Monday, October 25, 2010

Week Five

begun Wednesday, Oct. 20

Monday - work continues, heat intensifies, everyone feeling the Monday blahs - there is a saying here that even the chickens don't lay eggs on Monday. Most of the restaurants are closed for both lunch and dinner (another Stratford parallel), so we opt for lunch at Escuela (as a last resort - not the best menu, but cheap and plentiful if you want it, just like most school lunches). I have rarely been a clock-watcher at work, but I can't wait for this day to end. Tito notes the gathering storm clouds in the distance as we head back to Es Artes at four, and I hope fervently for rain to break the heat wave and give us back some energy.

About 6:30, over dinner at El Tejado, I get my wish in spades! Fabulous thunder and lightning show complete with hours of heavy downpours trickling off to the gentle all night drizzle I miss from my first weeks here! Luckily, I am within sprinting distance of my room, where I can hole up, relatively guilt free from my former plan of continuing work into the evening to make up for the lax day, and watch a few movies, which actually turn out to have excellent costume references for the current production!

Tuesday - awaken to the aftermath - bushels of leaves down (and the morning leaf-sweep is an everyday ritual anyway), the neighbours clearing broken branches from the trees along the sidewalk with machetes, and everyone comparing notes on the millions of cicadas or leaf hoppers or some little green insect with raised wings closed flat together over its back (any entomologists out there?) that seemed to have committed mass suicide in and around everyone's rooms during the night - whether they were driven out by the storm, or it happened to coincide with an annual mating frenzy, who knows - but they seemed to be attracted by lights, cling to surfaces like fishflies (for the Manitobans out there) and then dry up and die (actually, I suppose that's probably in reverse order...) - anyway, there are bushels of them to be swept up as well, and something for everyone to talk about.

Work hits another snag - just as we get going, I'm told the students are heading downtown from ten to twelve to see the "Co-operation Day" fair - a presentation of all the NGO's and civic partnership projects (including Es Artes) setting up info booths in the square! At first I opt to stay and get a bit more prep time in, but ultimately , I give up and join them and we all head downtown till after lunch. Once again, I ask the powers-that-be why there is no notice of these extra-curricular events so I could plan for them, but it doesn't seem to register that this is an issue. I go with the flow, shrug and carry on, but we're getting ever closer to the point at which I'm going to have to find some other way to get all this work done, because the students are not going to manage it in the time left, especially if I keep losing them for chunks of each day!

some of the booths at Co-operation Day

Tuesday night - production meeting with Tatiana for progress updates and schedule check - discuss current position on theatre availablity (close to a deal, but still unsigned); when rehearsals will move to Suchi and when the whole shebang will move to the National Theatre in San Salvador - for our final week here, we will all move to San Salvador as we will all be flying home from there, anyway, so we'll be saying our official goodbye to Suchi on the 15th of November. After the meeting, dinner at Harlequin and drinks and pizza at Koky's place with several of his friends.

Later, checking my e-mail, I get my first look at the Nana videos from Stratford, ( if you haven't seen them), which I pass on to friends and family, and share with everyone here the next day (including the girls at Escuela, who loved them).

Wednesday - begins well but quickly loses focus - pieces are misplaced, measurements get confused, several pieces have to be taken apart and re-done, five students disappear again for half the day....even Abi wasn't given notice of this one, and she begins to pick up on my frustration, asking me how much is left to be done. I tell her my concerns about the time vs. the remaining workload (another twenty pieces, at least, and much more complex than what they've been doing so far) and say that I will make alternate plans for whatever they won't get to, but will take them as far as they can go by the end of next week. Both Abi and Hector offer to have all the students work this Saturday in exchange for the holiday they will be taking on the first and second of November - I gratefully accept. At the end of the day, I call all the girls together to go over the problems of the day, and get more organized for the next day, so that they have all their pieces (and will be responsible for them) and know exactly what the next steps are for each project.

