Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wha' Happened in Oaxaca: Day 9

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.

Mexico City
I slept in, skipping breakfast and indulging in a bit of TV, catching some soccer highlights. There was a flat screen welded high on the wall and a remote control affixed firmly to the opposite wall between the headboards. It carried quite a few channels, all over-the-air, some grainy.

I took my sweet time getting to the group activities across the street. I could see them through the window as I shaved. They were meeting in a library on the 3rd floor of the Casa de los Amigos (“House of the Friends,” in case you weren’t raised on Sesame Street), a Quaker community center. It was directly across the street from my room. I emerged from the bathroom in a state of undress and thought it best to close the curtains to avoid getting too intimate with my fellow delegates, visually speaking.
My group works on our picture.

My fears proved to be unjustified. Upon joining the delegation, I saw the motel windows across the street reflecting and allowing no view inside, so I probably could’ve danced the hokey-pokey naked without anyone being the wiser.

I joined the group midway through Reflection as each person talked about their “rose, thorn and blossom” from the trip. The rose was something you enjoyed about the trip. The thorn was something you struggled with. The blossom was an effect the trip had on you. It got emotional; there were a few tears shed.

Then we split into groups and drew visual representations of the trip, trying to depict the themes artistically. Some of them were rendered semi-professionally, while others resembled kids’ art. Our picture had a rainbow in the corner, which I found hilarious.
Hannah explains our group's picture.

The afternoon (all 2 hours of it) was left to us. One group went to the Zócalo with the cathedral and Aztec ruins. I thought of joining them, but it’s just as well that I didn’t. Upon returning, they said most of their time was spent waiting for their food order.

I was still tired and in need of a shower after 3 shower-less days. It wasn’t as satisfying as Maggie had promised it would be, but the water was adequately heated, so it was good enough.

While channel-surfing, I stumbled across a dubbed version of Star Wars Episodio IV: Una Nueva Esperanza (“Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” and, yes, I greatly enjoyed translating that). It was kinda funny, especially when Luke asks Obi-Wan about “La Fuerza” (“The Force”), and Obi-Wan replies, “Ah, la Fuerza,” in his sage tone.
Debra, Aaron, Alan and Sara work on their picture.

Obi-Wan’s voice sounded slightly off to me, probably due to my U.S.-bred bias against the Latin American intellect. It’s just hard to imagine Sir Alec Guinness in an all-white suit and a Panama hat, sitting outside a café in sub-tropical heat, sipping espresso and dispensing wisdom.

I tried to nap, but I’ve always been a terrible napper and failed miserably. Instead of sleeping, I worked up a comedy bit about the T-shirt I was wearing in case somebody asked about it. It’s a strange shirt. On the front are the international symbols for an elevator and stairs, under which it says, “Elevator? Stairs?”

Miraculously, when I joined the group in the lobby, Karissa almost immediately asked about the shirt. Thrilled by my luck, I launched into the freshly-minted routine. It didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for, but I’ve only recently emerged from a long period of comic dormancy. I’m still rusty.

Sara takes comments about their picture.
We went back to the Casa de los Amigos to talk about what we could and would do to support Witness for Peace and the people we met in Oaxaca. We talked about ways to spread the message through public presentations, articles, blogging (wink, wink) and lobbying.

Hannah led our closing ceremony, in which we passed a corn kernel around the circle and told the person to our right what we appreciated about them. Then we each took a kernel from a rug in the middle of the room and placed them back on the rug one at a time with an intention, spoken or not, for what we were going to do with this experience.

As one of the last to set my kernel back on the rug, I said, “I want to plant a new life for myself devoted to service to those who need it.” I was a bit choked up, but there were no tears. My voice only caught a bit on the emotion. I was on the verge of crying, but couldn’t quite tilt over into that abyss.
Andrew talks, and I'm amused for some reason.

As a fitting conclusion, we sang one more selection from Hannah's repertoire. This was followed by an orgy of hugging. Then we filled out evaluation forms for WFP and made a list of actions we would take to spread the message back home.

We weren’t hungry enough for dinner by then (7:30), so we went to an ice cream stand for some real Mexican ice cream. I had a cone with a double scoop. It was very good. The guy gave me samples of 2 flavors. But when I returned the small spoon from which I’d tasted the first, he stuck it right in the tub containing the second flavor and handed it back to me.

I’m not as squeamish as many Americans in our germophobic nation, but that gave me pause. It took a split second for my mind to say, “Well, when in Mexico…” I also threw gastrointestinal caution to the wind, not worrying about the consequences of this lactose-rich indulgence on my semi-tolerant GI tract.
Debi explains; Karissa holds.

Thence we repaired to the Revolution Monument, a huge tower that offered elevator rides to the top for a pittance (in U.S. terms). Only Liz, Alan and I took the ride up and gazed at the night city. One of the guides told us how it was originally meant to house the Mexican congress, but was abandoned when the money ran out during the revolution (1910-20). Construction was resumed in 1938 with a new, scaled-back design.

We came down after 20 minutes to find only Chris and Hannah waiting for us. Hannah wandered off while the rest of us went back to the hotel to meet up with the others. But, when we got there, they were nowhere to be found.
Unanswered questions on the floor

Chris and Alan turned in. Liz joined me as I tried to find a late dinner. Unfortunately, the only places open after 10pm were street vendors or half-street vendors, which were little diners with the front of the building removed and the grill where the front wall would’ve been, half on the street.

After the food poisoning, I wasn’t willing to risk street food or semi-street food. In response, Liz delivered a classic line: “Street food isn’t always safe, but it’s always good.” It felt like the ultimate wuss-out, but I ended up going to a 7-11 and buying a pre-packaged sandwich indistinguishable from what I could’ve gotten back home.

Next Steps
My emotional defenses were down by now, the lowest they’d been in years. I felt very open and close to the group. It’s too bad we got separated from the others, because I’d wanted to spend this time with them. Liz was a great companion though, and I wanted to share my secret shame with her, but I couldn’t quite get there in the short time afforded by our excursion.

Rick, Charlie and Sue were in the lobby when we returned. Charlie soon turned in, but Liz and I chatted with Rick and Sue for a while. Rick and I bonded over our village "mother," Petrona, whose struggles had touched us both deeply. He and Sue said I would always be welcome in their house in Ames, which might come in handy, since my mom grew up a half-hour from there.

Rug with kernels
After retiring to my room, I watched Mexican soccer in bed and slowly ate my sandwich. The bread was a bit damp, but otherwise OK. The match was between Cruz Azul and Atlas. I never knew Cruz Azul was a cement company. (I saw signs for Cruz Azul Cement on our travels.) I wasn’t into the game.

Nolan finally appeared to tell me what had happened to the lost tribe. They’d gone to a bar for tacos and ran into another group of delegates. From there, they all went to another place and listened to a band. It sounded like a good night.

Nolan had to get up at 4 to catch his flight. He turned in around midnight. I had the "luxury" of sleeping until 6:30, so I stayed up a little later and read some more of Bossypants.

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