Category Archives: Photography

Chiapas Notebook: Tenejapa Textiles and Thursday Market

Tenejapa, Chiapas is a regional center in the highlands of Chiapas about an hour- and-a-half beyond San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a regional administrative center, about midway between the city and the remote village of Cancuc, past Romerillo. Most roads splay out from San Cristobal like spikes on a wheel hub, dead-ending down a canyon or mountain top at a remote village where traditional weavers create stunning cloth.

Tenejapa supplementary weft on cotton warp, with handmade doll

There are two reasons to go to Tenejapa.

Tenejapa market scene, the perfect village tianguis

First is the Thursday market that covers the length of four to six blocks (depending on the season) where everything needed to maintain a household is sold, including fresh roasted and ground coffee cultivated from bushes on nearby hillsides.

Rich, roasted, fresh ground coffee in the market, locally grown

This includes fresh dried beans, ground and whole chili peppers, ribbons and lace for sewing, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and an occasional textile find.

See highlights from 2017 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested in itinerary and price. Taking a wait list!

Limited to 9 people maximum!

Beautiful handwoven bag, a market find, random delights

Most of the textiles on the street are woven for local consumption. So, fabric and the materials to make it reflects the current fashion tastes of traditional ladies who weave to adorn themselves and their neighbors. Cotton takes longer to dry, so cotton thread has been replaced by synthetic. Now, the shinier the better.

Chili peppers, whole or ground, take your pick

We see this throughout the villages in the Chiapas Highlands where glittery threads are incorporated into the weft and warp, and polyester gives the textile a sheen that is now preferred.

Inspect carefully. Bright colors can be synthetics, as are these. Glorious, nevertheless.

Where to find the traditional textiles of five, ten, twenty years ago? Sometimes, you can find them hanging from ropes strung from wall to wall inside the shops along the market avenue. Sometimes, they are folded under a stack of the more contemporary pieces that Tenejapa fashionistas like.

Corn for sale, displayed in traditional handwoven ixtle market bag

The second, and perhaps more important reason to visit Tenejapa is to spend time in the cooperative operated by Maria Meza Giron. The building is next to the church, across from the zocalo and municipal building.

Sheri Brautigam, author and our textile tour resource, chats with Maria Meza

Maria and her son Pedro Meza, are co-founders of Sna Jolobil textile cooperative with anthropologist/friend/guide Walter “Chip” Morris.  We bumped into him there that day as we were deep into textile heaven.

An amazing ceremonial cloth, hand-woven, snatched up by Kathleen

These textiles — huipils, ponchos, purses, blankets, rugs, shirts, belts, woven ixtle bags, skirts and ceremonial garb — are the finest examples with the most traditional quality of weaving found in Tenejapa.

What will this become? Textile in progress on back strap loom.

Some pieces are dense with wool supplementary weft woven onto a one hundred percent cotton warp. All created on the back strap loom. Garments are always as wide as the loom they are woven on.

Barbara looks at fine detail work on this Tenejapa sash

It was hard to choose. Hard to focus. Hard to pull away and say goodbye when the time came. The examples available for sale would sell for twice the price in San Cristobal de las Casas in finer galleries. It was well worth the trip for this, and for the experience of mingling among the people.

Tenejapa woman shopping for a comal — clay griddle

Just a note: Not many visitors come here. We were the only foreigners walking through the market. People are resistant to having their pictures taken. Photographs of fruits and veggies are okay. I always asked if I could take a photo (the people, not the vegetables). Most said no. Once, I shot from the hip and felt guilty.

Handwoven bags on display stand for sale.

Our anthropologist guide advised us to never photograph inside a village church. We didn’t. I did not shoot from the hip there. I attended to watching where I stepped. Lit candles blazed on the floor in front of altars to saints.  As a consequence, you will see lots of textiles, tomatoes, oranges, and shoes.