continued Sunday, Oct. 24

Thursday - Zoila joins us at Escuela for the day, and everyone is on their best behavior - great step forward! The first black skirts and all the aprons are finished and the camisoles are begun. Alejandra sews hair clips to all the long black veils. I get the first of five vata caseras (house-dresses) patterned and cut.
Friday - Zoila joins us again for the morning which is a great help as she can share tips with Patricia (one of the three best students), who can later demonstrate techniques for the other girls as they come to the same steps. I begin cutting the eight pairs of boot-top spats we'll be adding to the ladies' contemporary shoes to make them look like period boots - another big hit with everyone - !chibo! (cool!) Zoila, Amalia and Morena will put these together at Es Artes on Saturday, while I continue with the the Escuela girls. In the afternoon, I'm told that Saturday will only be half a day as the other half is for teacher training.... of course!! (At least they told me the day before -- progress!) This means I can catch up with the ladies at Es Artes in the afternoon and have the next fitting with all the student actresses in their servant costumes.
Saturday - Two of the six camisoles are finished and the other four are well underway; the last three skirts get closer to completion. I lose about a third of the morning to teacher/student evaluations (not mentioned), but they are doing such a good job with their current pieces that I tell them they can finish them on Monday, but I need to take everything back to show Tatiana this afternoon.

At Es Artes, the ladies are zooming through the spats. Elizabeth arrives to offer a hand and presents me with one of her multi-pocketed hand-made bags! Over the course of a discussion involving Evelyn, Tito, Tatiana and Jane about the possibility of tracking down the remaining trims and fastenings we need locally or having to make another foray to San Salvador, Elizabeth offers her services (and discount contacts) as shopper to pick things up for us on Monday in the city. She will also be tackling some of the scenic sewing needed for the set when that fabric arrives early in the week! Amalia and Morena offer three more days during the week as they have other commitments next Saturday (notice!!) I manage to get the last dress patterns started, and the student fittings are a big success!

We finish the day with another big barbeque (chicken, this time) courtesy of Frank and Eric, both to welcome Jeremy and Kris, who have just arrived to swell the Stratford ranks for lighting and house management, and to say farewell to Frank, who heads home Sunday and back to his next job (he stays awfully busy for someone who's supposed to be retired!) And another great time is had by all...

Sunday - Mark takes Jeremy and Kris for a hike down to the lake and we all meet for lunch at La Casa del Escultor, an impressive gallery and restaurant only open for lunch on Sundays (Koky , John and I had tried to go there earlier but were rained out the first week we were here). Eric and Jane attend the rehearsal at the National Theatre in San Salvador and catch up with us later at dinner to report. I manage a few more patterns in the afternoon, and Zoila and I make plans for the coming week. Tomorrow (maybe) the long-awaited viewing of the Suchi theatre....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week Four

Begun Thursday, Oct. 14

A week of departures, arrivals, celebrations and milestones.

Sunday, John headed home to prepare for the next two months in Calgary with Alberta Theatre Projects. We will continue fittings with photo emails and the occasional Skype session when we can, but he will be sorely missed. At least we had one fairly complete "look" for each of the two classes of characters before he left, so we know we're on the right track.

Monday - one more try with the ladies - only Gloria shows up and puts in a full day (bless her) - no word from the rest. At this, I have to make the decision to take everything to Escuela all week, as I have eleven willing bodies there who are actually committed to the project. I talk this over with all concerned in administration, who agree that this is the best course. I ask that it be made clear to the ladies that I was grateful for the help they had given me so far and would have liked to continue on to more challenging or interesting pieces, as they were all excellent sewers, but I could not afford to lose whole days waiting if they weren't willing to keep to their agreement, as there was so much work to do. If any of them would still like to come on Saturday, I would be happy to see them, but Monday - Friday would now be at l'Escuela, and unfortunately, the limited amount of equipment there could not accommodate any more than the class.

