Thursday, November 12, 2009

El Hotel Libertador

Yesterday we received some great news. A local hotel, The Hotel Libertador, selected the AsociaciĆ³n de Artesanos Valle Sagrado to sell their products in their lobby! The contest began about a month ago, and after two rounds of tough competition, the artisans of Urubamba have won a great opportunity.
The largest problems with the association are the lack of organization and the inability to sell to tourists directly. This should help with both, because the good news provides something to rally around in addition to access to tourists.
What lies ahead is making sure the association is ready. But we have a lot of time, and we are all excited to finally have some good news!
Also, as promised, check out the pic of our new teacher doing what he does best during one of his classes with the association.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You´ve been doing WHAT?

Don´t worry loyal blog fans, Urubamba didn´t fall off the face of the Earth taking your beloved internet posts with it. It´s just been busy.
To start, new skill workshops have started with our new ¨profesor¨, Mauricio, from Cuzco. Right now the artisans are learning new techniques on sewing machines, and seem to be really enjoying it. Participation is higher than usual, and they really are making some great stuff. Today I caught the end of their class and they were finishing up making purses and sachels, products which are slightly different from those found in the surrounding markets (did someone say ¨diversification¨?).
This weekend also marked Urubamba´s 170th anniversary. Translation: festivals and parties for 4 days straight. Some artisans took advantage of the opportunity to sell their products in the plaza during the festivities. The others did what the rest of Urubamba did this weekend: dance, dance, dance.
And sorry there´s no pics with this post. If you´ve been following the blog (like I know you have been) you will know that Arnaud has left us. That means his fancy camera left us too. But have no worries, we´ll get some new stuff up here soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good Bye

Today is my last day and it was a busy day, we visited two different artisans worshops to take pictures of their products. Ian and Daniel will update the blog very soon about that. I had good surprises this week, I received an inca neckless from Mario and a bracelet from Martina to thank me for my hard work! It was so nice from them and it touched me a lot! So Tomorrow I am flying back to Lima where I will do hang-gliding... yeah!!! This Experience in Urubamba has been very rewarding for me, it gave me the opportunity to realize the gap between a developing country such as Peru and the westernized world and to understand better what are the day-to-day problems of local people in Urubamba. Thank you all!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

El Presidente

Today Ian, Pats and I were invited at Mario's home to take some pictures of his products. Mario produces silver based jewelry and sells his products to retailers in Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Mario is also the president of the association and expressed his doubts about the capacity of the association to take decisions together. For him the main issue is that one part of the artisans are just resellers and not producers therefore their interests does not match with the objectives of the association. At the end of our photos session we enjoyed a delicious lunch with Mario and his wife.

Monday, October 26, 2009

El Profesor

Today Daniel, Ian and I went to Alejandro's home to take pictures of his products. His nickname is "El Profesor" because he is teaching as well in a school in Urubamba. Alejandro produces ceramics but uses an other technique as Orlando which is called "Churros" and he uses a manual potter's wheel.
Alejandro is the owner of a family business called CERAMICAS VALLE SAGRADO. He is responsible for making the products and his wife take care of the artistic painting. He collaborates with tourism agency in Cusco that organize some visit of his workshop for tourists. Tourists have the opportunity to learn and to practice ceramics and then share a lunch prepared by Alejandro's
wife. This concept seem promising and it would be a good idea to encourage other artisans to do so. In addition Alejandro sells his products to companies in Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima. Obviously his business seems well developed in comparison with other artisans. He told us that his main difficulty is the transport of raw materials from Cusco to Urubamba which is expensive because he does not have his own car and that expect from Nexos more promotion on internet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Visit at Orlando's home

We decided to meet each artisan (if possible) at their home in order first to take pictures of their work but also to discuss with them about the organization of the association and about their opinion, doubts and suggestions they might have. These kind of informal meetings are very productive we think as the artisans can confide things that they might not be willing to say in front of everybody (for example during the association's meetings). Yesterday me met Orlando at his home to show us his ceramic's work. Orlando told us also about his concern of the association's future. According to Orlando some artisans are not enough involved in the association because they have other interests. Some artisans are not concern because they does not use the Urubamba Market to sell their products but prefer to have "una tienda" (shop) in Cusco or Pisac. Orlando told us as well about his lack of capital in order to develop his business (for example to travel and visit other "ferias" in Peru and abroad or to buy a larger quantity of raw materials) and his attempt to collaborate with other artisans. We were touched by Orlando's "desperate" speach as he is one of the artisans who is strongly motivated to fight in order improve his business. We took into consideration his opinion and we believe that the best solution would be to start to work only with motivated artisans. We are currently thinking about writing down "Nexos rules" and to work only with people who agree with those rules.

