So this is my last post. For those of you that read… Thanks for following me along. I wish I could have shared more but in the mean time I hope you learned a bit. As I sit in this relaxing hammock I thought instead of leaving you all with an exotic pic of me in front of a volcano, I thought I would give you a more realistic look at what I spent a lot of my time doing…. Waiting! And spending time with Yesenia. This was done while Amy was working with artisans, during meals and most importantly when we needed a bus or taxi to come. Here is Yesenia and I thoughtfully waiting for a Bus at San Juan de Oriente. Adios mis Amigos! See you soon!

So this is my last post. For those of you that read… Thanks for following me along. I wish I could have shared more but in the mean time I hope you learned a bit. As I sit in this relaxing hammock I thought instead of leaving you all with an exotic pic of me in front of a volcano, I thought I would give you a more realistic look at what I spent a lot of my time doing…. Waiting! And spending time with Yesenia. This was done while Amy was working with artisans, during meals and most importantly when we needed a bus or taxi to come. Here is Yesenia and I thoughtfully waiting for a Bus at San Juan de Oriente. Adios mis Amigos! See you soon!

This is Ronald,his wife Brenda, their three children: Anthony, Annalisa, Francisco, and their puppy Estrella(star). Ronald is a 26 year old jewelry artisan that Amy works with. She met him in the park in Granada about a year ago and has been exporting his designs for about a year now. 

On Saturday evening Amy met with Ronald…. And is daughter.. She didn’t want to be away from her dad and I got to see some of his designs. In the two days since Amy had suggested he come up with something new, he had twenty or thirty new sketches and all were something I would wear. So that Amy and Ronald could chat I played with Annalisa( as it turns out me babysitting so that others can work translates a cross continents). This is also another example of how easy it is to build relationships, leave room for family and still get work done.

Ronald is my favorite story because I got to see how his whole family… Immediate and extended, benefit from this. 

A year ago Amy was able to give Ronald steady monthly work, and because his stuff sells so well he was making a lot of money compared to is family in Tipitapa. At that time Ronald and his family were living in two rented rooms in the city and just getting by. BecauseRonald set aside and invested his money he was able to loan money to his brother who recently opened a pulperia and Ronald just purchased a plot of land in a newly developed suburb of Granada(pictured). As we were standing o n his plot of land Ronald is running around to the different parts of it telling us where everything will go…. His kids were chasing the dog and telling me how excited they were about their new barrio. You could see this life that Ronald and Brenda now have as a result of hard work, a bit of luck in meeting Amy and the way Fair Trade can create a sustainable business relationship.

This is Ronald,his wife Brenda, their three children: Anthony, Annalisa, Francisco, and their puppy Estrella(star). Ronald is a 26 year old jewelry artisan that Amy works with. She met him in the park in Granada about a year ago and has been exporting his designs for about a year now.

On Saturday evening Amy met with Ronald…. And is daughter.. She didn’t want to be away from her dad and I got to see some of his designs. In the two days since Amy had suggested he come up with something new, he had twenty or thirty new sketches and all were something I would wear. So that Amy and Ronald could chat I played with Annalisa( as it turns out me babysitting so that others can work translates a cross continents). This is also another example of how easy it is to build relationships, leave room for family and still get work done.

Ronald is my favorite story because I got to see how his whole family… Immediate and extended, benefit from this.

A year ago Amy was able to give Ronald steady monthly work, and because his stuff sells so well he was making a lot of money compared to is family in Tipitapa. At that time Ronald and his family were living in two rented rooms in the city and just getting by. BecauseRonald set aside and invested his money he was able to loan money to his brother who recently opened a pulperia and Ronald just purchased a plot of land in a newly developed suburb of Granada(pictured). As we were standing o n his plot of land Ronald is running around to the different parts of it telling us where everything will go…. His kids were chasing the dog and telling me how excited they were about their new barrio. You could see this life that Ronald and Brenda now have as a result of hard work, a bit of luck in meeting Amy and the way Fair Trade can create a sustainable business relationship.

The Happiest Potter I know…he’s also the only one!


