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Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
- 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.
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Category Archives: Creative Writing
Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.
I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.
When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up. The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.
But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.
This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.
This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers. In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.
- 75% of garment workers are young women
- the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
- in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator
If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.
- What are we doing to make our own clothes?
- What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
- What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
- What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
- Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”
The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.
A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.
The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above? How does one person make a difference?
So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?
The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.
There may still be room in the course. We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?
If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.
Bugs are ubiquitous here. Most often you see them driving down the cobblestone streets in the historic center of town or along the highway, packed with family members. I’ve seen eight people in a VW bug, five kids in the back seat, the driver behind the wheel, and his wife with a baby on her lap next to him. These bugs have been around a long time. Some are shiny with aluminum wheels. Others are rusted out, spitting smoke, and you wonder whether they have enough oomph left to get moving when the light turns green.
But, these are not the bugs I’m talking about here. I want to focus on the edible kind: ants, grasshoppers, worms, beetles, larvae and grubs.
Now, I hear you. Most of you are saying eeewww or ugh. If you are a visitor or expat who does not venture beyond the ken, your utterance might be particularly vocal.
Don’t stop now! 800 words more. Click Here!
by Norma Schafer
Footnote: I had the idea to write about edible insects in Mexico a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t until our 2017 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat that I was truly inspired. Where else could I find a group of adventurous women, who come to Oaxaca to write, to join me in the conspiracy of eating culturally foreign food?
It had also been two months since I contributed a feature to Mexico News Daily and I surmised the publisher thought I had dropped off the map. So the writing retreat became my inspiration for this essay. (I also wrote about other things.)
One thing I’ve learned, you never know what you are capable of (doing or writing) unless you try.
Are you interested in our 2018 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat? Send me an email and I’ll put you on the notification list.
The day is cloudy, overcast. A mist hangs on the hills like a coverlet. It’s late February, still chilly with winter in the Chiapas Highlands. Fuzzy wool cape weather, even in the early afternoon. After our visit to Tenejapa for the Thursday market, we make a stop at Romerillo before returning to San Cristobal de las Casas.
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Romerillo is a tiny hamlet with an impressive cemetery. The stand of turquoise blue Maya crosses carved with ancient symbols are sentries, erect on the crest of the hill. Tethered sheep graze at the base. We get out of the van and walk slowly to enter sacred space.
We moved in a matter of a few miles from textile sensory overload to quiet meditation. After our guide introduces us to the Maya world of death and life, we each walk silently, separating, alone, stepping across dried pine needles, around the mounds of earth designating grave sites. There are things to think about.
One of us gets a call to come home to tend to her mother’s dying. Another suddenly loses a brother-in-law just days before. Most of us quietly mourn a parent, a husband, friend, perhaps a child, a relationship.
It’s months past the Day of the Dead season. There are remnants of marigolds, fresh fruit dried by the sun, graves covered by wood planks to keep the dead secure in their underworld habitat until the next uncovering.
The mounded burial ground: scattered pine needles, dried pine boughs tied to the Maya crosses, toppled flower pots, an empty coke bottle, a tossed aside cigarette butt, an overturned flask once filled with pox (pronounced posh), a fresh grave.
(Mary Randall reminds me that the Romerillo hill was featured in the indie film, El Norte, a testimony to the Maya struggle for independent identity.)
How do I know of this recent burial? From the lingering aroma of copal incense, scattered green pine needles, flowers still too fragrant in their urns.
Life and death blend together in Maya ritual. The mounds bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Fresh pine boughs are the portal to the other world. There is afterlife, often reincarnation depending on status. Memory must be kept, attended to. Here is ancestor worship — generations buried in the same space. The pine needles represent infinity, too numerous to count.
The blue and green crosses are symbols, too, portals of entry for contact with the ancestors. Mayans believe the ancestors are guides and give them counsel in their problems when asked. Blue is significant throughout the Maya world.
On November 1, Day of the Dead, family members lift off the wood planks. Sit around the grave sites of their loved ones, carry on a conversation. There are elaborate rituals here that bring people closer to the natural world. The sun, moon, earth, stars are imbued with meaning, embedded in all that exists. Everything has a purpose, is connected.