Zocalo is also the taxi station, constant round trips to San Cristobal

The people who travel with me tend to be those with a deep appreciation for Mexicans and their creativity. Folk art or popular art in Mexico is made one piece at a time, one thread at a time. By coming here, we gain an understanding for craftsmanship that is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son.

Our guide explains Maya-Catholic Church traditions and what we will see inside

There is no magical way of being appreciative, warm and gracious. The feelings between visitor and host are reciprocal. We value the inspiration, hard work and dedication to keeping hand-made craft alive. Those who make and sell value our support and appreciation for what they do. It’s a bonus if we buy.

Being a locavore isn’t trendy, it’s a way of life

But shopping isn’t everything and that’s not why we are here. We are here because creative people are tucked in every corner and behind every hillock, using their open hearts and strong hands to bring color and joy into the world.

Beautiful, intricate Tenejapa huipil, wool weft for the design on cotton

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested with itinerary and price. This study tour is limited to 9 people!

Chiapas Notebook: Magdalena Aldama Weavers

Our recent textile study tour took place over nine days. We were based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, with so much to see and do, and no time to write!. I’m going to start now with one highlight that happened in the middle: a visit to Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas.

A few of our group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Some of us know this village, about two-and-a-half hours from San Cristobal, as Magdalenas. Others call it Aldama. It is one and the same. Officially, it is known as Santa Maria Magdalena.

Indigenous justice and liberty are elemental here, as is native Non-GMO corn.

It took on the name Aldama in 1934 in honor of Mexican insurgent Ignacio Aldama. This is a Tzotzil village strongly aligned with the Zapatistas.

Rosa with Barbara, and a neighboring Chenalho blue emboidered top

Not many foreigners show up here. Without an introduction to a family, it would be difficult to know where to go to see extraordinary back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery that the women here are known for.

Susie admires a finely woven, embroidered huipil

We pulled up to the village zocalo and parked near the church. Cristobal was waiting for us and took us to his family home where his wife Rosa greeted us. She was joined by family members who were busy weaving and doing fine stitching, surrounded by children.

Children hover close to mom when strangers show up

This would not have been possible without our knowledgeable guide who arranged the visit through an anthropologist friend who has been working here for some time.

Every garment handmade: the woven cloth, fine embroidery, seams, hem

After demonstrations and a stunning expoventa of very fine work, the family invited us into their kitchen where they prepared Caldo de Gallina over a wood fire.

Work continues with babies bundled across backs with rebozos

They make the soup from organic free-range chicken and fresh local vegetables. The tortillas come hot off the comal. We toast the day with posh, the local fermented drink made from corn and sugar cane.

It is quite tasty!

Indigenous rights are fragile. People here take a stand for themselves. Viva Zapata!

Women work hard here, staying close to home. Tending babies, preparing meals, cleaning up, weaving, sewing. Extended families live together in the same household and next door.

Fifteen enjoying a family meal, altar with Mayan cross in background

I saw no young men and assume they were in the fields tending to vegetables or herds of cows. Or, perhaps they were in El Norte USA trying to make a few dollars to send home. At 20 pesos to 1 US dollar now, it’s an economic advantage to go north to work. Regardless of what Agent Orange says, families do not like to be separated. They do it out of necessity. 

A village Mayordomo came by to check us out and stayed for lunch

Since the village is not frequented by tourists, we had a social call by one of the village leaders, a mayordomo and friend of our host family. He saw that we were supportive of the cultural norms and stayed to talk and have lunch with us. We were not a rowdy group!

Waddle and daub traditional village construction, perfect backdrop

The large kitchen space where we had lunch, the traditional outbuilding where the expoventa (show/sale) was held, and some of the surrounding cottages, were all constructed with waddle and daub. This is different from adobe bricks. It is a great insulator, keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer.

Yes, smoke gets in your eyes, clothes, hair and lungs in traditional kitchens

The only problem was the ventilation from the smoke, which rose to the ceiling in billows but didn’t escape readily from the open areas near the rafters. In some villages, NGOs are working with locals to create better vents so they don’t breathe the wood smoke and develop lung disease.

