By Sophia Badalamenti
The theme of the day that I was in charge of was economy, an endlessly complex and multi-faceted topic, impossible to comprehend in a single day. Still, the setting of an annual flower festival in Antigua Guatemala was propitious to gaining a basic understanding of the local commerce. My group and I wandered through market places and visited a bank in an attempt to understand how Guatemalans support themselves, what the currency system is like, and how politics and culture influence the system.
In a small stand, primarily selling jewelry, I conversed in broken Spanish with a Guatemalan businessman who told me how difficult it was to earn a living, how he had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Most of the stands and shops were family-run, with displays of colorful textiles, jewelry, and clothing items, all handmade. The vendors actively encouraged passers-by to purchase their products, eagerly welcoming and offering thins to all who passed. It was apparent that necessity had driven the families to become entrepreneurs, using creativity, artistry, and enthusiasm to improve their circumstances.
Much of the commerce seemed to be dependent on tourism, although this could be due to the crows drawn by the festival on the particular day we visited. At the bank, it proved challenging to exchange our American money for quetzales. Two hundred dollars was the minimum and, even then, international people needed a passport to do so. We left without much money.
Although we had no money, limited time, and lamentable Spanish – obstacles to our research – the time spent making observations and asking questions was not a waste. We walked away with a memory of a lively, entrepreneurial city with commerce centered around history and art.