I always knew I would decide to travel back outside of the scheduled shooting trips if something dramatic would happen. It doesn’t have to be dramatic in the Hollywood sense of the word (death, tears, lots of excitement), but a major and permanent turn in the story which requires several days of filming to explain.
When I unexpectedly came to Nicaragua now, I thought it was because Sujeylin had given up on all her good intentions in life and gotten back to sniffing glue. I had reports that she got in fist fights with Juan Carlos, burnt his clothes, prostituted herself, got drunk and stoned, and left Karla crying in the park without anyone looking after her. My planned happy ending was drifting miles away.
When I saw her today, she spontaneously admitted to all but one of the above (no selling her body – and I believe her). But she was only able to do that because her life had already turned around again, in a matter of one day. It’s all so black and white.
After I left in June, and on the back of her deteriorating relationship with Karla’s father Juan Carlos, she had been courted by a young gentleman who worked in one of the market stalls bordering the park. This young man, called Felix, lives in a small village called Sábana Blanca just outside of the city. He lives with his parents, who are retired. They are very poor, but have a small house and a really well kept garden.
Felix had proposed to Sujeylin she move in with them. At first she had declined, before her one-week sniffing and drinking spree, but coming to her senses she moved there just four days ago. And it’s heaven compared to anything I’ve seen so far. Her new in-laws love the child, both mother and child are well taken care of, and Sujeylin gets to do what she loves most: hang around.
She even confided me with some exceptionally interesting information: they are planning on getting married!! Possibly in December. This should make for another interesting moment in the film.
So where’s the catch? Well, there are a few. For one, Sujeylin is not an easy lady in relationships and December is a while away. I believe in her will to improve her own life, but in the past every time she made a serious attempt, for some reason she ended up back in the park. And back on drugs.
So this week is dedicated to getting to know her new situation, getting to know the family she has become a part of, and various other details related to them. For one, we will dedicate some time to getting to know Felix, who switched jobs in order to get away from the park himself (and as such for Sujeylin not to have an excuse to return there). And his is pure sacrifice, because he now works in the confection industry… Here’s another developing world type eye-opener (for me at least).
When Levi invented jeans, factories sprung up all over Central America to deal with the tremendous international demand. Today, those same factories are all in the hands of Chinese companies who use cheap Nicaraguan labor force to make garments for a variety of international labels. These factories are in special de-nationalized areas called “Zonas Franca” where the company owners don’t have to pay ANY tax. The country’s benefit is that they generate a lot of employment. Here are Felix’s facts:
He works six days a week from 7Am to 7PM (72 hours) sowing sleeves on T-shirts. His task is to sow 120 sleeves in an hour (i.e. 60 shirts). At 12.15PM, they get 15 minutes to eat. And at 1PM, the bathrooms are opened for 5 minutes for anyone having to use them. For all this, he makes 75 dollars every two weeks. That’s little more than 50 cents an hour. Right now he’s working on Marco Polo shirts. In case you own a long-sleeved one and had ever wondered: where it says “made in China” it means a de-nationalized area of Nicaragua dedicated to Chinese business. And the labor cost of sowing on your sleeves was 0.86 dollar cent ($ 0.0086). There are so many people travelling to that factory every morning, that often Felix ends up riding on the roof of the public bus.
But Felix smiles a lot, is desperately in love with Sujeylin and Karla, and is saving up to build an extra room onto his family’s house so they can live there. The bricks have already been bought, and are stored in the living room. As I said to fellow producer Emily Lobsenz just a few days ago: in seven months, at Karla’s first birthday, I might find out that this week I was shooting the happy ending of the film. But it will take that time to find out. Fingers crossed.