Thursday, September 9, 2010

New World Craft Trade Fair, New Ground for Me

I’m in Guatemala for the New World Craft Trade Fair. The Guatemalan government is hosting buyers from around the world to meet nearly 100 businesses located here in Guatemala plus other countries in Central and South America. There will be someone from Cuba here! Now, that’s interesting…

I got in midday the day before the Trade Fair, this gave me enough time to check into my hotel and walk around the city. From the beginning, this trip to Guatemala has been intertwined with coincidence (and we all know I don’t believe in coincidences). I, frankly, have never had an interest in Central or South American crafts. Everybody’s doing it, but the connections just kept coming.

One was Alanna who now works for me. She had gone to Guatemala and was planning to volunteer with a group that works with children who live off the scraps they collect in the dump – Safe Passage. Alanna, I knew, was working on helping children in India who live off a dumpsite. Only after I had met Elizabeth Benjamin and her dad, did Alanna tell me that was the very project that set the India interest in motion. For one reason or another, she couldn’t go to Guatemala but instead stayed on to finish her degree at Marist.

Now, Elizabeth and her dad live in Garrison and had come into Women’s Work one day that I was working there. This would be one of the last times I would be staffing the store, it turns out, because shortly afterward, we closed that location.

Elizabeth’s brother, I come to find out this summer, went to the Millbrook School where the headmaster is a board member for Safe Passages. It was his influence that gave Elizabeth her impetus to volunteer, something she was determined to continue to do when we met. Her father was encouraging her to stay and work with me somehow (I was thinking sales person in the store, but John wanted us to forge another partnership where Elizabeth could live in the USA and work instead of in Guatemala.) John and Elizabeth’s mom were positioned to go to Botswana as Peace Corps volunteers when they found out they were pregnant with Elizabeth. Another coincidence and the one that brought them into the store since he had seen the Botswana Baskets.

So, when I went to Pakistan this summer, and one of the organizers told me he’d put me on the buyers list to take this trip to Guatemala, I said yes. I’d love to go, more, quite frankly, because I want to go on other trips and I will go on this one because there seemed to be a pull for me to be here. And after I decided to go, I decided to go to visit Elizabeth’s project, Safe Passage.
There was a board member in the area whom I had contacted. He responded with the Millbrook School email address. Now, Millbrook is a school we’ve talked about Macallan going to since she wants to be a Vet and it is the only high school in the country with a zoo. I brought Macallan to meet Drew because she wanted to learn more about Safe Passage for Goody Goodies. We had a few minutes to kill so we went into the building right next door to the Deans office, the Arts building. Of course she loved the arts program, she already loved the zoo and after this visit, she had convinced herself that new friends were what she needed. But then another of our favorite pass times came about – the Dutchess County Fair and another of her dreams came true, which was getting a coatimundi who would need much of her time, she wasn’t too disappointed that financial aid and the new school year was upon us too quickly.

So, here I am in Antigua, Guatemala. I don’t have my husband to help me navigate the streets. I don’t have my daughter to share in the shopping experience. I don’t have my son to draw my attention to all of the other things around me that doesn’t involve shopping or women. And I am free to do what I want all afternoon and evening.

I am not happy with my hotel. There are so many in this small city, all hidden away like secrets behind walled facades that only leave telltale signs, literally, some hand scratched, some in wrought iron, some within the windows that are too high for me to peer into. I recognized the names of some, and inquired about room availabilities. I knew one tha t John Benjamin recommended sits right next door to Safe Passage’s Antigua office was reasonably priced but was across town. As my bad directions would have it, I wound up on the very street. Tired and feet hurting from walking on cobblestones (always charming to look at but killer to walk on!) I was looking for a cab to take me back to my hotel. It had started raining with the sun shining (what we were told in Africa was called a monkey’s wedding) when I looked up at a building with some indistinct writing high above the door. This was Safe Passage and I was delighted to find Quinta De Los Flores right next door. They didn’t have any room until the weekend (my previous reservation) and so I’d have to stay put unless I found another place. But I left happy and validated that this trip is on a trajectory all its own.

I wonder why I’m here. I go to the Trade Fair this morning and I’m excited to find new products to complete my new vision of Women’s Work Shop in Sugar Loaf. All new ground this Guatemala, Safe Passage, and House Parties, but somehow I think they are fitting in quite nicely.

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