From March 10th until the 20th, I was part of a delegation of Land Stewardship Project members, organized by Witness for Peace, who met with farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. I'll be posting a recap of each day on this blog.
I woke up a bunch of times that first night, so I wasn't
real chipper for my first day in Oaxaca. But I soldiered on through breakfast,
putting a happy face on my sleep deprivation and anxiety. I’ve found that
staying engaged with people gives me energy. An actor in one of my shows
diagnosed me as an extravert, which was surprising. It doesn’t mean that I’m
outgoing, just that I get my energy from interacting with people. As a friend later
said, I have the misfortune of being a shy extravert.
|A hostel breakfast.|
The hostel workers made us some great breakfasts and lunches during our 6 days there. Apparently, that wasn't part of their normal job description, but they really went above and beyond the call of duty. There were all kinds of local delicacies, and only a few were too spicy for me. I wasn't blessed with a cast-iron stomach, but so far I've avoided my mom's fate of relying on a food pyramid of Jell-O, PBJ’s and flat Coke.
The dining area was another atrium mostly covered with a white screen. There were wooden chairs and tiny wooden tables, each seating 3 or 4 of us as we shrank our American sense of personal space. I began the process of chipping away at my social anxiety by making small talk, but mostly through listening, as is my way.
|Check-In on the roof.|
The family farm we visited was located on the edge of a town called San Juan Chilateca. (All the towns seemed to be named after local saints.) The farm was called Espacio Kruz, espacio being the Spanish word for "space" and Kruz being the name of the family who runs it. The buildings were made of adobe and a local cane that resembles bamboo, with plastic bottles in the door thresholds. Inspired by the Zapatistas, they've set up a center of grassroots resistance to government and corporate efforts to impose the neoliberal economic model locally, especially the precepts of NAFTA.
That trade deal mandated the policy of Descampesino (literally, “un-peasant”), emptying the countryside of small farmers. It’s been highly successful, thanks to the influx of cheap, highly subsidized staples like corn and flour from the U.S. Also, most land is collectively owned and could not be sold, until the government changed the law in ’94. That, combined with the Narcos’ violence, has accelerated emigration from Oaxaca to the U.S. and northern Mexico.
|Sara and Paul at Espacio Kruz.|
Román said there are 65 varieties of corn in Mexico, but GMO corn has overtaken northern Mexico, displacing all native breeds. GMO corn is illegal in Oaxaca, although a “hybrid” strain is legal, allowing GMO a foothold in the state. Luckily, the hybrid seed is sterile.
|Me, Román, Maggie & Maria Elena at Espacio Kruz.|
|Jasmin shows off a squash.|
We then returned to the city and went to a convent for that day’s group discussions. First was an exercise to spur debate on the effectiveness of violence, followed by a round of “Consensus” decision-making to establish ground rules for discussion or, as Maggie put it, "Group Agreements."
|Lunch at Espacio Kruz.|
The resolution in question was for everyone to qualify our statements as personal opinions instead of facts. I felt this would be too discouraging to open debate, that we would be too worried about offending each other and over-censor ourselves. The group agreed to change the resolution to say we would try to frame our statements as opinions rather than facts. I was satisfied with the change.
I had no desire to stay out late due to my (relative) lack of sleep the night before, so I stayed in. I was one of 4 guys to move to another room upstairs for accommodations, where we had 6 bunkbeds between us, plenty of bottom bunks to sleep on and room to enjoy some of that American-sized personal space.
|Consensus decision-making at the convent.|
There were two showers in our bathroom. I tried the first, but turning the two dials only activated the sink faucets. It would’ve been hilarious to anyone watching. Unfortunately, I was not in a good mood. But, as Samuel Beckett apparently said, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” so if someone had filmed me, I’m sure it would’ve gone viral. I was probably ripping off a Fatty Arbuckle routine without realizing it.
|Karissa admires our Group Agreements.|
I gasped a few times in the scattered spray, although my reaction seemed to have less to do with the coolness (or "coolth") of the water and more to do with finally letting my guard down with no one around. My anger and anxiety seemed to be leaking out under these extreme conditions, forced out by the frustration and discomfort of this showering ordeal.
I ran the shower just long enough to get wet, which took longer than usual, then shut it off and lathered up before rinsing off. This approach uses much less water than the traditional First-World shower, and it comes in mighty handy when the water is cold. I rarely make that sacrifice in the fall and winter, but I often do it in the summer.
Finally free of that emotional baggage, I settled down early for a restful night’s sleep.