I had an amazing day yesterday, Christmas. Luis, a weaver, the man that I bought my blankets from, invited me to his home.
Two other students went with me. One is a young man getting ready to start medical school, and the other is a Brit who came to America for a girl who dumped him as soon as he got here.
We got a micro-bus made for about 10 people that had as many as 25 in it at a time. They leave the sliding door open, and people just hang on. The weaver’s home is in Momos, about an hour from where I am staying.
Traveling in Guatemala is always an adventure. The bus I was in passed two cars at a corner to turn left because they weren’t moving fast enough for him. You travel up and down winding roads with little or no edges. There are also frequent mudslides because the land is so steep and they constantly are cutting down trees since most people cook and heat with wood.
At Luis’ home there was a steep, and I mean steep, path down to his living and studio. It is all in the open, covered by a roof. There were chickens, turkeys, etc. running around, including in the kitchen.
He has seven children. The oldest is 22 and in medical school. The youngest is 7 months and in a papoose. All of the children have to work in the family textiles. One boy around 12 showed us his hands, and they were like rocks with calluses. On Christmas morning he was already at work making a rug.
The amazing thing is everything about Luis’ products are natural. The colors come from bark, plants, insects and rocks. They are soaked in water and boiled to get the color into the wool. He explained how he then adds calcium or ashes to the dye so the colors won’t fade. Several colors can be made from the same substances, depending on how long the wool soaks. They have huge skeins of yard hanging all over in different colors.
There were several large looms. One he told us was more than 150 years old. I got to try my hand at weaving. It is not as difficult as it is time consuming. The young man was working from an example, so he had to keep looking at it to know when to change colors. So if you buy a rug from Luis in Xela or Momo, I might just have had a hand in making it.
He then took us to look at all his goods. He makes woolen gloves for three dollars so I brought a pair. Anyone who knows me knows my house is kept at about 55 degrees, so they will come in handy. Even though I had already purchased too many things from him, I had to buy a beautiful cotton scarf woven by his wife. At first I didn’t believe it. I thought it was one of those scarfs like you buy in Chinatown. But in talking to her, she showed me the cotton and how it is made. It is so beautiful. It was around $12. I almost feel bad at how cheap everything is.
His wife then took me to their kitchen. It was a traditional kitchen with no door and an open fire pit. The chickens came and went along with the children from the kitchen. She was making tortillas on the open flame from corn they had dried and ground. It was my first fire-baked tortilla and was so good. She also had beans and a special home made picante. The best part was this Guatemalan tea. It was so good, but I looked in the stores and didn’t see it. I think maybe you just get it in the country where they go out and pick it.
I, of course, had to ask to go to the bathroom. It was past the work area by the cows. It was an outhouse with a bucket of old magazines, etc. for toilet paper, although they did have a roll of paper for guests.
When I was talking to the mother in the kitchen, she told me she cannot read or write. Her father didn’t think girls needed to. So now she has a son in medical school, but she will never read. I told her she must be so proud. (By the way, neither of the guys ate what she fixed. I think they were afraid of germs.)
In the market you can buy all kinds of Guatemalen look-alikes from China. Visiting a family business like this where all the beautiful textiles are made by hand by a family makes you realize how important it is to buy with integrity no matter what you are buying. If you buy at Starbucks, are you driving an independent coffeshop owner out of business? If you always buy at Amazon, are you driving your local independent book dealer out of business to save a few pennies?
We need to make educated decisions as consumers or soon there will be one bookstore, one coffeeshop, etc. Oh hell, what does all that have to do with Guatemala?
I may ride the bus to Panajachel today. That should be an adventure.