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filters are made from clay mixed with sawdust that is then pressed into a mould that looks like a large flower pot. The filters are dried and then fired in a wood kiln, and during the firing the sawdust burns out so the filter is composed of tiny capillaries that purify the water as it flows through. After the filters are tested for correct flowage rates, they are painted with colloidal silver for extra protection against bacteria and microbes. The clay filter is placed inside a plastic bucket that is taller than the filter and water is poured in from the top and flows through the filter into the bucket below. The plastic bucket has a spigot and a plastic lid. These simple, inexpensive filters remove 99.98% of turbidity, parasites and bacteria and in a country as rich in clay as Nicaragua is, they are a good way to provide safe drinking water.
The press used at AquaFiltro is driven by a manual car jack that is pumped up to push the bottom section of the press mould (that has been filled with the clay and sawdust mixture) up onto the top section of the mould, pressing the clay into place. This is exhausting work (I know because I made a filter last year) but on the day that we were there the workers tried out a new press that was designed for Potters for Peace by a fellow in the U.S. On the new press, pumping a lever up and down brings the top section of the mould down into the bottom section—working with gravity, not against it—which is much easier to do. This was a beta version of the new press and there was quite a bit of talking and head scratching to figure out how to centre the mould in the press and avoid damaging the bottom plate. After a couple of hours we left the workers to experiment with the new press and report back to Robert.
La Paz Centro, about an hour northwest of Managua, where we visited Mercedes Vega and the Potters for Peace Training Centre (a single building that has been built on Mercedes' property). When workshops are not being held, Mercedes uses the Training Centre as her studio. Much of Mercedes' work centers around geese and chickens and she fires her work in a wood-fired kiln that was built by Potters for Peace. Her husband, Elano, is a brickmaker and he fires his bricks in a much larger wood-fired kiln.
In the afternoon we visited the family of Amanda Guzman, a well-established potter who passed away a few years ago. Her sister, Letitias, and her son, Elias, carry on with Amanda's traditional designs , which include figurines of all sizes as well as plant and water pots. The clay is black when it is wet but dries to a light beige colour and is sometimes decorated with coloured slips. All the work is burnished.
Amanda Guzman's other son, Ramiro, runs a more commercial operation and hires young men to throw and decorate large pots for the tourist market. These pots are carved and painted.
Our final stop of the day was Benito Romero's home and studio. Benito makes traditional comales which are flattish, round-bottomed plates that resemble a shallow wok without handles. Comales are used for cooking tortillas. After Benito demonstrated how she works with clay, she showed us how she makes tortillas by pushing a small ball of cornflour dough out into a flat circle and then cooking it in a comal over her clay woodstove. Each of us had a go and thanks to the guidance of Benito's teenaged daughter, we were mostly successful. Our tortillas tasted delicious when they were wrapped around a chunk of queso (cheese). I took a small comal back to L.A. and was pleased that it worked just fine on her gas stove element.
Slept that night at the hotel attached to Charlie's Bar BBQ (Texas style) in Leon, an hour from La Paz Centro. Rumour had it that one could get hot water out of the shower spigot by flipping a red switch but even my tall roommate couldn't make that happen in our room.