San Juan De Oriente, Nicaragua
I fall in love often with people who are fierce and strange, and Maritsa’s seriousness intimidates me. She is the oldest woman in our English class and she takes notes on everything, yelling answers in her rumbling voice and scowling at the board. I find myself working to keep up with her expectations, and notice the way she repeats words to herself, rolling them in her mouth like the clay she spends her life working with. At the end of our first week together she walks to the front of the class, and in front of all the students presents me with a piece of jewelry she made, a blue clay pendent with a fish carved into it.
I chase her after class and ask if I can come the next day to her taller, her workshop to see what else she makes, but then get really sick and don’t make it. By the time I’m better we’re just out for a walk and I hear my name being shouted. Her house is off the main road, and I’m surprised by how poor she is. It seems the two dirt floor rooms house 5 people, but then the roof is high, the dirt floors cool everything down, and the slope behind their little house is covered with yellow bamboo. Her work table is outside and after leading us in, she sits down and gets back to work without ceremony. She works silently and meticulously; rolling, cutting, pressing, and carving clay into beads. The detailed work explains her focused frown which she maintains even when we’re taking pictures.
She leads us into the living room, one rocking chair in front of a television, and a hammock hanging from the corrugated steel roof, and hands me a bag of tiny intricate beads that she’s rolled to equal circumferences and cut in uniform strips before carving into each of them by hand. I think that she’s telling us how she makes hammocks, which surprises me. 90% of the 2600 people in San Juan De Oriente are ceramic artisans; and buy hammocks from other villages.
She keeps talking about hammocks and I tune out a little, patiently waiting to ask her about my favorite pieces of hers, ropy-tiered necklaces in black or “natural”, each bead carefully carved and evenly strung. In a pause I ask about them and she looks at me like I’m incredibly slow, “you mean the hammocks,” she says, “that’s what we call those necklaces.”
And I realize we’ve been talking about them for the last 15 minutes.
Ah, the hammocks.