Monthly Archives: June 2014

Oaxaca Faces: Photographs Up Close and Personal

Yesterday, Janet and I went to Cafe Brujula (the compass), a great little spot on Garcia Virgil that roasts its own beans. This before she went off to work in the morning, and I went out and about for a day filled with errands.  Some debate which is better, Cafe Brujula or Nuevo Mundo. You will have to come to Oaxaca and decide for yourself. Oaxaca shade-grown coffee, locally roasted, organic!

We were sitting at a shuttered window, open to the street talking and watching the passersby. The light was streaming into the dark space. The light on Janet’s face was so stunning that she consented to my request to photograph her. I told her she looked like a Zapotec queen.

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The shadows played tricks on me. But, nevertheless, these photos capture her beauty. She is wearing a vintage huipil from Chiapas that I brought back last year.

Last week, Natividad and her husband Arnulfo came to visit me at the casita with their two boys, Arnulfo and Rodolfo. The boys contented themselves by swinging in the hammock and running up and down the stairs to the upstairs terrace.  I have since gone shopping at the Tlacolula market to get wooden trucks for them to play with the next time they come over.

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A lot of what I’ve learned about taking portraits (and I still have a lot more to learn) is because of Matt Nager.  Matt is the instructor for our upcoming Portrait Photography Workshop Tour set to start the end of January 2015.  If your interest is in having a memorable travel experience that includes photography instruction, then come along!  All levels with any type of camera are welcome.

And, don’t forget Day of the Dead Photography Workshop Tour that starts October 27, 2014.  Still spaces open.

 

 

UK Medical Student Talks About Health Care in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Edd Morris grew up in the United Kingdom (UK) on the Wales-England border.  He just finished medical school in London, England, and decided to return to a Spanish-speaking country to volunteer in a community service project before going on to a two-year hospital residency back home.  He has a passion for people and community health.  When he contacted us about coming to Oaxaca, we helped place him in the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic. Here is his story.

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“I’ve always wanted be a General Practitioner (that’s what we call Family Doctors in the UK) and so I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to volunteer in a community clinic in rural Mexico.

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[Photo above left: Doctora Elizabet, clinic director, with Edd Morris.  Photo above right: Edd with patient and Dr. Jonas.}

I’ve been here for a month, working alongside the doctors and nurses of the Teotitlan de Valle Centro de Salud. I’ve observed consultations and undertaken my own, too.  I’ve accompanied the nurses on a community vaccination drive, And, I’ve dressed a lot of wounds and ulcers!

One programme here really caught my imagination. It’s called Oportunidades, and it’s a national social support system offered by the Mexican state.

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[Photo above, left to right: Ms. Mayra, administrative manager, Dra. Elizabet, Edd Morris, Dra. Guadalupe]

Through Oportunidades, disadvantaged families can receive financial support from the Mexican Government, as long as they fully participate according to the plan.

There are different strands to the programme — the children in the family must attend school and the head of the household is required to go to seminars about healthy living, for example.

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[Photo above left: Edd with village community service in-take volunteer, and above right, with nursing staff.]

Healthcare is a crucial aspect. Everybody who participates in Oportunidades  must attend a six-month health check with a doctor, and children must be up-to-date with all their vaccines. Doctors should bring up relevant issues at every health check-up.  For example, it is important to discuss pregnancy prevention with adolescents.

In Teotitlan, Oportunidaes participants are also asked to take part in group exercise. I went running with the men’s group last Thursday, then we played a 60-minute soccer match (it was exhausting — I was the one who almost needed medical help when the game ended!)

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[Photo above left, Edd with Dr. Pablo, and right, with Norma Hawthorne]

Families who demonstrate their engagement with the Oportunidades programme then receive financial support from the government. The money is paid directly to the bank account of head of the household – effectively wiping out any diversion of funds.

What’s even more impressive is that the role of head-of-household is always delegated to a woman. Mexican research has shown that when a woman receives the money, she’s much more likely to spend it on her family and children – exactly those the programme is meant to support.

Oportunidades is a really impressive programme and the doctors tell me that it’s been successful at breaking the cycle of poverty. Like any large-scale initiative, it’s not perfect or infallible, but it’s one of the things which really impressed me with healthcare in Mexico.”

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[Public health messages throughout the town help educate people about health prevention, including dental care, diabetes, heart and respiratory illness, and more.]

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Edd Morris leaves Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, on June 18, 2014.  When he returns to London, he will begin work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, London  which serves a diverse, low-income population.  He receives his official medical degree from St. Georges, University of London (www.sgul.ac.uk) in two weeks. Edd remarked about what a rich, meaningful and culturally diverse experience this has been to have a direct connection with the local population.  What he learned will help prepare him for the next step in his profession. From all accounts, everyone he has come in contact with has enjoyed knowing, working with and hosting him here.  When are you coming back? was a question I heard all day.

We are accepting applications for volunteers to serve in the public health clinic for 2014 and 2015.  You must be a student in a baccalaureate or masters degree program in the following fields: nursing, medicine, physician assistant, and be a Spanish speaker with at least one-year of university level language skills.  If you are interested, please contact us.

 

Rain Torrents and New Priest in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The heavens opened yesterday afternoon to welcome a new priest to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Perhaps, the ancient Zapotecs, in their infinite wisdom, said a special prayer for the rain god, too.  It is corn-planting season.