Britt wears an elegant dress, traditional in design

Magdalena Aldama is about ten minutes further from San Andres Larrainzar, another amazing weaving village, much larger than Magdalena. There seems to be some crossover in stitching and fashion, though for the most part women like to identify with where they are born and live by their costume.

Mom and toddler, infant sleeping behind

The finely woven mesh bags you see below are hand-woven from ixtle, the washed, pounded and softened fiber of the agave cactus leaf. The finer and smaller the bag, the more costly. The shoulder straps are soft leather. Sometimes they are finished with colorful woven edging. We love them and bought lots!

Display of blouses, bags, table runners, dresses, pillow covers

Often, the difficulty for western women is to find a garment large enough to fit us. The width here is as wide as the loom, but the arm holes and necklines can be small. So small, we can’t get the blouse over our heads or arms through the sleeves. Here, it wasn’t a problem! They knew we were coming!

Rosa holds up one her group’s fine blouses. They sold out!

On our way back to San Cristobal de las Casas, we made a quick stop in Larrainzar to check out the street scene.  On the way, we passed a family of sheep herders. While the animals grazed, the women tied their looms to the trees. No one here is idle.

Looms tied to trees. Always something to weave.

In San Andres Larrainzar, we stopped at a commercial cooperative outside of town. I was disappointed in the quality and offerings, though a few of us managed to find a treasure. It’s best to find a private group!

San Andres Larrainzar main street. Hard to find a huipil for sale here.

Local women buy the embroidered bodice pieces and then stitch their own cotton or poplin (cotton/poly blend) to make the complete blouse. They like the polyester because it dries much faster. So, it’s getting more difficult to find a pure cotton garment. The embroidered pieces cost 1,000 to 1,500 pesos before being made into the blouse.

Embroidered blouse pieces, Larrainzar. White area is for head opening.

Back in San Cristobal, I wore the Magdalena Aldama blouse I bought from Rosa and Cristobal on the following day. People stopped me. Where did you find that? I told them. I visited a local Mayan coop and the manager said, “We don’t carry anything that fine. It’s hard to find and too expensive.”  Well, not really. Not for us at the current exchange rate!

The weaving group in black and white.

Making a trip into the village to meet the family, share a meal and support their work was one of the highlights of this trip.

Weaving on the street, Magdalena Aldama

We are going to offer this again at the end of February 2018. Contact me if you are interested and I’ll put you on the list to let you know dates and cost. This study tour will be limited to 9 people maximum!

Games little boys play, in the doorway to the kitchen.

 

Being a Oaxaca Host: Lessons for People and Nations

My friend Debbie from North Carolina came to visit me in Oaxaca this week. It was a fast three nights and two-and-a-half days. We packed a lot in as the news of the world was (and continues to) unfolding, raging, tangling itself up around us. I wanted to show her my world here.

Archeological sites. Markets. Weavers. Mezcal and candle makers. Mountain vistas. High desert.

Amidst Zapotec-Mixtec ruins, San Pablo Villa de Mitla church

Debbie is more than a friend. We share the sisterhood of once living together as neighbors in a co-housing community that was based on consensus decision-making.

Our relationship developed amidst all the attending struggles within a group of having to reconcile differences and come to agreement about how to live with respect, caring and intention. This is not easy, not natural and takes practice.

Evening respite, chiminea aglow, on my casita patio

We were part of a women’s group that shared reading material, discussions, intimacies, success and disappointments. We comforted each other when there was loss.  We celebrated together when there was joy. We lost a friend in this group to cancer that took her fast. We mourned. Picked up. Continued.

Debbie wrote a blog post about how to be a good guest:

Learning to Be a Guest

The counterpoint for me is how to be a good host. Give comfort, security, food. Offer activities, entertainment and quiet. Make introductions to friends. Sit and talk. Understand the then and now. Have fun. Create discovery. A lesson how to be a good host should be a taught to the USA’s new administration.

