“Skip the hotel and be our experiment.” That’s what my friend Annie Burns wrote to me after I took her up on her invitation to come visit her in Teotitlan del Valle. “You and Stephen can be the first to stay with Josefina and Magda,” she said.
Annie has a heart as big as Mexico, probably as big as the world. Over the years she has supported women in the village by raising money in order to help them buy a loom or a spinning wheel that would provide a livelihood for them and their families. Often, the women were single or abandoned by husbands who had gone north to work and never returned. Sometimes, the money went toward building a composting toilet to improve quality of life. This time, the situation was urgent.
Annie’s friends, Josefina and Magda, had both lost their husbands during that year. The daughter-in-law –- mother-in-law duo shared the same household as was tradition and were raising Josefina’s three young children together. They were in mourning. Josefina was in her mid-30’s. Her husband Eligio, a famed and accomplished weaver, had just died at age 38 from a rare cancer. Magda’s husband, Eligio’s father, had succumbed just months before. The two women had no way to earn a living since the men were the household income earners. Neither women were weavers but both were great cooks.
Annie’s light bulb went on: Why not start a bed and breakfast? “Will you do it?” she asked me. Sure, I said, not having a clue about what that would mean. The only thing I knew about Teotitlan del Valle was that it was a textile and rug-weaving village. Since I had learned to weave when I was a graduate student in San Francisco, and I had collected textiles all my life, I was eager for the experience of discovery.
We arrived a few days before Christmas. Annie and the Teoti taxi-driver met us at the airport. During the thirty minute drive, Annie prepared us: only drink bottled water; only use plastic utensils and paper products until we have Western sanitation practices in place; yes, there is a flush toilet but don’t put paper in it.
When we pulled up in front of the tall aluminum doors and rapped, we were greeted warmly by Josefina, Magda, Eloisa, Willi, and young Eligio. We later learned that Magda had given up her room and bed in order to house us. Our nightstand was a kitchen chair. Our closet was a rope strung wall-to-wall. A lacy tablecloth was our privacy curtain to cover the door.
I marveled at the miraculous meals that could be prepared in a simple dirt floor kitchen equipped with only a tiny three-burner stove and small refrigerator. The papaya were huge, the squash young and tender, and the tamales melted in my mouth.
Then, I realized that Magda got down on her knees and ground her masa on a traditional metate in the courtyard. She fueled her comal from wood she gathered in the campo just beyond the village. We enjoyed fresh-made tortillas from that comal that she knelt by on the ground every day during our visit as if it were an altar, fanning the fire to just the right temperature, turning the tortillas with her thumb and forefinger. I watched as Josefina learned to air-dry dishes and utensils at her outdoor sink, and prepare food with sanitized water. Annie was ecstatic! Lo and behold: We did not get sick. We returned the next year without hesitation to celebrate Christmas and Eligio’s birthday, and after that for Eloisa’s quinciniera. That was then.
This is now: Eloisa grew up, went to culinary school, joined the women in the kitchen and got married. Willi and Eligio are young men learning to weave like their father and participating in the village recycling education program. Annie recruited Roberta to build a second-story onto the compound where Roberta would live. The bonus was that a new, large, modern kitchen was added to the patio level, along with real guest rooms and upgraded bathrooms. The dirt patio got paved; kitchen compost fertilizes squash, chipil, and a kitchen garden. The planters along the border are lush with full-grown cactus. And the crowning glory is the new outdoor comal where Magda reigns over the preparing of daily homemade tortillas without having to squat.
Welcome to Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast. It is amazing how dreams can unfold.