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The torrents came just as the celebration was to begin in the church courtyard, starting with a procession of young girls, soon-to-be women, with symbolic religious baskets to carry atop their heads. Needless to say, everyone ran for cover and the procession start was delayed. It rained about eight inches in less than an hour and a flood ensued

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This is a very special occasion.  Very.  It has been decades, perhaps longer than most can remember here, even the grandmothers, that a Catholic priest has been assigned to perform permanent, regular service for the village.  The regional religious center for the area is in the neighboring village of Tlacochahuaya, and one circuit priest has served many villages in the valley, scheduling religious rites according to who needs what, when.

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Everyone in Teotitlan del Valle is ecstatic.  In honor of this event, there is a mass this morning (Saturday) followed by tamales for everyone. I’m told the village expects more than 3,000 people in the church courtyard this afternoon.

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As is customary, the occasion will be marked by Los Danzantes, the famed group of young men who make a three-year church commitment to serve God through performing the Dance of the Feather whenever the volunteer church committee calls on them.

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For the girls, this, too, is a special occasion. For some of them, it will be the first time they will have participated in a desfile and it means a lot. They wear colorful hand-embroidered blouses, traditional woven wool wrap skirts usually dyed with cochineal and tied with a wool sash adorned with pom poms.  This is what the grandmothers wear every day. But times are changing and the dress is worn only for ceremonial purposes by the younger generations.

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In the photograph directly above, you can see the girls gathered, with the heavy canastas or baskets resting on the ground.  They are waiting for the procession to begin.  To the right, on the pillar of the inner courtyard of the church, is a Zapotec stone carving taken from the temple on the site and embedded into the church wall by the Spanish to attract the locals to the new religion.

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The rites of passage in Mexico has been an important part of indigenous culture for centuries.  The roots of these celebrations pre-date the conquest and one can imagine what it may have been like during the time of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs at the height of their civilizations by being here now.

That’s why it’s so meaningful to participate as a visitor. Please consider:

 

Mexico’s National Anthropology Museum: The Best

The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is a thirty minute taxi ride and about seventy pesos, more or less, depending upon traffic, from the Zocalo and the historic center of Mexico City.  It is closed on Mondays, and open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. MexCityAnthroMuseo2014-9

I hadn’t  been there since 1970, and when I entered it was only looking vaguely familiar. It is the repository of Mexico’s greatest treasures representing OlmecToltec, Zapotec, Aztec, Maya and other civilizations.

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I allowed myself three hours to cover centuries of Mexico’s defining civilizations. It was not enough and I plan to return to see the nine galleries I missed.

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War and death figure predominantly in the life of pre-Columbian Mexico. So does fertility, abundance, corn, wind, rain, drought and the interaction between sun and moon.

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I was fascinated by the artifacts from Teotihuacan. I have been to the pyramids and appreciate their grandeur.

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Yet, the museum offers details from stone carvings and wall-paintings found there and also in nearby Puebla state.

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Monolithic figures, and anthropomorphic and funerary masks predominate.

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Included is an intact excavation of a gravesite, complete with offerings. What was found was left embedded in the clay matrix.

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The large circular Aztec sun stone calendar, featured on t-shirts throughout Mexico, hangs prominently in the center surrounded by dioramas of pueblo life, sculptures rescued from Mexico City’s archeological sites, and important pieces of pottery, carved wood and stone jewelry.

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Visiting the Oaxaca gallery was tops on my list. There I could see the actual Los Danzantes carved panels that were removed from Monte Alban. Hand-carved wood and bone flutes and drums also figured predominantly in a small display toward the end of the gallery.

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The Zapotecs who built Monte Alban were noted for their fine workmanship and artisanry.  Here is a stunning Bat God with the face of a jaguar, plus explanation, also discovered in a Monte Alban tomb, and carved from jade.

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The Mixtecs later came down from the mountains into the central valleys of Oaxaca and settled around Mitla. They became incredible gold and silversmiths and their filigree and carved jewelry is unparalleled.

MexCityAnthroMuseo2014-42  MexCityAnthroMuseo2014-41For Oaxaca lovers, the gallery also includes a carved panel from Mitla and original surviving pre-Hispanic codices. The designs are reminiscent of the tapestries that artisans weave in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

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As I left the museum and walked through Chapultepec Park, I saw the lake where Sunday boaters and families enjoyed a picnic lunch. Along the avenue, closed to traffic, bicyclists and runners passed me by.

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A perfect day at Museo Nacional de Antropologia

 

 

 

 

Mexico City in Summer Rain

Each afternoon this time of year, around four or five o’clock, the rains start.  They can last about thirty minutes, sometimes even an hour or more, and are occasionally accompanied by thunderstorms. People here are prepared. They carry umbrellas.  MexCityRain2014-7

Or, they have a late lunch-early dinner, as is the custom, and hang out in a favored restaurant or cafe until it all passes and cools everything off. It’s usually so beautiful and fresh in the morning that I forget to tote my own paragua and then find myself tiptoeing through raindrops or seeking shelter under an awning when the rains come.

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It’s impossible to find a taxi libre — one that is free and not filled with families, not prepared like me!

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Why not get on the bus? Join us for Day of the Dead Photography Workshop Tour starting October 27.

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