As I wandered through the various markets one Saturday, it occurred to me that I was more than likely experiencing a hidden poverty. The vendors are lovely in their native garb, especially on the weekends when the tourists are more numerous. Whole families may sit on a curb selling lovely woven shawls of Guatemalan colors and other souvenirs and trinkets. In other words, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the children and families were not selling wares that they themselves produced, and that perhaps they were not running their own businesses and making some profit for the needs of their own families. It seemed to me, that at least in some instances, some businesspersons had hired some of these persons to sell the wares, and that in actuality, the persons or families who were the vendors would take home little pay....maybe not even enough for rent and food. I was intrigued and determined to find out more.
Two women that I encountered at a place where the artisans sit on the ground and sell merchandise, particularly to tourists, happened to speak pretty good English. I involved each in conversation about the pieces that they were selling. Both assured me that they and their family members had made each of the items. There were tall stacks of beautiful cloths and women's native blouses, and it takes perhaps one whole month for one person to make one of the items. The woman explained that her entire family of 12 members was involved with weaving and that on some days a family member comes to the market to sell. I had no reason to doubt them. In two other ventures, I engaged two other women in similar conversations as I watched them at their weaving looms doing intricate work totally from memory. These conversations gave me peace of mind, however, I still believe that other vendors, particularly the children, are working for poor wages for someone else.
I would love to spend more time sitting beside these women as they work on their embroidery or weaving and engage them in conversation (in Espanol) as I watch the marvels that their minds and fingers create from the simple wooden loom. (I would love to learn how to use the loom!) However, I feel guilty each time. Each woman that I befriend wants me to purchase some lovely item that she herself has made and so that she can use the money to send her children to school. It is so difficult to say no in a kind way and then to walk away. This is the most pressing thing that keeps me from the markets. I think of Peter and John as they approached the beautiful gate and met the blind man who was begging. They did not give the man a coin, but they did give him something greater. Is the smile, the kind word, and the hug that I deliberately share enough for the women in this situation? Is my awareness that God is there in the moment of encounter blessing enough for each of us? This alone is a call to deeper faith.
Who is hidden while in plain sight in your circumstances? Who might you notice in a new way whom you have previously overlooked? Your smile or kind word may be just what God wants you to share with that individual.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012