This is a testimony to the artistry and skill of Mexican artisans.
This is the first time the textiles will be exhibited in Mexico City. If you are visiting or live nearby, please see the exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan (near Casa Azul). The exhibition opens December 4, 2019, and is spectacular and memorable.
It’s Wednesday, November 27, a day before Thanksgiving — Dia de Accion de Gracias — is celebrated in the United States of America. How do we celebrate (if we do) living here in Oaxaca, Mexico — or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter? We get together with friends. Extranjeros united for Turkey Day. But here, it’s called a guajolote, the wild, indigenous turkey that has been domesticated for tenderness, usually topped with mole.
Where will friends be? At potlucks in each other’s homes. In restaurants eating the menu del dia (the daily special). At the sold-out, 60-person bash put on by the Oaxaca Lending Library at a restaurant in the El Rosario neighborhood of Oaxaca. While most of us here, now, don’t celebrate Thanksgiving with family, we find an opportunity to eat turkey and acknowledge the blessings of our lives.
Which brings me to my friends, Chris Clark and Ben Dyer, who moved to Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala last year from Hillsborough, North Carolina. They lived just a few miles from me over there. Today marks their one-year anniversary living full-time in Mexico. Chris writes a blog, Color in the Streets, about moving to and living in Mexico from a very person point-of-view.
Chris’ most recent blog post,Un Año en Mexico, touched me. It is heartwarming, honest and clear writing that marks the milestone that one year brings of living here. I’ve been here for almost 14 years, and I take a lot for granted. Fresh eyes always help explain why we are here!
So, in the spirit of getting ready for Giving Thanks, I hope you enjoy reading what Chris writes. Happy Thanksgiving! And, oh, let’s give thanks for each and every day. We wake up each morning, and life starts again, refreshed, another opportunity to be all that we hoped to become in the world. (Not about waiting for Black Friday!)
And, the indigenous, Native American experience HERE — National Day of Mourning. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the conquerors! Let’s remember that.
You might call it a coming out party or a debut to society if you lived in the United States of America thirty years ago. Some of my southern women friends participated in debutante balls just before women’s liberation took hold. For me, growing up in the wild west San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, California, I went to Sweet Sixteen parties given for my more affluent friends — though I never had one myself.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition of moving from girlhood to becoming a young woman is likely steeped village tradition as a rite of passage to marriage and motherhood. It was once celebrated quietly in homes with hot chocolate, bread or tortillas, a cup of mezcal, a parental blessing.
Fifteen years ago, there may have been a gathering of extended family members numbering fewer than 100 people who came together to recognize this coming of age. There was probably a mass at the church followed by a late afternoon dinner, followed by a traditional ritual village dance called the Jarabe del Valle.
Then the quinceañera would take to the dance floor to perform a selection to music of her choosing, creating the choreography, accompanied by a group of young men called chambelanes, dance escorts symbolically representing potential suitors.
Today’s quinceanera celebration is a grand affair, with hundreds of well-wishers participating. It’s almost like a wedding, complete with elaborate flower bouquets and gauze garlands adorning the church that are then moved to the home where the after-party will take place.
The quinceaños, as it is currently observed, is recent history here, practiced in grand style for only the past twenty or thirty years, according to a local friend. In recent years, it has become grander and costlier, costing as much as $25,000 USD.
It is not unheard of to start out with a breakfast of fresh-killed and cooked chicken topped with homemade mole castillo and comal cooked tortillas. Out behind the house, the women cook over wood-fired, make-shift stoves and outdoor kitchens.
In the meantime, the 15-year-old honoree is getting ready. She has already been to the beauty salon the day before for the hair and make-up make-over. She puts on her special dress, traditional gold earrings and necklace with a religious symbol. She is ready for the day.
After the church mass, celebrants return to home for the afternoon into evening festivities. The area is cleared to set-up tables and chairs for the multitude. There are two bands (each costing about 10,000 pesos, I’m told), a disc jockey, decorated cakes, a late afternoon lunch we call comida, plenty of mezcal toasts with beer chasers.
The afternoon meal is a special barbecue pork. The two pigs, raised from piglets in the back stable, were slaughtered the day before by a special maestro. Every part is used for the meat and broth.
Of course, in a Usos y Costumbres village like Teotitlan del Valle, this expense is not totally out-of-pocket. Many costs are covered by a host of affiliated supporters, like the Madrina and Padrino, usually a couple of high social and religious stature who provide financial, cultural and religious underpinnings. They will instruct the quinceañera in the values and traditions of the community.
Funding also comes in the form of the guelaguetza system where family and friends repay goods and services that have been given to them over the years, this includes labor, too. This a complex collaboration and accounting system keeps families connected, indebted to each other, and promotes strong community values.
Here, one can always count on a relative or friend to make blessings and offerings. They come with an armful of flowers, roses and lilies, a case of beer, a bottle of mezcal, a beautifully wrapped gift that might be a sweater, a dress, an apron or blouse, a pair of earrings, a purse. They come to the altar room where they are greeted formally by the host family and the quinceañera, giving and receiving thanks.
Guelaguetza, after all, really means giving and receiving, sharing, thanks and blessings, honor and tradition.
In the past, this was a fiesta to recognize that a young woman was ready to become a wife and mother, to become attached to another, to take on the role of helpmate in the household of her husband. These are vestiges. Today, it is party-time.
I asked two young women, now in their thirties, if they had quinceañeras. Yes, they answered. One said her parents gave her the choice of a party or a trip. She chose the party. She still loves to party! The other remembers her dance to the song of her favorite recording artist of the time.
