“ ‘Mayu’ means water. ‘Nina’ means fire. I’m an air sign. The idea is that we all stand on earth and bringing all four elements together would complete the balance. Human connection: that’s the essence of Mayunina. ” –Rigel Angelina
Life is a path. We try to control it, speeding up or slowing down, turning here or stopping there in the direction we think will lead to happiness. Other times, life does the steering and takes us exactly where we need to go.
In the summer of 2011, Rigel Angelina left New York to travel to Ecuador for love. After two weeks, a devastating break up left her heartbroken and she booked the next red-eye flight home. Before leaving, she spoke to her friend Victor who invited her on a four-day trip— the entire country was waiting for her if she just opened her mind to it. The next morning, she knew what she was supposed to do.
“My instincts are my greatest tools,” says Rigel. “They always know what’s going on. I woke up the next morning and something just pushed me to go… I decided to get lost and discover whatever I was supposed to discover. Just go with the wind and fall off the grid.”
If there was ever a journey of self-discovery, this was it. Rigel escaped from the madness of the city to experience the countryside, her emotions pulled to their limits by every experience. She remembers the colors of the sun setting on the west coast, just driving. Meeting families that owned next to nothing but possessed the greatest passion for life. Lounging on hammocks in the summer air surrounded by mango trees, a true heaven on earth. Meeting two friends who would become soul mates. Crammed in the back of a jeep for a four-hour trip through the desert with no road in sight. Bathing in the sea when the hostel had no shower, the dirt and dust of her journey lost among waves. All the while embracing uncertainty and allowing herself to lose control in order to feel, her mind and heart open to every possibility.
Then the light bulb turned on. “I found these people, these artisans. They filled me with love and hope and I needed that; I was heartbroken. I met families little by little and felt inclined to be part of their community. These people put all this love and energy and history into one item. It has a heart, it has a soul and I want everybody to have a piece of it. That’s how Mayunina was born.”
Rigel’s idea was to sell these handmade objects back in the US and support their makers by teaching people about their history. This became her mission, and the search began as she traveled deeper inland to find artisans. But after returning to Guayaquil from a second journey, Rigel got sick. For three days, she felt too weak to move and knew something was wrong. Her blood samples showed she had contracted salmonella and her body’s toxicity level had reached a shocking 93 percent. According to the doctor, she should have been dead.
“At that moment I went into a strange sleep full of hallucinations: life at my head and death at my feet. My feet were freezing, I must have asked a million times for a blanket. And the bed was disgusting, stained with blood. There was a dead man to the left of me, a screaming woman to the right of me and I couldn’t move because I was so weak. My life passed by me from the beginning to where I was laying: all the stuff that happened, all the people in my life that have entered, all the pain and beauty that I’ve been through. It was insane. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Life had other plans for her and with the help of her mother (her “angel”) she slowly recovered her strength. “I almost died,” Rigel recalls, “but I had a second chance. That energy of having a close death encounter and realizing I am fragile and need help like everybody else was awakening. I can’t do this life all by myself. Nobody can. We all need each other. And that’s what I learned. Happiness comes from when you have self-love. When you love yourself, you can love everybody else. That’s what the [South American people] taught me.”
She returned to America and made a clean start, her passion for life stronger than ever. Influenced by something a friend said about tribes in South Africa who cut their hair to cleanse their auras, she chopped off her own and began selling Mayunina at Dekalb Market.
Everything moved quickly once she opened her own shop with a handmade selection of bags, apparel and home décor, each piece with its own story. She had no way of knowing if she was doing the right thing, but her heart led the way. Others’ encouragement affirmed her mission; strangers and friends who loved the product and feeling a sense of connection to Rigel’s story in relation to their own lives.
“I feel the need to share what I’ve been through so people can see that there’s so much more out there,” Rigel explains. “I can’t tell you the amount of times someone has asked me how this happened then says they’re going through something similar and I helped them realize something about themselves. That to me is the greatest gift. It’s just that moment that they needed to engage with somebody and I was there. No judgment, no tears. Pure love.”
Just when everything was looking up, Dekalb Market faltered. Events trickled to a halt, people stopped coming, and the vendors could barely pay rent. When Rigel found out the market was closing, she felt like everything she had worked for was slipping through her fingers.
“I packed my things up, rented a U-Haul and cried every time I put a piece of my shop into the van,” says Rigel. “I didn’t want to let go. We were a family. The Dekalb Market family… I was at a loss. I built the store from the ground up— it was almost like a child to me.”
She has been struggling to find her way back on the path she began two years ago, working other jobs to support herself while trying to breathe life back into Mayunina. Sometimes she feels like she’s drowning, but her dedication to the artists that showed her love when she needed it most keeps her afloat. These are people she’s eaten with, danced with, laughed with and cried with; through Mayunina’s objects she can share these experiences with the world. The Epiyu family’s Mochilas bucket bags are made from a weave so complex that they stand by themselves, a secret of the Wayuu people. Beautiful woven straw basket purses are the trade of the Espinoza family, the most impoverished family Rigel has come to know. Woven straw lanterns carry the spirit of Ruta de Spondyluz South, where she met their artisan, Alfonzo.
As Rigel takes her next steps in this life, her passion to do what she loves will lead the way. Part of her is afraid of failure and the other part believes there is no sense of living if she doesn’t take a risk. Her destination remains unknown, but her dream will take her where she needs to go.
“Mayunina is a movement to create positive energy in the world for the better of the human condition, the human being— you, me, everybody. I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life; I know this is what I love to do. There are things that interfere on your path for a reason. It’s meant for the universe to say you’re just not ready right now. I don’t feel prepared but you can wait forever to be fully prepared. That time is relative. It’s now or never.”
You can find Mayunina at Artifact. (155 Freeman St, Brooklyn, NY 11222). For more information, please visit http://www.facebook.com/MAYUNINA.