Jacob's Scarves

We sell scarves to help educate children. and change the world.

Before arriving in Villa Abecia..

Kiri BerdanComment

Before arriving in Villa Abecia, I didn’t know much about the town. With our travels, Mike is the meticulous planner. Always finding good travel deals, reading up on locations, knowing exactly what he’s getting himself into. Me on the other hand, I just show up.

We left Sucre at 7:30 in the morning, and sat in the first row of a bus for eight hours. Traveling the roads of Bolivia is beautiful because you are constantly in low valleys and then before you know it, back on top of the highest point. Llamas infest the roads, and it’s always interesting to pass the small villages out in the middle of nowhere, and get a small taste of how they live. This trip however, wasn’t the best of them. Front row has its advantages with it’s extra leg room, which we both especially enjoy, but on Bolivian buses the front of the bus where the driver is, is cut off from the rest of the bus. So instead of a big window to stare out of we had a wall. The car sickness didn’t take long to settle in.

We arrived in Camargo, the small town outside of Villa Abecia and unloaded our bags. From here we would catch a taxi into Villa Abecia. By the time we left the bus and reached the taxi, we were soaked from the sudden thunderstorm that struck during our short walk. All ready though, we knew we were going to be pleasantly surprised at what Villa Abecia had to offer us.

After a short 35 minute crammed taxi ride, we arrived in our beautiful little town. The first thing we noticed was how clean it was. In Sucre, where we had just stayed for a week, there was always garbage on the streets. Multiple times Michael and I would be floored at just how much garbage was all over the place, and how the people just tossed their empty bottles and papers into the wind, needless to say Villa Abecia’s starch clean streets were a very pleasant surprise. Direct from our taxi we were taking to what would be our new home for the best six weeks. Before leaving Sucre we were told that a “very basic” apartment had been set up for us, so we prepared ourselves for the worst. Thinking a half built brick shanty with mattress on the floors and no bedding what so ever. We, again, were pleasantly surprised when we walked into our second story giant bedroom, which had two fully dressed beds, a table, and at end table. Our apartment was complete with a private kitchen and bathroom, which the town and recently fixed up just for us. After the eight hour bus ride, and 6am wake up nothing felt better then looking at that bedroom and knowing I would sleep like a baby that night.

We set our packs down and immediately went to checkout the library. The library turned out to a couple stacks of books on the ground in a room full of blankets and a table. Not quite what we were expecting, but they assured us that bookshelves would be arriving tomorrow and that the space would be ideal for our library. Satisfied, we went in search of some dinner and found ourselves at what would become our favorite place to eat in Villa Abecia – a hamburger and fry combo for 5 bolivianos, equal to 75 cents. Yes, we could definitely get used to this new home of ours.

After a brief nap we returned to the library at 7 for a meeting with the mayor, his council, and the women who would be in charge of the library and creation of the Jacob’s Scarves line.  Since Villa Abecia is known for its grape vineyards and wine, we were sat in front of a table with the biggest green grapes we’d ever seen, as the mayor and other council members including Michael, explained the library and what it could do for Villa Abecia. Afterwards we were given some Coca-Cola and another hamburger and fry combo. Again, Villa Abecia was treating us well.

After the mayor and his people left, we gathered the women into a circle and started to get to know them. We played a game where we all stood and introduced ourselves and our favorite hobby – the hobby had to have an action, and then we would all repeat the hobby and do the action. It turned out to be a great way to break the ice and get these women laughing and enjoying themselves. As we were playing the game both Michael and I were amazed that most of all their hobbies were chores. We heard things from mocking the floor, to doing the dishes and laundry. It was a small peek into the lives of these women and how desperately they wanted some change. 

A Change in Plans

Kiri BerdanComment

We’ve recently decided that we are going to go back to the states for a couple of months so that Michael can take an LSAT prep course and then the LSAT itself on June 8th. After we decided this I was really hoping we would find a super cool housesitting job somewhere in a state we’ve never lived in. Something like New York, or Baltimore, San Francisco or Virginia, so that it still felt like we were traveling. Turns out that even when you sign up for an expensive membership on one of those housesitting websites it isn’t as easy to find a place as you might hope. However, luckily for us we put Captain Kayti on the project and she found us an amazing lakeside condo in downtown Seattle to stay at, FOR FREE. Heavenly blessings. It is also nice that we will have Mike’s high school bug, buglas, to drive, and we will be able to spend ample amounts of time with our nephew and niece.

