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with producer families in Guatemala + why traveling is important

People always ask me after I take a trip how it was…what I learned…how it feels to visit groups I work with.  I never quite know what to say because honestly traveling out of the country is more of a norm in my life and my work trips are a lot like my normal work week - making new patterns, meeting with seamstresses, figuring out the logistics and quality control of production - which is cool and I love it but it is honestly not as exciting as most people imagine.

I did however learn something on this trip to Guatemala that isn’t directly related to my work…

I tend to put myself in really stupid situations.  I show up at the airport in developing countries with few plans and no one to meet me, I start a business making things out of trash, and honestly some months I have no idea how I am going to pay thousands of dollars in bills and payroll.  While I don’t condone my irresponsibility (and I am not actually as irresponsible as I make myself sound), I have learned a lot putting myself in these situations!  You learn the money miraculously comes in, you learn the humility of asking people for things, and on this trip I stood there in awe at the way complete strangers welcomed me and treated me like family.

Like a lot of people who have grown up around ‘mission trips’, I have become cynical of them.

Mark, someone who has become like my Honduran dad, is a man who has run mission trips for years - if anyone has the right to be cynical about them, he is the one...which is maybe why I will never forget what he said to a group several years ago.  “Life is made up of a serious of moments.  You look back and think…that was a really good trip.  That was a really good conversation.  That was a really good day.”  He went on to talk about how the trip they were doing was in fact useless…he could hire Hondurans to do the same work, better and faster.  But there was value in them being there!  He brought up times, almost every day, of him interacting with people in the villages who had their homes built by a group of gringos.  People who still ask ten years later how is Jordan?  What is Susie doing now?  They remember those moments.  They remember kicking a ball with some strange looking white man.  They remember a woman who couldn’t speak a word to them in their language giving them a hug.  They remember laughing hysterically with people they realize aren’t so different than themselves.  Some of these small moments have led to lifelong relationships while others remained treasured memories.  While these trips have little impact in the ways we think they do, they do make us hyper sensitive to the treasure of these very simple moments. 

I was reminded of this on my recent trip to Guatemala.  One night I spent dinner with a family I had just met via a friend of a friend.  I was instantly drawn to the mother of the family.  She is one of those people that you know she is making fun of everyone in her head - obviously someone I would instantly love!  I went grocery shopping with her, watched her fix her sewing machine, and held her hand as we walked around the town.  I will probably never see that woman again.  We didn’t have any deep conversation (our language difference limited it to pretty lame small talk).  And typically I might have written off the night as something that I wouldn’t remember - wouldn’t matter because honestly nothing profound happened, but I am really grateful to that women!  She didn’t even know me but treated me like I was her family…she sat with me in that way you sit with people you have known forever.  She showed up with no expectations and welcomed me wholeheartedly.  In a year when I have been going through a bit of a mid-life crisis…questioning where I should live, who I should date, what I should do with myself, and someone who really likes to think about future possibilities - that women reminded me to chill out and focus on this one moment no matter how simple it is…no matter what random person is in it.

Frankly, I am still not going to get that excited if I run into someone I haven’t seen in years at the grocery - I hate those 20 second conversations!  I am also not saying there isn't value in really investing in relationships, but I was reminded on this trip through people I have known for years and people I spent only a few minutes with that maybe it is the random smiles, kindnesses, and moments that add up to good days - good experiences - good lives…the ones we didn’t plan for or at the very least the ones we didn’t expect.  We never really know when the tiniest kindness will have more of an impact than we know and it isn't even our job to know that.  It's really cliché but this was such a good reminder to be present in this moment and enjoy things like dinner with strangers and welcome whoever happens to be in our lives like they are family.