In 3 locations, 30 Bolivian spinners spent the first week of October whirling their phuskas (drop spindles) every possible waking moment. Doña Andrea, who was in town babysitting her grandkids joined the Club de Artesanas members on Tuesday morning with her youngest granddaughter in tow. The spinners set their phuskas aside long enough for a snack break Tuesday afternoon when their daughters´ baking class served up orange cake and on Thursday when herbal tea and oatmeal cookies were served.
Spinning Week Wednesday is the day that the Huancarani spinners gather to eyeball each other’s progress and the mid-competition photo day. PAZA contracted Don Maxima´s husband, Don Julio for transportation. Doña Eulalia hopped aboard for the ride to check on her family farm. Doña Arminda´s husband took the last seat and was dropped off at the crossroads of the unpaved main road and the “road” leading down the mountainside to Huancarani. He headed off on foot across the top of the world to do chores on his family´s farm in Sanipaya. A visit with Doña Narciza was the first stop. The road was cut to the west side of Huancarani about 5 years ago, and the steep curves have eroded a bit each year. The hair-raising ride ends in a field near her house. The first impression upon disembarking is the peace, then the bird song and the soughing of the wind. Looking to the west is a narrow profound valley and indistinct dots which are Sanipaya farmsteads.
Doña Narciza raced out thrilled for visitors and led the way back to her house. Her phuska was in hand and black roving wound around her wrist. She stopped by a 3-sides shed to show Doña Maxima the black sheep hides from which she´d cut and prepared the fleece. She´d cut fleece from a white hide, but wasn´t happy with the length of the fiber. She piled the white wool into a bag and hung it from a handy natural protrusion on the pole support of the shed. A bag of black wool went into an aguayo that she´d later sling on her back when she headed out to shepherd her goats. Goat jerky was drying on a line strung above.
She rushed Don Julio, Doña Maxima, and Dorinda into her yard and served plates of rice with vegetable bits and chicken. Llajua, the Bolivian salsa, of mashed tomatoes and chilies was served on the side. The yard was packed dirt with flowering shade trees. Doña Maxima stripped broad leaves from one tree to take home for medical use. Even though chickens wandered about hoping for a handout, it was a neat and restful space.
The visit was too brief because the goats needed food and water. Doña Narciza tucked 2 drop spindles into 1 side of her pollera (skirt) belt and a braided fiber warak´a (sling) on the other side. When she opened the corral gate a multi-colored stream of goats raced through the recently turned corn field to the dried grass beyond. She ran this way and that amid them collecting the kids less than 2 months old. They were put back in the corral because the babes nap and can be lost if they nestle into shady undergrowth. Doña Narciza´s voice was still ringing out as the group headed to the car for the next stop. Although her farm is peaceful, her loneliness was palpable. The vehicle stopped to greet Doña Felicidad who had decided to walk the miles to spin with Doña Narciza rather than joining the larger group.
The second and last meeting spot was near the centrally located now abandoned farmstead of Doña Casimira who passed away in early 2020. She often won Spinning Week and her joy in spinning was caught in many photos. It´s apt that she´s so fondly remembered during Spinning Week. The sun was hot, so the group that had gathered headed to the nearest shady spot under trees on an old road. The morning whiled away in the camaraderie of spinning, chatting, and laughing. One hen wandered among the group, and 3-year-old Cristian discovered a recently laid egg tucked into the dry roadside grasses. Later to entertain himself he adorned his mother´s sombrero with flowers. The communal lunch was laid out on an aguayo. All dug into the pots of boiled corn, rice and or noodles with jerky or fried egg, and boiled potatoes. A few of the dishes had splashes of llajua providing heat and color. All too soon, the women headed off in different directions, their drop spindles whirling.
Thank you, Susan, Margaret, Rob, Cloth Roads, and Gail, for making Spinning Week possible. Thank you to Lyn and Marjorie for making all PAZA activities possible. PAZA operates on a shoestring budget, so please consider clicking the “Donate” button above. Your contribution will help women and chicas help themselves through skill building in traditional and contemporary fiber arts. Dorinda Dutcher, October 12, 2022