We have not offered this program since 2017. Now is your chance to register and explore the lives of Frida and Diego through their art. One space open. Click on this link and then contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the past 10 days, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC (and me!) was host to 11 students and Professor Ricardo Hernandez. They came to study sustainability in developing countries. Dr. Hernandez is a leading international researcher in agricultural greenhouse design in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at NC State University.
This is the second time I have worked with him to host a group of visiting students. We developed the program together and I sourced the contacts to meet his needs and made all the arrangements.
We were based in Oaxaca City for the first five days of the trip and then flew to the coast of Oaxaca, staying in Puerto Escondido to investigate commercial and small scale farming techniques, hybridization, plant cultivation, natural dyeing and weaving. Temperatures on Oaxaca’s coast this time of year are in the stratosphere. The heat index on some days reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit!
Students couldn’t help but learn about the culture of Zapotec and Mixtec people along the way as they studied the milpa planting system, visited mango and peanut farms, and explored the Hierve El Agua canal systems built by Zapotecs centuries before the Spanish arrived.
They ate mole, chapulines, and handmade tortillas. They visited a mezcal palenque and learned about agave cultivars. They dug deep into Oaxaca history with a climb up to Monte Alban, a walk into the depths of Benito Juarez market, and a tour of the Ethnobotanical Gardens.
For one overnight, they experienced traditional village life in Teotitlan del Valle where they met rug weavers, cooks, and market vendors. They compared the daily village market and supermarket shopping at home. They saw the newly restored Zapotec archeological site that serves as the church’s foundation.
Some students told me their parents were afraid to let them go to Mexico. Nine were undergraduates and two were master’s level students. All said this was the experience of a lifetime!
Over the next few posts, I’ll be featuring select stories and photos of the NC State University Study Abroad Program journey through Oaxaca. If you are an Instagram user, check out the group posts at #rocaxaca
We can customize study abroad programs for university faculty and students on a range of topics, including agriculture, sustainable development, art, archeology, history, textiles and cuisine. Contact me to explore options. email@example.com
While I was traveling in Japan this spring, I received an email from Selvedge Magazine editor Laura Gray inviting me to contribute an article to the June 15, 2019 publication. Topic: Anything you want to write about Chiapas textiles, she said.
As I thought about the Maya women in Chiapas villages who weave, the most impact they have on me is how they choose to incorporate the designs of their beliefs and everyday life into the cloth. Cloth has meaning which gives it life and longevity. So, the article is about what these designs mean and their significance to the weavers.
You may have difficulty reading the text of the article I wrote above. I reformatted it from PDF to JPG so I could publish it here. I encourage you to purchase the issue that will be published on June 15, 2019. It contains an compendium of information by other contributors, too, including Marcella Echavarria, Anne Menke and Ana Elena Mallet who live and work in Mexico, collect and study the indigenous textiles woven and embroidered here.
I will be leading a Chiapas Textile Study Tour during winter 2020 with Textile Fiestas of Mexico author Sheri Brautigam. Dates are February 25 to March 4, 2020. There are a few spaces open. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join us.
Selvedge, Magazine organizing and hosting a World Fair in London, July 2020. I’d like to go and have applied to do a presentation with my goddaughter, Zapotec linguist Janet Chavez Santiago. If accepted, our talk will be about cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation, identity and the politics of indigenous cloth. I’ll keep you posted about whether it will come to pass!
Perhaps it’s the beginning of the rainy season. It has been unseasonably hot here in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley. The temperatures are upward of 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Blessings for rain these last two days to cool us down. The afternoons are now unreliably hot for walking far, if at all. Thermal heat builds up then and the skies open with a downpour, if we are lucky. I am want to sit under the covered part of my patio, Butch and Tia nearby, looking skyward. It’s a week since Mamacita died.
My habits are changing. Today, I woke up and got out early (for me), by 7:15 a.m. to walk into the campo while it was still cool, a mild 61 degrees. The sun was barely rising over the mountain range, diffused by cloud cover. It will heat up again today. The fresh air was good for me and the remaining two dogs. Mamacita’s absence is palpable. It was as if her spirit was following us along the trail.
