Category Archives: Creative Writing

An Immigrant to Mexico, Not an Ex-Pat

This year, I will live in North Carolina for only a few weeks. I will be here to vote. That is mostly why I bought my apartment condo in Downtown Durham, though you could say I could vote absentee ballot.  But to do that, you need a permanent address. A post office box will not do.

I’m prompted by this fact to remind myself that I am a Mexican immigrant and not an ex-pat. I will explain.

Read this important definition: Ex-Pat or Immigrant

I am here, too, because I have good friends, dear family and a need to have one toe in the water, even though the water now is scalding hot. We are getting burned.

You haven’t heard from me in a while and there’s a reason. My return to Durham was interrupted by Hurricane Florence and the aftermath of clean-up and tragedy, babies loosened from the arms of their fleeing mothers, ripped away by the torrents of rushing water, lost forever. The news captured me. Saddened me.

Then, the drama of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviews of Christine Blasey Ford and a Supreme Court Justice nominee called Kav permeated every fiber of my being. I watched the entire day of testimony from start to finish. Big mistake.

Now, I’m in recovery, big time. I’ve been in near isolation for three weeks. Not much to write about, it seems, in comparison to the big events called politics in the United States of America. I understand why people want to escape. Go on a cruise. Eat ice cream. Not vote. The aftermath disgusts me.

SOLD. intricate embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla. $265. Size L-XL

In the meantime, I was asked to write a chapter for a book about ex-pat women from the USA who moved to Mexico. Did we flee a god-forsaken nation hell-bent on self-destruction or what?

I procrastinated. Then, I finally sat down to write it. As soon as it’s published, I’ll share it with you. But the most important kernel for me is that I came to realize I’m an immigrant, not an ex-pat.

The distinction is subtle and also simple. The standard definition: An ex-pat lives outside her/his home country. The standard definition: An immigrant claims their adopted country and intends to live there indefinitely.

Immigrants put down roots and embrace the culture, consider that the place they have moved to will always be home. Makes some attempt to learn the language and interact with the local community. Realizes that humility goes much further than arrogance. Defers to local customs. Waits for acceptance.

Ex-pats in Mexico are snowbirds, needing a warm and affordable place to spend the winter. Ex-pats might also be those testing the waters of retirement, determining where to live on a fixed budget that will stretch farther. They are far away from home in the USA or Canada, but for most, replicate that sense of home in a new place, sequestered in gated communities, attached to tennis clubs and those who speak the same language.

If I am being judgmental, please share your opinions.

This discussion gave me pause to think about where I fit in the definition, and part of the ultimate question we all must ask ourselves from time to time: Who am I? Where do I belong?

I’ve been part of Oaxaca for 13 years. Not so long in the scope of my life. But long enough to know it is home and I will live there indefinitely.

Next Monday, Omar arrives. He is the youngest of the Chavez Santiago children. He is bringing beautiful hand-woven rugs for sale and teaching cochineal dye workshops. After Durham, we are going to Philadelphia together where he will be hosted at five different venues. You’ll hear more.

Then, for me, I’m back to Mexico on November 8. After I’ve voted. It won’t be too soon.

 

Foodie Fest, Wild Mushrooms Fair (Feria del Hongos) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas

Just a forty minute drive into the mountains from the Tlacolula de Matamoros crossroads at MEX 190–Panamerican Highway — is the village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. It is one of several known as the Pueblos Mancomunados for eco-tourism. A Zip-Line crosses the village and mountain bikes are everywhere.

A basket of wild mushrooms. Yummy.

Each year during Guelaguetza time they host a two-day, Saturday and Sunday wild mushroom fair. It is much more than that: it is a natural food lovers paradise.  I went on Sunday when Oaxaca city was filled with 150,000 tourists and all the attendant frenzy and the Tlacolula market nearly impossible to navigate.

Avocados and pomegrantes. Five pesos each.