Mark Smith, scenic carpenter from Stratford arrives to join the team and begin construction of all the wood-related bits of the set with the carpentry class at Escuela. Frank, Eric and I quickly bring him up to speed on our favourite eating and drinking spots and what to expect of wildlife, WIFI, and "spandex time", and he is welcomed to the fold at Es Artes by Tito, Mario et al.

Tuesday - work begins in earnest at Escuela with the added incentive that if the girls complete all the petticoats by the end of the week, so that we can give them to the actresses for rehearsal, John has left money to take them all to Villa Balanza for lunch on Friday. Excitement reigns; John is a saint! Away we go!

Two official celebrations of Tatiana's birthday occur: a planned lunch with all the regular staff and senior students at Es Artes with a fabulous fruit-covered cake from Pan Lillian, and an impromptu dinner with just the Stratford crew at Harlequin in the evening. Much laughter and story-telling and a good time had by all.
Wednesday - work continues, progress is made; looks good for making this week's goal. Still trying to get back on the blog - my gmail account shut me out on Sunday, citing 'unusual activity' (five !@#$% hours of trying unsuccessfully to post multiple pictures in some coherent order...), so I start a new account, notify Mel to re-invite me as an author, and try again - no WIFI till the morning..........

Thursday - great day, roaring along, girls really getting into it. Started the day with Skypes from John, and Linda Pinhay - the dyer at the Festival, with whom I shared my enthusiasm for the work of our local dyer, Zoila. Managed to get the next block of patterns drafted before the bugs started dive-bombing me under the lights as the dark descended at six. Opted for an early night.

continued Sunday Oct. 17

Friday - so much for the early night! "Travelers' tummy" hits in earnest, keeping me up all night and not in any mood for food or society in the morning, but the day and the deadline and the promised reward beckon. We head for Escuela where I have only half the class available to finish their work, because the other half have to go somewhere with Abigail, and the little time we do have is interrupted for the better part of an hour by a visiting group talking about job placement strategies after their course finishes - all very important, of course, but never communicated in any time or way that I can plan for - so much for the deadline! However, goodwill and good effort were evident all week and after the usual confusion and delays about transportation arrangements, we all make it to Balanza for the promised lunch.

We are joined there by the rest of the team (both Stratford and Es Artes) as well as a new CUSO-VSO arrival, Jane, from Victoria - not from either the theatre or the ScotiaBank contingent, but here to work with the entrepreneurial side of the project, developing job options for youth and the community in general through the arts. Pictures were taken of the whole group, but haven't been forwarded to me yet, so I'll try to give you some earlier shots of some of the unique and eccentric artistic decor of Villa Balanza:

Aaaarrrgh!!! Three more attempts and no pictures posted - somebody help me!!!

After lunch (liquid only, for me), I give in and head back to my room to try to sleep and recover some equilibrium, while Koky and Abigail head back to Escuela with the girls to finish what they can and pack everything up to return to Es Artes for the weekend. A few hours of napping with air-conditioning and more liquids makes a slight improvement, but at about five, when I have a knock at the door from one of the ever-vigilent waitresses asking if I'll be wanting dinner there that night, I plead mal a estomac and am promptly offered green tea brought to the room! This seems to help and I manage a full night's sleep and am back on track by morning.
Saturday - a leisurely breakfast and another Skype chat with an old friend (loving Skype!) brighten the outlook. I arrive at Es Artes to find my improved health status already reported (!) and Amalia and Morena ready to dive in, so we attack the pile of bags and boxes now at my table, sorting everything out for fitting and finishing to send as much as possible to rehearsal in San Salvador on Sunday. Koky is seconded by Mark and Mario for more carpentry shopping, as well as getting provisions for the barbeque Eric and Frank are throwing tonight, so I am left on my own for communication. Thankfully, Jane arrives to chat and offer a hand, while waiting to meet with Tatiana - she not only has a fairly good command of Spanish from an earlier CUSO posting in Costa Rica many years ago, but she can sew and readily pitches in to help get us through the day.

