My friends Jean and Murray just completed construction on their made by hand post-and-beam straw bale house. It has been a long process. Each step was special and unique. A few years ago Jean mentioned that she would love to have a rug handmade by Federico but wouldn’t be ready until they had finished putting the last coat of linseed oil on the North Carolina clay floor, got their furniture in place and could then begin to think about adding extra special touches including an area rug.
The clouds broke early on Sunday morning and the Carolina blue sky was sparklingly clear. It had been raining for days, light drizzle punctuated with steady downpours. Jean called to say she had made her decision and expressed to me the reasons why she chose the all natural undyed wool rug that would go in her exquisite cottage.
This rug is woven by a master who appreciates the relationship between human and the land, she said. The handmade rug is sitting on her handmade floor in the handmade cottage, anchored by a handmade table with forged metal legs and a cedar plank top. The aesthetic of knowing the origins of a rug, where it is made, that the wool is handshorn from sheep and then handcarded and spun fits with Jean’s worldview. Everything is connected and this glorious rug be more than decor. It adds meaning to Jean’s world that is an expression of the individual and the interdependence of community.
Together, we got down on the floor and explored the details of the weaving, the variation of pattern and color, the integration of different color yarns to create depth and variety, the feel of the wool smooth and sturdy. The natural wool is blue gray, tan, white, dark brown, light brown, steel gray and complements the rich, deep terra cotta floor mixed from Carolina clay by hand, then troweled by hand, then finished and polished with coats of linseed oil. The contrast is amazing. The circle is complete.
There is a curious practice of going by a different clock in Teotitlan del Valle. For years, now, I have never understood why the village is one hour ahead or behind Oaxaca city, 30 minutes away. Village time is regulated by the Zapotec committee that administers village life. I just asked Stephen, Do you remember whether Teo is an hour ahead or an hour behind Oaxaca? It’s too confusing, he said, all I know is Oaxaca is an hour behind us on the east coast. If this sounds confusing to you, you now know our experience of sorting out whether the time we are to meet someone is Teo or Oaxaca “time” and why people are always late … or early. The confusion, I am learning, may be intentional. After all, every Zapotec in Teotitlan knows what time it is.
Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico (as well as Latinos and In the Language of Kings), discusses the importance of time in Mexica or Aztec and Mayan civilization as part of indigenous identity and culture. Time is more than the clock. It represents who interprets the meaning of the world and life according to ancient traditions. It represents power and independence. The Maya notion (and that of the Zapotecs and later Aztecs) of existence itself relates to the calendars. Time is also the symbolic tension and conflict between the conqueror and the oppressed, the ancient pre-Hispanic rites interpreted by shaman or the new religion imported by the Spanish Catholic Church. The masters of Zero long before it occurred to the Europeans, complex astronomy, and mathematics, had been conquered. Shorris tells us that the glorious accomplishments of Mesoamerica are embedded in the ancient practices that continue in subtle ways as sub-text to modern life, and drives the undercurrent of indigenous beliefs and practices.
I came to understand by reading this book that Teotitlan del Valle in the Valley of Oaxaca maintains its own time, I believe, as a way to defeat the European world and the Gregorian calendar, to pass the word that the war for time and power is not over. Who owns time, who interprets the sun, the moon and the stars, owns the world. It had been that way in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.
I took what I learned, came home and produced and directed my own video for the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I work. Here it is!
When I organized the documentary filmmaking workshop in Teotitlan del Valle last February 2009, my hope was that I could create a 5 minute film by the end of the workshop week. As a novice, I wondered. But lo and behold, Eric Chavez and I created a nice little piece about Federico Chavez Sosa and why he is a weaver. When I left Oaxaca and returned to North Carolina, I thought, how would I continue to apply the skills I learned. By April, the answer was clear. I would make a film about a new laboratory at the School of Nursing and the important research that was taking place there that would eventually develop educational programs and interventions to prevent childhood obesity that can lead to Type 2 diabetes in children. NC has one of the highest rates of childhood diabetes in country. After interviewing, filming, taking B-roll, reshooting, and numerous rough cuts followed by focus groups and feedback sessions, my editing partner Amanda Willis and I were pretty satisfied with what you see here. It’s far from perfect. We are novices. But we’re pretty proud of what we were able to create on a ZERO BUDGET.
Our goal, when we organized this Oaxaca filmmaking workshop, was to give people the skills to come back to their own communities and tell the stories that surround them every day. The workshop gave me that. I hope by seeing this film, it might inspire you to enroll.
Oaxaca Documentary Filmmaking Workshop: Visual Storytelling, is set for February 19-26, 2010. Early bird discount offered through October 31. See the Blogroll for the link to the complete course description.
We pass by the Teotitlan del Valle Tourist Yu’u every time we enter the village road making the turn off of the Panamerican Highway Mex 190. It’s a comfortable-looking building, although we’ve never stopped to look inside. To my recollection, I’ve never seen anyone stay there either. But, I’m not yet a full-time, 100 percent village resident. Because this particular yu’u is right at the crossroads of a very busy intersection, it doesn’t seem to be a desireable location. Yet, from reading about them, I know this way of experiencing rural Mexico can be rewarding and affordable. You can read more about the experience of staying in a Yu’u and how to make arrangements by reading this link to the New York Times travel section above.