Not only are the temperatures at least ten degrees cooler at 10,400 feet altitude. What is very cool is the showcase of all the organic foods produced in the region as well as mushrooms.

And a box of dried mushrooms to keep longer

Gathered around the municipal building courtyard, small local growers are selling apples, potatoes, peaches, avocados, fava beans, onions, artisanal chocolate, mushroom cultivation starters and preserves. The fruit is always small, pocked and insecticide-free. Not giant perfection as we know in the USA.

At the entrance on a perfect day, fresh air, clear skies

At this moment, you might ask: What’s the difference between the Spanish words Hongos, Setas, and Champiñones. Hongos are referred to as FUNGI. Setas are called MUSHROOMS. Champiñones are cultivated, commercial mushrooms. Around these parts, the Hongos are always the wild variety. But of course, the locals can tell the difference and name each variety. For example, the yellow ones with the red tops are called amanitas. Delicious sauteed in olive oil and butter.

Ceramics from the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca

They grow flowers here as well as succulents, so there are wheelbarrows filled with plants potted in recycled plastic bottles and yogurt containers. There are artisans from surrounding villages who also make an appearance: potters, weavers and embroiderers.

Homegrown succulents in hanging Clorox pots

Escabeche=onions, carrots, green beans, chiles in vinegar, $3 USD

Along the periphery of the municipal building, small puestos are set up that are equipped with wood-fired stoves and comals. Local cooks prepare everything with the wild mushrooms — tacos, empanadas, mole, pozole. It’s like a progressive dinner where you go from one kitchen to another to taste the specialty of the house.

Chiles rellenos — stuffed with wild pink mushrooms

Mushroom tacos with mole amarillo — our lunch

There were perhaps a handful of hueros  (those with pale skin).  Most visitors were locals from Oaxaca who know that this is where you come to get the most delicious fungi around. It’s the rainy season, but there has been no rain. The vendors from Cuajimoloyas brought the wild mushrooms in from Llano Grande, farther up the mountain where cloud cover ensures the proper humidity.

Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza.

Local pears and apples

On our way out of town, I spotted a pile of beautiful mushrooms perched in the doorway of a comedor. I said to Laurita, let’s stop! Inside we found eighty-year-old owner Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza, who Chef Susanna Trilling says runs the best kitchen in town. I bought more mushrooms. She invited us back for a trout lunch.

The biggest mushroom ever at Sra. Viviana’s comedor

I ate it so fast I almost forgot to take a photo — mushroom quiche

We decided to take the dirt road back from Cuijimoloyas to Teotitlan del Valle that goes through the mountain town of Benito Juarez where there are more cabins and is favorite eco-tourism spot. It was like a ribbon winding through pine stands, sheer cliffs and skirting deep forested valleys. It was not a short-cut, but offered gorgeous views of the Tlacolula Valley.

Plenty of dried fruit and mushrooms for sale, too

Hand-made chocolate from neighboring Papaloapan roasted cacao

The trip back took about an hour. We knew we were close when we saw the village reservoir in the distance. Then, a familiar car was approaching. My taxista Abraham Flores was going up the mountain taking a family home from the Tlacolula Market. This is a small world, though vast in what it provides.

And the band plays on — always a village centerpiece

Grow your own mushrooms, if you wish

A machine-stitched top from Tlahuitoltepec. Nope. Didn’t buy it.

 

Women’s Writing Retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico: Take a Discount and Express Yourself

This is our 8th year to offer the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat from June 22-29, 2018. We want a full-house and are offering a 10% discount off the already high-value, low price of $895 for a shared room and $1195 for a single room. It’s not too late to get on board and join us.

Who is this for? Beginning and experienced writers, those who believe they can do it and need inspiration and coaching, note-jotters and margin-scribblers. Do you have an idea for a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a travel piece or family history? This is the place for you.

See the complete course description HERE.

Send me an email with your interest HERE.

Please share with family and friends who would like this retreat.

