Friday, July 31, 2009

A ¨Shaky¨Expedition

So back in June, Ursula called me one late afternoon to ask if I would like to go to the capital, Tegucigalpa, with a local institution that wanted to take some potters for an art exhibition. It had been a while since I had been to Tegucigalpa and this would give me a chance to check in on how our pottery is doing that is selling in a store over in that area. So, I decided to go. “Great,” Ursula told me, “Well they are gonna be at my house tomorrow at 8 am to leave so can you be there by then?” What?! A little bit more of a warning would have been nice! And maybe if she had told me earlier that, so far, I was the only person that was for sure going! I called my EDUCATODOS students to let them know that English and Math classes were cancelled for the week and then I called Mercedes, the head of our directive, from La Campa to see if she could give a more definite answer about going. There was no way I was going to go alone to sell pottery that wasn’t mine. Where’s the sustainability in that??

Mercedes confirmed that she was going to go and so that morning us and two other women from another community that makes recycled paper out of plant leaves and fibers left with the director of the institution who happens to be a good friend of mine. Going to Tegucigalpa in car is definitely a lot more fun than in bus. We took our time getting there, making random stops at the director’s favorite restaurants and sites.

For lunch, he took us to a little traditional restaurant that sells atole (a thick corn drink that can be served as soup) served in guacal (a bowl made of a dried shell excavated from inside the seed of the guacal tree).

Upon arrival to the city, the experience can best be understood by imagining the old movies where the jungle boy is brought to the big city, or the pilgrims have discovered a strange, new world. Even the new car we went in was intimidating! The air conditioning was so cold that it was bothering the womens’ sinuses and the automatic windows prevented them from getting fresh air for about half the trip before I told them how they worked. We won’t even mention the car alarm. On the way, we passed a shop selling tons of pottery and all the women simultaneously cried, “Look! Look! Look!” and pointed out the windows as we passed. Mercedes’ honest face is readable like a newspaper headline and I could tell she was discouraged to see how successful this business was with pottery that was so attractively painted and decorated. Even the director noticed and commented, “Don’t be deceived by their pottery because it doesn’t have the value of years and years of tradition behind the practice.”

In Tegucigalpa, the pilgrims landed, and I, the foreigner, was their guide. We could have just landed in China and the women would have had the same expressions of confusion. One thing that I didn’t expect was how the clothing of the women made them stand out in the city. The raggedly towels on their heads used to protect them from the sun and dust all of a sudden were out of style compared to the suits and high heels of the city folk. I signed us in at the hotel and when I turned around with the keys, I was confused by the commotion that was happening. The three women were huddled around a little table and animatedly doing something. Ah, I saw what it was. Free coffee in the lobby. I suggested we get our bags to the rooms first because how were they going to get everything up the stairs while balancing a hot cup of coffee? But they were worried that the hot pot wouldn´t be there when they returned. ¨Better to take advantage now¨ they told me.

That night, I half awoke to my bed vibrating violently below me. Initially, I thought it was a dream that someone was standing at the side of my bed shaking it and trying to get me to wake up because I was late for the art exhibition. What woke me up completely was when Mercedes starting shouting what was going on and shouting even louder that someone was trying to get in the room. My eyes shot open at that to see the door rattling so hard it was banging against the wall and definitely sounded like someone wanted in really badly. There were footsteps shuffling and distressed voices in the hall as well. The shaking lasted about a minute before everything stopped completely. Turns out, there was a 7.2 earthquake in Honduras at this moment.

The next morning, we went to the Hotel Maya for the exhibition. It turns out it was not an art sale at all! It was a rural bank meeting! This was a meeting of the big shots of this institution to congratulate one another on the success of initiating rural banks (caja rurales) in villages all over Honduras. Of course, publicity is the most important aspect of these events and so cajas rurales had been invited from all over to be in the background as the founders talked to several different newscasts. I guess that’s how we get funding to keep coming. The only times that we got to sell were before and after the meeting when people were trickling in and trickling out. Needless to say, sales weren’t superior. During the meeting, they gave background information on what is a caja rural, how many have now been founded, and the successes of specific caja rurales. The first part of the meeting I paid close attention because it soon became clear to Mercedes and I that we were gonna have to pretend we were a caja rural! Yet another thing that would have been nice to know a little earlier!

One of the heads of the institution talking with Mercedes

After the meeting was over and we were at our table selling, some of the heads came to ask us about our “caja rural”. Sometimes it’s nice to have the “gringa card” to play. I usually replied, “You should really ask the potter, she will be able to better explain how they work, I just help out where I can in the community. Oh, it looks like I have to go take pictures now. Bye!” Mercedes answer was a little bit smoother, “Well the potters have been organized for quite some time with the help of Corina who has really helped us out a lot to become a caja rural and she can tell you all about the way she has helped.” No one really seemed to notice.

The ladies with their recycled paper

Mercedes and the other two ladies went back that same day in the same car but I decided to stay and head out to Valle de Angeles to see how our pottery was selling. The last time I had been out there was in December with Ursula and Herminia when we left the pottery in the first place. I wanted to visit my fellow PCVs that are out there, too. It was so exciting to actually see our pottery on the shelves! We really were able to break out of La Campa and now more and more people are gonna recognize the red Lencan pottery of the west. Woohoo! I was so excited I even took a picture:

1 comment:

dad said...

Hooray for you Courtney, you have been very successful with your peace corps responsibilities.