Through her I am finally able to have some more personal contact with the ladies, as she is able to ask them directly (which I can't do through Koky) about their families and their interests - and I learn that Amalia is Morena's daughter-in-law, has two children in school, comes from San Rafael, and just lost her husband in January - he was a policeman and was shot in the head (after revelations like this, what can one say, even in the right language, but at least I could offer my shock and sympathy by expression). They heard about the project through one of the Suchitoto ladies, and seem to be happy to keep coming for the next couple of weeks, hoping that it may lead to more income sometime in the future.

Zoila also arrives and dives in to good effect. Later in the day, Tatiana brings the terrific news that she (Zoila) has been offered and happily accepted the position that Mabel abandoned and will soon join me as First Hand and Wardrobe Mistress for the production (and, hopefully, for future productions)! I think she is the perfect choice, having a strong position in the community and with the Casa de la Cultura, two children in the Es Artes program and a great deal of interest and support for the project, as she was involved in it from the beginning. She had other commitments that prevented her from becoming more involved until now, but she will be clear of them by Thursday, and will be happy to take this on!

Our only glitch with this is the omnipresent language barrier which I continue to curse my inadequacy to overcome in a more timely fashion, but I have to trust to the continued goodwill and support of all concerned, which is astounding.

The day closes with the barbeque for everyone back at Frank and Eric's digs at Balanza, where we also meet Tatiana's sister who is in town for a visit, and Skype Frank's wife, Sandie, at home in Stratford to meet the whole crowd. Another great evening of laughter and stories - as I was telling Jane earlier in the day, although we (the Stratford crew) know each other in varying degrees at work, we are learning much more about each other and socializing much more readily here because we are all away from home, facing and commiserating about common obstacles and celebrating daily achievements, and the Es Artes crowd is so incredibly hospitable and inclusive.

Oh, and all the petticoats, rebozos and panuelos made it to the rehearsal...

Week Three, part 2

The missing pictures...
Lunch at Villa Balanza, from back left: Erika, Eric and Frank
From back right: John, Tatiana, Evelyn, Tito, Koky

Koky entertaining the girls at 'sorbettos' time
The fitting at Escuela Taller with the class

Back to Es Artes at four to report our breakthrough to John et al, and check out the shoe situation - John had found something suitable in a local shoe store and built a cloth spat to simulate period boots - big hit with Tatiana! Carried on prepping for the next set of skirts to begin on Friday, then we all headed down the street to try the menu at Harlequin - very good and ridiculously inexpensive - my new favourite!

continued Sunday, Oct. 10

Friday continued in much the same vein with active input from Abigail and interest from the girls as they completed most of the servant petticoats and began the colourful servant skirts. By the end of the day, I told them they should be very proud of themselves because within 8 days (five last week and three this week) they had put together over forty different costume pieces! When we reviewed the schedule for next week, in view of whether or not the Casa ladies would still be participating, Abigail said they would be happy to work on the show every day, instead of just three. We checked with Es Artes to see what the current state of affairs was, and since we now had confirmations of most of the ladies attending both Saturday and Monday, I said we'd leave things as they were for now, but I appreciated her offer.

Friday night brought a special celebration with a wonderful dinner prepared by Tito at Es Artes to mark both John's and Tatiana's upcoming birthdays and to say goodbye to John who would be leaving on Sunday to head for Calgary where he's designing Seussical for ATP.

Saturday brought three new faces - Amalia, Morena and Elizabeth - all very capable and interested, and patient with delays and glitches caused by problems with some of our machines. Elizabeth even went home and lent us some of her bobbins when we discovered that one of the machines had only two that fit the bobbin case, and when the domestic electric machine proved unable to give us a basting stitch for gathering, she cheerfully moved to the treadle machine. Between them, they were able to assemble two and a half of the servant skirts and we were able to have fittings with both one of the lead actresses and one of the student actresses so that John could see a fairly complete version of each outfit before he left. I then prepared some of the rehearsal pieces for Tatiana to take to San Salvador, and we joined Frank, Eric et al at El Gringo to hear about their continuing adventures in search of a suitable welder for the steel in the set.

