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.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Virginia Quispe

When I asked how long she'd been an artisan, Virginia said "desde siempre" or since always. She has two children, ages 20 and 24, who are both studying in Cusco. One is studying education and the other, tourism. Her most popular products are backpacks (mochilas).

Convenios: Facebook for Peruvian Governments, Companies and NGO's

In Peru, any time you meet with someone to discuss working together, their first request is that you draft a convenio (convenant/agreement) outlining how you will work together.

To the uninitiated, it seems like an innocuous - even promising - step. However, to the jaded volunteer, a convenio is somewhat of a black hole for your project. It can take weeks to complete and often times the convenio is seen as an end in itself.

A volunteer from Chiclayo, Peru described the enthusiasm his NGO co-workers had for convenios as a type of Facebook for governments and organizations. As in, "We can work with them, we already have a convenio." But that's about as far as it goes; people seem pretty content to get the convenio in place rather than get the work done. It's as though convenios are collectible status symbols rather than outline of obligations to be completed.

I've been waiting on a convenio - specifying how much the municipality will pay a designer for holding workshops - for about three weeks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wanted: Art Students and Artists as Volunteers

The Mercado Artesanal in Urubamba has a number of challenges:
  1. Lack of attendance on market days
  2. Urubamba, though beautiful, lacks any tourist destinations making it difficult for them to draw tourists.
  3. The market is enclosed, not easily identified from the street and on the opposite side of the bus terminal as the town center and the tourist restaurants.
  4. The artisans do not produce differentiated products. (This is a problem throughout Peru. Once you've seen a couple markets, you feel like you've seen them all.)
  5. The artisans would like to sell to wholesalers and internet retailers but don't have access.
While these are all business development issues, you don't need to be a businessman or business student to lend a hand. The artisans are open to learning new designs and the city has offered to pay for design workshops led by a local Peruvian designer. But working with the municipality is a lot of work. It's easy to secure a promise from a politician, but it's tough to track them down when you need the money.

If you are interested in learning and developing Peruvian jewelry, textile and ceramic designs or eager to teach your own design aesthetic, the Urubamba artisans would love to learn. You can jump right in without messing around with red tape.

Meeting with the Junta Directiva (Board of Directors)

They like me! They really like me!

After my fourth meeting with the president and second with the secretary and treasurer, I'm finally starting to get the sense that they enjoy meeting with me. Mario is generally a soft-spoken, but he's finally reached a decibel loud enough for me to hear without leaning toward him. The secretary and treasurer will ask me questions directly now, instead of whispering to Mario and having him ask me.

I was told that when they stop calling me "Señorita" and start calling me "Ana", I'll know I'm in. For the most part, they've dropped the formality of señorita, but they haven't started calling me Ana either. But I can feel progress being made.

Mario graciously invited me to see his taller (workshop) next week, and told me he would arrange for me to visit other artisans' homes and workshops as well.

I showed this blog to Mario and the other officers, and - while none of them can read English - they were excited to have a web presence and see pictures of their friends online. They also asked when the next video could be posted. (Hopefully after Sundays election.)

Mario apologized - again - for the low attendance at the last meeting. He told me he informed the artisans that if they were not available for Sunday's vote, the Junta Directiva would appoint the new officers. (Then he asked me if that was okay.)

I had no problem with this. Maybe I'm jaded after three weeks of slow progress, but if Mario's motivated to effect change, I'm going to let him. I'm all for democracy, but I'm also in favor of getting things done. I've justified this position to myself by saying that Mario and the rest of the Junta Directiva were elected by the artisans: appointing other officers is not substantially different than what US Congress and President do. Then again, the word "junta" is not exactly benign and maybe I should be pushing harder for democracy among the artisans.

I am hoping the election happens, but I'm also relieved to have a backup in place.


Dorotea - in addition to having been an artisan for 10 years- is also the association's treasurer. She has two children, age 7 and 2 who sometimes come with her to the market. Here she is working on a belt. It takes roughly two days to make a belt.

(On a side note, my voice is not less annoying in Spanish than English as I had hoped.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inspiration: Ceramica Seminario

After an unsuccessful attempt to visit Ceramica Seminario yesterday (they're closed from 1pm to 3pm), Melissa and I finally got in.

Owners Pablo Seminario and Marilu Behar have put together quite a well-oiled machine. You've got to ring the doorbell to get in, but once inside we were politely greeted and escorted into a small theater where a film describing his influences and techniques.