The quince is dream time. The time to imagine, giving up the dolls and baby toys and think about how life will unfold. It is a time to celebrate family, culture, youth, energy. I recall how the DJ master of ceremonies called Lupita la muñeca, la princesa, la reina, la mariposa — the doll, the princess, the queen, the butterfly — as she danced and twirled, transformed. For one day she was all of that and hopefully, this will build upon her self-confidence to become her dreams.
Days after, after the tarp came down, the chairs and tables taken away, the millions of dishes washed, the house almost back to normal, I made a visit to Lupita, her mother and grandmother. Do you want to see my gifts? she asked, still glowing.
Yes, I said, as I took a seat in the altar room next to the family. Everyone was filled with pride. I saw how meaningful this event was for Lupita and her family. The rite of passage was complete.
My own mother was an aspiring feminist who never manifested her own profession but who supported her daughters in our quest for individuation and identity. Education was critical to our family to advance and reach beyond the struggle of immigrant grandparents. Our family spent money cautiously. Grand celebrations and rituals were not part of that experience.
It is important for any of us here in Mexico to understand, accept and appreciate lifestyle and traditions that are different than our own. Teotitlan del Valle is a village of connection and community, where the constant flow of fiesta is a way of life. I see it as a way of celebrating life, and it is a privilege for me to be living here.
This is our 9th year offering this retreat! We will gather in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from December 15 to 21, 2020, to reflect and write. Holiday traditions run deep here and it is a perfect place to explore our theme: ‘Tis the season for family, traditions, celebration, gift-giving, holiday expectations and disappointments, wishes fulfilled or not. The Christmas season evokes many memories and this is an opportunity to recreate them in a supportive environment. We are often inspired by our shared voices.
You may even think about staying on in the village or in Oaxaca after the retreat, inviting your family to join you for the traditional posadas, Night of the Radishes, and other events that happen during this magical time of year.
Winter solstice and other seasonal celebrations inspire us to revisit our memories of people and places, to dig in and go deep, and to write in whatever genre speaks to us: memoir, journaling, fiction, personal essay, creative nonfiction, and poetry. You will also participate in the Teotitlan del Valle Christmas posadas. Here you can explore traditional culture, values and celebrations to trigger your own experiences.
New and seasoned writers are welcome. Come to kindle and rekindle the writer’s life.
Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.
Thursday, December 17: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, independent writing, lunch, afternoon workshop, participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own, coaching session (B, L)
Friday, December 18: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
Saturday, December 19: Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
Sunday, Sunday, December 20: Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, lunch on your own, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits, group reading and celebration dinner (B, D)
Monday, December 21: Breakfast and depart (B)
We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.
You can add-on days in Teotitlan del Valle or Oaxaca before or after the retreat at your own expense. To get to Teotitlan del Valle, please buy a ticket at the airport for secure taxi service.
There will be optional daily activities in our schedule: gentle yoga, afternoon walks, and mini-seminars on writing topics such as writing effective description and dialogue, grammar, or submitting creative work for publication. Each person will have a private coaching session, too. We will also arrange visits to the home workshops of local artisans so you can delve more deeply into the culture.
What is included?
Complete instruction with 5 workshop sessions
6 nights lodging
transportation to local artisan studios
daily gentle yoga and meditation (optional, but included in fee)
mini-seminars on writing topics
one coaching session
Meet Robin Greene, Writer-Editor-Professor
We are pleased that Robin Greene is returning to lead this intensive writer’s retreat. This will be her ninth year teaching with us to rave reviews.
Novelist and Poet Robin Greene in Oaxaca, Mexico
Robin Greene is Professor of English and Writing and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, where she held the McLean Endowed Chair in English from 2013-2016. Robin has published two collections of poetry (Memories of Light and Lateral Drift), two editions of a nonfiction book (Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories), and a novel (Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman). Robin’s second novel, The Shelf Life of Fire, is published by Light Messages Publishing, 2019, and Robin is currently working on a sequel.
Robin is a past recipient of a North Carolina-National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Writing, and has published over ninety pieces of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in literary journals. She has received two teaching awards, the latest of which, the Cleveland Award, received in 2017, is the most prestigious award offered by her university. Robin has given over a hundred academic presentations, literary readings, and writing workshops in a variety of venues throughout the US.
In addition, Robin is a registered yoga teacher (RYT200), cofounder and editor of Longleaf Press, and cofounder of Sandhills Dharma Group for Buddhist meditation. She holds a M.A. in English from Binghamton University and a M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Art at Norwich University.
What is a Workshop Session? The group meets daily for three hours to actively listen to each other’s writing, giving supportive and constructive feedback about what resonates or not. We offer guidelines for the process. Everyone takes a turn to read and everyone participates. Writers may accept or reject suggestions. Workshops offer an important learning tool for writers to gain feedback about how their words are communicated and understood.
How to Register: Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space. Send us an email to say you want to attend and if you want a shared or private room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice to secure your space.
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance with a minimum of $50,000 of medical evacuation coverage. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!
Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to/from our program destination.
Reservations and Cancellations. We accept payment by credit card with an e-commerce service. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After October 1, 2020, refunds are not possible. If there is a cancelation on or before October 1, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: The altitude is almost 6,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have uneven paths. The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do some walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This may not be the workshop/study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.
How to Get To Oaxaca: United Airlines operates direct flights from Houston. American Airlines operates direct flights from DFW. Delta Airlines has a codeshare with AeroMexico with a connection to Oaxaca from Mexico City. All other major airlines fly to Mexico City where you can made independent connections on Interjet, Aeromar (code share with United), Volaris and VivaAerobus. Check Skyscanner for schedules and fares before you book. Note: I always book directly with the carrier for better customer service.
Workshop Details and Travel Tips: Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information.
To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.
Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?
Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
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.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle