Some of the finest straw hats in the world come from Ecuador. The best sell for hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Most of that money goes to the dealers and retail stores — the weavers themselves don’t earn enough to live on. But a retired U.S. advertising executive says he has a plan to create more demand for the hats and pay the best weavers a decent wage. Mary Stucky reports from the central coast of Ecuador.
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Last year, mining companies in Bolivia doubled their profits, thanks to soaring price of minerals. Despite that, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. That’s because most miners don’t work for big mining companies. In Bolivia, miners usually form themselves into what they call cooperatives and pick through what’s left after the big mining companies pull out. There is virtually no government oversight of this industry and miners work under appalling conditions that have hardly changed in 500 years. 50 thousand mostly men toil in the mines of Bolivia.
It’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, according to a global contest. Want to see it? It’s not hard. These days, the “lost city of the Incas” lies on the end of a well-traveled tourist trail.
Of course, if you’re hardy and intrepid, you can hike through the jungle for days, get up at 4 a.m. and see Machu Picchu as the sun rises over the stone city.
But don’t let anybody tell you that’s the only way worth doing it.
Throughout the world it’s sometimes surprising to find people still doing jobs that disappeared in wealthy countries centuries ago. One example: rag pickers. Men, women and even children who pick through trash, looking for items of value.
Today there are still millions of rag pickers in India. Only the lowest caste people do what is obviously an unpleasant and demeaning job. But Mary Stucky met a rag picker in Ambala Cantt, a city north of Delhi, who does this job with dignity and hopes to give his children a better future.
Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate. The story goes that the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl presented his people with a gift from the garden of paradise: the cacao tree from which chocolate is made. Nowhere in Mexico is chocolate held in higher esteem than in Oaxaca – it is said that every man woman and child in this city in southern Mexico consumes chocolate at least once a day.
Mary Stucky went to Pilar Cabrera, a native of Oaxaca and a well-known chef,
According to some estimates there are at least a hundred thousand youth gang members in Central America. Violent, involved in drugs and organized crime….their numbers are growing and they’re moving north. Some Central American countries have adopted what they call an iron fist approach with massive detentions and harsh prison sentences… with little positive effect. But in Nicaragua they’re taking a different approach.
In Guatemala a majority of the population is Mayan Indian. For centuries they have been excluded from national political and economic life, but today they’re finding their voice in music. One Guatemala rock band called B’itzma (BEETZ-MAH) sings in an indigenous language called Mam. B’itzma, by the way, means “Harmony.” The band has a big following in Guatemala and in the US.
Tourist brochures of Bolivia show women in bright traditional dress, often with the jaunty bowler hats worn in some regions of the country. Mary Losure recently returned from the city of Cochabamba in central Bolivia, and offers these thoughts about indigenous women’s fashions there, and the hard choices they represent.