After the film, we passed through a hallway showcasing some his early work - along with that of his kids - and into the gift the shop. Though the quality is better, prices are significantly higher than in Cusco, Pisac or Urubamba.

What Ceramica Seminario offers is the knowledge of how the individual pieces are made and what the artwork means, and most importantly a unique style.

The wall outside Ceramica Seminario.

Fredy Tejada Walas

Fredy - far from the stereotypical artisan - is 20-years-old and has been weaving for 10 years. He lives with his mother since he has not started his own family yet. (That's not his work in the background. He was waiting for someone to come unlock his booth. An hour later, they hadn't come.)

Timote Mamani

Timote Mamani has been making belts (cinturones), stuffed animal sheep (ovejitas) and dolls (munecas) since 2005. She has three children. Her son drives a mototaxi and her two daughters are students in Urubamba. She has taught all three of them to weave. Here she is working on a belt.

Market Day

Melissa and I hit the market today to talk to some of the artisans. About half the booths were open, but only about half a dozen artisans were there. I'll be posting photos and introductions later.

Pilar - who we met last week - was working on a large textile in her booth; the video is below.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ana's Weekly Goals

  • Making the election happen THIS Sunday.
  • Getting Pati, the designer, to write the contract with the city that will provide funding for design classes.
  • Presenting the contract to the municipality and the artisans association for approval.
  • Visiting Seminario Ceramics. Pablo Seminario is a local artist (not part of the artisans association) with a distinct style who has achieved international success and recognition. Need to get the artisans thinking like him.
  • But, most importantly: making the election happen!

Elections Postponed

The election was today, or it would have been today. Unfortunately, I was told that someone had died in the next village over and that many artisans were attending his funeral. While there were a total of about 40 artisans represented, at least 10 of the attendees were teenagers filling in for their parents.

The artisans that were there were not about to let the kids vote, so the election has been postponed until next Sunday. Here's a picture of the artisans that did attend planning to reschedule the election. Mario, the president is on the right.
Obviously, in the artisans' lives, postponing the election one week is fairly insignificant. For me, spending only six weeks in Peru, it's incredibly frustrating. I've already found out that a group of artisans are leaving on the 24th for a fair in Ecuador, so postponing the election until the 16th doesn't leave me much time to train the new officers. I was hoping to get the director of education trained first and get that person working with the designer to organize workshops. But - as is often the case with development work - change happens slowly and I probably won't get to see the changes take effect. My consolation is that Nexos has a stream of volunteers coming for the next six months to see this work continue.

The Competition: The Pisac Market

These last few weeks in Urubamba I've heard a lot of praise for the Pisac market, so Melissa and I got up early on a Sunday to check it out. The one-hour, each way bus trip was certainly worth it. This is what the Urubamba market aspires to. (Although this food is only moderately more appetizing than what you see in Urubamba.)The sprawling, open layout of the Pisac market is nice, but unfortunately the physical marketplace in Urubamba is already built.The street is just one of about a dozen lined with vendors, sometimes two deep. I´d guess there were nearly two hundred vendors at the Pisac market - compared to sixty in Urubamba - and the average vendor in Pisac has roughly four times at much merchandise. It´s no wonder this is such a tourist draw.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Urubamba and its surroundings

Here's a picture of Urubamba - just behind the evergreen tree - from the nearby Pumahuanca trail. Even though it's winter in the southern hemisphere now, the valley is very green. It's not hard to imagine why the Incas called this the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley).

Here's an overhead picture of Urubamba from the opposite direction (the highway to Cusco).

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Money Market in Urubamba

It's generally accepted that access to money is key to development, but many Peruvians are too poor to even bother opening a bank account. In Urubamba, the vast majority of shops do not accept credit cards; the exceptions being the high-end hotels and restaurants. Tightening the money supply even further is people's almost universal reluctance to give change.

ATM's in Peru generally dispense S/50 and S/100 notes, worth about $17 and $34 respectively. However, a bottle of water or a ride in a mototaxi would only cost one sol in Urubamba (unless you get the tourist price.

Because the land is so fertile, many people are subsistence farmers, in addition to whatever odd-jobs they may do around town. (This is one reason it's been challenging to get artisans to show up at the market consistently.) As a result of the weak trade, many artisans make less than S/100 per month or $1 per day in cash. It's easy to understand why locals would have difficulty making change for large notes, but the slow velocity of money circulation is yet another impediment to economic development.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Juvenal Atau

Juvenal's wife Lucia makes these stuffed vegetables, chickens and turtles. She learned these designs during the three years she worked in Cusco. The stuffed chickens take approximately two days to make and are designed to be a centerpiece holding eggs.