Some of us sit. Others walk. The tall crosses guard the land. Small crosses guard each grave. Sometimes I see several crosses marking one grave site. I know from my experience in Oaxaca that each identifies one person in this resting place, that ten years must pass before another can be buried in the same space. There is continuity on this path.
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Ellen Benson, my Oaxaca artist friend who has wintered here for the past umpteen years, wrote these three pieces in the voice of Agent Orange as her way of getting through the political grief and PTSD that many of us experience. Ellen is the famed Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Diva and her art also reflects the way she sees the world.
I hope you enjoy this. It is witty and funny. Perfect for a Take Heart Day. I asked her permission to share it with you. I think we need this.
ONE: Congratulations from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny
Yesterday Santa Claus called from the North Pole to congratulate me. Yes he is real, and i’ve known him personally for many, many years. A fantastic, fantastic guy. He promised: no presents going to Mexico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To keep those presents here, Mike Pence has given Santa Air Force One, since I have my own plane, but all reindeer will keep their jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. The Mexican children will get coal in their stockings which will also help the coal industry make a comeback. A win/win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Santa will be working directly with Ben Carson to move all low income housing to the border!!! Not just walls but whole housing complexes!!!!!!!!!! I’ve put Jared Kushner in charge, but Santa and 3 mice will administer the “blind trust.” Let’s see if the “failing New York Times “ even reports this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I also got a call from the Easter Bunny. Yes he is real, i know his whole huge family. A terrific terrific guy. He called to report that his personal hackers have found that a hamburger joint in D. C. has been putting pot in all its deluxe burgers with fries!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This hamburger joint is a front for the Clinton Foundation. Jewish columnists Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman have been seen in the vicinity. Information verified by National security Advisor-elect Mike Flynn!!!!!!!! Enough said!!!!!!!!! I’ve not even been sworn in and already Mike is arranging a landing pad for UFO’s on the White House roof!!!!!!! Good work Mike.
The Tooth Fairy was also on the line but I couldn’t take her call. Yes, she is real. I definitely know her. On her day off from overseeing her teeth- for -money program, she does hair dye jobs. And she’s the best. The very best.
Melania and Ivanka are busily planning the inauguration. Unfortunately, due to construction on the White House to make it look more like the Hermitage, the inauguration will be held in New York. Any country where i have business dealings will have the chief executives of its BIGGEST COMPANIES invited to the festivities!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing expected in return!!!! this is how business is done! Many of these execs are graduates of Trump University —so you can bet they understand the Art of the Deal!!!!! We are just now nailing down the entertainment. Very exclusive. Very in-demand. It’s top secret classified but I’m the President-elect so i can tell whoever i want. The star attraction at the biggest and best inaugural ball will be the cast of the new musical, “PUTIN”!!!!!! Very hard to get tickets—believe me!!!
TWO: Breaking News, A Call From Humpty Dumpty
Mar-A-Lago seems to be sinking so I called in Al Gore just to hear his preposterous statements that people, like the overwhelming landslide number of people who absolutely love me, are the cause of so-called global warming. He thought i would offer him a Cabinet position but he did not give me a huge campaign donation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And even after his movie and speaking engagements he is not yet a billionaire or even a multi-millionare and he never even worked for Goldman or Exxon or even the World Wrestling Federation!!!! A loser! Everyone knows there is NO AIR POLLUTION IN THE USA!!!!!!! The Chinese have been manufacturing it cheaply and shipping it over here!!!!! I don’t need a focus group to know why Mar-A-Lago is sinking—my very large, enormous and gigantic brain tells me everything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And it is verified by my National Security Advisor Mike Flynn—The problem is caused by the lost continent of Atlantis rising!!!!!!!!!! Also—he saw a man jumping over the moon—and everyone knows the moon controls the tides!!!!! There will be a big big investigation of this after Jan 20!!!!