Public Registry

Last Sunday we discussed with Mario about the possibility to register the Association with a Public Registry, the association would appear more legitimate and credible. Mario is currently working on that.

Patty's resignation

Last week happened an unexpected event... Patty the designer who was responsible for teaching the design workshop decided to resign... for personal reasons. Artisans seem to agree to work on some products and then change their opinion one week later. Basically Patty is just tired of the constant change of opinion of the artisans. According to Patty it is a problem of mentality of the artisans. Now the difficult task for the association and Nexos is to find a new designer. Last Sunday during the association meeting, the artisans were supposed to chose a new designer but failed to do so. As a consequence we will need to discuss this issue next Sunday only... In the meantime Nexos will discuss with the Municipality to see what's going on with the Convenio as the design workshop is now suspended.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tibisay Monsalve Restrepo as the Guest Star

Last Friday (Oct. 2) the artisans received a host from Lima. Tibisay Monsalve Restrepo is the representative of Peru Hotel Society ( which is an organization focused on helping developing the hotel activity in Peru. She was looking for products to sell in hotels in Lima in the future. She was just visiting and looking at the kind of products the artisans are working on. She did not make any promise but she let us know that her organization will hire artisans in the Sacred Valley and provide them the funds to educate them in order to improve the quality of the products. Then those products will be sent to some hotels in Lima. This might be a great opportunity in the future that's why all the artisans dressed up traditionally to welcome warmely this "VIP guest". After the visit Tibisay had lunch with the "Junta Directiva" ("board of directors" of the association), the artisans cooked for her a nice trucha a la plancha which is the typical local food. Even if nothing is sure The artisans will be in touch with her.

Concurso para la mejor tienda

Last week the artisans organized a contest to elect the best stores of the market. The idea was to motivate the artisans to clean up and put into order their stores. Each winner earned a basket of local foods.
Nexos Voluntarios was appointed jury of this contest. So Daniel, Ian and I were responsible to elect the three best stores which was not an easy task. After long discussions and debates we finally chose the three best one (Lucia, Americo, and an third one I do not remember...)
Every artisans took this contest very seriously and we have to confess that it was the first time we were proud of this market, it is too bad that it does not happen every market day...

Hotel Libertador

On Monday October 28, about 12 artisans of our association were competing to get a place inside the hotel Libertador for selling their products. The competition was tough as competitors came from the whole sacred valley (Pisac, Cusco, Chinchero, Ollataytambo) but our association did well. Everybody dressed up with traditional clothes which made a very good impression to the hotel's representatives and each artisan presented his/her products one by one. We are now waiting for the hotel's decision but it is important to underline that even if the artisans ran as an association for this contest, only the "artisans producers" will get the right to sell their products inside the hotel. That's why this week Daniel, Ian and I are going to visit each artisans home in order to determine which one of them are real producers and which one are just re-sellers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Next Monday (September 28) the Hotel Libertador will organize his contest in order to select the best artisans that will have the right to sell their products inside the hotel. Of course "our" artisans will try their luck and in order to look more professional we have created a logo for them. The logo represent actually the town of Urubamba we then added some effects. We will print it on "business cards" and on the back of each card the artisans will write their name and their own speciality. We hope that with this logo the artisans will appear more like an Association rather than a set of individuals.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Bad News and Some Good News

