“Expectations vs. reality…” This is the simple yet complex mantra I’ve been whispering to myself over and over my last month here in Xela, while also chuckling about it under my breath and sharing impressions with friends. I left the Netherlands almost two months ago, not knowing how my perception of reality would change during my traveling experience, but hoping that it would.
The main reason for me to come to Xela and work with Trama Textiles was to experience first-hand the impact that a fairtrade organization has on a community in a production country. At Trama Textiles, too, we offer homestays with our weavers, so I jumped at the opportunity to really see this impact by spending a weekend with one of the families.
Chicken bus cutting corners on mountain roads
Off I went. I thought I was going there by car, but the change of transportation got lost in translation, so we took the chicken bus. Wilson, the son of our vice-president, who grew up in the village I would be saying in, escorted me on the trip.
It was impressive. There’s a community living up there in the mountains. You have to see it for yourself to really feel it.
Obviously, I didn't yet have an appreciation for how hard or easy it would be to live up there. I also learned that the weavers of Trama do not always have the opportunity to go to school. In the regions where our weavers work, there is generally no money to pay for education. And according to my Spanish teacher in Xela, in Guatemala, they’re also up against a machismo culture where women (more so than men) are discouraged to go to school.
Getting to work: English homework and, of course, weaving
Despite all of these things, the women in these communities take care of their families by being savvy and working hard, and by connecting with Trama Textiles to become part of our women’s cooperative, producing and selling their own weaving work for a fair price. Through the fair trade means of our organization, they’re able to generate the necessary income for their families. In the volunteer office in Xela, you get a first impression of these women when they drop off their work, but at the village of Pujujil I got to really meet them.
Eating in Pujujil
My host family had a lovely father and son, but they were away working at the lake in the harbor and we were way up in the mountains. We spoke to them on the phone at the end of the day, but they are only physically present for a couple days every other week. So, there we are: a mother, 11 year-old daughter, 2 year-old daughter, and this tall blond Dutch girl. We slept together in their family room. We got up when the sun rose, and we went to bed early. The church next door offered a service and we fell asleep to the psalms. It was cozy.
But I was welcomed in Xela by more than just this surrogate Guatemalan family from Pujujil. In Xela I made Guatemalan friends too! And not just a drinking buddy or a friendly taxi driver: I mean honest friendships. Of course, Xela has a growing international backpacking community which I could naturally fit in with, but I wanted to get outside of that.
And I did! Very easily. What I perceived to be a challenge was in fact not at all. Real Guatemalan friends came from my neighborhood, bars, day-to-day-shops, and even just from passing on the street.
While I didn’t expect this to so easily be my reality, it soon was. And now looking back, my heart fills with joy. My new Guatemalan friendships confirm that no matter where you are from — a mountain village in Guatemala, a big city in the U.S., or my country, the Netherlands — we, as people, are all not that different from each other.
If you're into memes, you'll know the “Expectations vs Reality” ones. There have been several occasions during this trip that served as input for such a meme. I've had a good time smiling and laughing at all the occasions I expected something different from what I got. Reality has revealed itself to me in many moments of challenge, humor, honesty, and heartfelt interactions. So be careful with expectations, because sometimes they can slap you in the face.