Living in a Material World

Against the backdrop of tree-leafed palm trees and a cool brown wall, vibrant warm colors explode. Orange, yellow, blue and pink are meshed together to create beautiful Guatemalan patters. Debbie, a native to Guatemala, displays her designs in a pop-up shop at a Zacapa hotel.

Presented in the shop are her many blouses, blankets, napkins and wood carvings. A self-taught English speaker, Debbie loves to showcase her goods and befriend Americans.

Like so many Guatemalans, Debbie comes out of a violent deprived childhood. At a young age, she saw her parents murdered. From that traumatizing moment forward, she knew she had to make something of herself without the support of adults.

Today, Debbie lives in her hometown of Antigua with her sister, her three children, and her nephews. Here, we see the importance of strong family ties. She explains that all contribute to keeping her store in the market afloat and profitable. Her specialty, however, is handcrafting each item.

“I don’t remember when I learned to sew, knit or crochet. It was just something I wanted to know,” Debbie said.

Every piece is rich in warm colors and tells a story of the country’s history. Designed with specific textiles and patterns, the blouses and skirts represent the different Mayan tribes. On the same table as the paintings sit wooden animal masks, which signify the different spirit animals.

“The giraffe is my favorite,” said Debbie, “strong, tall and beautiful.” Standing around five feet tall, I can see how she might idolize the gigantic creature.

Debbie’s hometown of Antigua is much more appealing to the average tourist. The small town is nestled in the valley of not one, but three active volcanoes. Antigua, literally meaning “old”, was the original capital of Guatemala.

By way of comparison, Antigua is to Guatemala as Cinque Terre is to Italy, minus the coastline. The city is dominated by cobblestone streets and saturated in colorful buildings. Each business alternating between yellow, red, blue or orange. The shops range from jade jewelry, to accessory boutiques, to artisan chocolate. Yes, this  is much more suited for the three-star American.

Tucked away off the main street in town, the market hides Debbie’s shop. The task of finding her specific shop seems to be the challenge. All of the storefronts are similar with bold colors splashed on purses, wallets, and backpacks which border the outside of the shops.

There is no difference between the set up of this market and those in any other popular vacation destination. “What you looking for today,” asked several shop owners. “Best prices in town,” a few others bragged. Walking through the daunting maze feels like a gauntlet. Luckily, a friendly stranger knows Debbie and leads me to her store.

A familiar smile breaks through the product overload. Debbie pulls me lower for a long embrace. With a dignified gleam in her eye, she introduces her family to me and shows me around her shop. The space is no bigger than a walk in closet.

She may not have much personally but she is proud. Guatemala, in general may not have much or be much, but they are happy.

Aside from the intricate beauty of the the materials and products, there is treasure to be found here. It is the simple reminder that there is beauty in strength, results at the end determination, and happiness in simplicity.

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