On Saturday we made the journey to San Juan de Oriente, it is a community of potters, that has become quite the tourist destination. No, there are no hotels, in fact only in the last 6 months did they get a restaurant. They have many shops along one street with ceramic products, each one more colorful than the last, and at the end of the road is a big country church painted BRIGHT blue, so match all of the products.

There’s the church in the background, but I thought it was funny that they had a special speed limit for school zones. The town only have 4 streets MAX.

Our first, and because of all the business we were doing, the only stop today was Duilio.  He is the most popular of the artisans here because he is most responsible, he’s also the most successful. Right when we walked in he welcomed us, then explained that he had a universal remote, but the instructions were all in English so he and his family couldn’t figure out how to program it. Amy tried, but she needed to get to work, so I began the task of programming a universal remote. As she handed the instructions to me, Amy goes “This is Fair Trade ground level, we do this kinda stuff ALL the time.”

Duilio has some beautiful pieces!

As Amy and Duilio caught up and talked about different designs, Yesenia and I were able to talk a walk around town, and look at all of the different artwork. I also may have purchased a couple of things!

So all of the sons in Duilio’s family know how to throw on the wheel.  All of their work is done on Kickwheels, which if you know pottery, is MUCH harder than an electric wheel.  We got to see a demonstration I taped, I’ll try to load it, but this internet is finicky. Because of all of the exporting and tours that Duilio does, him and his family are able to live comfortably, in a house that is full of colorful art and plants. (it pays to have a few artists in the family). Two of his sons are attending university, and we were told his daughter won Queen of San Juan de Oriente just last week! Saturday was also Duilio’s birthday, he informed us after being there for two hours. Every day is a work day to him, and today was no different!

I also encountered another enemy of mine, Duilio’s family pet Tucan- Nicholas. This one tried to kill me too….

As we bid our good byes, we snapped a picture of us all, hopped on one of those magical buses and headed back to Granada!

That…. Just Happened.


The internet server is being weird and we are leaving for Masaya, so I will finish the stories and then post the pics later…

So after we toured the barrios Amy, Yesenia and i hopped on a public bus (similar to PatTransit actually, only it’s a school bus and someone yelling the destination out the door to get customers exp “MASAYA, MASAYA, MASAYA!!!”) to Masaya to see her Aluminum Artisan Osmar.

Osmar is VERY Talented and has many unique pieces

Osmar’s kiln where he melts the recycled aluminum

Pieces freshly molded

Amy and Osmar among the finished pieces talking business

While Osmar and his work are fantastic, they are not the important part of the story..

By this point in the trip, the routine has been pretty much set. We travel a distance to an artisan, we spend 3 hours minimum. Amy negotiates, and creates new designs with the artisan, and yesenia and I shop! It’s a nice system.

At this particular location, I am still thinking about my experience earlier that morning when a 10 passenger van pulls up and our pops 8 American women from Texans get out and essentially invade the shop. At this moment, I realized that I am the gringo here, but in all of my time traveling and the many times that I am the only white female in a crowd of locals, I have never felt more like a minority than at that moment.

The women just started grabbing products, critiquing them, deciding they were “below” their standards and tossing them aside. When someone would try to speak to one of Osmar’s employees, instead of trying to speak Spanish or communicate on a basic level, she simply talked LOUDER as if that would help.

Of course, Amy took the opportunity to begin educating the lot on what Fair Trade is, why we were there…etc. As it turns out the ladies brought some clothing donations, AND they were staying on our street. So we agreed to go pick up their clothing donations to drop off at the Granada Street Kids later that evening. And just as quickly as they came, they vanished into the bus, leaving the rest of us still a bit stunned.

