Day 10: Nicaraguan Journal

Spent the day at Loma Panda, a remote pot­tery in the moun­tains, near the bor­der with Honduras. This pot­tery is run by five sis­ters (and a niece) whose fam­ily has lived there for 500 years and despite their remote loca­tion, the  pot­tery is well-established and the work done there is some of the most inno­v­a­tive in Nicaragua. The sis­ters have clay avail­able on their land and buy­ers come to buy directly from them. During the con­tra war, the sis­ters say that they were not in dan­ger (the con­tras came over the bor­der from Honduras) because they “just went into the hills.”

The road to Loma Panda is steep and rocky and runs through a river bed but we were lucky because it was not washed out so we were able to ride all the way there, although we had to do it in the back of a pickup truck.

The day started with a buy­ing spree as we all tried to visu­al­ize the size of our suit­cases and the amount of pot­tery we had already bought — the pot­tery at Loma Panda was so exu­ber­ant and whim­si­cal and beau­ti­ful that we all wanted to own many more pieces than we would be able to carry home. The story goes that sev­eral years ago a cou­ple of the sis­ters were taken on a trip to Managua where they saw plas­tic dolls with mov­able limbs (the kind where the arms and legs are attached to each other by elas­tic bands run­ning through the hol­low body) and when they came back they began to make clay dolls like this — using under­wear elas­tic to hold the move­able limbs on. This is the only resem­blance their work has to pink plas­tic: they cre­ate crazy dolls, crea­tures and other forms and dec­o­rate them with coloured slip, some­times incised them with intri­cate pat­terns, and then bur­nish them smooth.

Later the pot­ters of Loma Panda demon­strated their hand­build­ing tech­niques and gave us a chance to try out their tech­niques. Their clay is dif­fi­cult to work with and to smooth the sur­face they make the sur­face quite wet and then rub it with var­i­ous pieces of plas­tic of dif­fer­ent shapes. My usual method of smooth­ing clay when hand­build­ing is to use as lit­tle water as pos­si­ble but this didn’t work well at Loma Panda.

Maritza, who hadn’t been able to show us much of her work (when we vis­ited her pueblo we were busy build­ing a kiln), went on a cre­ative frenzy and, in a cou­ple of hours, made these:

Lunch was another deli­cious chicken stew, served in the main room of the house with chick­ens and cats run­ning under­foot. At some point in the day, Mike remem­bered that it was his 60th birth­day and we all agreed that we couldn’t think of a bet­ter way to spend it. When our visit was over some of us walked down the rocky road and waited at the bot­tom in the cool­ness of the shady riverbed, while the rest of us rode down in the back of the truck and picked up a cou­ple of young guys who jumped on, eager to catch a free ride.

Nearer to town we stopped at the home of Maria, a tiny woman who makes the cutest piggy banks in Nicaragua. She lives with her sis­ter, Marta, in the house that their father built and she makes 4 piggy banks a day. She used to fire them, one at a time, inside her cook­stove (which is inside her house) until Potters for Peace built her a small bar­rel kiln just out­side her door. Now she can fire 11 piggy banks at a time. Her other jobs are farm­ing and pray­ing for the dead. Her sis­ter Marta was not at home when we vis­ited, but as we drove down the road we passed her walk­ing home with a load of sticks (fire­wood) on her back.

Back at our hotel in Somoto, we piled out of the truck and as we walked into the lobby we passed a group of newly-arrived Americans who had come to Nicaragua to build a church. Compared to our sweaty, dusty, wise-cracking  selves they seemed way too clean and naive to sur­vive in this coun­try, although give them a few days and they’d prob­a­bly be dirty and sweaty at least.

Robert and I spent the evening in the lobby, hunched over his lap­top, putting together the text and image for our group t-shirt. Found a tri­umphant photo of the whole gang clus­tered around the kiln we had built (it seemed ages ago) but then some­one pointed out that two peo­ple were miss­ing from the shot. Photoshop came to the res­cue and we were able to “place” two more peo­ple in the photo and then we added our group name, “Momotombito Caliente,” (after the vol­cano that the kiln we built most closely resem­bled) which we had cho­sen by secret bal­lot (!) after many long and ram­bling dis­cus­sions. The next day Robert sent the final com­puter file back to Managua (where a per­spi­ca­cious employee at the print­ing house picked up a major spelling mis­take) so that the printed t-shirts would be wait­ing for us there on our last night.

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