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Quetzaltenango, Guatemala …

… one of the greenest places on God’s green Earth. I went there in 2002 with my pastor and a group of other wonderful people. Ours was a medical mission. I have few first aid skills, so I was put to work fetching, carrying and entertaining the children while their families waited to see the doc, or pharmacist. I also manned the supply room from time to time. Each child was given school supplies, toothbrush, toothpaste and a toy of some kind. Each adult was given a hygiene packet (soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb, towel, wash cloth).

Our little outreach group also did our fair share to stimulate the economy. We all came home with wonderful treasures. My favorite is this coat.

traditional hand woven pattern
traditional hand woven pattern

I purchased the coat for $20.00 American dollars, which at the time was worth about 160 quetzals (Guatemalan dollars). It is made with a combination of denim and local hand woven cotton.


The craftmanship is superb and the detail is exquisite. The coat was made by war widows. Sewing and weaving is how they support their families. The idea was put forward by their local United Methodist Church and space for a store was provided. The woman formed a co-op. They make and sell handcrafted clothing, jewelry, household items (potholders, placemets, table clothes, etc) and art. They have built their own community where they live and work together, using the money from the store to purchase supplies, feed and care for their own families — and do missionary work among those less fortunate than they.


Years of civil war has left Guatemala with a decimated population. Men and boys were taken by their homes at gun point and forced to join either the national army, or the guerrilla force (depending upon who captured them). Refusing to fight was an automatic death sentence. One was either enemy or ally. There was no neutral ground.

inner pocket detail

The coat is padded and heavy. The likelihood of my ever wearing it in Hawaii is slim. In fact, I believe the last time I wore it was just about a year ago, one chilly night in Friday Harbor, Washington when I walked with OC to the point, where every evening he played his trumpet while the sun set and the moon rose.

I keep the coat because of it’s beauty. Because of the memories it holds. And to remind me how blessed I am to live in the United States where I take things like plentiful food, clean water, electricity, death from natural causes, and my freedom to choose my own course in life for granted.

This post was prompted in part by David McMahon, of Authorblog, who asked: Do you have an article of clothing you haven’t worn for more than a year? And by Mary, The Teach, at Work of the Poet, who hosts, Ruby Tuesday.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. The coat is very beautiful and aren’t there mountains on some of the islands? The store is truly a Godsend to the women who are able to sell their goods from it.

    I’ve been knitting all day and started nodding off and thought it a good time to put it down for a while. Got some embroidery floss and stuff yesterday and ran into the yarn while looking for hoops. I fear my crafts would not support me or a doormouse even.

  2. Gayle — yes. A couple hundred dollars, easy.

    Amber — Guatemala is in Central America, and isn’t island. The country is very mountainous, and still heated by active volcanoes.

    Brig — yes. I am thinking it needs to wrapped and put away, not hanging in my closet.

  3. Hmm. I disagree. I think it should be worn often. Until it’s falling apart. That’s what clothing is for, and the best compliment you can pay a piece of clothing is to wear it often. 🙂 ‘Course, Hawaii weather may make that null and void.

  4. Tink — so do I. There were lots of coats and lots of colors, but only one with that trim.

    Brig — if I wear that coat in Hawaii, it will have to be on Hawaii Island, atop the volcano, in January. It likely won’t be here on Oahu.

    Andrew — vibrant and warm. You got it.

    iShare — I bought several other things there and probably dropped $100.00 American. I think I was the most conservative member of the group, so the store did well that night. Pastor spent 3-4 hundred dollars for things to sell as fund raisers back home. I know my neice, Brooke (the RN), spent a couple hundred. We dang near didn’t get her stuff into her bags!

  5. Shelly — 11 days and 11 nights — and I left Guatemala against my will. It was a wonderful, beautiful place full of smiling, loving people.

  6. My church sends a group to Guatemala every year. I’m hoping to go one of these years. Hopefully next summer.

  7. Betty — well, the church (building) I went on the mission with no longer stands, and I live over 3000 miles away from them now, anyway. I take the coat whenever I give talks (and tons of photos, too), but even if I were unselfish enough to give the coat up for a permanent display, where would that be?

    Diesel — I was tempted to be sarcastic and ask, “What did those people ever do to you?”, but truthfully, it is a heart and eye opening experience. Go. Chances are, you won’t regret it.

  8. Ohhhhh my gosh! That coat is beautiful! I LOVED this post! You know… my little Lesli lives in Guatemala… and I always always wonder what her life is really like. I hear sO little. These words hit me… ” – and do missionary work among those less fortunate than they.” It really makes you wonder, how much LESS fortunate can you get? And yet, there are…
    Oh Quilly! You made my day with this post! Bless you, my friend!

  9. Quilly, this is a truly wonderful coat and story behind it. I love them both. What a treasure.

    Have a great day!

  10. There is so much intricate detail in that coat. I imagine every time you look at it, memories come out from everywhere. Thank you for sharing.

  11. many hours of dedicated work is woven into this jacket; the work of those who made it plus the work you put in to help those guatemalans.
    wonderful !

  12. It is a beautiful coat, but the fact that is has such a story to go with it, I would keep it always too.

  13. Melli — many homes in Guatemala are built of corrugated steel and cardboard boxes. They have dirt floor, no running water (no bathrooms). Many people wash their clothes in the river (ice cold water)and spread them on the banks to dry. They also bath themselves in that river.

    There is so much more I could tell you, but instead I will say, if you ever get the chance to visit, GO!

    Polona — and the beauty and the nonsense and the fun — gorgeous high mountain vegetation; usually it was too cloudy to see, but one day we all stopped work at 2:00 and ran outside to watch the volcano errupt while the locals stood around with tongue depressors and thermometers sticking out them muttering, “loco americanos”; and asking for directions to the restroom in the mall and being answered in rapid fire Spanish I couldn’t understand. The lady saw the look on my face, stopped talking, and pointed.

    Nea — exactly. Thank you.

  14. Now THAT is a decent jacket. And a great way to bring out the true sentiment of what we all should acknowledge – our God given freedom. What brilliant work you did in Guatemala, and buying things like this allowed them to keep some dignity and provide for their families.

    It is a real work of art. No wonder you keep it – I would.

  15. Cath — dignity was what the whole trip was about. We were helping to restore what should not have been taken away in the first place. It was an awesome privilege to be part of the team.

  16. Oh, I remember that coat! It really is beautiful. That was indeed a special trip, wasn’t it? I’m glad I got to share it with you.

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