Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Chijnaya Foundation
Hugo, my counterpart here in this tiny, dusty, nearly forgotten village high in the Andes, is wonderful to work with. He has completed 6th grade, I believe, and is anxious to work hard, earn money and get ahead. He is 35, married 14 years, with two lovely daughters, one 14, the other about 7. His wife is an obvious helpmeet to him, and they whisper conspiratorily in Quechua while working on our new projects, which are pillows and table runners. Hugo's hand-operated sewing machine is 80 years old, and belonged to his wife's father.
We are making three sizes of pillows to sell at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Fair, and are learning how to estimate amounts of fabric, how to make the trims, how to make a fine flat seam. We are figuring out how much for Hugo to do in advance of giving the handwork to the ladies in the ten different emboidery groups. This was his idea as to how to get consistency of product. It is fun to give him the problem of the moment, and watch him work through it. He learns quickly and easily, and our brains 'match,' as they say. Great fun. We are going to go back to earlier days of this craft and just use natural colored alpaca yarns on softer natural colored backgrounds for the pillows. He invented a great closure and we both agreed wood buttons would look best in keeping with our 'natural' theme. Wood buttons are 5 soles a dozen, or...2 cents apiece.
We had our first Artisan's Association meeting yesterday with about 100 women and men present. There are ten women's groups, one other is comprised entirely of men, 11, each with ten members, 110 in all. Amazingly, one man said he had done natural dying about 20 years ago and asked if we thought he should try it again!!! Hurrah! This would solve so many problems, we could dye our own yard and base fabric. The herbs and flowers he needs have just died back as it is winter, but I am going to meet with him and show him samples of colors that might work well with this project. The women at the meeting were so enthusiastic and appreciative of my efforts in Spanish and at my explanation of why we needed some new products and why we needed to go back to days of colored 'bayeta' backgrounds. We are all excited.
I went with the Eusebio, the Association's secretary, to Juliaca yesterday to shop for a treadle sewing machine and new alpaca yarns. Now THAT was a challenge. Quechua is his first language, and his almost second language (like me) is Spanish, is spoken through his two remaining side front teeth with lots of whistles other interesting sounds, in a rapid fire delivery. But we moved quickly through the large, unattractive industrial center of Juliaca on tricycle taxis, going from one end to the other several times for about 50 cents a trip. The sewing machine we finally decided upon was 250 soles, or $85 US. We brought it to the meeting to show everyone, it was like Christmas. If we can just get Hugo used to using two hands now to guide his fabric as he is used to using only one hand, the other to turn the wheel of the sewing machine.
I announced to the women at our meeting that I will be taking free portraits of them which I will then send copies back to them after the Folk Art Market is over. It's catching on and I'm getting some lovely pictures of family life here. The usual problem of photographing people in Latin America is that they pose ramrod straight and stare dully into the camera; I can't get the Chijnayans to stop smiling and laughing! They are wonderful to work with.
We also traveled to see a school for the blind and disabled in Puno that the Foundation is supporting as they were helpful to one of the kids from Chijnaya and took him in. Most disabled children of the very poor are simply hidden away, with food, but no care or training for either parents or kids to deal with special needs.
Posted by Judith Haden at 8:29 PM