Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wha' Happened in Oaxaca: Day 8

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.
Juan's sister holds up chocolate.

We awoke before dawn. (Another classic opener!) The stars were clearly visible, thanks to very little light pollution. Rick’s alarm went off at 4 or 4:30. I was awake maybe a half-hour before that, in my brain’s continuing quest to deprive me of sleep on days of early rising.

We rolled out of bed in stages until being invited to the kitchen for breakfast at 5:30. We had hot chocolate, a local specialty. They wrapped up a hunk of chocolate for each of us in maroon paper. It was hard to adequately express gratitude. There was the awkwardness of no-touch affection.

I read or heard something on the trip about Mexicans trying to be more affectionate with their kids. I didn’t know that was a problem. I just assumed all Latinos were affectionate.

We left the house at 6. There were already many bags piled up in the courtyard of the weaving cooperative when we arrived. Our 2 vans didn’t show up ‘til 7, but we loaded up pretty quickly and hit the road.
Leaving Teotitlán del Valle

I saw Petrona sitting alone as we hustled and bustled around her at the cooperative. She was smiling politely at the middle distance, without a part to play. But I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. I was afraid of crying or just getting “too” emotional.

We stopped at a gas station complete with convenience store and dining area, a strange, sudden return to the First World. There was a TV showing a Mexican morning show, one of those obnoxious “news” shows that annoy the fuck out of me, in which the hosts are absurdly, enragingly perky.
Mixteca region of Oaxaca

They were showing highlights of the basketball game between Real Madrid and Barcelona, 2 Spanish clubs that currently have the premier soccer rivalry in the world. Their meetings are called El Clásico in soccer and apparently in básquetbol too.

We picked up some food and water to replenish our ever-depleting snacks and water supplies. We all hit the restrooms too. Even in Mexico, ladies have to wait in line for the toilet while men can waltz right up to a urinal whenever it suits us.

I was sitting next to Aaron as we drove through the mountains, passing mouldering, abandoned cabins on the hillsides. To him, I unburdened myself of my secret shame: I’ve been living with my parents for 6 ½ years now, the last 2 mostly unemployed, having lost touch with my best friends and feeling horribly lonely for much of that time.

It’s not exactly a secret, since it’s in my blog profile, but I’m extremely reluctant to share those facts in the real world. I feel overwhelming shame about living with my parents at the age of 38, and being unemployed has magnified that feeling. I was hoping to share it with the whole delegation, but just telling one person was a good start.

We passed through an unidentified (as far as I recall) city. Then we headed up dirt roads into the mountains to visit a village that had been relocated after being destroyed by a natural disaster. It took about 90 minutes from the highway to get there.
Garden in mountain village

It was at the top of a mountain, just a few miles from the old village. Since moving there 3 years ago, they’d already built a school (complete with the requisite security fence and basketball court, which was sheltered). They showed us their gardens, including a large field of nopales. It was impressive how much they could grow in the thin, rocky soil.

We came back down from the mountains to the town of Nochixtlán and visited CEDICAM. As the delegation folder explains, “CEDICAM works primarily in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca state, one of the most eroded areas in the world ever since Spanish conquerors deforested the region over 400 years ago. CEDICAM’s projects include reforestation efforts, native seed use and the promotion of local markets, local food consumption and sustainable farming practices. One of their key models is farmer-to-farmer knowledge-sharing.”
Maggie with Jesús León Santos of CEDICAM

Our host was Jesús León Santos. Before beginning his presentation, he said he’d made a reservation for us at a local eatery. Maggie and many of the women in the group sounded very appreciative of and enthusiastic about his gesture.

At this point, I was pretty run-down and eager to hit the road for the 4 ½-to-6-hour drive (depending on your source) to Mexico City that still lay ahead of us that evening. (Also, I suck at sleeping in transit.)

To my deep relief and in a much friendlier tone than I could’ve mustered at that moment, Paul lodged a formal objection to delaying our departure. Maybe I was projecting, but this felt like a popular sentiment among the men.

It seemed that, under the strain of sleep deprivation, the long van ride, listening to lectures for hours every day, opening ourselves up to the plight of the downtrodden and all the other exhausting aspects of the trip, our camaraderie might be splintering along gender lines. (Drama! Tension! Suspense! Can you feel it?) I couldn’t help but think we were enacting a common gender stereotype about traveling: Women are in no hurry, while men just wanna get it over with.

Maggie delayed a decision on the matter until after the presentation. Rather than listen to the talk, I mostly stewed in the juices of my fatigue and resentment.