Sunday, John and I met with Zoila, the dyer, bringing back the finished pieces she'd been working on. Her work with natural dyes is amazing - she got the most beautiful soft green overdye on a too-bright printed fabric we'd got for one of the dresses, using indigo and almond leaves! Then John was off to the airport and I spent a couple of hours organizing Monday's workload, then finally took the rest of the day off for R&R... and posting this...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week Three

(Begun Thursday, Oct. 7)

This has to be the ultimate surreal moment here yet - as I am writing this, I am watching Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg (my hometown, incidentally) with Spanish subtitles on the mostly English movie channel Cinemax on my hotel room TV in Suchitoto, El Salvador! A reminder of how small and odd the world is...

Today has been a day of surprising and touching breakthroughs after a week of roller-coaster ups and downs:

Monday started fairly well - my first day with some of the ladies from the Casa de la Cultura. Two of them, Jesus (also a female name, pronounced Hay-suess') and Eleonore, turned out to be very experienced and confident sewers who were gracious enough to go along with whatever I asked them to work on - quickly and accurately accomplishing what challenged and frustrated the Escuela girls the week before. I was in raptures of appreciation and they laughed and were pleased in turn! Gloria, a bit younger and one of Jesus' proteges, was less accurate, but very positive and cheerful about trying till she got it right. Mariza, the fourth one and Jesus' daughter, came along but declared that she had a boil under her arm which hurt her so that she couldn't sew. I asked if she was up to pulling threads to make fringes on the panuelos (the same job I offered one of the Escuela girls who was too shy and reluctant to try machine sewing for me).

She seemed pleased with this, and sat fringeing and gossipping with one of the Es Artes girls, Raquel, all morning and went off to see the doctor in the afternoon. Jesus was late in the morning and couldn't stay for the afternoon because she was attending the funerals or wakes (it wasn't entirely clear) of two of her neighbours who had died over the weekend, but everyone seemed happy with the day, keen to come back on Wednesday and I felt I had an ace in the hole if the students lost interest or couldn't handle the workload.

Monday night, Frank Holte and Eric Ball arrived from Stratford and we had a great reunion with drinks at Lupita's and pupusas at El Gringo. They are staying in the hostel rooms at Villa Balanza (one of our favourite and most frequented lunch spots) - I considered moving over there when John leaves, as it is considerably cheaper than El Tejado, but I decided that my knees couldn't be certain of making it up and down the extremely steep hill it's on, twice a day, particularly in the rain or the dark, so I'm staying put.

Back right: John, Tatiana, Evelyn, Tito, Coky Back left: Erika, Eric and Frank - lunch Tuesday at Villa Balanza

Tuesday was back to Escuela with hopes of finishing mounting the ruffles of last week, but this proved more difficult than it had looked for many of them, and frustration started to build, so we moved on to more of the second style (lots of measuring, pressing and straight lines, less gathering and matching). My shy and somewhat challenged girl, Alejandra, continued fringeing, moved on to pressing, and even started hand-basting a ruffle in place. Abigail seemed preoccupied with paperwork in the morning, but in the afternoon, wanting to include her, I asked her (through Coky) if she wouldn't mind helping me out by marking and putting together a mock-up of one of the blouses we were going to build later. She agreed, but either didn't or wouldn't listen to my directions and explanations (delivered through Coky) and then suddenly disappeared for most of the afternoon, saying she'd been called to a meeting with the director. I was a bit surprised, but asked two of the more confident students, Patricia and Flor, if they would try it and they managed quite well. The overall feeling was much less positive than Friday had been, but we kept moving forward, and put it down to the disruption of changing back to their regular class on Monday.

