By Christine Ramey
We started our morning leaving our hotel, Utz Jay, which today I discovered means “good home”, to walk over to the Mayan Cultural Center where we would spend time with our third organization, Oxlajuj B’atz’, or Thirteen Threads.
Receiving a warm welcome by the ED Ana Socorro Cumatz, we enter to find a room full of beautiful Mayan women and an altar that has been set up for us to participate in a Mayan ceremony. We were given some background on the altar set before us. Oct. 9 is a particularly special day as the Nawal-Energy is B’eleje’ B’atz’ signifying the female energy of the universe.
This is a day for women to connect with our female energy, with Mother Nature and the water. We can ask the universe for personal and collective development, to feel peace with ourselves and to love and appreciate being a woman. They shared with us, that it is very special to them that we gathered on this day together, as Mayan people don’t believe in coincidences. During the ceremony we were invited to take a quiet moment of prayer and reflection, then light a white candle to place at the altar. Once completed, we embraced with one another and celebrated our connection. It was truly moving and emotional.
Ana began sharing some background on the group and had varying representatives of the group speak on the history, mission and values of the organization. They came together in 2004 and are based in the city of Sololá. They are spread out within six different areas of Guatemala where there has been fewer opportunities for women to access education, health, employment, etc.
One of their main goals is in the empowerment of their members in exercising their rights in order to promote economic independence and self-suficiancy. In 2011, Thirteen Threads became an organization directly led by Mayan women providing the skills and resources to 11 groups of women with a network of 200 Mayan women who have made a commitment to Thirteen Threads to participate in specific projects and activities.
Two women shared their personal testimony of ways this group has had a positive affect in their lives and a common theme amongst all the women is the importance of working as a team and being united in strength. Their name was born from the concept that with just one thread one cannot do much, but with many threads, you have more strength and stability to accomplish more. It is very evident that this group of women truly value the idea of teamwork and unity in order to face challenges together and persevere in all that they may face.
We enjoyed a snack of cookies, pancakes with honey, fruit and coffee. We were then taken up to their exhibit room where a beautiful display of each groups traditional dress was showcased, along with sample work and demonstrations of their craftsmanship using the back strap loom. One can never have enough opportunities to observe these women in action, it is truly breathtaking the skill and patience they have working in this trade.
Next we went to our first community visit in Chuacruz (about 20 kilometers from Panajachel). We arrived and were warmly welcomed by the group Wabxaqib’Kan, who are one of the first groups Thirteen Threads began working with back in 2004. This group was founded out of necessity to rebuild their community, as at the time, all the women were widows from the civil war in 1985 and today they have 15 members. We heard several personal testimonies and were given a chance to ask questions.
One interesting question was regarding the concept of “free time” and what they do when they are not working. We learned that in the Mayan culture there is no such thing as “free time”! They always have responsibilities to tend to in their home, with the family, children, cooking, washing, etc. and any free time they have is spent working in their craft. They shared that even though they don’t really have “free time” they still find ways to enjoy themselves while doing their chores and working together.
Out of another question posed, we received a demonstration on how the women decorate their hair for the purpose of aesthetics, as well as how they cushion their heads with a piece of their textiles to carry large baskets and water jugs. They have such balance and grace! I know I would trip over my feet even attempting to take just one step!
Our hostesses then began preparing to serve us lunch and we dined together with a traditional dish, Pepián de Pollo with corn tamales and Rosa de Jamaica (hibiscus tea). Such a delicious meal! With our bellies full of good food, we perused their textiles and shopped to our hearts content.
Our next stop was to Patanatik to visit our second community where the group Las Rosas is located. We were welcomed with a traditional dance before entering their meeting room where we would spend the rest of our afternoon together. Here we also made introductions and learned about their start. This group was founded on June 13, 2006 as an initiative of Rosa García, their founder, and have 12 members.
This group’s particular skill is in hooking and embroidery techniques. One of their specialties is in their rugs, which are made from recycled/discarded scraps that they cannot use in any other medium, which is a true testimony to their creativity and skill in not wasting any of their materials. The women from this group meet once a week to help support each other in their product making and offer a place to discuss and come up with solutions to everyday issues.
As with the first visit we made, it is very clear to see how important community and unity are for these women.
This group often begins their time together participating in activities to help loosen them up, bring the closer together and work on becoming comfortable in their own skin and challenge their comfort zone. We were asked to participate in two activities. The first was a song and dance “El Palmito” (the palm leaf), which was very fun and entertaining. The second was the dance “yo soy pura Guatelmateco” danced in pairs (one DFW lady and one Las Rosas lady), where the initiating singer dances with a broom and when she stops we have to find a new partner (including her).
Who ever is with out a partner, now has to dance with the broom and lead in the singing. This activity was my favorite, as the women were so enthusiastic in grabbing and hugging us to not be left without a partner. It was a very intimate moment where we truly let down our guard and enjoyed ourselves in the moment and true spirit of friendship and companionship.
We had many special moments with this group, however one of our highlights was when one of the leaders in the group, Ana (not the ED), recited a poem she wrote with such dynamic passion and depth, there was hardly a dry eye in the room.
We were again invited to peruse their products for sale and were offered a snack (a traditional tamale with meat in the center), which for many of us felt like an early dinner! We did not go hungry this day, as Thirteen Threads made sure we were well fed! We concluded our afternoon with Las Rosas expressing their goodbyes again in dance, which was a very special and unique moment.
This day was by far our most packed day, as once back in Panajachel, we went to visit their store and then ended up straight to dinner. Enjoying the companionship and new friendships formed with the Thirteen Threads women, our night concluded with a light dinner of course, as our bellies were still very full from the day!