Last week during our weekly meeting we heard about a bad news: apparently about eight artisans are members of an other artisans association in Urubamba (Association Aguajinca) and therefore are seen as a liability because they spread (according to Mario) bad rumours about our Association. Daniel, Ian and I did not know about that even if it is not a recent problem. We were very surprised to hear that and we do not really understand why Mario did not tell us about that before. Anyway we were thinking to ask “diplomatically” those people to leave the Association, Mario is going to talk to them to fix this issue. Concerning the good news first the artisans attended the Design Workshop with a great enthusiasm (see picture), secondly a new hotel is going to open in Urubamba, the Hotel Libertador. This hotel will organize a competition (September 28, 2009) among all the artisans of Urubamba and the winners will obtain a space inside the hotel where they will be able to sell their products. There are 10 places available, therefore this is a great opportunity for the artisans to gain access to new customers. As it is going to be a five stars hotel the quality of the products will be crucial, hopefully the Design Workshop with Patty will be fruitful! On the top of that next month the Artisans of Urubamba will be responsible for organizing a big meeting (“seminar”) about artesania where all the artisans of the Sacred Valley will attend. This will be an opportunity for the Artisans of Urubamba to show their work and prove their capability to organize such a meeting...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Update on Design Workshop

Last Sunday the artisans had an "extraordinary" meeting to talk about the design workshop. The issue was that some of the artisans were not happy with the choice of Patty as the designer. Find an other designer would have taken more time and wasted money

We explained them the importance to accept Patty in order not to waste the money from the Municipality (The Municipality accepted to pay for the design workshops only until the end of November). We told them as well that if they are not happy with Patty we might find an other designer but that it is crucial to start the workshops as soon as possible. Eventually the artisans accepted our suggestion and on Tuesday they had their first design workshop. Around ten persons attended this workshop and so far everything seems to be working well.

Money in the Bank

On Monday Daniel, Arnaud and I headed to Cusco to talk with an administrator from Mibanco, a Peruvian microfinance bank that provides small loans to micro-entrepreneurs to help them launch or expand their businesses. Though it is obvious that the artisans are not yet able to safely incur debt, even the small amount from a micro-loan, it was a great opportunity to inquire about the general requirements and rules of microcredit in Peru. As we work to generate tourism and income inflows into the market, the opportunity for credit access will stay in the back of our minds.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Como se dice....

Today we held the first English class for the artisans of Urubamba. Though teaching English is not a prime objective of the project, the artisans asked for some basic lessons to help them communicate with prospective customers. After lots of prodding and arm twisting (not really!), Arnaud and I agreed.
A larger than expected group showed up, and we dove right into numbers and games. Everyone was energetic and ready to participate, making the class not only more educational, but more fun as well.
If nothing else, the classes will give the artisans more confidence when speaking with tourists and will give us the opportunity to get to know everyone on a more personal level. The class went great, and I think the artisans will be speaking basic English in no time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Priorities for the Association

As a consequence of the last meeting with the artisans we agreed that the top-priority is to strengthen the association of artisans, Daniel draw the four next steps for Nexos’ volunteers:


1.     Discuss with the Municipality how the Convenio will be enforce, who is going to receive the money and what will happen if the totality of the money is not spent.

2.     Promote Fair-Trade with the artisans.

3.     Inquire if it would be possible to install a stall inside the Bus Terminal.

4.     Create a banner to indicate the site of the market.

Update on Sunday’s artisans meeting

Daniel attended the meeting and briefed us about the relevant points.

The main issue concern the organization of the design workshops as some artisans are not motivated any more to take those classes. Some artisans seem doubtful that those workshops will be helpful for them. This is a surprise for us as one week ago the artisans seemed enthusiastic at this idea.

Even if this will have to be discussed with Mario, one option for us would be to focus on the motivated artisans and hope that the others will follow.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Our new boss

On Thursday (Sept. 3) our new supervisor, Daniel Nakasone, joined us from Lima. He will be the new coordinator of all Nexos projects in Urubamba. He graduated from the Universidad Catholica de Peru in July of 2009 with a degree in communication for social development. Daniel volunteered with Nexos in Lima in 2007 as a consultant for Tierros de los Hombres. The project helped to restore justice for minors.
Daniel likes writing poetry, listening to music, traveling and hiking. He will be with us until December, and we are excited to have him on the team!

Announcing the good news to Mario

On Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 2) we had our first weekly meeting with Mario and we announced him the good news about the Convenio, he was very happy and asked us quickly when we can start the design workshops. We still have to coordinate with Patty but we plan to start the design workshops next week. In addition Ian and myself agreed to organize some workshops to teach them twice a week basic English, we will probably start in the next two weeks. All the issues about the workshops will have to be discussed next Sunday at the general meeting of the Artisans Association but unfortunately Ian and I will not be able to attend because we are going to hike Machu Picchu…! However Daniel (the new guy responsible of the project for Nexos, see above) will attend the meeting on Sunday.