Wednesday - back as Es Artes, looking forward to the next group of ladies, two new ones for the morning, the Monday group back for the afternoon - neither of the morning ones show up. After some confusion about who has the contact numbers (Mabel, who is no longer with us), phone calls are made and explanations of misunderstanding when and where are given. I carry on with some assistance from Raquel, who doesn't really sew but is keen to help anyway. and manage to get a servant petticoat built and tried on one of the student actresses, and cut out one of the Bernarda daughters' skirts. After lunch, Gloria appears, cheerful and willing, and makes some progress on the next petticoat; Eleonore doesn't arrive till two, but sails through the skirt before she has to leave by four; Jesus and Mariza - no shows. Over dinner, it transpires that the true reason for the absences is negotiation for some form of compensation - that they are not actually willing to volunteer this time away from their other work, in spite of the approval and enthusiasm everyone expressed at the initial meeting, when it was made clear (I thought) that we only wanted whatever time they felt they could give, and that, of course, their other commitments came first. Yet another dilemma for Tatiana, who is still deep in the throes of a truly Machiavelian tussle for the Suchitoto venue for the play.

Thursday - back to Escuela, accompanied by Tito, who is going to translate for Frank and Eric (although they seem to get by very well for the most part with the key word and demo/gesture method). Just as I'm about to begin with the class, Tito arrives to inform us (Coky and me) that Hector (the director of the school) has some concerns about how the class is working - that because we no longer have Mabel's female presence and supposed understanding of sewing terminology, he feels the girls may be resistant to Coky's interpretation of my directions and that the line of communication should be me to Coky to Abigail to the girls.

As I have tried to include Abigail in everything we have done so far, and asked her advice on how to approach the students and what their capabilities are; and the methods and standards I am setting are as unfamiliar to her as they are to the students (she has told me she is not allowed to push them at all or they will complain to the director, so she is surprised that they are willing to repeat things and try to correct mistakes for me), I have some concerns about the efficacy of this approach, as does Coky, who also felt we had connected well with the girls, but anything to keep the peace, as it were...

So we approached Abigail and asked how she would like us to continue as it is her class after all. I assured her how pleased I was with the girls' progress (which I told them all repeatedly on Friday), and how willing I am to adapt to their strengths and comfort levels with the variety of work (which I had shown last week as well), which she confirmed. She said they all appreciated my attempts at Spanish and that Coky was doing a good job of explaining all the hows and whys to them. I also pointed out that Alejandra, who had always hung back from participating in what the other girls were doing, and waited to be given something to do, had actually amazed me by coming to me and asking for work that morning! Not only asked but shyly agreed to sew by machine the two small darts in a bustle pad that we were beginning today.

At this, she called the girls together and told them that all they had to do if they were unhappy or unsure about anything was to ask herself or me and we would help them with it; that they weren't expected to be perfect, but to see how they could improve their skills, which they had already shown that they could do (in not only her opinion but mine as well). She encouraged them to have a positive attitude and be willing to learn and try new things, as working with me on this project was a great opportunity (whether they appreciated it now or not), but again, they didn't have to feel pressured if they felt they couldn't do something, because someone else could help them out as they all learned to do it together.

She asked for feedback on anything they were concerned about, and after initial reluctance, Stephany mentioned having to undo their crooked seams - Abigail told her that their crooked seams were always picked out; the only difference was that up till now, she had done it for them and now they were doing it for themselves! Belinda (one of the older students - in her thirties) asked if I had been told that many of them had only been using the machines for about two months ? I hadn't, and told them once again how impressed I was with what they could do, and that they would get better and better with practice. Abigail then thanked me for working with them and said they considered me 'one of themselves', which immediately overwhelmed me, and had me brushing away tears that I hastened to assure her were muy feliz (very happy).

From that point, the day went from strength to strength! They all got a big kick out of the bustles when I explained what they were for (Abi thought they were shoulder pads), and Alejandra completed three of them on her own. Progess on the servant petticoats continued and after lunch and the mid-afternoon ice cream break, I played them Justin Bieber's (yes, they even know about him here!)"Baby" which I'd downloaded from iTunes since they'd talked about it the week before.