My good friend Humpty Dumpty called to warn me that many people want to see me fall!! I’m sick of all the lying media criticizing my Cabinet appointments!!!!!!! They have about as much credibility as Graydon Carter’s failing VANITY FAIR restaurant reviewer in the things he said about the Trump Grill!!!!!!!!!!Terrific terrific restaurant!!! Chris Christie and Jack Sprat love it!!!!!!!!! I took Mitt Romney there!!!!! People think it was to discuss Secretary of State job. WRONG!! Obviously it was for Mitt to convince me as to why i should endorse his niece for RNC chair over the very very qualified BABAR, who i may still change my mind and endorse!!! And i keep creating jobs! just this week alone, i opened up positions at Goldman Sachs and at Exxon!!
Ben Carson was honest enough to admit that he knows nothing about housing or running a government agency. That’s refreshing! Just the kind of experience I’m looking for! He tells me his decisions will be guided by the invisible hand of the market. Rep. Tom Price will not only repeal Obamacare but will cut out all waste in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. As I’ve said many times, it is a BIG FAT WASTE to cover disabled people!!! We will keep the good parts of Obamacare: lobotomies, breast enhancement and hair transplants will still be covered.
Full steam ahead on the inauguration!. Kanye West, if he had voted, said he would have voted for me!!!!! We are working in how to blend mental health meltdowns, inflammatory tweets and the Kardashians into a program that THE WHOLE COUNTRY WILL LOVE!!!!!! There will be heavy- duty medication at every banquet table instead of flowers!!!! (Kanye’s idea! Brilliant!!)The Breitbart event will be giving out free taco bowls and free tickets to the new big hit musical PUTIN!!! which Rex Tillerson and I are backing!!!!!! And of corse, catering by Hardee’s! Kudos to Labor Secretary-elect Andy Puzder for a brilliant idea: food of the little guy! All servers at the inauguration will get free Hardee’s gift certificates in lieu of minimum wage! Can’t wait to see Ivanka’s dress! The president of Taiwan made it herself!!!!
THREE: Breaking News, I would have won the New Hampshire primary
I just want to remind the American public that i would have won in New Hampshire if outside voters had not been bussed in by the thousands, a FACT that is WIDELY KNOWN!!!!!!!!! What you don’t know because the failing New York Times refuses to report it, is that drones also transported hundreds and hundreds of people from Nigeria and Ivory Coast to polling places in North Carolina and other places EVEN THOUGH THOSE PLACES ARE HARD TO FIND because we had to shut down so many polling places where the blacks might vote!!!! Some of Obama’s Kenyan friends got in too! Somehow they found polling places and i will have the FBI look into it!!!!!! I will have a floating wall built the length of the Atlantic Ocean to prevent such blatant disregard of our borders. As we speak, Mike Flynn is trying to shut down the underground tunnels to the pizza parlor in DC that is now the hub of voter fraud activities!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SAD!!!!!!
I am sooooo proud of Jack Kingston, Representaive of Georgia for his stand against free lunches for poor children! of course they should sweep cafeteria floors to earn their keep and learn the value of a buck! My little Ivanka had to go all the way to China to check out the floors of the manufacturing sweatshops that make her clothing line !!!!They made her look through fabric swatches for hours before they even gave her an egg roll for lunch!! And when they were kids, Donald Jr. and Eric had to pick up all their candy wrappers from the floor of the limo, right outside the BEST PRIVATE SCHOOL in the U.S., maybe the world!!! —before their private chef would even give them a taste of their grilled salmon with caviar!!!!!!!
And contrary to what the lying media are saying, the fCalifornia armers are doing just great!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, we did have to round up thousands of their best workers and put them on cattle cars back to those swamps they came from!! !! But now, under my new regime, poor school children can be hired after school to work off their subsidized health care!!!! It’s a WIN-WIN!!!!
Can’t wait til Neil Gorsuch is confirmed!! EVERYONE wants him!!!!!!!!! He has told me privately that not only are corporations PEOPLE with rights to free speech, but cars and refrigerators are people too!!!!!! That’s why the new cars cars can drive themselves!!!!! Next year, cars and refrigerators get the vote in all red states!!!! And—cheeseburgers, in their role as citizens, are inundating the Republican party with contributions to fund our agenda, whatever it may be!! Even the little guys—Big Mac Jrs.— are getting in on it with small but important contribtions!!!
Putin requested that nukes be considered people but i’ll let Gorsuch decide—we DO have separation of powers, you know!!!!