Convenio: finally signed up

I feel a bit uncomfortable to write this post because it is Melissa and Ana’s work but they left just before the finalisation of this agreement between the municipality of Urubamba and the artisans’ association.

On Wednesday morning (Sept. 2) at 8.00 am Conny and I went to the municipality to see the Deputy Mayor Sr. Raymundo in order to sign up the convenio.

Even if everything was supposed to be in order, the Deputy Mayor was still concern about the clause in the contract (article 17) that stipulated that the present agreement link the two parties for an undefined period. The deputy Mayor was worried that Municipality had to pay indefinitely. The thing is that an other article (article 12) precise that the Municipality will need to pay only for the 3 next months. This point was not really clear for the Deputy Mayor and as a consequence he asked us to come back later in the day because I wanted to discussed about it with the Alcalde.

At the beginning of the afternoon Conny, Ian, Amanda and I went back to the municipality. After 30 minutes wait, the secretary of the Alcalde showed up with the signed copy, it was done. The Alcalde finally agreed to sign the Convenio without any modifications as it was eventually clear that the Municipality promised to pay only for the next 3 months but that the “collaboration” with artisans will be undefined. We hoped a picture with the Alcalde but we did not even meet him.

Anyway this Convenio is a very good start for the artisans and means that the Municipality of Urubamba will pay the amount of 1,250 Nuevo Soles per month to the Artisans Association at least for the next three months. This money will be used to finance education workshops (design workshops).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The New Regime

Tomorrow is my last day in Urubamba. I am sad to go, but least Ana and I are leaving the project in capable hands. Two new volunteers are set to take over. Ian McGroarty is from New Jersey, but will be living in Peru for the next six months. He is a 2008 graduate from Penn State with a major in Economics. He specialized in development and international poverty alieviation. He used this background to volunteer both as a micro-enterprise consultant and with the One Campaign. He has developed business plans and pursued micro-financing, both of which will be great assests to this project. When he's not helping out in developing nations, he likes to box and play the guitar. Arnaud L'Hertier comes to us via Switzerland, then Canada and the U.S., but he will be making his home in Peru until the end of October. He majored in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. After graduating, he worked in the Vancouver Treasury Department, then went to Berkley to study finance. Arnaud hopes to use his background to secure micro-financing for the artisans to facilitate wholesale purchasing and education workshops. He also has a passion for photography, so stay tuned for his shots of Urubamba.

Learning Mario´s Trade

Since it was the end of our stay in Urubamba, Mario said he´d like us to see his workshop where he makes jewelry. We also brought Arnaud, so he would have the chance to meet Mario before we left. We also got to meet Mario´s wife, since she picked us up for the long walk to the shop. When we got there, we saw the tools he uses to create the rings, earrings and pendants. He also showed us the different forms silver comes in (tiny sliver balls, which are turned into sticks of silver, which are then turned into whatever Mario creates). As if it wasn´t interesting enough to learn all that, Mario then asked if we wanted to make rings for ourselves. Of course! We started with thin strips of silver, then added even smaller strips for detail. We had to heat them until they were glowing so we could solder them together. Then we had to use metal-cutting scissors to trim off the excess. Then somehow, Mario fashioned it into a circle, which we had to pound- a lot- to make it smooth. Finally, it had to go into a jar of chemicals and then Mario used a machine to shine to final product. With a lot of help from Mario, the rings turned out really nice. Who knew playing with a blow torch could be so much fun???

Friday, August 28, 2009

Melissa and Ana's Last Days (in Urubamba)

Dorotea, Virginia, Viviana, Mario and Pilar's younger sister all came by to thank us for our efforts and ask questions about the transition to new volunteers Arnaud and Ian, who will be taking over in the next couple weeks. They also presented us with these great bags. There are about a dozen women in our market who do this type of weaving, and they are quite good at it.

Here we are at the end of the meeting, posing for a goodbye shot. (I've never felt so tall.)

