After 6 weeks of hard rains the sun blazed through the fog in late February reminding us that it is late summer. The Club de Artesana members had thought to get a head start on dyeing this year because early rains in September had kept the suyku plant from dying back and the shrubs were lush with leaves and clumps of yellow flowers by late January. Dye day after dye day was cancelled as we shivered in the doorway of the Club workshop watching the chill rain fall.
One morning in late February we looked at each other and said, “Jaku (Let’s go)”. The cloud cover was high and didn’t appear ominous, and the road had had a few days to dry. After lunch we piled into the double cab pickup the Club contracted. Only 1 teen accompanied us, but 7 kids under the age of 6 scrambled aboard thrilled with the idea of an adventure. Damage from the rains was everywhere. The mountains are soft rock and large sections had sloughed off above and below the heavily rutted road.
We climbed up and out of the Independencia valley for half an hour to the altitude where the masiq’o flower flourishes. There was very little sign of it. Doña Máxima led the charge down the mountainside yelling “masiq´o” When I caught up with her she was collecting tiny ferny twigs from a shrub I´d never noticed before. I was confused, and pointed out it was not the flowers we´d been collecting for the past 5 years and calling masiq´o. She said the bush was the “true masiq´o” and her sister dyed beautiful colors with it. Due to the extraordinary biodiversity of the area plant identification has been challenging.
We´d identified the flower we´d been collecting since 2008 with its scientific name, Bidens andicola, at an exhibit in the Center for Traditional Textiles museum in Cusco.
The locals were comfortable on the steep grade, but I wasn´t so I gathered up the 5 little kids not being packed on their mothers’ backs and headed up to the road and to less steep terrain. The weather was perfect as we headed downhill shouting, running, jumping, and enjoying being out of the claustrophobic fog capped valley. The others caught up with us and we walked downhill collecting chilka leaves and suyku leaves and flowers. A couple of the women collected firewood for their home kitchens. Back at the Club workshop we spent an hour preparing the plant matter for the dye pots.
At the next Club meeting we dyed dark greens from the pots of chilka leaves, light green and gold from the suyku leaves, bronze/green from the suyku flowers, and a medium green from the suyku flowers and chilka baths mixed together. The 3 baths using the ferny twigs of the masiq´o shrub produced bronzy browns. The women wanted more browns so after lunch Doña Martha brought soot she´d scraped from above her kitchen cook fire. It was mixed with the dye bath of suyku leaves producing 5 baths of a reddish brown. As we admired the drying skeins we all felt better about getting such a late start on dyeing this year.
The women expressed an interest in literacy classes, which I began teaching once a week. Of the 7 women in the Club the education range is 3 who completed 2nd grade, 2 who completed 4th grade, and the 2 youngest members completed their sophomore year of high school. The 3 who completed 2nd grade speak little Spanish. I asked the women if they recalled when the rural schools were started, but nobody remembered. Doña Antonia said the patrons of the hacienda in Huancarani did not educate girls because they felt they were more useful pasturing livestock. Many of the haciendas were destroyed and their patrons fled to the cities in the rebellion of 1952 that led to the Agrarian Reform of 1953. Doña Antonia said a law was passed mandating education for all, but I’m surmising the attitude of not educating girls continued until the law could be enforced. Manual labor is critical to the farmer subsistence lifestyle, so it is a huge sacrifice for the parents to send their children to town for schooling. Although educating children is now the accepted norm, can you imagine the social conflict that must have taken place to enforce that law?
Speaking of education…. Friends who follow the blog rose to the challenge of making sure Noemi Chavez didn’t have to drop out of her medical technical training program, and are probably wondering why there’s been no news of her graduation. Noemi is the young woman from Huancarani who completed her training in December. She is still waiting to graduate. An education reform law went into effect last December, but the interpretation of that law is taking time so the certification of last year’s graduates from technical institutions has been postponed month after month. All the would-be graduates are anxious to get out into the working world, but there is nothing they can do without the certification to prove their education and training. Graduation festivities for Noemi are out of the question because the certification expenses are going to run about $630 plus numerous trips to Cochabamba and La Paz. That is equivalent to 10.5 months of tuition and expenses for the 2-year program! She asked for help to meet the expenses, and I responded that I would put the word out. Please consider helping her over this final hurdle so she can get out into the working world. Thank you.
A hug and thanks to all the PAZA supporters who make it possible to carry on day by day. As you have all learned the commitment to helping women in need to help themselves is long term. Life in Independencia is once again tranquil. Dorinda Dutcher, Independencia, Bolivia, March 17, 2014