One of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve ever had came two weeks ago when I was visiting a women’s cooperative in the high plains of rural Bolivia. We’d driven for hours on a dirt road to finally reach a tiny town, surrounded by dry, rolling hills covered with dusty sheep. Once our vehicle pulled up to the stucco building, children and women appeared from nowhere, surrounding the vehicle and busying themselves to prepare for our visit. They knew I was coming; I had no idea what a big deal my visit was to them.
The women participating in this project are learning how to spin, dye and weave wool, as their grandmothers did years ago. Their handicrafts are being sold in high-end shops in the larger cities and they are, of course, looking for an energetic American girl to take their ideas and products to the US to be sold in an even more lucrative market. Enter that energetic — and rather blind to the situation — American girl.

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Me: Oooh, pretty yarn! I love yarn! Did y’all know I knit?
Them: My God this is going to be easy. We haven’t even said anything yet and she loves us.

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Me: Wow! Look at you weaving! That is so cool. I’d love to learn how to do that.
Her: Weaving? I’m not just weaving. Did you see the kid on my back. This isn’t a hobby, girlfriend. This is a career.

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Me: What is that great smell? Man, I love Bolivia. You guys even smell good!
Them: Um, crazy white girl, it isn’t us. It’s that giant pot over there. You know, the one boiling eucalyptus for our plant dyes.

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Me: Get out! You guys know how to dye your own yarn too? Do you know that people in the US would seriously pay top dollar for this kind of work?
Them: Why no. We. Had. No. Idea. (wink, nudge.)

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Them: Hey! You know what we should do? Dress you up in the local wear. You should put some of these clothes we’ve woven on, and then we’ll take your photo.
Me: Um, well. That’s okay. I can see them from here. Really, it isn’t necessary.

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Me: Oh, well then. Okay. Just be careful not to, Ouch. Oh. Man, these clothes weigh a ton.
Them: (Not so stifled laughter.)

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Them: Good grief she is huge. Round up the kids. They are going to want to see this.

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Kids: We heard something about a white giant dressed up in local gear?

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Me: I’m not so sure why they are laughing, but this is pretty cool after all. Note to self: send photos to women’s group. Find market for their awesome goods.