Crispin Ocón

Señor Ocón - who is also Pilar's dad - manages this booth for his son who has been studying in Cusco for last three years. His son produces the sweaters and ponchos in Cusco and then brings to his father in Urubamba.

Pilar Ocón Rojas

Pilar has been weaving for 18 years. Her specialties are tapestries, shawls and ponchos. On average, it takes about two days to make a tapestry. Unlike other artisans, she does most of her work at the market and keeps a loom in her booth. Pilar has been the association's secretary since January. This month she is responsible for keeping an eye on the market while other artisans are away. She has three children: Kelvin, Liset and Josi.

Market Day

We hit the market today to get the artisans thinking about Sunday's election. Hopefully, we'll have enough motivated candidates to fill all the positions. It was great to see more than half the stalls open for business today. But, in reality there were only 7 or 8 artisans working there.

We're starting a series of artisan profiles on the blog with the first few to come today. Since all the products are handmade, it's nice to know whose hands they are.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Weekly Meeting with Mario

Melissa and I just had our weekly meeting with Mario, and to our pleasant surprise, he brought along the association's secretary and treasurer. All three of them were enthusiastic about the progress we made at last week's membership meeting. Mario was impressed that the membership approved the new structure on the same day it was presented. It was great to hear how much they appreciated our help.

There were some specific questions about the upcoming election:
- How would it be run?
- Could someone hold more than one position?
- Would the existing members of the junta directiva (board of directors) be the only ones eligible for the positions on the new junta directiva?

Mario is eager to get the workshops underway, so I felt bad telling him no progress had been made since the designer was on vacation. But his enthusiasm gives me some confidence that the workshops could continue (once started) without constant support from NeVo.

Melissa and I are going by the market tomorrow to answer questions about the election and to ask artisans what words they'd most like to know in English. Then we'll prepare a phonetic vocabulary sheet.

Mario also asked for help working with the municipality and the association's tourism managers to reach out to tour groups. I'm not sure what the status of this project is, but I did tell him that we'd be happy to help them work with municipality.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This week's goals

1. Sunday's Election
I've got a meeting with the president of the artisan's association today and I'd like to get a sense of what positions people are most interested in running for and figure out if there will be any real competition for the positions. There are a dozen new positions and the association only has 60 members, so I'm hoping that every position gets filled by an enthusiastic artisan.

2. Getting "La Plata" (the money) for the Workshops
We've got a great designer, Pati, who's agreed to offer workshops for the artisans, and the city has offered to pay, but we need to work with her to write the agreement between the city and artisans' association. Once she writes her proposal, Mari - our coordinator in Lima - will edit it and I'll present it to the deputy mayor, hopefully on Thursday. Given the difficulty that Mari and I had tracking him down last week - when we had appointments - I'm just going to show up in the morning and wait him out.

3. Reaching out to Internet Retailers
New volunteer Melissa arrived yesterday and she'll begin reaching out to websites selling Peruvian handicrafts to give the artisans another sales channel. She's only initiating the process however since the artisans should be electing an internet sales manager this weekend. The goal is that she'll be able to train this person to take over in a month.

4. Teaching English Project
While we don't have enough volunteers now to have a full-time English teacher for the artisans, they have expressed an interest in learning English, so I'm going to put together a one-page Spanish-English vocab list of the most relevant words. I hope to find out what they are on Thursday.

5. Teaching Accounting
I need to take a closer look at any records the individual artisans have been keeping to get a sense of what kind of accounting would be most useful to them. They're not looking to raise money to grow their business at this point, and it's hard to imagine any of them reaching that level of success in the next two years, so I'm thinking financial accounting is not going to be as useful as managerial accounting. This is definitely going to test my business Spanish.

6. New Project: Improved Town Map
Conny - our Urubamba coordinator - recently stumbled across a city map. It's pretty obvious that a major problem the market has is location. It's not wildly out of the way. It's right next to the bus terminal, but on the opposite side of the all the restaurants. A map for tourists would be tremendously helpful. I'm no cartographer, so when Conny dropped of the map, I thought it would actually be possible for me to make a map including the market.