Friday, April 22, 2016

Wha' Happened in Oaxaca: Day 7

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.

Market in Teotitlán del Valle
I woke up before Rick’s alarm went off, so I was conscious much earlier than I wanted to be. The morning dawned bright and clear (I couldn't resist the cliché.), but I was a bit too bleary-eyed to drink it all in.

We ambled over to the kitchen for breakfast. There was lemongrass tea and conversation. The whole scene actually looked a lot better to me after a decent night’s sleep. I guess I thought, “If I can sleep here, it must not be that bad.”

I also remembered that luxury is only necessary in the absence of love. I was only bothered by their poverty because I hadn’t yet felt their warmth. Once I was able to receive their hospitality and generosity, I was much more comfortable.
Church in Teotitlán del Valle

But I did notice the dirty tablecloth. I wondered if the housekeeping had suffered since Petrona went blind. I’m quite sensitive to cleanliness, especially in this setting, because I take after my mom. She grew up on a farm, my grandpa’s aforementioned beef cattle (and corn) farm in Iowa.

After breakfast we went to the market, which filled 2 large warehouses and an outdoor pavilion. It took up almost half a city block. The place was bustling. We crossed paths with fellow delegates who were also following their host families around.
Church interior

Rick handed me a tamarind and told me how to eat it. It was pretty good, if a bit sour for my taste. There were conventional, industrial products alongside the locally-grown food. I commented to Aaron how the mass-produced shit looked so cheap next to the artisanal goods.

In that setting, the consumer products looked out-of-place, almost obscene, like a virus. I lamented how the global neoliberal economy had made these people (and us) dependent on boxes of lactose-free milk. Who could be so morally bankrupt as to believe that’s an improvement over milking your own cows or getting it in glass bottles from the milkman? For what monster does this represent Progress?

Next, we checked out the Catholic church next door. It was built in 1753 and had an amazing interior, especially considering the town only had a few thousand residents. (There were conflicting reports about the population. I heard both 3,000 and 7,000.)

My first trip to continental Europe was 2 years ago, and we saw so many magnificent cathedrals that I began to suffer from “cathedral fatigue.” But there was something extremely affecting about this shrine, a church on a more human scale without as much glitz and glamor. There were even carved stones from indigenous ruins haphazardly set in the façade’s stucco.
Church altar

We returned home with Petrona and Juan’s purchases and chilled. Juan showed Aaron and I their loom and examples of his work. The room was large and mostly empty, except for a radio, which had been playing a kids’ show that morning. The radio accompanied his weaving. There was a pile of textile scraps against the wall.

In the afternoon we reconnoitered with the other groups at the weaving cooperative to hear about their work and buy some rugs. Eric, Debi and Chris were there, having just made the trip from Oaxaca City. Eric completed our quartet of men staying with Juan and Petrona. This foiled my hope of getting a bed to myself that night, but I couldn’t very well resent Eric for feeling better. (Or could I? Don’t underestimate the power of passive-aggressive thinking.)

Over lunch, I had Aaron translate the story of my grandpa for Juan and Petrona. I’d wanted to tell them the first night, but it felt too emotional. I just told them (via Aaron) about how he’d had beef cattle that weren’t nearly as chill as the ones we’d seen on the road the day before. It was nice sharing that with them, although I wish my Spanish vocabulary had been big enough to tell them directly.
Vida Nueva Women's Weaving Cooperative

But the wall I’d felt between me and the Mexican people was coming down. The return of my Spanish comprehension seemed to have something to do with that.

That evening there would be a visit to a nearby farm. We walked to the edge of town and waited for the other groups. Our arrival was unintentionally early due to miscommunication, and we waited a half-hour to an hour for the others to show. Thence, we piled into some pickups and went to a farm to check out their chickens, large turkeys, nopales and other crops.

It was one of those great evenings in the country when the dusk slowly settles over a large gathering outside. I had my first encounter with a cat on the porch of the rustic farmhouse. There were 2 kittens on top of an old Coke machine mewing and cowering from all the people and dogs in the yard. I reached my hand out to them and, predictably, got clawed, albeit lightly.

Farm outside Teotitlán del Valle
We piled back into the pickups and returned to town. At the hacienda, we had some more lemongrass tea and chatted. Eric knew some Spanish, so Aaron and Rick didn’t need to translate much of what was said. Petrona, Juan and his sister could also slip into the local Zapotec (indigenous) dialect if they didn’t want us to know what they were saying. This gave both groups a private language, ours being English.

We were supposed to depart at 6:30 the next morning, so we went to bed around 10. I switched beds, no longer wanting to be trapped between Rick and the wall. This time I was in the bed under the window, a much less stuffy location. I still had to share the bed, with Eric this time, but I was more comfortable in this spot and more acclimated to bed-sharing.

The courtyard light and radio were turned off earlier than the night before, and the long, slow slide into unconsciousness was more pleasant.

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