She sat at a card table in the back of the room. Her hands covered with paper-thin latex gloves and a white face mask. Her table covered with tools, she worked alone in silence. The whirring of her electronic instrument sounded like something you’d hear in a dentist’s chair. She was an artist. The kind who makes cameos from seashells.
Outside the tour guide had explained to us what we would see inside the shop. In large jewelry cases, we perused hundreds of cameos with different designs, big and small, primarily oval, but with various colors and shapes. I had never seen so many in one location before—rings, pendants, brooches, and bracelets. The guide told us the Caribbean and Italy boasted the best artisans of shell carving with the most cameos.
The young girl wore a printed flowered dress made from cotton. The lightweight fabric was abundant in this Central American country as people lived in summer-like conditions year round. Her small hands and fingers appeared as delicate as the shell she was carving. She made curves and lines beginning an undefinable shape. In the way she handled her tools and the shell, she seemed to demonstrate a reverence to the skill she had learned.
My friend, Melody, found the young girl first and tried to strike up a conversation. The artist never looked up and pointed to a piece of paper.
“My name is Theresa,” it said. She continued working, as Melody kept talking and tried to make eye contact. When the girl looked up and saw Melody was still talking to her, she pulled down her mask, pointed to her ear, and shook her head “no”.
Melody and I had been friends for twenty-five years. We worked for the same school district as teachers of the deaf. When Melody saw Theresa point to her ear and shake her head, that was all she needed. Melody started signing to her in American Sign Language hoping it was the same signing system that was used in the Honduras as every country has their own distinct sign language. To both of their amazement, Melody and Theresa understood each other!
“Sue!” yelled Melody from across the room. “This girl knows ASL! Quick! Come here!”
I hurried across the room and soon we were having a three-way conversation. Theresa’s eyes brightened when I started signing to her, too. I was positive that didn’t happen very often even with the thousands of tourists that visited her shop on an annual basis. She seemed happy to able to communicate with somebody.
People in the store started to stare. But they weren’t gazing at the beautiful work of the young girl. They were looking at us talking with our hands. Soon the boss came over and scolded us in a semi-polite way that we needed to leave Theresa alone as she needed to get back to work demonstrating her talents.
Melody and I walked away happy because Theresa was able to tell us privately how she and her family learned the craft and became workers for the company. That day was one of the highlights of our vacation. I bet Theresa considered it an eventful and happy day herself.