That night, as we were walking home from dinner, we remembered that we were supposed to get the donations. All of the homes in Granada look the same from the outside, you dont realize how nice, or crappy the house is until you are inside (kinda like the South Side). We quickly find their home, and as they welcome us in, we realize that they are staying in a mansion worthy of House Hunter International (http://www.hgtv.com/house-hunters-international/show/index.html  it’s a great show).  The place had a pool in the center of the living room, with seperate apartments, roof top terrace, and came with a driver, and a cook/house maid.  As we walked in, one of women said… “Here, have some dessert, Desera’s person made it!”  They proceeded to give us a tour of the place and chat with us for an hour about what we were doing here, and about their trip. They kept saying how much they LOVED to talk to the locals, but after witnessing their interactions with the “locals” i couldn’t really believe them…

As they bid us good bye and safe travels and they closed the door, I just couldn’t get over the strange turn of events throughout my day, nor a person’s ability to be staring something right in the face, and still be blind.

I think it’s safe to say that Thursday was a very difficult and very bizarre day… even for me, and that’s saying something! This story is going to be in parts… it’s too much for one whole entry, but it’s worth it, I promise you.

*Disclaimer, this is not pleasant in any way.

After our deliscious breakfast prepared by Yesenia, Amy and I went to visit the Granada Street Kids project because she has some product there that she has to check, and I wanted to explore it as a potential place for students to stay. (some pics below). The facility and project are amazing, and what it has been able to accomplish in the year and a half that it has been up and running is tremendous.  After we toured the place, checked amy’s product (another lesson of Fair Trade on the ground for another day…) the director of the facility, Juan carlos offered to take us to some of the barrios that the boys are from.

As i showed in my previous post, we drove toward the beautiful lake Granada, we turned left and found ourselves in abject poverty, there is no other way to describe it.  The commercials you see asking you to adopt a child halfway across the globe, documentaries about hunger, studies about lack of access to water pale in comparison. Nothing can demonstrate the reality that exists before you.

As we drive up, kids recognize the car as being from Granada Street Kids and they flock us. One little boy pops his head into the window and with a smile says “please, please please can I come?!” The little boy is 9 and the project can only accommodate those 14 and above. Amy points out that you can see he gets beaten. There are fresh cuts and scars on his face. So Juan Carlos talks to him a while, explains this, and then chats with one another boy (from the project) who had to come home and care for his sick mother.

While all of this is going on, Juan Carlos is pointing out certain homes that he knows belong to the boys in the project.  As he is telling us their stories of family dysfunction (alcoholic and abusive parents, no parents, no food, no water, drug experimentation…etc the list goes on) a little boy, no more than 8 comes up to my window, he’s carrying his sister.

This is Charlie and Lupe. When I asked how old Lupe is, Charlie said she is a year old. The only thing that I could think about was a beautiful little 8mo. old girl I know who is happy and chubby with parents, family, and friends to care for her. Lupe, right now has her brother, and no matter how much I tried, he affect remained the same.

Almost as soon as we left the barrio, the roads went right from dirt to glorious brick, as if what was just behind us, didn’t exist to the people in that current neighborhood. And with the conclusion of that gut-wrenching experience…. we still had work to do, and I then understood why Yesenia refused to come with us….

As Amy and I were trying to process all of this, we wondered, “what makes these barrios different from the barrios in Tipitapa?” The only thing we could come up with is this idea of a supportive community.  In Tipitapa Gustavo simply had dirt floors, there was garbage everywhere, and access to water severely lacked.  But what Gustavo and his children have, that the people in these barrios don’t have is a supportive community. In Tipitapa, you could see that the neighbors cared for each other and looked after one another. Families did the same. in barrio Santa Rosa and Esperanza (means Hope- that’s a joke if i ever heard one), families are abusive, parents have mental disabilities, and children are left to fend for themselves. That’s what makes this so hard to stomach, so difficult to process….and that’s what makes what happened in the afternoon and evening that much stranger….

