© 2010 katrina


The sounds of funerals here are oompah bands in the streets. I run out onto the street during a pottery lesson to follow the sound, thinking that it will be a party, a dance, a parade; but instead see people following a coffin hoisted onto the shoulders of locals. It seems the whole town has made time for the processional, and when Jonah asks Alfredo, the papa of our family, about it later, he says, “That’s the way it is in San Juan de Oriente, when a person is muy pobre, very poor, everyone in the town comes to the funeral.”

Alfredo uses the word again, with the same sad shake of his head, for Migdalia, a woman in our class, saying she is very pobre. Her home is dirt floors and jagged pieces of found particle board, but her daughters are always smiling. She often misses classes and when she comes she answers every question by stuffing giggles behind her hand or saying, “I haven’t studied.”

When I visit her shop, Migdalia beckons me with the Nicaraguan gesture that always confuses me, it’s a whisking move that looks like she wants me to skedaddle, but actually means “come here.”

Her shop is sparse, with few items for sale, but she leads me to a table with little objects that fit in your palm and says, “I’m sorry I don’t have very much, and don’t have much to give you, but I want to give you something to remember me by. If there is anything you like here, I want to gift it to you.” She shows me the small things she’s made, saying that they are very fea, ugly.

I choose a tiny caballo vallo with a sly face. It’s just two inches high and she tells me that she has to make them on her stove because she doesn’t have access to an orno, a ceramic oven. They break often, she says. I tell her that I’ll think of her when I see it and then ask her if I can buy the second one as well, but she won’t give me a price, “un regalo,” she says, a gift.

We decide that the second gift looks like Jonah, and that the first, like me.

I still want to buy something from her, and so I ask if she could make 5 for me and she is thrilled, saying she will make them each with a different face and give them to me on Friday before I leave.

Migdalia’s Caballo Vallos, $5

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