Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Armless Weaver of La Septima

Morales attracts an audience working on Seventh Ave. 
Many people complain about poverty. Many complain about violence. And many complain about physical disabilities.

Odalis Yaneth Morales has faced all of those, and kept looking forward.

'Handing' a hat to a customer.
Many days, you'll find her weaving handicrafts on the sidewalk of Seventh Ave. in downtown Bogotá. The black and white rings, hats, bags and bracelets would be impressive works by anybody. But Morales has no hands or arms. She does all of her work with her toes.

Morales grew up on the Senu indigenous territory in Cordoba Department, where she said that making handicrafts is about the only employment available. She was born without arms and learned the trade from her mother.

"I didn't have hands, so I had to do it with my feet," she said.

Passing pesos to a customer.
But she earned little in the indigenous territory, which, besides being extremely poor, has at times been attacked by outlaw paramilitary groups. In addition, she wanted to study. So, two years ago, she moved to Bogotá, where she often sets up her workshop - when the police let her - on the west side of Ave. Septima a block or two south of Jimenez Ave.

Recently, a television program profiled Morales and someone who saw the show is contributing money so that she can study psychology, which she is doing via internet with a Colombian university.

Nearby, Embera indigenous women sell their own handicrafts. But Morales is the main attraction for passersby, who gather around marvelling at the adroitness of her toes. A few people by crafts; others drop coins into her basket. Undoubtedly, the feats Morales accomplishes with her feet serve as lessons to many children. "Now, you see why you shouldn't complain about little things!" mothers admonish.

On a recent afternoon I found Morales working by the window of the Golden Palace Casino, where people seek easy money. She lifts up a hat or a bracelet with her foot and hands it to a prospective customer. She receives the money and makes change with her toes, then folds the bills up tightly and stores them.

I ask her for her name.

She writes her name in a neat 'hand.'
"I'll write it down," she says, and grasps my notebook with her toes and writes in a 'hand' that's much neater than mine.

I ask Morales whether she regrets having been born without arms.

"No, not at all," she says, "it's God's will."

Morales' goal is to obtain her degree in psychology and return to work with her people.

Certainly, her best lesson will be the example she's set.

A customer admires herself in the window of the Golden Palace Casino.

A beggar with two good arms. 
Other entries about interesting people:

The Box Man of La Jimenez.

Jose, the rapper of La Jimenez.

The Lost Man who Guides Tourists.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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