The Granada Street Kids project focus on taking boys from dysfunctional families and poor barrios, and places them in this center where they live year round. The project is only for boys who want to be there and work together. They live in “cohorts” basically and attend all of their classes together and share a dorm at night. When we visited, they were technically on summer vacation, but were still in an abbreviated schedule in order to enforce the ideas of strong work ethic and continued positive community building.  Go here to read more about this awesome project http://granadastreetkids.com/home0.aspx

It’s always Sunny in Granada… well sort of…


Granada is a unique Latin American city… it’s a unique major city for anywhere really.  Like any urban area, Granada has it’s problems of violence, crime, and poverty; however, it is currently under a major renaissance. In the center of the city there is a giant park surrounded by hotels, churches, street vendors, restaurants, and musicians. At all hours of the day and night there are people sitting, talking and eating all of the glorious food!  I noticed the first day I had arrived that I felt extremely safe here and I asked Amy if this was normal.  She explained that in the last 5 years Spain has heavily invested to renovate the town and as a result tourism has skyrocketed!  With this influx of foreigners invading the city, the government has severely cracked down on glue sniffers in the street (a MAJOR problem for boys from dysfunctional families) and created an environment where you can explore the city well into the night without much worry.  You must be aware of yourself and your surroundings, but for the most part, Granada is very safe.  While there are many locals sitting around the street vendors and eating in the park, an ex-pat gringo will be walking his dalmatian next to you.  it’s a city filled with contradictions, music and colors.  As an amateur sociologist…. i’m constantly people watching with no guilt.

There is another side to the city;however, and that is the lack of a middle class.  This is a problem that people in the US are currently struggling with and are actively protesting.  The situation here is MUCH worse, and the Nicaraguans don’t have the freedoms that US citizens do. For those of you that don’t know, Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest nation in the western hemisphere… just behind Haiti (that is NOT a country anyone would want to be next to on any listing…).  For the most part the government ignores this fact, and the rich in the country continue to get richer, the poorer stay pretty darn poor, and the ex-pats walk their dalmatians in the park and pretend like this disparity does not exist. If you were to start in the center of the city in the beautiful park, and walk a mere 5-10 minutes you will find yourself in barrios that you only see in a tv commercial that has Sarah Mclachlan playing in the background.  I make this joke, but it is a reality, that people live every day.

We saw this…

                                                       

… and then turned left.

Nicaraguans are a tough people.  They have had to endure wars, corrupt governments, and the system has continued to be perpetuated as tourists come in oblivious. I knew all of this going in, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see first-hand.

This is for those of you who had to eat Pollo Rey for an entire week….you know who you are!  We stopped at Pollo Estrella on our way back from Gustavo’s.  Ronald’s kids REALLY wanted to play in the play place (yes they have those). Pollo Estrella is WAY better than Pollo Rey AND they let me barrow the crown for the pic!

*I couldn’t find a donkey that would let me take a picture with him yet…this will have to do…..

This is for those of you who had to eat Pollo Rey for an entire week….you know who you are!  We stopped at Pollo Estrella on our way back from Gustavo’s.  Ronald’s kids REALLY wanted to play in the play place (yes they have those). Pollo Estrella is WAY better than Pollo Rey AND they let me barrow the crown for the pic!

*I couldn’t find a donkey that would let me take a picture with him yet…this will have to do…..

My Travel Companions!  This is Amy and Yesenia, the two women kind enough to show me around and put up with my many questions and poor jokes…
Amy as I mentioned before is the co-owner of Women of The Cloud Forrest. She and her husband began the project about 12 years ago while they were living in Costa Rica. Very long story short, they formed a cooperative of women artisans in a town called Monte Verde, in a cloud Forrest (Hence the name… Women of the Cloud Forrest, don’t feel bad, it took me a minute to put it all together too). Amy and her husband taught the women how to make jewelry at the quality level that could be sold in the states and exported the jewelry to be sold.  Amy is constantly thinking of new ideas and new product.  What is so unusual about the way Amy conducts her fair trade business is that most handicraft sellers simply find artisans, see what they can sell and that’s it.  Amy actually works with the artisans to create new desgins to sell back in the states.  Obviously, this takes A LOT more time, and trips to the artisans. However, once you see the product, it’s totally worth it!  Only recently have they expanded into Nicaragua, where there is no set group of artisans, so WOCF had to start from the beginning in a whole new country.  From what I have seen, it’s going pretty well.
Yesenia is the manager of the artisan cooperative in Monte Verde. She is truly the perfect example of what Fair Trade seeks accomplish. Yesenia is a single mother of a 17  year old boy. She came from extreme poverty and takes great pride in her background and her country. During this time in Nicaragua she is constantly explaining how her country is solving many of the issues we have seen here, such as trash in the streets or kids sniffing glue in the parks. Yesenia takes great pride in her work and Amy constantly compliments Yesnia’s on her “quality control”. Sometimes she is considered to be very strict with the women in the cooperative and even with her son; however the women in the coop have been very successful selling a variety of products in the states and her son will be the first in his family to not only get past the sixth grade, but he will be attending University in the upcoming term. Being given the chance to become a manager and use her artisan and managerial skills has given Yesenia the ability to give to her son  the freedom to create a life that he wishes to work for.
*a VERY important note about Yesenia.  She is an excellent teacher, as she has been putting up with my awful Spanish and politely correcting me along the way so that I can improve.  She is also a FANTASTIC cook.  Each morning she makes homemade empanadas with beans and cheese inside.  She calls them the “food of the poor” i call them delicious!