Update on the Internet Retailers

The work with the elections, the designer, the convenyo, and the meetings is only part of what we have been working on in Urubamba. We have also been quietly working behind the scenes, researching and contacting internet retailers - - in essence, trying to open up new sales channels for our artisans. More work still needs to be done. Follow-up emails are going to be sent, and additional retailers contacted. That said, we have already had some success! We have heard back from a few companies, and one in particular is interested in setting up a meeting with Nexos. It has been a lot of work, getting product pictures and trying to establish wholesale prices with the artisans, but I am hopeful it will be worth it. It will be a long process, but the new volunteers are poised to take over where we left off.

We have also reached out to other Peruvian NGOs with similar interests in assisting the artisans. Specifically, we found three that work with artisan groups around Peru; they train in such areas as costs, production, administration, and sales. Any help they could provide, particularly in design and export, would be invaluable.

That´s not to say it has been all work and no fun with our artisans. We were able to share some laughs, even when I got in on the post-meeting volleyball game and kept hitting it into the street. In my defense, I am pretty sure the market is not a regulation size court...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meeting with Mario and Patty

This much-delay, much-needed meeting went great! Patty and Mario were both able to express their major concerns and we all brainstormed solutions. Mario was concerned about where to begin with the workshops and who would be allowed to participate. Patty and Nexos felt that anyone who was interested would be welcome in the workshops. After weighing the pros and cons of various starting points, we concluded that Christmas products and cuy designs would be the best options. Producing corn-themed products to represent the fertility of the Sacred Valley remains a possibility for the future. Cuy, aka guinea pig, is a common Peruvian dish that I have yet to try, for the reason below. (Picture credit: Howard Banwell)Patty's primary concern was the starting skill level of the artisans. While there is a core group of association members that make their products by hand, Patty thinks that nearly half of the artisans are just buying their merchandise from Cusco and reselling. She stressed that the association should kick them out or change it's name. Mario seemed surprised by Patty's perspective. Patty said that many of the artisans had lied to her about which products they made and did not become obvious until she watched them knit/weave/sew in the previous design workshop. Despite this frustration, Patty agreed that all would be welcome at the workshops and be given the opportunity to become an artisan.

Patty and Mario were both excited to start the workshops and to look for new designs that would be more appealing to local tourists as well as local and international retailers. Now we're all just waiting on the convenio.

Convenio: The Task that Never Ends

It seems that yesterday's cautious optimism was premature. When we showed up at Sr. Raymundo's office this morning at 8 am (as instructed), he was there, but had not reviewed the document. This was odd, since he told me the day before that it was ready to be signed.

He asked if I'd emailed it to him, which I did last week, along with a few friendly reminder emails. He mumbled something about the spam filters and took a personal call before reviewing the contract and telling us he would have to discuss the workshop price with the alcalde (mayor).

Unfortunately, the mayor was unavailable that morning because he was working his fields. But the deputy mayor said everything else about the agreement was fine, and that we should come back to sign it later. Also, he asked us to provide written authorization from the Lima office giving our project coordinator in Urubamba permission to sign documents on behalf of the organization.

It's pretty disappointing to come so close to formalizing the agreement only to leave before it's done. But it shouldn't be too difficult to finish up, so I'm hopeful it will be signed next week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another Market Day on the Streets of Urubamba

Here are some pictures from this week's market day. Above is a glimpse of the street scene, while below a woman considers buying dried choclo (corn).

Convenio Watch: Day 8

I've been getting up early for the last two weeks, mostly to get stuff done without distractions. This morning I planned to write about yesterday's meeting with Patty and to prepare some documentation for future volunteers.

With only two days of work left, I'm starting to get anxious about how much I've been able to get done. It's like I'm a lame duck president planning his legacy. Looking back, it's easy to overlook the soft stuff (like getting to know the artisans) and focus instead on the quantifiable.

The unsigned convenio felt like a quantifiable failure and at 8am, the pressure of that failure was weighing on me. So I hustled over to the municipality hoping that the deputy mayor would actually be in the office. And he was!

He told me the convenio is ready to be signed and we should come back tomorrow morning to complete the signing. While this is soft progress (an agreement has been reached and a promise made), signatures tomorrow would make it concrete. I'm not celebrating yet, but I am thinking that I might be celebrating tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meeting with Patty & Mario

Mario was so eager to get started with the workshops that he asked if we could set up a meeting where he could meet with Patty and here her ideas. We did set up Tuesday's meeting last Wednesday, so it's possible he just forgot. Although I remember watching him write it down in his calendar.