Feliz Fiestas and Happy Holidays from Oaxaca, Mexico

It’s a warm, sunny day here in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Temps are in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit and there’s a breeze. It will get down to 52 degrees tonight. A perfect day to welcome Baby Jesus to the world here in the southern part of North America.

Resting on a satin pillow is Baby Jesus, taken from his church altar to the Last Posada

There’s a band playing at the December 23-24 posada house and I can hear it across the village. At unpredictable moments, a firecracker will go skyward to boom in a blast that sounds like one shot has been fired.  Tonight is La Ultima Posada, the last posada for 2017.

Procession of villagers with candles, a church official with copal incense burner

This morning I went to the market early, at 8:30 a.m. Ojala! It was a miracle, since I usually never get out of the house much before 10:00 a.m. Parking was scarce and I could hear a band on the street between the market and the church. It called to me. I hurried. Whenever a band plays here, you know there is something going on.

The band behind the moving altar plays energetic Sousa-style music

Baby Jesus had just been taken from his resting place in the church, an antique carved and gilded wooden figure. He was on a pillow held by a young woman who walked under a portable tent held upright by four stanchions and strong men to hold the posts.

The procession formed to pass through the major streets of Teotitlan del Valle on the way to place Baby Jesus in his birthplace at La Ultima Posada.

Delegation playing solemn music out front, led by wood carved Zapotec flute 

The street was perfumed by copal incense, giving off smoke and a sweet aroma of burning sap, so essential to ancient Zapotec ceremonial tradition.

As the procession descended down Avenida Constitucion from the Zocalo along a steep cobblestone incline, I said to myself that I wish I had worn sturdier shoes. Nevertheless, I was able to keep up to get these photos to share with you.

Important family members of the posada host process with candles

Then, I went back uphill to the market to do my holiday food shopping. Tonight, I’m invited to the home of Hugo and Malena. I’m holding weekly English conversation meetings with their teenage son and daughter. They asked me to join them for Christmas Eve dinner, which usually doesn’t start here until around midnight. Not sure I can stay up that late. It’s pretty quiet around here on Christmas Day.

Back up the hill to the market and church zocalo

Enjoy this time of peace, reflection, calm and tranquility. The winter solstice brings us darkness, where we want to hover close with family and friends, take stock of our year and think about longer, warmer days ahead.  I think of this as a metaphor for all the possibilities that life can bring us.

Blessings to all.

Norma Schafer, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, December 24, 2017

From the village market, a view of the church steeples

Women buy field flowers for their aroma, akin to the past

I take home a bundle of sunflowers in the spirit of joy

Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat, June 22-29, 2018, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lifting Your Creative Voice Writing and Yoga Retreat

  • When: Arrive Friday, June 22  and Depart Friday, June 29
  • Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is our 8th year for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.  We welcome new, inexperienced writers and those who are more seasoned and want to go to the next level.  Some have published and many dream about it. We may write memoir, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and fiction. The workshop-conference is a haven for exploration and encouragement. Writers of all genres and ages are invited.

Who Attends? Women with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You write on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper.
  • You dream of writing and never have. Maybe you dabble.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • You want to merge the written word with photos, drawing or collage.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse, and you want renewal and encouragement.
  • You are a writer, and may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

Teotitlan del Valle church built atop Zapotec temple

Friday, June 22 to Friday, June 29, 2018 

  • $895 per person shared room with shared bath. Note: we have a limited number of shared rooms with private shared bath available. First come, first served. Otherwise, your bath will be across the courtyard and shared by several.
  • $1,195 per person single room with private bath

You arrive by Friday evening, June 22 and leave Friday morning, June 29, 2018. The comprehensive workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging, all breakfasts, all writing instruction and workshop sessions, a personal coaching/feedback session with the instructor, daily afternoon gentle yoga sessions, and a grand finale celebration reading and dinner. You might want to arrive a day early to settle in to avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.