Friday, August 10, 2007

Serious Doubt

Everyone pretty much spent Sunday recuperating from the previous night's activities, but I decided I wanted to go to the market in Tlacolula since it would be my last chance to check it out. The market in Tlacolula only happens on Sundays and the class had gone the week before, but I stayed at home to rest. The cool thing about the market here is that all the local vendors and shoppers come to the market dressed in their wonderfully colorful local dress. Most of the women wear a dress with an embroidered apron over it, ribbons braided into their long hair, and silk scarves. It's quite beautiful.


The nice thing about Tlacolula is that it is a little smaller than Abastos (which I visited the previous Saturday) and therefore more manageable. Plus there are a lot more artisans selling here, so you can get rugs, embroidered tops, pottery, etc. in addition to veggies, bread, and other household items.

We got back to the house pretty late in the afternoon and rested up to prepare for the writing class later that evening. After class, Raul wanted to have a quick meeting with Team Leather, as we were heading out to San Dionisio Ocotepec the following day and he wanted to make sure we were prepared.


First of all, a little bit of history...Don German and Dona Clara have 5 daughters and 1 son. One of their daughters is named Sarahi, and she is involved with the program, as an assistant (she lives at the house and all). Last year, Sarahi and one of the other daughters worked with the class as artisans. This year, we are working primarily with Don German. Raul is very involved with this family and he cares deeply for them, and as I mentioned before, they are at a serious turning point financially. Apparently Don German is always flip flopping on whether or not he will go to the States. Adding to this somewhat complicated situation is the fact that Don German is a very difficult man. There are many different issues at play here...first, the leather group is composed of four women (me, Katy, Adrien, and Lindsey), and this is a man surrounded by a family of women, and pretty strong women at that. It seems sometimes that he is just trying to keep his head above water and maintain his power as head of the household. Every time he comes to our house, he is dying to talk to any of the boys--Raul, Tomo, Josh. Secondly, he is a pretty proud man, and it seems that he is always testing us, making us prove ourselves. I think he was pretty disappointed in our performance the first day we worked together (when we all made huaraches) he expected us to be perfect cobblers our first time. Don German is a man who makes you earn his respect...the hard way. Finally, he, unlike his daughter Sarahi, is less comfortable with experimentation and the process we are advocating...I think he finds it all very weird and has a harder time making the leap from a form experiment to product.

So, you can see this is kind of a hairy situation...on top of the design challenges, we also have a lot of interpersonal challenges to work with. Raul had a short meeting with us to make sure everything went smoothly with Don German this week.

The aim of the class is arrive at a mutual understanding of each others' processes: the artisans share with us their mastery of a certain craft, and we share with them our design process (which involves experimentation, prototypes, etc.--things that are completely foreign to them). This is to result in a hybrid process wherein we collaborate on new designs together. Well, as you can see in one of my previous posts, I created a bag and a shoe. Apparently I wasn't supposed to do that...instead of making a bag, I should have just cut slits into a piece of leather and taken it to Don German and asked, "What should this be?" I've found that often, communication of the class objectives and processes are not very clear, and I did not realize that what I did (i.e., create a finished product) was not ideal. Raul pointed out that the last thing we wanted to do was to go to the artisan and say, "I designed this, now you make it." I was kind of freaking out a bit that I had messed things up in terms of the collaboration, but I was able to calm myself down a bit by realizing that: 1. Raul freaks out for no reason all the time (really, he's pretty dramatic), and 2. We had a pretty wide range of stuff in the group, from finished products to form experimentations, so there was still room for collaboration with Don German. In any case, the discussion on Sunday night left me pretty nervous about the meeting the following day.

We headed out to San Dionsio Ocotepec the following day (Monday) with Mariana (the class TA) as translator. I think we were all on edge a bit from the previous night's discussion, but we agreed amongst the four of us in the car that it was OK that we had a few finished products because Don German is a man that wants to be impressed (remember the whole earning his trust thing?) and also because he has a harder time looking at the result of an experiment and being able to see where we might be able to push it. For these reasons, we decided it would be a good idea for me to present my stuff first. I had woken up that morning feeling kind of weird (I would find out later I had an amoeba) and I was really nervous presenting my shoe and my bag to him.


Well, I am happy to say that he was ecstatic with our designs. He kept asking if all of this had come out of my brain, and saying that our heads should be smoking because we were on fire. SCHWOO. He wanted to start making stuff right away, but we kept telling him that we weren't ready for that--we still wanted him to take our ideas and see where he could take the concepts. He was pretty reluctant to do any experimentation--he just wanted to start making stuff, but we felt it was important if we were going to try to collaborate. We spent the rest of the day explaining our concepts and showing him how we had made everything, and we decided to leave his house early so he could spend the rest of the day experimenting with our ideas (plus, I was feeling pretty sick by that point so I wanted to head home).

Looking back on this day, I think this is the point when everything changed...we had earned his respect and he was finally ready and willing to do all the silly exercises and experimentations that we were advocating. It was a great day. :)

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