Days 8 & 9: Nicaraguan Journal

Spent most of days 8 and 9 at Santa Rosa, one of the few remain­ing col­lec­tives in Nicaragua. The land belong­ing to the col­lec­tive was orig­i­nally a privately-owned hacienda. When the own­ers fled dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion, the peo­ple who had been work­ing for them moved onto the land and set up the col­lec­tive and then per­sisted, despite sev­eral changes in gov­ern­ment and polit­i­cal ide­olo­gies, in gain­ing title to the land. Each fam­ily in the col­lec­tive is allot­ted land to live and work on and if they do not main­tain their home or their land they are evicted.

The pot­tery there is run by one fam­ily and a por­tion of their prof­its, and those of other money-making enter­prises, goes back to the com­mu­nity. The pot­ters of Santa Rosa include Consuelo, who came along on last year’s brigade, her mother and her aunt, as well as her hus­band, although he spends some of his time rais­ing veg­eta­bles with his own father. Consuelo’s father is chair­man of the board of direc­tors of the cooperative.

After intro­duc­tions we were invited to help unload the new kiln which had been built by Potters for Peace thanks to a gen­er­ous dona­tion of $600 from one of our brigade mem­bers who shyly accepted their thanks. We were glad to help, although later, when we knew each other bet­ter, Consuelo con­fessed that, although they had planned the fir­ing so that we would be there for the unload­ing, a buyer had turned up early so they had to unload it with­out us and then, so that we wouldn’t be dis­ap­pointed, they put most of the pots back. I could see by the huge change and expan­sion in the work being pro­duced at Santa Rosa that Consuelo had taken full advan­tage of the oppor­tu­nity to learn from the other pot­ters that she met on the brigade last year.

During the two days we took turns throw­ing and hand­build­ing and Daisy, George (from Iowa) and I got a chance to demon­strate some tech­niques and Consuelo showed us how she applies slip trail­ing dec­o­ra­tion (for the non-potters, that means squeez­ing spaghetti-like lines of liq­uid clay onto a semi-dry pot) to her pots using a plas­tic bag, a tech­nique that seemed to me to be a lot eas­ier than try­ing to squeeze a hard plas­tic slip trailer.

At noon, as we mean­dered through the vil­lage in the direc­tion of Consuelo’s house, her daugh­ter Cindy, look­ing very much like a city girl, came run­ning up the road to meet us and show us the way.  Lunch was a deli­cious home­grown chicken stew which we ate while sit­ting in the shade in the backyard.

On the sec­ond after­noon we walked through the vil­lage, along a road, past a deposit of yel­low­ish clay, down a big hill, across a swampy area, and up another small hill in the woods to the pottery’s deposit of black clay, which is on land that has been des­ig­nated to Consuelo’s mother.  The walk was beau­ti­ful but it was also hot and the trail was rough in places — no won­der I felt sheep­ish when, in reply to Consuelo’s ques­tion of where I got my clay from, I answered “from the store, in a box.”

On the way to Santa Rosa on our sec­ond day, we stopped in at a fil­ter and brick fac­tory that is run by a fel­low named Tito, who is part of a fam­ily that, before the rev­o­lu­tion, were wealthy landown­ers. Tito’s fam­ily now lives in Mexico but he has returned to Nicaragua to try to regain title to some of their lands (land title in Nicaragua is incred­i­bly com­plex due to the rev­o­lu­tion and other changes in gov­ern­ment). At the fil­ter and brick fac­tory Tito employs many young men, most of whom are uni­ver­sity stu­dents. Tile-making is monot­o­nous and some­times back-breaking work but the work­ers take turns at each job so they don’t wear them­selves out. Some of the men have become com­pe­tent throw­ers and the fac­tory also pro­duces a line of flower pots.

Unfortunately, after our first day in Santa Rosa, George (from Florida) decided he would have to leave the brigade: he had a case of “stom­ach trou­bles” that he just couldn’t shake and he was find­ing that he just didn’t have the energy needed to get the most out of the brigade. Robert’s wife, Bev, who had dri­ven up to Santa Rosa to meet us, took George with her on the 4-hour drive back to Managua.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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