Love and Lessons

Claire Lund ‘18

claireA smiling face peeks its way out from behind a bright blue door.  A young face, with glittering brown eyes and a sweet smile suppressing the beginnings of a giggle.  The little girl opens the shabby door for me to reveal a breathtaking scene: a room decorated with bright paper flowers, colorful wooden chairs, and more smiling faces.  Before I know it, women, young and old, are hugging me left and right, giving me their welcomes and love, as if I were family.  These indigenous women of Chiapas are especially warm to us, because we have sold their artesania in the United States, helping them in their fight for survival and autonomy by providing the only market they have for their goods.  However, my classmates and I experience ourselves mostly as mere visitors, stunned by the warmth, love, and fiery determination surrounding us.

I started volunteering for the Chiapas Project at my school in tenth grade because I saw how beautiful and intricate their crafts are, and I admire the teacher who directs the project.  Looking back, I realize that I was just “participating,” because I knew it was a good thing to do.  Last summer’s trip has shown me more deeply how integral this project is to their survival.  Understanding this now, and knowing the women far more than just as faces in photographs, there’s a fight in me that wasn’t there before; their survival has become my passion — because I see how hard they work, and because although there’s less than little to share, they shared everything they had with me.

I watch Reina (the smiling face behind the door) and her sister Perla flit around the pink, green, and blue chairs, playing with the polaroids we brought them, screeching and yelling with delight.  As I sit in a tiny wooden pink chair, an older woman with a magnificent braid trailing down her back smiles at me, gently turns my shoulders away from her, and begins to braid my hair.  I feel so much love radiating from her, as palpable as body heat, and suddenly I’m profoundly connected to her, as if she were family.  I feel my cheeks grow hot and my eyes begin to sting, and I wonder with bewilderment why I’m struggling to hold back tears.  I’ve never felt immediate love from a stranger before, and I’m overwhelmed.

The woman, Victoria, finishes braiding my hair and I’m jolted back to reality.  It’s time for us to leave.  I wrench myself away from the pink chair, from the woman I had grown so close to in the span of a few minutes, and prepare myself to leave.  As we make our exit back through the shabby blue door, I realize I probably will never see Reina’s smiling face again, and it breaks my heart.

It took a while to readjust to being home.  For the first few days I couldn’t seem to piece together my thoughts or feelings, besides an overwhelming and I guess expectable guilt about my circumstances of privilege, and I grew frustrated when I couldn’t put into words my experience as a whole.  Over time, my thoughts became more tangible, and guilt was mostly transformed into gratitude and commitment: a deeper appreciation for all that I have, and a passion in me to help the Chiapan women in their fight.  I also have a stronger feeling for the significance of hard work, and a larger investment within the Chiapas Project.  In the months since the trip, I’ve sold the women’s goods at my home and in others, at school, and throughout Los Angeles.  Even though I’m far away, I am continuously learning from them: to live with strength and courage, to live in the moment, to fight for my beliefs, and to put more love and compassion back into the world, as they do.  I am so fortunate to have met them