My Travel Companions! This is Amy and Yesenia, the two women kind enough to show me around and put up with my many questions and poor jokes…

Amy as I mentioned before is the co-owner of Women of The Cloud Forrest. She and her husband began the project about 12 years ago while they were living in Costa Rica. Very long story short, they formed a cooperative of women artisans in a town called Monte Verde, in a cloud Forrest (Hence the name… Women of the Cloud Forrest, don’t feel bad, it took me a minute to put it all together too). Amy and her husband taught the women how to make jewelry at the quality level that could be sold in the states and exported the jewelry to be sold.  Amy is constantly thinking of new ideas and new product.  What is so unusual about the way Amy conducts her fair trade business is that most handicraft sellers simply find artisans, see what they can sell and that’s it.  Amy actually works with the artisans to create new desgins to sell back in the states.  Obviously, this takes A LOT more time, and trips to the artisans. However, once you see the product, it’s totally worth it!  Only recently have they expanded into Nicaragua, where there is no set group of artisans, so WOCF had to start from the beginning in a whole new country.  From what I have seen, it’s going pretty well.

Yesenia is the manager of the artisan cooperative in Monte Verde. She is truly the perfect example of what Fair Trade seeks accomplish. Yesenia is a single mother of a 17 year old boy. She came from extreme poverty and takes great pride in her background and her country. During this time in Nicaragua she is constantly explaining how her country is solving many of the issues we have seen here, such as trash in the streets or kids sniffing glue in the parks. Yesenia takes great pride in her work and Amy constantly compliments Yesnia’s on her “quality control”. Sometimes she is considered to be very strict with the women in the cooperative and even with her son; however the women in the coop have been very successful selling a variety of products in the states and her son will be the first in his family to not only get past the sixth grade, but he will be attending University in the upcoming term. Being given the chance to become a manager and use her artisan and managerial skills has given Yesenia the ability to give to her son the freedom to create a life that he wishes to work for.

*a VERY important note about Yesenia.  She is an excellent teacher, as she has been putting up with my awful Spanish and politely correcting me along the way so that I can improve.  She is also a FANTASTIC cook.  Each morning she makes homemade empanadas with beans and cheese inside.  She calls them the “food of the poor” i call them delicious!

This is just a snap shot of I learned while at Gustavo’s.  Each product is a dedicated process, and as an artist, Gustavo is a perfectionist.  he can create almost anything out of shell and bone and it looks like it’s so simple! Obviously, it’s not.

Something important to note about Gustavo and his family, they are a tight knit group. His daughters, son, and granddaughter all live in homes right around him, and they are always over.  Most times, he would stop talking with us for a second to play with the baby or  to ask his daughters to go buy us cokes and cookies at the little market down the street. It was amazing to me how clearly the family dynamic transferred from my home in the states to this tin home,  in the middle of nowhere. I felt like we were showing up for a typically family visit, not a business transaction.  But make no mistake, Amy and Gustavo planned their order for the next 6 months while we were there. As it turns out, you CAN mix business and family and have it work just fine.