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Punta de Agua

July 17, 2011

Punta de Agua, Malacatoya, Nicaragua
July 16, 2011

Yes, yes, I know. I have been slacking on the blogging. But really what that means is that I’ve been out and about experiencing the beautiful countryside. (With the exception of the 4 days, I spent in bed being eaten from the inside out by parasites).
But lets focus on the good stuff.

I recently spent a week working with a group of six women in Punta de Agua, a rural village outside of Granada. This small cooperative has traditionally sold hand-embroidered handkerchiefs to Esperanza en Acción (my volunteer organization). Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), this item did not sell very well. The objective of my trip was to present a set of new designs to the women so that they could begin producing items that might appeal more to the foreign market.
So, I arrived on Monday with my patterns, my bug spray, and a lot of misconceptions about how the week would go. Here are the highlights:

—I guess I should have known that we would only be working a couple hours per day. Each woman has her own house and family to take care of. Their days are carefully scheduled around cooking three meals, washing everyone’s laundry, cleaning the house, taking care of the animals, and somehow finding a second or two to rest. I quickly learned that very little time is dedicated to their embroidery “hobby” and that they in no way rely on the money that this trade brings in. (Instead their main income comes from the rice harvest that nearly every man participates in). So, we worked for 3 hours per day and the rest of the time I spent helping my mom with her store front, hanging out with my siblings (translating song lyrics), visiting the neighbors, the local school, the surrounding villages, my grandmother’s farm, etc.

—It became clear early on that teaching a group of women that are already set in their ways would be quite a challenge. This is a classic “whose way is better” predicament, which I was probably hyper-culturally sensitive to. It was a continuous battle between quality and speed. The women wanted to take any shortcut possible while I tried to explain that the products wouldn’t sell in the US unless the lines were straight and the cuts were even. I ultimately let them do things their way, and in the end would compare the example I brought and the version they made asking them what changes they would make in the future. Apparently I am not very forceful when acting as a teacher to women older than me in a language that is not my own.

—I became closer with the family I lived with than anyone I have met in Nicaragua to date. After living in Managua for a month, I was blown away by the graciousness of the people living in Punta de Agua. In the city, I find myself avoiding eye contact with everyone I pass. I generally assume that everyone is trying to take advantage of the gringa. Punta de Agua was worlds away from the Managua atmosphere. Everyone in the village was constantly trying to feed and entertain me despite the little resources that they have.

—My Mother was generally interested in life in the United States, yet was completely content with her own lifestyle. She loved hearing about the four different seasons, the big city, my tiny hometown in the woods, pet bunnies, and “wild” squirrels (which she found especially interesting because she owns the only squirrel in Nicaragua as a caged pet). My mother never tired of hearing about life in the United States, yet unlike other Nicaraguans who romanticize our great country, she did not hold us up on a pedestal. It was the first time that I was able to describe the United States and feel proud of where I am from instead of pointing out our flaws to the disillusioned people who think the streets are actually paved with gold. It was refreshing to hear that my mother didn’t understand the appeal of immigrating to the US, she was more concerned about spending time with her family.

After spending a week in Punta de Agua I accomplished very little in terms of Esperanza en Accion’s mission. Yes, I taught the women some new patterns, but to be honest, I don’t think it is worth it for them to try to master these new products in the future. Their sewing skills have a long way to go and as I mentioned before, embroidery is really just a hobby for them. They don’t have the time or materials to practice or produce at a level that would actually generate income. They are probably better off earning sporadic money from their handkerchiefs and continuing with their everyday lives.
But who am I to judge. I have come and gone and they will continue in their own “Punta de Agua”-way.

So, maybe I didn’t revolutionize the women’s work or teach them new designs that would double their income, but I made some really good friends and learned a lot from an incredible mother.


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