Afternoon icecream break from the 'Sorbetto' truck Coky entertaining the girls

Towards the end of the day, all the elements were in place to do a mock fitting of one of the lead outfits with the girls, so we (Coky and I) asked Abigail if she thought they would be interested in seeing how the clothes would look on one of them (of course!), and also seeing some pictures of other kinds of costumes I had made (si, si!). So, we recruited the tallest girl, Cecy, as the model (because the actress playing Angustias is quite tall), and I showed them how all the layers built up the shape of the costume and made it move gracefully and elegantly - everyone was very excited and appreciative! Then I showed them some of the Festival costumes from the past couple of seasons to give them an idea of what it was possible to do with sewing - a huge hit and a great end to the day!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Second Week

Sept.27 - Oct.2

First week with the sewing students at Escuela Taller has been equal parts un-nerving, bemusing, exhausting and gratifying.

Monday began with a lesson in 'spandex time' as it's known here: although we were told several times that all arrangements had been made for the driver from Escuela to come and pick us up, along with all our gear, at Es Artes sharp at eight when the students begin their day, and we had to scramble to get there, because El Tejado doesn't begin its leisurely breakfast service until 7:30, it took several conversations and a couple of phone calls to determine that the driver hadn't come because he didn't know which hotel to go to. And it was raining - did we still want to be picked up? Yes, we were all at Es Artes and supposed to be at Escuela, please come. At 8:40 the driver arrived, and as it was no longer raining so hard, but the bed of the truck was quite wet, it was decided that all the bags of fabric and supplies should go on the back seat inside, I would get the front seat with the driver, and John, Tito, and Coky would ride al fresco in the back. (Chivalry is not dead...)

Arriving at Escuela we found all the sewing machines, tables and chairs being moved to the new larger room we'd been assigned, which has lovely high ceilings, a raised stage at one end, and windows lining both sides for as much light and air as possible. As only about half of the fluorescent light fixtures were working, however, with the season's perpetual overcast, it was still too dark to see well, so when Hector came by to ask if we needed anything, I repeated my plea for mas luz (more light), and he promised us electricians the next day! Coky reminded him that he had agreed to have the holes in the unfinished rooms behind the stage plugged to keep the bats out, and that was done almost immediately. It turned out that our students were still otherwise occupied, so we gathered the chairs into a circle for our meet-and-greet presentation while Tito began servicing the machines.

About 9:30, the students and their teacher, Abigail (pronounced Ah-be-hi-el), arrived and, true to our SKWID training, we began by inviting everyone to introduce themselves (with Coky translating) and tell us what they liked to sew. Then John and I talked a bit about what we did in the theatre, and John told them how he finds his images and ideas for what the characters in the play will wear and how they will look. Then he told them a bit about the story of the play and who the characters were and passed the sketches around - the girls promptly began to identify themselves and each other with the personalities portayed in the sketches ("that's you - no, that's you - this is me - that's her ...etc."), the same as teenagers all over. After that, I explained how we would begin to make all these different clothes and what we needed to do first; that they should not be afraid to ask any questions about anything, and not to worry about mistakes - we all make mistakes all the time - I just need to know about it when it happens so we can fix it.

This seemed to reassure them a bit and we divided them up into pairs to do several different tasks to prepare different stages of the work: sampling the fabrics to the sketches, tracing markings, zigzaging edges, making labels, cutting trims and fabric for ruffles - all of which allowed me to get a few more pieces cut out. Then the sewing began and I introduced the apparently hitherto unexplored concepts of matching the edges, sewing on the lines, sewing straight lines (una linea recta) and pressing as you go (planche,... planche primera!). There was some initial surprise and reluctance when I asked them to do things over more carefully, but most of them quickly responded to the praise and encouragement when they did better the second time. Different levels of skill and confidence soon became apparent, so I tried to organize the work to allow each one to do what she was most comfortable with, but still keep busy - hand sewing, using the zigzag (electric) machines, using the straight stitch (treadle) machines, measuring and pressing. And at the end of the day, I asked them how they felt about what they had done - they thought it was hard work but that they had learned something new and interesting! (Even Abigail was impressed because she'd never seen a tracing wheel before or done machine-baste gathering , and when I asked her if it would be alright to have them baste the seams by hand first (hilvana) instead of just pinning to keep them straight, she agreed that that was how she had taught them to do it.)

