Today was a typical relaxed vacation day, slow morning, sitting on the beach at noon, sleepy and sun kissed by late afternoon. I’d been thinking about the gift all day but in a little bit of a resentful way (or an “oh yeah I have to do that" thing). Realizing that completely defeats the purpose of the exercise I instead chose to put off thinking about it until I'd left the beach.
Before returning home to wash-up before dinner, my mom and I were walking down the street. She’d just bought some bags she really liked, as gifts for our housekeeper and friends back home. I always struggle to see money go, even when I know it’s not something to worry about at the time. At home, I worry more than the average about what food is back in my fridge when a friend asks to grab a bite. When I take the bus, I think about how much it costs and more often than not, I walk. Recently with it being cold and winter-y in London, I’d even subjected myself to a few unruly walks just because I couldn’t put off thinking about the fare.
I notice this is something I’ve developed since leaving college, and I think having supportive parents has always created a strange sense of what money is to me. In an effort to ‘heal’ this a bit, I had been thinking about the gifts, knowing this was a good way to start ridding myself of this worrisome relationship.
So, as we walked and talked about the bags she’d just bought, a lady about my mom’s same age walked past us asking for any spare coins. Coins in Mexico are less value than a coin in London, making it even harder to bear her situation. Normally, and I’m not proud of it but maybe it’s just become habit, I would look her in the eyes and say I’m sorry that I don’t have anything for her. But instead I reached into my bag and found the big coins in my bag and handed them all to her. It’s not a lot, but it’s a lot more to her than it would be to me and remembering that is important.
After a morning of solo scuba diving I was walking back from downtown Bucerias, browsing the little markets and shops and feeling a sense of calmness that I hadn’t felt for the last few weeks prior.
With a refreshingly open heart and “nowhere else I’d rather be” attitude, I was taking my time. Coming from a life in busy London, juggling more than a few things, this was the calmness I had been dreaming of when I left for Mexico. I wandered slowly and smiled a lot.
I came up to a stall with a man sitting in the shade at his table. We exchanged hello’s (or ‘hola’s’), which is customary in this part of the world. It’s something you forget the importance of until it surrounds you, like a warm, friendly blanket building a community in a place you’ve never been.
I looked down at his textiles and was in awe. You can see the care that goes into handmade goods, clothing, and especially textiles, in this part of the world. His small loom- and hand-woven textiles were mesmerizing. With a firm, strong wool texture and beautiful Mexican inspired colours, I looked through and asked him to tell me more about what he makes.
With pride, he was happy to share that everything is handmade by himself and his family. He picked up a folder next to his side and flipped through photos of his family, his great grandfather, his grandmother, his mother, the materials they use (like chestnuts and sheep’s wool) and explained some of the process. He showed me the architecture of his native-state of Oaxaca, and explained where they find inspiration for the shapes and details you find in the textiles.
He’d obviously picked up on the fact that I’d taken an interest in his craft. And I’d gathered by then that he was willing to show me more, so we walked around to his large standing loom behind his shop front. I’ve always been fascinated by looms, I think probably because it remains such an organic way to produce beautiful things and you’d think by now many people would have moved onto industry-standard industrial machines. I love the connection you can feel to what he makes just by walking 10 feet.
Being nosy and looking I around, I inquired about a small bowl of ash or peppercorn-looking material (half expecting to be laughed at for asking what cigarette ash was). He showed me that the small ‘beads’ (maybe charcoal although I can’t recall the name) are crushed to create one of the many colours they use to dye wool. The black/grey ‘beads’ when crushed become more purple or beet-colored. I had thoughts of the many chemical-based inks I’m used to seeing in the art shops in and around my arts’ college. I was amazed.
Next, he took baking soda, and mixed it in with the beautiful beet-coloured paste or ink, all in the palm of his hand. The dye turned bright pink. He explained how combining different materials and natural dyes (from flowers, chestnuts, ‘beads’ and plants) are how they create colours to dye all of the different colours of wool.
While he was giving me the gift of showing me so much about something I was so interested in learning, I was giving him the gift of being an eager ear. It wasn’t about spending money, or being a tourist, or selling things. This was just about a man who has probably spent his whole life surrounded by people who make things, becoming a man who makes things, and believing in the beauty of his family’s craft.
Although we’d been speaking a mix of bad Spanish and little English, he picked up on the fact that I knew a bit of his language. He asked a favor and I was quick to say yes, still feeling the openness I had when I embarked.
It turned out, he’d been asked to write a feature on his family and their weaving tradition to be published in the local Puerto Vallarta paper, presenting me with the business card of the reporter who had asked. He’d definitely shown me how proud he was of his family’s craft, and it made so much sense for someone else to have asked him to share with more people.
His problem was he’d written up a feature in Spanish (with a lot of Mexican slang) and he needed someone to translate it into English for him, before he could submit it.
Instantly I knew I could help. One of my best friend’s, Nikki Stoumen, whom I’d just caught up with this same week, is not only an amazing Spanish speaker, working as a Spanish translator and interpreter among other things, but she’s also one of the most caring and giving people I know. The perfect way to start my challenge.
I told him that I could definitely help out, but I would need to email him the translation, as I would ask my friend to do it (explaining she would be much, much better than me). He was happy and immediately gave me his email, and I the same, asking him to please email me if he hadn’t heard from me soon.
Using my phone, I took photos of the handwritten pages he’d drafted, and went home to wifi so I could reach out to my friend. Anyone that knows my friend Nikki, if even for just an hour or two, will agree when I say she’s the type of person that would inspire you to live the way I lived the last hour. She listens with intent and she gives without question.
Now Vicente and Nikki and I have shared a tiny bit of our lives to create something together. From different corners of the world, using different skills (listening, fillings gaps of knowledge, sharing, and being grateful), each of us giving and receiving a little bit.
Just as I was leaving, Vicente gave me a coaster I had been admiring with a bird on it. He placed it in my hand and held my hands while thanking me. The way someone looks at you after they’ve been heard and feel grateful, I think we both looked the same that day.
Nikki’s coaster will be with her soon and Vicente’s feature will hopefully be published soon too. And I’m the lucky one that gets to know them both.