It’s a lot of super good things wrapped up into one awesome package – but unfortunately that package just so happens to be too near the beginning of our long adventure for me. I wasn’t anticipating coming back to the states until late December, if not mid July of NEXT year. As thrilled as I am for our Seattle trip, a part of me is still bummed and a little scared. What if something happens and we don’t make it back out? What am I going to do for a month and a half while Michael is pursuing his dream? And, WHAT IF WE DON’T MAKE IT BACK OUT?

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I could put into words what traveling does for me, but still I’ve come up with nothing better than that it simply makes me happy. When I’m traveling, experiencing a new culture, meeting new people, struggling through new languages, and taste testing odd new foods – I’m right in my zone. I’m so irrevocably peaceful. Mike says it is because we have no responsibilities, but I think it’s much more than that. When I’m traveling, I feel home. And isn’t home a place you always want to be?

So, that is why I have decided to take myself out on a little adventure into the world while Michael is preparing for his test. I’ve chosen a location Mike doesn’t really have a desire to travel to, Japan, and am planning the entire trip on my own. I’m accepting travel companions but will go alone if no one else can join along. AND I’M SO DANG EXCITED ABOUT IT I CAN BARELY STOP SMILING!

After graduation I moved to Russia and China, but I wouldn’t call that solo travel. Sure I arrived in these new countries knowing no one, but I quickly became friends with my roommates who I spent the following four months with. Every day. Japan will be my first solo experience and I’m pumped to learn everything it has to teach me, even if it is difficult.

Japan, I’m coming for you. Solo. 

An English Class

Kiri BerdanComment

Today we taught our first class of English comprehension. It is something different than what I am used to teaching since most of my former students have been ages 2-8, so I’m glad that Michael was there to help out. We had Alejondra read from a book that is written in Spanish and English, then tell us what she had just read. When she was puzzled on a word, I would write in a sentence and then underline the specific word. After her reading she took the sentences home to write down the meaning of the underlined word and then in Spanish explain what the sentence was asking or talking about. Alejondra left happy and satisfied and I was left feeling like we had the ability to do even more.

Our time in Villa Abecia has been both wonderful and miserable in different ways. On our very first night here I felt so ecstatic with the possibilities of what could happen in the next two months. I thought about hosting work out classes, English classes for moms and their toddlers, Comprehension classes the adults and high school students, and teaching the elementary kids English songs like “Itsy bitsy spider” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and toes.” On top of all that, I envisioned filling the library with books and people reading those books. But in actuality none of that was able to happen. For every idea we had we were told to “wait until after Carnival” which meant waiting for two and a half weeks, and it wasn’t until two days after Carnival that we found out that we couldn’t renew our visas so our time would be cut short. We were able to fall in love with the people here, visit beautiful things like the tiny town up above the mountains, the rivers with perfect temp water, and vineyards, and even make pizzas and lasagnas with our wonderful hosts Ingrid and Roxanna. But we weren’t able to accomplish all the things we thought possible on that first night here. Because of this I’ve been wrestling a batch full of emotions from frustration to sadness to gratitude back to frustration. After today though, I feel that just because we may not be physically in Villa Abecia, we can still help where we can.

After teaching Alejondra, I decided that we are going to try and create an email based English Comprehension class. It will be free for people to participate, and we will have a new lesson every two weeks. For the first week we will write out a paragraph in English that they will need to read and then respond to. They can respond in English or Spanish as long as it proves they understood what the original paragraph was talking about or asking.  Within that paragraph will be underlined words, those words will be their words to study and understand over the next two weeks. Then the second weeks email will be a voice recording of that paragraph so that they can understand the pronunciation of each word.

It is an idea I have now been working on for the past thirty minutes, and I’m loving it. On top of being able to teach English through email, I think it will help me learn Spanish as well. Michael has worried that we won’t have enough time to answer back to questions asked, but I have a feeling things like that will work themselves out. They always do when the work you give yourself is important. While we have been here, I have realized how valuable our time can be. Without wifi anywhere, and without internet in our home, I have been spending a lot more time working out, writing, reading, thinking and engaging with people. Without all the distraction of the internet, things I have been wanting to work more on are naturally happening. I think if we take the lessons we have learned in Villa Abecia and apply them to the rest of our lives, we will most assuredly find the time to write these email classes and respond to our students. Time, life, and people are all such valuable things and if Mike and I both strive to remember this truth I think a lot more things are possible both for ourselves individually, our marriage, and life as a whole.