In any case, Mario's absence ended up giving us a chance to get to know Patty better. Compared to the average Urubambino, Patty is quite cosmopolitan. She has lived in Lima and Arequipa and now lives in Cusco while maintaining a studio near the NeVo headquarters in Urubamba.

One of Patty's side projects is working with a women's knitting group in Coya. Every Saturday, the women meet to chat and knit and Patty teaches them new designs, normally children clothes because they don't take as long. When they finish their work, they sell to one store in Cusco. Because they are "mujeres del campo" or women of the fields, they don't know how to write the purchase orders most stores require, but they did find one store that was willing to work with them.

Patty's set out to help the women gain a little independence by making their own money. She's talked to them about reaching out to more stores, but the women are against it. They say they won't have time to make more products, because they have families to take care of. One idea of Patty's - and I thought it was a great one - was to help the women save up to buy a collective washing machine so they could save time on household work.

The women were strongly opposed to this idea. For one, washing clothes in the canal - like knitting - was another opportunity to be social. Additionally, even with the small bit of success they experience now, literally taking care of their families is their primary concern. Even if their families could use additional income, the women did not view it as taking care of their family.

Maybe the US economy is overspecialized and Americans outsource too many household and parenting responsibilities, but it's certainly clear that the Peruvian economy - with an average annual income $3,500 - could benefit from increased specialization. When I think about all the time Urubamban women spend butchering meat for lunch each day, it just seems like time wasted. It would be so much more efficient for the vendors to butcher the meat rather than send it home half-butchered with a woman whose tiny kitchen only includes two knives, both dull. But the Urubambinas I know don't seem to mind: it's just another part of taking care of her family.

Sergia Otasu

Senora Otasu has been working at the artisan market for two years. She has four children and was previously a stay-at-home mom. She studied doll-making in Cusco with Maria Canal. It takes her a full day to make one of these cute little girls.

These dolls carrying pottery, wool and a llama are her most popular styles.

Gregoria Ramalovibo

Gregoria took over her mom's booth at Urubamba's artisan market two months ago. Her most popular products are chullos (the knit caps with ear flaps) and wallets. She has two children ages 5 and 6.

Convenio Watch: Day 7

Sigh, so we're still waiting to hear from Urubamba's deputy mayor as to whether or not he will be forwarding the convenio to the mayor for a signature. With each day that passes, I'm more convinced that his inbox is a black hole for agreements. (The fact that he has a Hotmail account - and not an official government address - does nothing to dispel my doubt.)

This is personally disappointing for me, because I'm leaving Urubamba on Saturday. But honestly, I think it's the most frustrating for the artisans. I'm concerned that the artisans will become cynical about the project, because all we've been able to secure from the government for them are promises.

I think it's time to write my daily email to the deputy mayor: "Buenos Dias de Nexos Voluntarios..."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Meeting with Patty

In our second meeting with Patty this week, we told her about the enthusiasm of the association's president. She was pretty excited that the association was interested in paying for the workshops itself if that meant they could start sooner. She thought workshop attendance would be much higher if the funds came from the association and not the municipality.

We've set a meeting with Mario, Patty and Nexos for next Tuesday. Fingers crossed on the convenio!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mercado de la Plaza

Every Wednesday, Urubamba streets are overrun with vendors of all sorts, and people from surrounding villages make their weekly shopping trip. Here are some of photos of the indoor market. There's a lot going to take in, so I uploaded the large file: click on the picture for full size.

These women are selling dried choclo which is the local corn crop. It's not currently corn season here, but the area does produce a substantial amount of corn.

You may have to click on this to really appreciate that these are certainly not meat storage conditions westerners would be comfortable with.

Weekly Meeting with Mario

We met with Mario and Dorotea (the secretary) today for our weekly meeting. They were very concerned about getting the new officers up-to-speed and starting the workshops. Mario did not want the artisans thinking the election was merely "por gusto" (for fun).

Mario asked when he could meet with the designer, how long we thought it would take to get the convenio signed and how much the designer charged - in case the artisans' association could afford to pay her from their funds and possibly start classes before the city approved the convenio. This was incredibly encouraging.