Although I'm sure they were terrified of me the first day, by the second day they were warming up and getting a bit bolder about trying new things and showing each other; by mid-week the first fustanes were (mostly) ready for their fittings, and when I told them the next day how well the fittings had gone and how pleased the ladies had been, there were beams all around! By Friday, they had eight petticoats assembled and their ruffles (revuelos) in various stages of attachment, three more of a different style begun and half a dozen panuelos (something between a dishcloth and a hankerchief) fringed, and they were laughing and joking with me, asking for music and sugary treats to get them through the afternoon. Abigail pointed out that she and I were wearing almost identical clothes that day (blue striped shirts and jeans), and declared that we were hermanas (sisters), and two of the girls asked me (in English!) if I wanted ice cream when they all ran out as the ice cream truck came by. They even opted out of a scheduled session they were supposed to have with their guidance counsellor which would have taken them out of the class for two hours in the morning. (I was amazed and felt somewhat honoured at this choice until Coky brought me down to earth by telling me this was a lecture on family violence they had several times a year, and they didn't get any snacks with it, so they weren't that keen to go anyway, but still... they did choose to stay and keep sewing!)

Coky, as translator, is learning all the construction steps and techniques along with the girls, and we kid him that he could go into business as a shop foreman, as he picks up on the order and repetition and tells them when the line isn't straight, they'll have to do it over. At first, they would go to him to ask him to ask me to check it, but by Friday they were coming to me or calling me over directly, and we were communicating by a combination of key words, demonstrations and gestures and calling on him only when more complex clarification was needed.

One of the oddest things I'm finding about trying to learn Spanish is how my mind keeps defaulting to French for some reason. I didn't even realize I knew that much French (and I'm sure I couldn't speak it with any degree of coherence), but every time I try to put a sentence together with all my new nouns and uncertain verbs, the articles and prepositions more often than not come out a la francais - very confusing for all concerned!

The second difficulty in trying to acquire an ear for the language is the local tendency to slur or swallow a lot of consonants - 'z' becomes 's', 's' becomes 'h', and 'b' and 'v' are totally interchangeable. Coky, in turn, tells us of the Latino struggle with 'th', 'sh' and 'ch', combinations like 'rl' as in 'girl' or 'world', and 'n' endings like 'mountain'. His English is quite impressive and he works hard at it. He's between semesters at university here, studying for another year at home, before returning to the States for another year on full scholarship. He seems to know everybody in town and has several sidelines going - occasional tour guide, computer servicing and sales, and cell-phone marketing, as well as the translation gig for Es Artes.

I'm not sure how his time will be split once Frank and Eric arrive on Monday to supervise set and prop building - he's been 'all mine' this week since Mabel bailed out on us on Tuesday with no warning for reasons that aren't entirely clear, but seem to be time/commitment related. She was bilingual as well, and was supposed to be working with John as a buyer and design assistant, and with me to learn the building process and carry on as Wardrobe Mistress for the run of the production, but now Tatiana is scrambling to find someone else for that position, in addition to all her other pressures and concerns.

All in all, though, great strides have been made, first fittings have happened, we've found a laundry service and a dyer, Tito has installed not only mas luz but also ceiling fans in our new Wardrobe corner, and tomorrow I have the day to myself to prepare for my first group of ladies from the Casa de la Cultura (I got it wrong before - the Casa des Mujeres is another group) on Monday.

Plus -
This was the first day with no rain, so things actually began to dry out.

We heard that the Stratford/Suchitoto fundraiser back home last night was a big success!

And, there was a handsome young man with a very good voice and an impressive collection of classic big band/pop arrangements (a la iPod plugged into the sound system) trying out his repertoire at dinner tonight - possibly for a wedding or party coming up? Anyway, 'a nice note' to end on. :-)