The crafts we prepared to do were intended for the school children, so it came as a surprise that the women (Grandmas and Mothers) wanted to make friendship bracelets too.
We were visiting a small village, new to missionary work. Being that they haven’t had aid before, our role was to build relationships and to break the ice for future teams and aid workers.
The Alpha y Omega Church (also used as a community center) was made of concrete blocks, a tin roof and a dirt floor. It was a good-sized building with the only furniture being one small wood table, a few cinderblock pews and several mismatched plastic chairs.
We divided the eager participants into two groups. One group would do games with the parachute (they had never seen one before) and the other group would learn to make friendship bracelets. There were about 40 women and children in each group.
Although a large building, there wasn’t enough space for both groups, so the craft group vacated to the outside Guatemalan sun in front of the church. We carried with us a few chairs to get started. The church was built on the side of a mountain, with a spectacular view of a volcano in the distance and all of the cornstalk and tin homes that lined the mountain below. This meant that our crafting space was anything but flat. A steep slope meant difficulty levelling the chairs, so many found rocks to patches of grass to sit upon. This community like many others, had a large population of stray and neglected dogs. Starved not only for food but affection, I felt the matted fur rubbing my leg time to time as they came to check out the commotion. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to pat the dogs. I could barely stomach the smell, let alone the desperate look of them. A smell that followed me all day as only moments after arriving at the church I stepped in a sloppy pile of excrement. No one seemed to mind the smell but me. Likely a regular occurrence and no big deal.
As we taught the children to weave their friendship bracelets, the moms and grandmothers began to help along with the team. Language was a huge barrier for me, so teaching was much like watching what I do. With so many children to reach and help the local women began to teach each other – it was like a domino effect. Moms helping children, Moms helping Moms. Kids helping kids. Kids helping Grandmothers. Grandmothers helping kids. Moms helping Grandmothers. Grandmothers helping Moms. It was amazing! And interestingly enough every bracelet was unique unto itself!
I was helping a little 5 year old girl tie off her bracelet when I felt her tap on my shoulder. She was a mother, in traditional indigenous dress, who looked about my age and she was holding out a beautifully woven bracelet to me. It wasn’t the weave that we were teaching, but a patterned weave local to that area. I told her how beautiful it was and she beamed. As she took my wrist I realized that she was making it for me and she was measuring to see how much more she needed to do. She still needed to weave a bit more and I watched as she walked back over to her chair to finish the bracelet.She tied one end to a stray bar sticking out from the concrete wall to anchor and support as she stitched the bracelet. She worked fast and graciously. I ran to get the other team members to show them the beautiful stitchery. I guess because we were fascinated and standing to watch, others came to watch too. She had quite a crowd gathered as she finished and tied it on my wrist. As she did so, I thanked her and hugged her and asked her name. Rosa. And I decided in that moment, to weave a bracelet for her in thanks for her friendship.
As I sat down to work, I noticed Rosa weaving away back at her chair and three other women now weaving along side her following her instructions. A natural teacher.
While I was weaving a very simple “Canadian” friendship bracelet for Rosa, I sat and chatted with a little boy of 9 or 10 who was meticulously weaving his own bracelet. He was slow and methodical and each stitch was perfect. It was a pleasure to watch him work as he took so much care and pride in each stitch.
Multi-tasking, as us women do, I tied off bracelet after bracelet as the children and women finished. We only had 2 pairs of scissors amongst the crowd. At one point as I walked by Rosa I saw she was on her third masterpiece. As I was admiring her work, I was shocked when a little head popped up from under Rosa’s blouse. A little boy about 3 years old, hers no doubt, was having a drink of mom’s milk – and Rosa didn’t miss a stitch! I smiled as he ducked back under her blouse and Rosa kept weaving.
That day Rosa made bracelets for the whole craft team. She wove four bracelets while I made just one. We were all so grateful for her generosity and talent. As I tied my woven bracelet on her wrist, I asked Carlos, our translator to help me have a conversation with Rosa. I began: “Rosa, in Canada we call these friendship bracelets, because we weave them with love and give them to those we care for. I’ve made one for you because you have touched me, so now we can be friends for life.” Guatemalans by nature are very humble and grateful. “Gracias, Mucho Gracias.”
I then discovered that Rosa weaves the bracelets and arranges to transport them about 3 hours away to a high tourism area to sell. This is her income. They sell for about 10Q or $1.25US dollars.
We decided to leave the remaining embroidery threads, scissors, pins and supplies with Rosa so she could continue her weaving and teaching with the other village women. She eagerly agreed. We could tell she felt purpose-filled.
You know what amazed me? Most trades people in Guatemala don’t like to teach others what they do for fear of losing out on business. Work and income is so hard to find that they tend to keep their talents to themselves. Rosa wasn’t threatened. Rosa willingly shared her talents and is likely still sharing her talents, no matter what the cost.
Rosa is a remarkable woman and teacher of life. This is what Rosa taught me.
PATIENCE. She didn’t get upset when little guy needed milk. She let him do his thing as she carried on. She didn’t tell him to wait a minute or push him off. She accommodated him and kept on her task.
FOCUS. I could tell Rosa was on a mission that she had a goal. It wasn’t until she gave us all our bracelets that I realized that was what she was trying to accomplish.
WILLINGNESS. To teach the other women in the community her trade and empower them with skill. A truly selfless act in such a society.
But the gift that sticks with me most was Rosa’s gift of GRATITUDE. She set out that morning to make us all bracelets for coming to her community to help enrich their lives. She appreciated the games, the crafts, the school supplies, our presence, love, support and the elaborate goodie bags for each child. She recognized our gifts and our work as important for her community and reciprocated with a token of friendship, love and gratitude.
Rosa and her community may live well below the poverty line, they may have a dirt floor church with cinderblock benches and stray dogs that poop on church floors, but one thing that this community is RICH in is gratitude.
Thank you Rosa for teaching me a whole new level of gratitude, a gift I will carry with me all of my days.
Your friend for life,