I promised to forward Mario a list of products that internet retailers have asked Melissa about, and let him know that Patty had looked over the list and would be targeting her workshops to the products with the greatest demand. Mario happily gave me his email address, but did not remember how to spell Hotmail, since he checks it so infrequently.

Dorotea was excited to see herself on the blog, and Mario asked whether he could post updates as well. (We're working on that.) Progress with the city and the artisans takes quite a bit of persistence (and time), but it's awesome to see the artisans so excited about the work we're doing.

Meeting with the Gerente

So we called his office at 1:45pm to make sure he was there. His secretary expected him at 2pm. When we arrived at 2:10pm, his secretary told us he was "almorzando" (having lunch) and would be back within half an hour. When he showed up 3:10pm, he gave us a full five minutes before telling us he'd be happy to review the convenio, if we just emailed it to him.

I did that as soon as we got home from the mercado, but still no word. It's only been a day - so maybe this concern is premature - but I'm worried that his inbox may be a black hole for contracts. I guess we'll email tomorrow to see if he's had a chance to look at the document.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weekly Goals

Time has really flown. Melissa and I are both leaving in two weeks, so we are trying to cram as much work as possible into the end of the month. We'd like to see as many of our efforts pay off as possible, and create a smooth transition for the volunteers taking over in September.
  • Melissa is continuing the outreach efforts to internet retailers on behalf of the artisans.
  • Melissa has put together a list of useful English words with pronunciation for the artisans. We hope to hand that out this week.
  • We're now looking into Peruvian retailers that might be interested in carrying the artisans' products.
  • We've got a meeting at 2pm today with Senor Raimundo, the deputy mayor. The convenio is written, we just need to present it to him with enough conviction that he forwards it onto the mayor to sign.
  • I've put together a form to help the newly-elected compradora (buyer) collect and keep track of the artisans' purchase orders and money. I'm adjusting it now and hope to have it ready for her later today.
  • I'm also working on a one-page, basic home finance worksheet, so the artisans will be able to track their revenues and expenditures.
  • Melissa and I are working on compiling a binder of all the work associated with the artisan project so we'll be better able to hand it over in two weeks.

Monday, August 17, 2009

One step forward, one step backward

The artisans elected an unenthusiastic director of internet sales, but she reluctantly complied. I thought we lucked out that she already had an email address. She wrote it down for us and I read it back to her to make sure it was correct. However, today we received error messages after attempting to email her. Her handwriting was quite legible, so it didn't leave much room for guessing. Nevertheless, we tried four variations on the address to see if we had misread it. No luck; they all bounced.

I'm not sure whether she checks her email so infrequently that she forgot her address, or whether she knew she was stringing us along from the beginning. Hopefully we'll be able to track her down at the market tomorrow or Thursday to correct this. For now, however, we're still the intermediary.

Llevese Senorita

One of the great perks of volunteering in Peru's Sacred Valley is taking unbelievable weekend trips. I've visited Lake Titicaca, checked out the man-made floating islands of the Uros and stayed overnight with a family on the Isla Amantani who dressed me up in traditional Peruvian clothing. I've flown over the Nasca lines, toured the Islas Ballestas (aka the poor man's Galapagos) and sandboarded in Huacachina. I've spent a day exploring Cusco, the longest continuously-inhabited city in the New World.

This past weekend, Melissa and I finally made it to Peru's best known attraction: Machu Picchu. Sure, getting there is no small feat. We took a collective taxi - a minibus with twelve seats but carrying twenty-one passengers - from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo where we caught a train to Aguas Calientes. We spent the "night" in Aguas Calientes, waking up at 3 am to line up for the buses up to Machu Picchu. (Only the first 400 people get to climb the adjacent mountain, Wayna Picchu, which has unbelievable views of the ruins and the valley surrounding them.)

Machu Picchu is unbelievable and I really couldn't believe I was there, but I was happy to return to Urubamba on Sunday. For one thing, a bottle of water in Urubamba only costs S/1.00, but in Aguas Calientes you could expect to pay S/3.00, at the ruins themselves you'd pay S/5.00. But it's not just the insane tourist prices that make me appreciate Urubamba. In Urubamba, I'm not viewed as a tourist, but just as an extrangero (foreigner). I like being able to walk through streets and markets without a barrage of "Llevese Senorita, llevese," essentially "take it, take it" whenever I stop to examine something.