One step at a time, I remind myself. No stumbling over loose rocks. No looking out into the distance at the next marker. No pretending that there are three dogs here along with me instead of two. Be in this moment and savor all that is good. Mourn the loss. Take one step at a time. Remember. Don’t blame. Keep your footing.
We covered the boundary trail that marks the nearby villages San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, walking to the third stone marker that designates the territorial divide. Back and forth, about three miles. I took a 10-minute meditation rest at the entrance to a box canyon where the trail crosses a dry creek. The land is porous, rocky, cactus-strewn, high desert. Sometimes the dogs stop to pick cactus spines from their paws with bared teeth.
By 9:15 a.m. the sun is well up over the mountain and heat begins to penetrate. I continue along a wide farm path that borders yet to be plowed corn fields. Butch and Tia run ahead, chase field mice, birds, stray dogs. They go the distance at full running speed, heads down, legs outstretched as if ready to fly. This is good for them. Me, too.
At home it’s quieter now. Two hands for petting two dogs. No one vying for more attention than the other. Serene, actually. Even at night there is less barking. I am noting the changes. Accepting what this land has to offer. Taking one step at a time. Understanding the loss.
From time-to-time, it happens here in the Oaxaca village I also call home. A good dog dies. Not from natural causes but most usually from poison-laced meat. It is the fastest and easiest way. Others are hit by vehicles or cut loose from tethered ropes when feed becomes too costly, to fend for themselves. Most dogs here are disposable. I do not know how Mamacita was killed or by whom or for what reason. I can only surmise.
I was in transit between Durham, NC and Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, when the news came to me via text: Mamacita died and was buried the day before. I needed time to process this. To absorb the shock and sadness. To reflect on the culture I come from that considers animals as pets and trusted friends, who are cared for as well as humans in many cases. How can I make sense of this?
You may remember Mamacita as the dog I rescued and adopted in June 2017 after she dropped two pups in the tall grasses behind my house. She was skin and bones, incapable of providing sustenance. I am reminded that without my intervention, she would have likely died. Caregiver friends came to housesit and feed Mamacita in intervening times when I was gone. They took her to get spayed, along with Tia and Butch, who also came along and formed an extended family. I am eternally grateful to them. I’ve written to each and they know what happened.
Could it be that Mamacita was killed because she was unjustly targeted as one of many marauding dogs, starving, homeless and roaming the fields in search of a domesticated chicken or turkey? Campesinos can live a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth life. Poultry is food and an important source of income. There are a multitude of campo dogs; they reproduce because they haven’t been spayed or neutered, and are out of control.
Was it a random act? Two other dogs were found dead that day on the same country road, I was told later. Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is this inevitable? Are all dogs here disposable? What about my two dogs? Some here, though not enough, are sympathetic to the life of dogs. Maltreatment is not universal.
Mamacita was first and foremost a campo dog, bred in the wild. I adopted her but could not contain her in a gated patio. She lived a life of freedom, sleeping during the day, running with the pack at night. Sylvia reminds me that while she was nursing, Mamacita would disappear for hours. She came home for meals and belly rubs. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up. I worried, but I was confident she would return.
We are heaving deep sighs, me and the two dogs. They now sleep on the patio, closer to me. They sense the loss. Their bond was primal.
I will miss her circle dance on the patio in anticipation of her meal bowl. I will miss her nuzzle and her companionship on evening trail walks. I trained her to sit and wait for treats. She wore a collar. She looked well-fed and cared for. She took to everyone who gave her a pat. She was spayed. All signs that she belonged to someone. Why did this happen? Answers escape me.
This is yet another reminder that to live here requires me to suspend judgment. To understand. To puzzle out how something like this can happen to a sweet dog that was an integral part of my life. Suspending judgment is a practice. I cannot overlay my own values on an 8,000 year old culture. They have survived this long for a reason. Sometimes cruelty and heartlessness figure into that. This is human nature everywhere, no?
This is, I am coming to understand, another perfect lesson in cultural competency. Es la vida, it’s life, is a common saying here. Things just happen. There isn’t always a reason. It is not for me to ascribe fault or blame, only to accept what is. I have learned that it is not my role to change anything, to make it better in terms of my own acculturation and values.
It is so quiet here. The absence of ONE is noticeable. The other two are sleeping on the patio. We all move with a heaviness, the two dogs Tia and Butch, and this human. Today it will be 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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