While filming our new branding video, we traveled to the Mayan village of Chichicastenango. An important part of the Hiptipico story, Chichi is recognized as the largest open-air market in Central America. A frequent stop for us, we travel to Chichi regularly as a team to visit our many artisan partners.
Now, a popular destination for tourists - you will find visitors from all over the globe walking the cobblestone streets, wondering amongst the textiles and taking pictures of the native people.
Our videographer Morgan, hails from LA but joined us on his journey from Nicaragua. Familiar with the tastes and smells of Central American markets, even Morgan was blown away by the energy of the ChiChi market. Also a religious landmark, Chichi is not only known for its beautiful artisan crafts and textiles, but also its religious activities.
Our goal in filming here was to grasp the authentic feel, beautiful chaos and boisterous activity that exemplifies Chichicastenango. To get the natural vibe of the market but also capture my typical activity while there. The video follows my journey living in Guatemala and working with Mayan artisans. Meaning, we needed a powerful shot of me walking the markets and chatting with our artisan partners. While we wanted the feeling to be completely authentic, sometimes lighting and framing makes you have to alter your approach.
We found ourselves in the back alley of the Chichi Market, with beautiful textiles lining the streets and the 400-year old church as the backdrop. The perfect ambiance to set the scene for our video. I was deliberately placed about 50 feet from the camera to commence my walk through the busy market. I began my purposeful walk towards the camera to convey my passion for working with Mayan artisans and shopping at local markets. And bam, after a mere 5 steps I was cut off by a tourist. Take 2, hit on the side by a man carrying a crate on his head. Take 3, a swarm of street vendors waving textiles in my face. Take 4, another swarm of street vendors waving textiles in my face. Take 5, a heard of tourist.
But amidst the chaos, I ran into a familiar face, a street vendor named Tomasa that I met back in November. Every time I’m in Chichi I see her and wish her luck with her daily sales. Unlike the majority of the artisans in Chichi, Tomasa doesn’t have enough capital to open a proper stall, pay the town fee, and stock the stand with enough inventory. So, she simply walks the streets on market days hoping to find a tourist to buy some of her weavings, hoping to sell enough to at least earn her "pasaje" back home. Carrying her handmade crafts on her head and shoulders while displaying them to the passerby; Tomasa hears “no gracias” from the majority of tourists she approaches. In Chichi, that is the norm. A lot of tourists tend to brush past the street vendors while sneakily taking pictures. Their response is usually a quick contempt "no gracias" as they continue through the market without hesitation.
The truth is, I wish we could work with every one. And purchase something from Tomasa in that moment. Especially at that time, while making our film about the artisans we impact and the many lives we change in Guatemala. I was jaded but the perpetual cycle of poverty and joblessness. Each hopeful artisan looking for work, displaying their personal handmade items. Incredibly crafted. So much talent. And each artisan we encountered was determined. And full of passion and pride.
While I didn’t need to purchase anything she was offering, I did need to get this market shot complete. I pointed to Morgan waiting in the distance with the camera rolling and asked if she and her friend didn't mind walking with me down towards the camera. I told them how I kept getting knocked and bumped and cut off and they could help me by standing at my sides. I explained that it would take about 30 seconds of their time and just be a quick clip in our video. They agreed and I ended up giving them both Q25 for their time.
After the take, I showed them the footage. All of a sudden a group of 5 artisans piled in checking the video, laughing at their friends and chatting in their native language K’iche’. Morgan and I looked at each other, watching how much joy this brought to all of them. I turned to Tomasa and told her, we would be happy to take a picture and print it out if she wanted.
And all of a sudden another young girl looked at me and asked, “can you print my picture too.”
Another, "me too".
Another, "me too".
And so it began.
Well, it actually took a few minutes of explaining that I wouldn’t print it out in that exact moment. I had to explain that I would take the picture now with the camera, then print it in Pana, then come back in a few weeks with the physical printed version. Nonetheless, she was so excited. All of them were!
And that is my one suggestion to tourists and visitors in Guatemala. You don't have to purchase from everyone. But a simple act of kindness or a softer approach goes a long way. We are all human, we all have a story, and many times the same things bring us joy. Use your guide book to translate. Ask vendors where they are from. Ask them about their craft. Have an instant-print camera? Ask to take their picture. Stop and ask a beggar what happened. See if they need a friend that day. And remember, they are working. So give them a little something for their time. Even just Q20 (less than $3) goes a long way!
And finally, one by one they shyly stepped in front of Morgan’s camera. Some smiling, some serious, some displaying their craft but each and every one of them proud. Proud of their work, proud to share their culture, proud to be Mayan.
Images by: Morgan Arnold | IG: @MorgsArnold
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