El Valle is a throwback to earlier, simpler times. Old pickups; unpaved roads almost as common as the paved ones; dogs of all shapes and colors, sprawled in inconvenient places; school children in uniforms, walking to school, parented little ones, older children talking and giggling; people walking down the middle of the road until a vehicle comes along; all ages on bicycles, which are left unattended, unchained, undisturbed wherever no one will trip over them; old stucco buildings with orange tile roofs interrupted by small grocery stores and local restaurants. The one bakery broadcasts its presence as we breathe the fragrant air. In the small grocery stores, carrying everything from bullets to umbrellas, nonperishable items are priced in marker or easily removed stickers, punched into the cash register by a clerk. Extravagantly verdant growth is everywhere, spotted with trash blown by the easterly breeze.
An internet café sign and a new Toyota van jar me into reality. It is 2013, not 1953.
The open-air marketplace has several aisles of handmade—some in China, most local—items for tourists. The women of the Guna tribe offer molas, reverse appliqué needlework in various layers of color, which are exceptional. Adilberto tells me a large one for $300 took his wife a year to complete.
An elderly Guna gentleman is forming resin designs to apply to pens, domino boxes, and knives. His wife, a black stripe down her nose in Guna fashion and in traditional Guna dress, demonstrates the push-button action that shoots a knife blade out so quickly I am startled. He picks up another, presses a button, and blades pop out on both sides. Is there a need for such in this peaceful place? Surely he only sells them to fascinated tourists. He chortles delightedly at my quick step backwards.
Fine macramé bracelets with delicate beads lie beside chunky, offbeat necklaces. Carvings, wooden bowls, woven baskets all testify to hours of time spent on each.
My head spins. I want to give business to our readers and to other friends we’ve made within the church here. How can I organize my Christmas list around the offerings here? How can I differentiate between the mass-produced and the local handcrafts? I will seek the advice of our missionary friends here. They’ve been here long enough to have all this figured out.
And I have two more weeks to make purchases. Today is the end of our first week in El Valle.