One of Michaels favorite passages of all time, by Leo Tolstoy reads “…Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater…”

I have been pondering on this quote for awhile now, and I think it applies here perfectly. When we have ideas that are good, that were created for the benefit of others, we should strive – no matter how difficult they may be for us – to pursue them. Our goals should be to use every minute of our lives in the betterment of ourselves, and we do that best when we are in the service of others.

I’m constantly having crazy big ideas about a bunch of different things, but the past couple of years I feel like I have been tossing them off to the side. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to find myself always in the service of someone or something. Bettering myself daily so that I can be proud of who I am and what I am doing. I want to be able to look someone in the eye and say, “ I have worked hard in my life. And I am proud of what I have done.” I think that would bring the ultimate satisfaction.

10 oddities of Bolivia

Kiri BerdanComment

Since we have been here for over a month now, we have noticed some oddities about Bolivia that I thought I would make into a list. As much as we love Bolivia, some of these were hard to get used to…

1.     For some reason most of the cars have huge stickers across the top of their windshields, then little stickers down the side of their windshields, and then tons of little things dangling from the rear view mirror. With all that crap, I’ve no idea how they can even see the roads! And it definitely makes it hard to look out the window to avoid getting sick while sitting in the back seat.

2.     Another driving oddity is the roads here in Bolivia are rarely built in a straight line. They twist and turn more than any road I have ever been on. They are like roller coasters! Constantly doing drastic turns in every which way all while having one side of the road a cliff.

3.     Around 2pm every day, every store closes. Every single one. And they all go home to take a siesta and have tea time. I heard things like this happened in Mexico, but I never saw it as drastically as it happens here. Literally, you will not find one open store between about 2 and 5 here in Bolivia. This one took some getting used to because there would be no places to buy water, use the internet, get a bite to eat, nothing. Eventually stores will open back up but no eating places. For those you have to wait until 7:30 when everyone comes out and decides to cook hamburgers.

4.     Speaking of food, they love their oil here. It is even put out onto tables as a condiment. Their soup is oily, their rice is oily, their meat is oily, their hamburger meat is oily, and of course their French fries are oily. Everything is cooked with hot oil instead of a hot surface, and it can definitely take a tole on your weight eventually.

5.     I always thought that Americans drank  a lot of soda, but I think that Bolivians may have them beat. Granted they don’t have 44 oz Styrofoam cups following them everywhere, but they have soda with every meal. And if you don’t like regular Coke, Sprite, or orange Fanta, too bad, because those are all your options. While living here we have had to get used to warm drinks too, since not everyone can afford a fridge.

6.     A schedule does not exist in Bolivia. Especially when Carnival rolls around. When we set up a meeting with the ladies for scarves, they saunter in about thirty – fourty minutes late and don’t bate an eyelash. This must come from all the napping they do during the day and all the wine they drink.

7.     We just had the opportunity to experience carnival here in Villa Abecia, which is a post within itself, but something I can mention here is there tenacity to continue to party. They would start their parties at midnight and go until 6 in the morning! Then by noon they were all walking around the streets, dancing to music, and looking for something to eat. It was crazy! And don’t even get me started on the drinking… if someone didn’t have a glass of something or other in their hand, someone made sure to fix that right quick.

8.     People here don’t seem to keen on taking business opportunities. For example, there are a bunch of hung over people walking around the center of town looking for something to eat and people still close their shops and don’t cook anything. Or if I go up to a woman who sells a fabric I want to make scarves out of, and tell her if she buys more of this same fabric I will buy it from her, she simply says, “no, you can go to La Paz for more.” It’s definitely a different mentality here.

9.     Perhaps because of all of the siestas and alcohol people seem a lot calmer here. I’ve been in a few instances where if we were in the states dealing with something similar people would be freaking out, but here no one bats an eyelash. For instance, yesterday we were taking a van from Potosi back to Camargo and fourty minutes before they would drive off they had us all load in the van and just sit there, screaming babies and all. Had we been in the states I feel like there would have been a lot of upset people in that van.

