jewelry and decorations out of magazines. Their work is really nice and I bought a necklace. I may go back to buy a basket. I believe this program was started by the Damas as well, so I guess they did one thing right. :-)

On the way back from our visit, we were followed in the camioneta by a guy on a racing bike. He kept pace with us the entire ride, even up some pretty steep hills. We were pretty impressed. Lance Armstrong better watch out!

Thursday, we went to Masaya again. This time we visited a few other artisans as well as the same guitar shop where Jeff bought his guitar. The first artisan makes these beautiful items out of wood. His workshop seemed rather chaotic, but the results are really lovely. I was disappointed not to be able purchase some wooden cups that I had seen at a craft show, but we maybe able to visit again.

The second artisan made leather saddles, belts and hats. He buys the skins in Leon and his team makes them into rather intricate items.

The third artisan was the hammock maker where we had been before. Unfortunately, most of the stock had been taken to another city to be sold, so the new students weren't able to really see many of the items.

After this, we went to see a show at La Verbana and have dinner. This was fairly similar to the show we saw at the beginning of the stay. The same clown was there this time as well. :-)

I've also included some photos of the nearby beach to give an idea of what the beaches on the Pacific coast are like. While we haven't gone yet, these were
taken by Ximel, a student visiting from Sweden.

On Friday, we left for Ometepe. I'll probably post another entry with pictures in a few days.