Ocean City Today

Jeweler from Puerto Rico sells pieces at CraZy LadyZ!

By Kara Hallissey | Nov 16, 2017
Photo by: Kara Hallissey Puerto Rican jeweler Virginia Nin, left, and CraZy LadyZ! store owner Jan Patterson show off Nin’s handmade pieces in the West Ocean City shop last week. This Saturday, CraZy LadyZ! on Route 50 will host a meet-the-artist event with Nin from noon to 4 p.m. There will also be finger foods and refreshments available.

(Nov. 17, 2017) More than eight weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, it is estimated that thousands of the more than three million United States citizens who call the territory home, have fled to the mainland because of no power, the struggle to find food and water and the scare of waterborne diseases.

Virginia “Rola” Nin, 58, was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and has been selling her handmade jewelry in Old San Juan for about three years, or at least she did until Hurricane Irma grazed the island followed by a direct hit from Category 4 storm, Hurricane Maria, days later.

“[Hurricane Maria] went through the whole island and the really bad thing was it slowed down and the eye was over [Puerto Rico] for 12 hours,” Nin said. “It just kept hitting and hitting. Blowing the whole house. I totally depend on tourism. San Juan is now a ghost town. One of the biggest problems is the work force is leaving the island. The old and sick are staying behind.”

CraZy LadyZ! owner Jan Patterson has been selling Nin’s handmade jewelry in her West Ocean City store for about two years.

“I went on a cruise and one of the stops was in Puerto Rico,” Patterson said. “They have a square of vendors selling handmade items and all these women were surrounding her booth. When I saw all her jewelry displayed, I said, ‘Wow, we need to sell her jewelry.’ We finally got in touch by email when I got back and it’s done very well at CraZy LadyZ! She paints them all herself.”

Nin is involved in every aspect of her jewelry, from the design, to painting and mounting process. She also designs the cards the jewelry is sold on.

Earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and pendants are the vibrant jewelry customers can purchase at CraZy LadyZ! on Route 50 in West Ocean City.

“They won’t scratch or tarnish and are one-of-a-kind,” Nin said. “I have been making handmade jewelry for 13 years. I just started this full time about two years ago, a couple weeks before meeting Jan, I was a teacher [in Puerto Rico for more than a decade.]”

When Hurricane Maria hit, it took eight days for Patterson to get in touch with Nin because of the lack of cell service.

“I invited her to live at my house,” Patterson said. “A few days later, she told me her daughter lives in Greenbackville and I couldn’t believe it.”

This Saturday, CraZy LadyZ! in West Ocean City will host a meet-the-artist event with Nin from noon to 4 p.m. There will also be finger foods and refreshments available.

“For a woman who has been through so much and continues to smile, I can’t wait for people to meet her and see her jewelry,” Patterson said.

After the island was mostly unscathed besides losing power during Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma, residents were not prepared for the ferocity of Hurricane Maria, Nin said.

“We have not had a direct hit from a hurricane since the 1920s,” Nin said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen and weren’t sure if Puerto Rico would get the eye. There is a joke on the island that ‘the big sucking tube’ always sucks the hurricanes out to the north. It happened during Irma and we thought the second [hurricane] would do the same. They had no idea.”

Nin lives in a metropolitan area in a cement house, but the 150 mph winds tore off the cover of her porch, caused water damage and a leak in her home, in addition to scattering trees and other debris across her yard.

“All cell phone towers are down, no televisions and there was no way to communicate with anyone on the island,” Nin said. “Most people have been without power for three months. Since Irma.”

Her mother-in-law lives about 45 minutes away in Barceloneta, which borders the Atlantic Ocean and is known to flood. The second day after Hurricane Maria hit, she took the trek down there with her husband, Tommy Ramos. There was a huge line of cars waiting for fuel.

“We were very worried and were happy to find out they were OK,” Nin said. “During the drive, trees were down on the streets and all you could see through the bridges was brown water.”

Nin decided to temporarily move in with her daughter who lives in Greenbackville, Virginia, while Patterson helps her establish a jewelry presence on the mainland. She arrived in the United States on Nov. 3.

“Old San Juan is dead because there is no power yet,” Nin said. “The most overwhelming feeling I’ve been through... it’s so dark at night.”

She also explained how the majority of people fled from Old San Juan and most electrical posts are on the roofs of homes, but if workers can’t ask for permission from the homeowner, they cannot restore the power.

“Old San Juan is a very special place,” Nin said. “My husband and I, we worked down there and that was my business.”

The real cost of no power in Puerto Rico is the amount of lives lost, which Nin fears “we will never really know the actual number.”

“There is the old woman who relies on a respirator to live or the people stranded in the mountains needing dialysis,” Nin said. “The quantity of deaths is rising and the funeral homes don’t have power. People were buried in their backyards. There were 911 people cremated without an autopsy.”

In the mountainous region of Utuado, the only way to get into the central part of town was over a washed away bridge.

“The community got together and built this pulley system,” Nin said. “A grocery cart hanging from ropes went from one side to the other to get groceries or water across.”

About a month ago, medical doctors were forced to finish complicated surgeries using the flashlights on their phones at the main medical center in San Juan.

“The worst cases go there and after a doctor spoke out the Army Corps of Engineers brought two big generators to power that part of the building,” Nin said. “The rest of the hospital is in the dark.”

Nin waited three and a half hours to get into the Costco parking lot before the power went out and they closed in Bayamón a couple weeks ago.

“This is the biggest blackout in the history of the United States,” Nin said. “They are disguising the truth when they say 30 percent of the power in Puerto Rico is restored. A mall in San Juan is consuming that 30 percent. No homes have power.”

Puerto Ricans are also concerned about facing an epidemic from consuming contaminated water or coming into contact with mosquitos carrying diseases.

“In the mountains, so many animals died—horses, cows and chickens,” Nin said. “People were bathing and washing in those rivers that lead out to the beaches. All the water in Puerto Rico is contaminated.”

Nin’s son, Tommy Ramos, has been working with a landscaping company in Puerto Rico to remove all the trees and debris from the streets.

“They are trying to recover and get people back to a routine by cleaning the streets,” Nin said. “Every time they lift a tree, the rats are scattering and those piles are in front of every house.”

Although the situation in Puerto Rico is still looking dire, Nin is the epitome of resiliency and hope.

“I haven’t gone through what these people in the mountains have…” she said through tears.

Before she arrived in the United States two weeks ago, Nin decided to put Christmas lights on a tree outside of her house in Puerto Rico, which could run on a battery while everything else was pitch black. She called it her “Hope Tree.”

“I decided to put lights on the tree to show we are trying to get back to normal and maybe that tree will give you hope,” Nin said. “This is a way to say everything is going to be OK.”

Shortly after, a teenager who was on the way to a friend’s house came and left a note for Nin.

“We saw without any reason that you had the Christmas lights on. And it’s only to let you know you are doing it right. Thank you for those Christmas lights and those two seconds of joy,” it read in Spanish.

“That’s what I wanted,” Nin said. “Trying to get normal again. It is so hard to do it, but we have to get a routine again. It’s about starting again.”

Meet Nin and check out her handmade jewelry this Saturday at CraZy LadyZ! Her jewelry can also be purchased at crazyladyz.com.

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