When Mayans met Acupuncturists – April 2012
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A straggly rainbow of Mayans wound their way to the registration table at the Barbara Ford Center for Peace. There were at least fifty more people waiting to sign in for the afternoon session when I stepped outside to look. Folks seemed to be traveling in mixed groups of five or more. Kids, neighbors and supporting family members waited a long time to see the acupuncturists but nobody elbowed or kvetched. Inside the clinic, the local folks greeted the practitioners in what seemed more like a homecoming than a meeting of healers and patients. Somehow, the mutual affection was so much more familiar.
Everyone had come prepared to spend the day and shouldered striped bundles. The hand woven clothes held either babies or lunch. By noon the slings were empty and young ones played on the wide sunny lawn. Eggs, chicken,chopped beets, beans, rice and tortillas were spread out to be shared. Inside the clinic, volunteers worked non-stop while I got to relax with the people who were going next.
I know the ladies from Chichicastenenga by their dark back grounded Victorian floral or flame stitch quipils. Their thick skirts (cortes) are seamed together with two inch bands. And I would learn that the ladies from Sacapulas and Santa Cruz del Quiche wear sparkly satin blouses with beady draping over their multicolored cortes. Everybody in traje had flashy belts and aprons with glittering ruffles and zipped pockets. The wrap-around skirts have no pockets so women keep their calculators and cell phones in the wildly decorative aprons. Mayans are always ready to make a deal and will flash you a quote on the calculator; it is their commercial bridge. Sometimes living with Mayans is like one long fashion shoot with accountants. These illiterate people show lots of cosmo-vision or at least an astonishingly global reach when it comes to finance.
For example, I came upon a particularly well dressed group- three generations of women. A midwife, her sister, daughter and granddaughter were all looking very fabulous. So, I approached them (with my camera) to ask for permission to shoot. I had singled out and complemented the Grandmother on her particularly well matching outfit. Her older sister acted mock miffed and told me all cattily-like that her sister’s timeless traje was the “2002 model. “ I not only “rolled on the floor laughing” I sat down with them to see what else they might have to say.
Holding the wings and mildly flapping the shirt I asked them if they liked Quetzals (also the name of the Guatemalan currency.)
The nineteen year old granddaughter did not miss a beat.
“No.” she deadpanned “We prefer Euros.”
This was one of the few spoken conversations that I would have. The rest of the communication was warm and very friendly but never quite as sassy and funny.