“It’s the simple things”. That phrase has been reverberating in my brain since I returned from Guatemala in October. It’s the simple things that made me so happy to be in Guatemala and it’s the simple things that make me happy to be home.
For a weaver and a lover of textiles, Guatemala is paradise; a 24/7 museum of living color. Where other than the Guatemalan Highlands could I walk down the street and notice that almost everyone is wearing locally produced handwoven clothing? There are skirts of indigo or skirts of jaspe (ikat) with its threads tied by Guatemalan families, probably in Salcajá, and woven by men on old wooden floor looms. The intricate huipiles (tops) are woven by women on ancient backstrap looms and many times embroidered over exquisite weaving.
What a feast for the eyes, everywhere, even without going to market. Even folks dressed in Western garb may still carry colorful bundles that reflect their heritage. So complicated and yet so simple, to wear garments that have been woven for centuries and more. To wear items that can be made in the family without need for fashion designers or shopping malls.
On my last night in the Highlands I walked 5 km along Lake Atitlan to the town of Santa Catarina, named for my own saint.
When I asked how to find a tuk tuk ( tiny open 3 wheeled taxi) to get back, a shop owner, (and subsequently his wife and kids) hung out with me on the curb so he could stop a truck for me because he said tuk tuks were rare. He was curious where I came from and why I was in Guatemala. I spoke of the beauty of that country and he commiserated, he had heard that the US was all streets and tall buildings, without mountains. Such a wonderful simple thing, to be happy where you live.
Getting home to California life was filled with undone work and adjustments, but mainly I noticed the simple pleasures: family, walking my dog, and good plumbing.
It’s only the lack of good plumbing that really makes me notice really hot showers, potable water from the tap to drink and brush my teeth and toilets that can accept toilet paper. These simple things make me very happy. To be in my own home is so easy, with my family and friends nearby. Home is much simpler than traveling and I am enjoying it.
I went to Guatemala to visit women who make gorgeous pine needle baskets, but were beginning to complain of hand problems. The plan for my trip was to investigate and teach. Fortunately, only the older women who had been making baskets the longest had significant chronic injuries. Most women had simple musculoskeletal issues caused by unvaried work, poor posture while working and poor ergonomics. From a medical perspective the solutions are simple adaptations.
For the women, the things that I think are simple were either wild revelations ( you don’t have to put up with pain, you can change things), or ludicrous claims ( you need to work less now in order to keep working and earning in the future). What I ended up teaching was muscle and posture awareness, as in “This is what your muscle feels like when it’s tight and this is how it feels if you stretch it”.
” If you raise your work and don’t hunch over a basket in your lap, your neck and shoulders won’t hurt as much”.
So much simpler than what I had hoped to teach, but these are simple, free things that have potential to change how much pain the women suffer.
For me it was a privilege that they shared their world with me and I hope these little changes with time will make their work simpler, easier.