10. Bolivians, I assume, don’t have a desire to try different cuisine. Everything, no matter what city you are in, is the same. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, you will eat the same thing every. Single. Day. It’s crazy. (At least in Uyuni, Potosi, Tarija, and Villa Abecia - Santa Cruz has proved to be different. Thankfully) For breakfast you’ll either have a round piece of bread, or a tucumana ( which is a fried empanada essentially), for lunch you will have a bowl of soup and then a plate with rice, some sort of meat, and sliced tomatoes and onions, and your dinner will be hamburgers. Every day! Can you imagine? And while staying here in Villa Abecia we found a couple who retired from NYC to here, and we couldn’t believe it. Leaving the mecca of food choices for….three options. It’s just crazy. 

Bolivian Scarf Line

Kiri BerdanComment

Today was the third day of Carnival, which is celebrated hugely in Villa Abecia. People from all over come to celebrate in our small town and spend their days drinking, dancing, and shooting each other with water guns and balloons. As part of todays festivities Michael and I gathered around the center of town to watch the Queens of Carnival smash grapes with their feet, a Villa Abecia tradition. While we were taking photos a woman came up to us and asked if we spoke English, when we told her we did she told us to join her and her family in the traditional dance around the center of town. She was a Bolivian woman married to an American currently living in North Carolina. We held hands and danced around the center of town and afterwards she invited us to her families bbq that evening.

Taking every chance we get to eat anything besides oil soup and hamburgers, we found ourselves in a beautiful outdoor hostel awaiting a smoked meat, corn on the cob, sausage, steak, and salad. During conversation I mentioned that we loved Villa Abecia, and that I’m so happy we are opening a scarf line here so that we can have a good excuse to visit often. At the mention of scarves a woman looked up from her yummy plate, and began to tell us all about the artisan work she does.

Her name is Soma and she has been working on crotchet goods for over twenty years, and serendipitously just so happened to have started to make scarves. But not just any scarf – Soma employees woman from around Villa Abecia to sheer the sheep, clean the wool, use natural dyes to color them, and then crotchet them into unique and beautiful pieces of art. The only issue she has, is she doesn’t have anyone to sell the scarves to. She has sold a couple in Argentina, and a few in the bigger Bolivian cities such as La Paz or Santa Cruz but she has been praying for a way to sell in the American market.

Enter Jacob’s Scarves.

When I first decided to create a scarf line in Bolivia while we are here, I envisioned something truly unique. All while traveling through Bolivia before reaching Villa Abecia, I kept my eyes open for opportunities. Perhaps using the traditional fabric that the women used to carry their babies, or a new beautiful design of knitting using alpaca yarn. My mind was spinning with ideas and possibilities, but when I got to Villa Abecia and met with our original 15 women, I realized that those ideals were a little to big. Alpaca yarn wasn’t easy to find in Villa Abecia, the traditional fabric is too stiff, and the women here didn’t have access to unique pieces of fabric. So, we took this new information and dealt with it – coming up with simple knit scarves that the women could create so that we didn’t have to purchase from China for our winter line. I was happy about this fact because I want to move away from purchasing wholesale in China as soon as possible, and instead employee women with a fair wage. However, I couldn’t help but feel a little bummed that there would be no ultra unique Villa Abecia scarf line.

But tonight, when I met Soma for the first time, both of our prayers were answered.  Together we are going to be employing women from all around the Villa Abecia area to use what they already have to create these perfect scarves. These women will be able to raise their children, run their homes, and care for their livestock all while making these scarves to support their families. For some women, this will eventually mean that their husbands don’t have to move to Argentina for work, and instead can stay home to help raise the family and live stock. For all these women, in means their children will have more to eat, warmer clothes, and will have the opportunity to receive an education.

THIS is why Jacob’s Scarves exists. We are here to find these opportunities that are waiting for us, the ones that will change real lives for real people. We are helping turn the American marketplace into something that makes a difference for people all over the world. So very often I can lose sight of what we are doing, and how truly beneficial this work can be because of all the hard little stuff that running a business requires, but then miracles happen and I remember why this work is truly worth it. The women in Villa Abecia will now create our knitted winter scarves, and their very own unique Jacob’s Scarves line – and I couldn’t be more thrilled!