Sue Spirit, a participant in our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat 2011, had this essay about her experience published in “All About Women,” a High Country of North Carolina magazine. It beautifully expresses our week together and I want to share it with you. Published here with Sue’s permission!
Oaxaca: Bright Riches on My Plate
Dreams of Oaxaca, Mexico, have haunted me for years: fat tacos filled with queso blanco and red mole sauce, mariachis playing sprightly tunes, Zapotec women weaving colorful huipiles and aprons, outdoor markets overflowing with bright fruits and flowers, and rugs woven with Native American designs.
Suddenly my dream springs to life. A woman named Norma is offering what seems too good to be true: a writing workshop with yoga, massage, a cooking class, sweat lodge, meditation, and immersion in the Zapotec culture of a small village called Teotitlan del Valle, in the heart of Oaxaca. Who could resist? Give me a writing workshop any day. And in Oaxaca! Unbelievable! The rest is salsa on the enchiladas.
I enter the courtyard of Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast, a fantasy world of pomegranates hanging from trees, bouquets of calla lilies, tortillas baking on an open-air wood fire, birds called dortolos singing sweetly, roosters crowing, doves cooing, and nearby donkeys braying.
Our writing workshop meets for three hours a day with our leader Robin. We meditate for twenty minutes in the sunny courtyard, then free-write for 45 minutes. “We should always surprise ourselves as we write,” Robin says. Indeed. Her advice and the technicolor experiences we’re having help us produce some memorable pieces. “You’re the shepherd and words are the sheep,” Robin continues. “You call them, prod them, cajole them, protect them, feed them.” As I bask in the sun, letting my pen move languidly across the page, a poem takes shape, oozing rich imagery.
We wander through the open-air market at Tlacolula tasting just-ground chocolate with cinnamon and buying some for hot chocolate. We purchase perfect small clay pots with spoons for serving salsa. We have lunch at Mary’s Comedor, ladling salsa from several pots over our enchiladas and chiles rellenos.
We experience a temescal, a Zapotec sweat lodge, three of us at a time crawling naked into a sauna-hot hut to be doused with hot water and beaten with eucalyptus branches by an old Zapotec woman tending the fire.
We go for a cooking lesson with Reina, queen of Oaxacan chefs. First we drift through the local market with baskets on our arms, collecting offerings of peppers, garlic, Oaxaca cheese, and all the ingredients needed for our cooking spree. Over an open fire in Reina’s courtyard we toast hot peppers and herbs, then grind them in a molcajete (mortar and pestle) and on a metate (indented stone surface with rolling pin), mash them with tomatoes to make a rich red mole sauce. We sit down to the best meal ever: cactus salad, enchiladas mole, and raspberry ice cream.
How amazing and precious is a small taste of another culture! The time goes by slowly as I savor every moment, recording it all in my journal. Jacaranda and bougainvilla blossoms, plates of neon-bright mango and papaya, ancient cobblestone streets, a molinillo (a little twirly wooden mill) for making our hot chocolate light and frothy, looms in every home for weaving ancient Zapotec designs: all these disappear into my journal day by day, to appear later in poems and essays that surprise even me. Oaxaca writing workshop: what a gift for the spirit!