When I announced my trip to Guatemala last year, I was met by a series of responses. The first was always, “Cool! You’re going to have so much fun!” The second was almost always, “Be careful.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard those two words before I went off on a trip, I would probably have a week’s extra vacation (mostly thanks to my parents). However, this warning seemed different, not quite so casual as the “don’t keep your wallet in your pocket,” Euro-trip guidelines. It seemed much more urgent. This is because none of the people in my life knew what to expect from Guatemala, and neither did I. I’ve traveled a lot, but I’m not a city girl. I grew up in a small town, and while I may have learned a thing or two from my adventures, I don’t have the sensibility that is embedded in the bodies of people who have grown up in a place where they always need an edge. I’ve spent a lot of time in Manhattan, and if I’m not “edgy” enough for New York, I would certainly be a fish out of water in a developing country.
A lot of people travel to Central America, some like me, hoping to find warmth from the sun and the people, to see the colors and hear the music that seem to sing together, all saying “Welcome.” They might go to Tikal, to see the Mayan ruins, or to Antigua, or to the lakes and volcanoes. But I wouldn’t be staying in a hotel or a resort, I would be staying in the home of a Guatemalan family just outside of Guatemala City.
Guatemala City is relentlessly busy, from the brightly colored fast food advertisements, to the traffic, the markets, even the traditional Guatemalan textiles which are sold in abundance. I fell in love immediately. There is something beautiful to me about chaos, the mixing of things that may clash independently, yet under the scope of one big mess, work together. All the noise and color seem to have been placed by design below the mighty presence of volcanoes and mountains.
Needless to say, I was utterly enchanted, especially by the market. The moment I descended the stairs into the Central Market, my heart fluttered away into the sea of colors. I was immediately infatuated with the textiles, the intricate weaving, the embroidering and the beadwork. I emptied my pockets and filled my suitcase with treasures to bring back to Europe.
I left a little piece of my heart in Guatemala, and I brought a little bit of Guatemala back with me in the form of a few souvenirs. For the women in my life, I brought back some barrettes, each with a different set of colors in beadwork. I found them all to be uniquely exuberant, a small remnant of the energy I had felt in the air. I was sure that, while some of my friends and family might not typically choose such a busy accessory, surely they would appreciate them in spirit. However, I learned that not everyone has space for that kind of liveliness. When I presented a friend of mine with the barrette, she unfortunately didn’t want it. Although she appreciated the sentiment, she frankly called it “ugly”. I was shocked, because I had gotten such use out of mine, since it’s both functional and, in my opinion, beautiful. But it’s true, not everyone wants color, or high energy designs, especially in Europe where people tend to stick to black and neutrals in their street wear.