Bolivian Barbie, The Collector’s Edition

September 13th

One of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve ever had came two weeks ago when I was visiting a women’s cooperative in the high plains of rural Bolivia. We’d driven for hours on a dirt road to finally reach a tiny town, surrounded by dry, rolling hills covered with dusty sheep. Once our vehicle pulled up to the stucco building, children and women appeared from nowhere, surrounding the vehicle and busying themselves to prepare for our visit. They knew I was coming; I had no idea what a big deal my visit was to them.
The women participating in this project are learning how to spin, dye and weave wool, as their grandmothers did years ago. Their handicrafts are being sold in high-end shops in the larger cities and they are, of course, looking for an energetic American girl to take their ideas and products to the US to be sold in an even more lucrative market. Enter that energetic — and rather blind to the situation — American girl.

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Me: Oooh, pretty yarn! I love yarn! Did y’all know I knit?
Them: My God this is going to be easy. We haven’t even said anything yet and she loves us.

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Me: Wow! Look at you weaving! That is so cool. I’d love to learn how to do that.
Her: Weaving? I’m not just weaving. Did you see the kid on my back. This isn’t a hobby, girlfriend. This is a career.

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Me: What is that great smell? Man, I love Bolivia. You guys even smell good!
Them: Um, crazy white girl, it isn’t us. It’s that giant pot over there. You know, the one boiling eucalyptus for our plant dyes.

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Me: Get out! You guys know how to dye your own yarn too? Do you know that people in the US would seriously pay top dollar for this kind of work?
Them: Why no. We. Had. No. Idea. (wink, nudge.)

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Them: Hey! You know what we should do? Dress you up in the local wear. You should put some of these clothes we’ve woven on, and then we’ll take your photo.
Me: Um, well. That’s okay. I can see them from here. Really, it isn’t necessary.

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Me: Oh, well then. Okay. Just be careful not to, Ouch. Oh. Man, these clothes weigh a ton.
Them: (Not so stifled laughter.)

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Them: Good grief she is huge. Round up the kids. They are going to want to see this.

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Kids: We heard something about a white giant dressed up in local gear?

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Me: I’m not so sure why they are laughing, but this is pretty cool after all. Note to self: send photos to women’s group. Find market for their awesome goods.

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29 Responses

  1. That is INCREDIBLE yarn. Wow. I would take all the yarn in that picture and make a sweater, if I knew how to make sweaters. So in reality, I’d probably make a scarf. But what a pretty scarf it would be! I’m sure knitting stores in the states would love to carry it, especially if you provide them with stories and pictures like we’ve seen here. I would buy it.
    (In funnier news, tomorrow I have 4 hours of English class. They’re making me go. I hope I place into the advanced group! Otherwise, complete and total SHAME)

  2. this is soooo funny. i love your story and am now laughing so very hard.

    those are some beautiful yarns and goods–all those gorgeous colors!

  3. Kelli!
    I am seriously cracking up here! You are too, too funny!

    I loved all the photos, and you look great! 🙂

  4. omg! that last pic of you is fabulous! what a great experience.

  5. You look hilarious! 🙂 So, you opening a boutique and importing their stuff now?

  6. “Weaving? I‚Äôm not just weaving. Did you see the kid on my back. This isn‚Äôt a hobby, girlfriend. This is a career.”

    Right there, that caption, that captures it. For some reason, it reminds me of the old saying about the difference between being involved and being committed…

    In a ham and eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.

    Great post, Kelli.

  7. Tee Hee Hee! But don’t you look pretty? For a huge, white American, that is. Wink!

  8. love your photos and your storytelling, what a great day!

  9. what a hilarious story! Love those photos… you’ve brought me lots of smiles this morning, Kelli.

    I love that yarn and fabric.

  10. Great post! Those are some pretty amazing threads you’ve got on. When does the first shipment come in? Hee hee

  11. aAAAH, thanks. How cute are you! Such a sport.

  12. I´ve just read all the posts from your trip РAMAZING! What an experience and all that colour and beauty amongst all the hardships those people face.

  13. I love it!

    You are so dang cute. And funny. All that material really looks heavy!

    Have you had any luck in finding a seller for them? I, unfortunatly, have no idea how to go about that.

    Good luck!

  14. We you really hot in their traditional clothes?

  15. This is my favortie so far! 🙂 I love the photo of you all dressed up, what a special memory that you get to keep forever.

  16. yarn! that must have been such an incredible experience! is the eucalyptus yarn green?

  17. Kelli, your post certainly entertained me!! Love it!

  18. Kelli, you need to write a book! Your writing about your trip is just as interesting and entertaining as my fav travel writer. (Bill Bryson)

  19. You do your mother proud! What a good sport you are Kelli.

  20. Could you BE wearing any more clothes?! That is incredible. I love, love, love it. Look at you with EVERYTHING THEY’VE EVER MADE draped over your bod. See, it’s a good thing you’re a “giant white girl”, otherwise you couldn’t have put EVERYTHING on.

    So cute.

  21. I love that your mom reads your blog!

    This pictures are fantastic. You really have a great eye.

    We should open a boutique of all our finds. Yours from South America and Africa, mine from Indonesia.

  22. Great story! You learned and experienced so much on your trip–how wonderful. I watched the DIY channel today (TV watching is aberrant behavior for me) and they were demonstrating carding/combing, spinning wool and then discussed how to dye it. I was fascinated and am rethinking my abhorrance of television. Anyway, the whole subject must be telling me something because now I read about it on your blog. Synchronistic at the least.

  23. Love, love the post! You are not just helping people, but entertaining them as well! 🙂

  24. What a great post! (And your title takes the cake!)

  25. :))

    that was so fun….nice history, those women are amazing… i really miss that people…I wanna come back soon there…:( but, i don’t know when can I.

    a hug for you “blanca Cholita”

  26. Wow, I just came upon your blog (from Sheep in the City) it’s incredible! My boyfriend and I are planning to travel in South America in about a year or so…and we want to stay there for at least 6 months. I will definitely be checking in on your blog!

  27. i love this last photo of you best of all!