Fresh carrot/beet/pineapple juice alongside Jugo Verde, Teotitlan del Valle market

This is not only about how to stay in another person’s house. It is about how we live/visit as guests in a country other than our own. It is about how we welcome people in, consider their needs.

Even for those of us who make Oaxaca or Mexico home for several months or the entire year, even for those of us who have taken up permanent residency, we are the other, the guest.  In that capacity, how do we behave? How do we interact with the local community? What do we contribute? Are we observers or participators in local customs and traditions? What is our footprint?

Debbie in the shadows of ancient archeological site

This week, in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, at the end of the first week of the 45th president, we have closed our borders and threatened our immigrants. We are at risk of sacrificing our civil liberties out of fear and isolation.

The country of my birth, where I also make my home, is rampant with xenophobia, arrogance, and has retreated into becoming a very bad host. The risk of losing values — that of welcoming the huddled masses yearning to be free — brings me despair.

Mexico, land of the free and home of the brave, too.

This new president, whom I call Mr. Orange Menace, has a lot to learn about hospitality, although he seems to run hotels. But, oh, yes, they are for the very wealthy!

Ancient Zapotec temple carvings, Teotitlan del Valle church

Here in the Mexican village I call home for much of the year, I am a guest. I try to remember that daily. I live here in respect for my hosts, the indigenous people who are my neighbors. I know many by name and they invite me into their homes to visit, for meals and celebrations. As a good guest, I try to be helpful and not overstep. Keep my footprint in sync with theirs. I live in a small casita and drive an old car. I am not worried about living in the campo.

Sharing mezcal with weaver friend Arturo Hernandez

With the tone of discourse between Mexico and the USA at a low point, with the bullying and bluster of wall-building on the border taking on fearful proportions, I can’t help but wonder if that will have an impact on how I might be treated here.  I can only imagine these parallel universes between cross-border immigrants. Respecting minority rights is a basic principle of humanity, of democracy.

And, all I want to do is say, I’m sorry. 

The high desert gives forth life, prickly though it is

 

 

 

How Oaxaca Got Her Name: Guaje Seed Pods

When the Spanish arrived in southern Mexico in 1521, they found a region called Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the pod of the tree Leucaena Leucocephala. Of course, they couldn’t pronounce it easily, so they renamed it with the moniker, Oaxaca. Originally, Oaxaca was pronounced wa-shaka from a medieval Spanish root. Now, the X is silent, so we say, wa-haka.

Ready to eat guaje seed pod. Yummy in the tummy.

The tree is also known by the Maya as Uaxim and in English as Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind. The pod, spelled phonetically as either Huaje, Guaje or Huaxya, is not edible. Inside the pod container are small green seeds that plump up in early spring (here, in Oaxaca it is late January and early February). The growing range is from Central America to Southern California.

Peel open the deep purple pod and there you have a tangy, somewhat bitter bright green pea that is rich in protein. My Zapotec friends tell me this is a food staple eaten by the grandparents. That means food for the centuries.

Ready-to-eat guaje seeds. I’ve acquired a taste for them!

It will cure your digestive problems, says my friend Arnulfo.

Ah, just like mezcal, I answer him, and he smiles.

We both know there is truth to folk medicine here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. Indigenous food is sustainable.

The land on which I live in Teotitlan del Valle is dotted with these trees. The ones closest to the casita are over twenty feet tall and branches laden with pods hang over the rails of my rooftop terrace now. The pods are within plucking distance. That makes me happy.

Landscape is dotted with guajes, good for erosion control and shade.

When I go up there to read a book in the hammock, I reach out, grab a branch and pick off a pod, open it up and pop the seeds into my mouth. They taste healthy and refreshing. A friend suggested they would be good in salad, too.

There are lots of tips for cooking with guaje seeds from this gourmet food site, Specialty Produce. The ground dried seeds flavor guacamole and traditional Oaxaqueño moles.