Señor León’s talk focused on CEDICAM’s new book, a thick, glossy coffee-table affair called ¡Milpa! As I mentioned in a previous post, milpa is the Mexican polyculture centered around the “Three Sisters” plant guild of corn, beans and squash. It includes edible plants that we would consider weeds, which they call quelites.

Most of us bought a copy of the book. I demurred, given my lack of agricultural experience and culinary daring to attempt the recipes included therein. Señor León signed everybody’s copy and then we headed to the local restaurant, as if Paul’s complaint had never been lodged. I went along with it, figuring acquiescence would yield a more pleasant outcome than resistance. (This is usually how my social calculus works out.)

Karissa eats shrimp in Nochixtlán.
The restaurant was a basic, no-frills sort of establishment with plastic table cloths and bargain-basement, yard-or-estate-sale chairs and tables. They had a long line of tables pushed together for us along the back wall. Many of us had beer, the Mexican brand of Victoria, as I recall. I opted for an orange soda to alleviate my sugar withdrawal.

Along with soup, there were appetizers served on plastic dishes with no garnish, including black beans and white rice. I dumped that into my soup. This was a DIY sort of place, displaying a punk aesthetic that I might’ve appreciated had I not been tired and cranky.

My entrée was the shrimp soup, which provided me with a new experience. I forked the many shrimp out of the unique crockery bowl and removed the heads, which still had the beady, black eyes attached.
Mairi enjoys the catch of the day!

The food was remarkably unremarkable. The only sauce was what you brought in your soul, and I had nothing left to season with, no spiritual condiments to speak of.

After finishing, Aaron, Nolan and I took a walk around the neighborhood. We got to a park and completed a circuit around the running track that encircled a dusty soccer field. There was a match going on. Most of one team had the same jersey; the other was a motley crew. A few dozen spectators watched from the stands.

Shortly after returning to the eatery, we hopped back in the vans and soon got stuck in a Catholic procession. It was the Friday before Holy Week. If I hadn’t “lapsed” in my Catholicism in high school, I might be able to tell you the significance of that day. (Unfortunately, Wikipedia was not up to the task.)
Lenten procession in Nochixtlán

There were a lot of plainly-dressed people walking and singing solemnly. We were only trapped in that mess for 5-10 minutes before we were finally able to escape Nochixtlán. (I don’t wanna give the town a bad name, but it had been a long day.) I noted the time that we got on the highway, so I’d know exactly how big a grudge to bear when we got to our hotel in Mexico City.

The light was dying by the time we got outta town. Maggie was sitting next to me in the back seat. It was a good time to hash it all out with her. I told her about my skepticism about Consensus and the Archdruid’s criticism. We talked politics. It was nice having a fellow Leftist to commiserate with.

But, as the shadows lengthened and the sun dipped below the horizon, the conversation died down and people started nodding off.
Lenten procession in Nochixtlán

This stretch of country was more like the U.S. with semi’s, rest stops and freeways. We passed through the expansive city of Puebla. There were fireworks over a couple of the smaller cities.

We stopped at 2 gas stations on the way. One had a guy selling stuffed animals off the top of his car.

Over the previous few days, Paul had built a spirited grassroots movement in the group in favor of stopping for ice cream on the way to Mexico City. It was rather remarkable how he could drum up such fervent enthusiasm over such an innocuous issue. His sociability and sense of humor give him a unique magnetism. He’d make a great cult leader.

Lenten procession in Nochixtlán
Unfortunately, the momentum for this insurgency had been blunted by delays and fatigue. The movement’s core (or “dead-enders,” if you will) settled for cheap ice cream treats at one of the rest stops.

‘Round about midnight, we got to the edge of the Valley of Mexico and gazed down into a sea of city lights. It took a while to descend into the capital. The clock in the hotel lobby said 12:30; Maggie would’ve won the bet on how long the drive was.

We’d finally arrived at El Gran Hotel Téxas (“The Grand Hotel Texas,” in case you were wondering), a much grander name than the accommodations warranted. Fate spared us from sharing beds again, a fact I wasn’t sure of until I opened the door to me and Nolan’s room and emitted a “Thank God” at the sight of separate beds.

I read Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants, for a while after Nolan turned off his light, until I was ready to hit the sack.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps of interest: As I was saying goodbye to our weaver host, Zenaida, her brother-in-law, Andres, told me that she wanted to hug me good-bye, though we'd been told not to expect such warmth/closeness. So, I hugged her goodbye. Not sure what anyone else in my group or others' groups did. Anyone else?