Urubamba - like much of Peru - is dependent on tourism, but it doesn't exploit its tourists the way other, better known, cities do. It's a nice place to come home to after a weekend of traveling.

Video from Election Day

Melissa shot this gem. The sound and video quality on my camera aren't great (then again, we are right next to the highway), but make sure you get to 1:18 for a good laugh.

Good News, Bad News

After yesterday's election, Senorita Mercedes asked us to go with her to meet with the gerente of infrastructure at the municipality today. The municipality has promised to improve the infrastructure of the market but no progress has been made. Even though, we aren't directly involved in this effort, I felt it was important to show the artisans we are committed to supporting them. Since all Mercedes asked was for us to attend, I was happy to oblige.

I also asked Pilar to attend since she is the association's newly-elected city representative. I was happy to see both Pilar and Mercedes waiting outside the municipal building when we arrived at 10am. It's very common to wait over half-an-hour for a meeting you've set up, and not unlikely that the meeting won't happen at all.

I really appreciate Mercedes' motivation to improve the market itself and Pilar's commitment to her new position.

However, both Mercedes and Pilar are part of the group leaving for the fair in Ecuador next Sunday. It's not unreasonable that would want to travel to sell their products since the local market is so weak. Unfortunately, this throws a wrench in our plans to offer workshops, since the most motivated artisans are the ones who will be traveling. Hopefully, we'll be able to generate enough interest in the workshops and they'll jump in when they return in mid-September.

Meeting with Patty

We met with Patty, a local designer, this morning and she's keen to start the workshops. She's cleared her schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays to be available to train the artisans. She's just waiting on confirmation from the municipality that she'll get paid.

I've got the final convenio ready for the deputy mayor to sign. Now I just need to track him down. We've made appointments with him in the past and shown up only to discover that he was not even in the building, and one time was in a neighboring town. This time, I figured I'll just show up repeatedly and keep asking his secretary when she expects him to return.

This morning, no luck finding him. I was told he'd be back at 4pm today, or I could find him tomorrow after 8am. I'm planning to try both.

We discussed various new products with Patty, as well as the relative appeal of products with and without llamas. Patty felt that llamas made it clear that the merchandise was Peruvian and that's what tourists were looking for. Melissa and I were of the opinion that attractive products, handmade by Peruvian artisans were Peruvian enough without a series of llamas. I suggested that perhaps products could have a smaller, more subtle llama the way Lacoste shirts have a small crocodile and Patty seemed to like that idea. I'm looking forward to seeing what she decides to teach.

The Election

I've never seen an election like this one. Even though they approved the structure, no one wanted to assume any of the new positions. So candidates had to be nominated, and they were not flattered by the nominations. Most of them tried to decline the nominations.

Somehow, the elections still happened. As we progressed, it became much more difficult for people to decline nominations, since the artisans who had been elected to positions they didn't want were not going to let the others off the hook.

We made it through six of eleven elections, which is a good starting point. I was most concerned with electing a director of education since we'd like to start offering workshops.

The following officers were elected:
Buyer: Lucia
Director of Education: Virginia
City Representative: Pilar
Director of Sales: Mercedes
Internet Sales Manager: Tania
Market Sales Manager: Americo

However, I foresee some serious challenges as no one was enthusiastic about their new responsibilities. When I spoke with Virginia about her position, she told me that she didn't live in Urubamba and didn't always come to the market, nor did she have a phone. This was a little disheartening. Hopefully, volunteers will continue to be able to organize the workshops for the near future, and we'll just count on Virginia letting us know what type of workshops they want.

Americo was initially elected to the position of buyer, but he doesn't know anything about fabric, so he traded posts with Lucia who was elected market sales manager, also not something I'd seen in an election before.

Luckily, the internet sales manager does have an email address, so that's a positive sign. But she doesn't speak any English and most of the internet retailers are English-speaking. I'm hoping they also speak some Spanish.

I have more confidence in Lucia - the new buyer - since she has already been buying wool for herself for years. It's just a matter of giving her a form to collect the artisans' purchase orders and track payments. I'm working on that now.

The election ended after an hour and a half, and it's end was "celebrated" with a women vs. men volleyball game in the market.