When you are in Oaxaca this time of year, give the guaje a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. You’ll find them on comedor tables as a snack, and in markets tied in bundles ready to take home. Be sure to hold the pods up to the light so you can see how plump the seeds are. That’s the It’s Ripe test.

Ripe ones are easily plucked. Open like beans!

 

 

Women’s March Oaxaca: Just The Beginning!

One of the organizers told me the traffic police took a count and reported 2,000 people marching in Oaxaca, Mexico, on January 21. Whatever the number, it was an amazing demonstration of peaceful solidarity to support this worldwide movement.

Engage Oaxaca march organizers hold banner at front of march

The Andador Turistica — Macadonio Alcala — the cobblestone walking street lined with restaurants and tourist shops in the historic center of Oaxaca, was packed with people. They were expats and Oaxaqueños, Zapotecs, Canadians, Estadounidenses, visitors and permanent residents. We gathered together to say to the world, this newly installed president of the United States of America does not represent our values.

The signs say it all.

Click for a Compendium of Photos, News & Video at Engage Oaxaca!

The 45th President on a Oaxaca Wall.

The sentiment of the crowd felt serious yet celebratory. It was another gorgeous Oaxaca winter day with strong sun and a slight breeze as we started to gather in front of Santo Domingo Church for the 11 a.m. march. I could feel our energy, the exuberance welling as we channeled the frustration and anger we have felt in the last two months into positive action.

The is only the beginning, says Jen Psaki, Obama Staff

Mary Michal holds sign, In the entire world, no one is illegal.

I was not out in front. I trailed behind, one of the stragglers at the tail of the snake. As I stood at the peak of the Alcala at the corner of Abasolo/M. Bravo, where the street gently descends to the zocalo, the massive number of people took me off guard.

In solidarity with the people of Mexico!

When I met with some of the organizers on Wednesday morning, the prediction was for between 60 and 100 people. They would be happy with 100, they said!

Demonstrators pack the Alcala in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The message of this march is clear! We stand in solidarity with our Mexican friends and neighbors. We want a friendly relationship between governments. We do not support a wall. We stand firmly against the rhetoric of discrimination and xenophobia.

Photos, Women’s Marches Around the World

“I did not vote for Trumpistan.”

Mexicans marched with us. Mexicans stood on the sidewalks and took photos and video. Mexicans thanked me for participating and speaking out. People of good faith everywhere were joined together this day.

With the 16th century Santo Domingo Church behind us, we march.

“The March was a beautiful example of how a peaceful walk can inspire us – Canadians, Americans, Mexicans……… etc. We are all people and the somehow the underlying values will surface. Many thanks and I hope to be able to buy a v- neck shirt before we leave.” –Barbara Clough

Proud to be a Nasty Woman!

I thought of my son in Los Angeles, friends, people I do not know in every corner of the globe, especially those in Washington, D.C. on a gloomy, dreary day, making our voices heard for justice, free press, a clean environment, adequate health care coverage, equal, civil and human rights. The echo was resounding.

For the future of all our children, we march.

And, there is so much more do to. This is only the beginning. The momentum is with us. Do more than you ever thought possible. I will.

Human rights across race and gender.

When the march ended at the steps of the Metropolitan Cathedral about 40 minutes after it began, no one wanted to separate. We were an organic mass of purpose. Some climbed the few steps at the front of the cathedral and began to sing, We Shall Overcome. They sang several times more.

We had walked in silence. But we are not silent. We have a lot more to say.

I’m part of the PussyHat Nation, er … world.

Thank you to the dedicated team of organizers who formed Engage Oaxaca to create this:  Jacki Cooper Gordon, Roberta Christie, Shannon Pixley Sheppard, Nancy Clingan, Vicki Solot, Kathie McCleskey, Jess D’Great, and Erica Fox.

We will not be silenced, bullied or intimidated.