Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
92Trip End Dec 25, 2007
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Part of our program included service projects to help give back to the community in some way - we chose to put together brochures for the museum and the festival and Kymber had a trash can making project for us to help keep the beach clean
Lunch was at a little outdoor restaurant across the street from Bonnie's house. They had fresca - in glass bottles! - and it was sooo good. I ordered chicken and of course everything comes with rice; it was such a simple meal and so amazing! And everything was so hot, I couldn't eat it for the longest time. It was so nice just to sit there and chat and be together. Bonnie brought over the materials she'd bought for cutaras for all of us - the next day some people were going to come over and make sandals for us - and she had to make sure everyone's feet would fit so she could make sure to buy the right amount of materials. Gabriel's feet didn't fit so she had to get specially cut pieces of leather for his cutaras
Next Bonnie had arranged for some local artists to meet with us to show us their crafts and even have some for us to buy. There were several people there, with several different things to share with us: gourd cups and bowls, embroidery and clothing, curiosidades (knickknacks), wooded chairs, drums, the fancy beaded flower things you put in your hair, and lots of odds and ends related to folk art. I ended up buying one of the beaded hair combs, in white, because I figure white goes with everything and even if I only wear it once on my wedding it was worth the 8 bucks and the thing is beautiful. It might even motivate me to do fun things with my hair now and then. I really wanted to buy a chair; they were super comfortable and I was convinced I'd finally found Dad's perfect chair. And if I hadn't the worst-case scenario would land me with the chair. Oh, darn! Bonnie knew the man who was making them and we had his contact so we decided to stop by the post office and see if it would be reasonable to ship them and then decide if we wanted to buy them. Well, it wasn't reasonable. Way too much money. Sorry, Dad, no such luck this time. We'll just have to come back.
While we were in there shopping Josh had met a boy who I think was the son of one of the artists and had clearly made a new friend. They were teaching each other tricks and cool moves and just all around showing off and luckily for me Gabriel had run off with my camera again and had recorded it all in spectacular fashion while I'd been inside agonizing over the chairs.
The rest of the afternoon was reserved for polleras - and when I say an afternoon of polleras I mean the whole afternoon
We watched as each of the women showed us their part in the pollera making process and listened as Gabriel pieced together what we were able to glean from their explanations with our own marginal Spanish. The cross stitching was the most interesting part for me, perhaps because it's the only thing close to anything I've done. They use counted cross stitch, with the grid fabric on top of the actual fabric of the dress, and once the design is complete they pull out the grid fabric string by string until only the dress is left with the incredibly complex patterns stitched right on. One of the women had a grandson there, Solomon, who was a graduate student doing his dissertation on the modernization of the pollera and the incorporation of the folkloric tradition and the pollera itself into modern cultural trends. He seemed to be practicing his dissertation on our unsuspecting group but it turned into a wonderful afternoon of just sitting out on the porch with a bunch of women and Solomon, explaining everything he could about this vital piece of their culture. He even brought out some of his books and showed us the jewelry and the significance of each charm and design. He spoke slowly and used a lot of gestures and I was able to pick up most of what he was telling us. If there was something really important or especially complex Gabriel or Eli would just jump in and translate bits of it for us
Near the end of the visit some of the women brought out things they had made that were for sale, and Vanessa found an outfit she liked that had green and pink cross-stitching on its short sleeve shirt and capris. We finally convinced her to try it on; it was too big but the woman who had made it was quick to offer to alter it for her. When she decided she would buy it Heather and Gabriel started masterminding a plan, remembering that it was Vanessa's birthday and recognizing the opportunity for a surprise. Luckily for us Vanessa doesn't understand a word of Spanish. Soon Ivy was explaining that this outfit was already sold, and that they had forgotten in the excitement of sharing it with us, but that the women would make her another one if she still wanted one. They took her measurements and promised to try to have it completed by the time we left Guararé, and just like that we were on our way.
Before we left Eli thought to ask the women if there was a piece of lace or embroidery that they couldn't use that we could take back to the library on the ship to share our experience and our knowledge with the other students. She gave us six 5-8 inch pieces of lace in various colors and configurations, pieces that they could probably use in some capacity and that took weeks or sometimes even months to make. She asked that it be her donation to TSS. In return (if you can call it that, our gift truly paled in comparison) we gave her a little "squishy ship" - a souvenir we all got from TSS when we arrived, a vaguely boat-shaped piece of foam like the stuff you find in stress balls and other foam toys. We took pictures of her and Solomon and a group picture with all of us and all of the women so that we would have something to put in the frame with the donation of the lace
Unfortunately the fish catch was not particularly good this day the restaurant we were supposed to have dinner at had to close because they had nothing to serve. Pretty good when your food is so fresh they can't serve you if they don't catch anything. So Bonnie took us to a pizza place in Chitré, the larger town nearby La Enea and El Puerto. We were all famished by this point and I was a little worried about the cake, and when we got to the place (after several stops for ATMs and bargain shopping) I made sure to check in with Bonnie about it. They wouldn't be able to bring it all the way out to Chitré, but they would have it for us later on that night. I decided just to trust her on it; she'd done a great job for us so far.
The pizza was fantastic and we ended up having to order more after the first round because we were all still hungry. We sat there for a long time and then gathered ourselves up to go back to La Enea and more polleras. Oh yeah, there were more to see. The first person we went to see was actually the first woman who had ever sewn a pollera in Guararé. Her name was Laura. She had some of her oldest polleras on display for us - some of which were over one hundred years old and still in beautiful shape considering that. She talked to us for a long time and showed us some of her work and the polleras she had worn. Bonnie had a story for us too - you won't believe this. Bonnie was in the Peace Core as well and that's how she found Guararé in the first place a long time ago. She was friends with Laura, who had taught her to embroider
Partway through our visit to Laura's, it became my job to keep Vanessa occupied in the room while Gabriel and Heather helped get everything orchestrated next door. I had no idea what was going on until I got in there: the cake had come, as promised, and so had the embroidered outfit from the pollera house - altered just to her size. Along with the cake and the gift had some half the town and many curious children who had come in packs at the sight of the cake and a party. There were kids of all ages there and a lot of people our age. I met Ricky, a student from Guararé, and I felt so bad that I couldn't use more Spanish but it was so late and my brain was so overloaded that I had about the thinking capacity of Vanessa's cake by that point
When we finally wrapped up at the birthday party, we had one more home to visit, with some more polleras. We were all exhausted but these women had also brought out their things especially for us and were expecting us so we couldn't not go. This was also an important stop because these particular polleras were in modern styles. There were distinct differences, particularly in cut and the style of design. Some of these polleras were cut off the shoulder, and the skirts were much straighter and less flowy. They didn't require the huge amounts of petticoats the others did. They were very similar in some ways and still very much polleras, but it was interesting to see how the tradition had adapted to suit modern needs and even modern fashion.
We were all so exhausted after that that we had no more energy for the dance lessons we were supposed to have had, but luckily for us the dance instructors had never come, and we were off the hook. We went right to bed. Well, almost right to bed. Actually I made a couple of phone calls first. It wasn't actually that late. It had just been such a wonderfully full day that we were exhausted. I called Mom and Dad and talked for a long time on a really cheap phone card (5 cents a minute to the US) I'd bought the day before at a little tienda in Guararé. It's really too bad I didn't have more time to call others from Panama -it's probably the cheapest calls I'm likely to get, perhaps for the rest of the trip. Then Gabriel and Vanessa and I stayed up talking for a little while longer before we finally made it to bed.