Category Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Puppy Rescue in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca–Update

Now that I’m back in my Durham, North Carolina, apartment, people are asking, “What happened to the mama dog and her puppies?”

I guess I need to write an update!

Mamacita. She is a tender, loving puppy mommy and becoming very loyal.

I named the mama dog Mamacita, for lack of any other creative moniker coming to mind. I call her Cita for short.  She was a street dog. Cast out. That’s what happens to female dogs. They are unwanted because owners don’t want repeated pregnancies. They also don’t want to neuter their dogs — a financial and cultural issue.

Mamacita has a bad left eye with partial blindness. I presume someone chased her away with a rock and she took a hit.

Sombra (left) and Luz (right) growing up.

Mamacita‘s two babies, just a fistful at birth almost five weeks ago, were white and dark brown. I called them Luz and Sombra, light and shadow.

For the first few days after birth, they lived wild on the land behind my house, nestled in the tall grass shaded by a young guaje tree. Then, I cajoled them into a dog house provided by my friend, Merry Foss, who runs a spay and neuter clinic in the village. By the end of the first week, puppies and mama were living protected in my gated patio.

Dear, wonderful Sylvia, who came to my dog care taking rescue, with Luz.

I fattened up bony Mamacita with twice-a-day doses of chicken soup, beef stock, cooked bones and meat. It was like taking care of a sickly child.

Soon, I had to leave because of work commitments. I sent out the word via Facebook and a blog post. The universe provided.

Mexico Free Spay Neuter Clinic — Click on DONATE

Dog lover Sylvia Johnson Feldman from Connecticut volunteered to come and house sit, mostly to take care of the dogs. She arrived on July 19. I left on July 20. Sylvia will stay until August 17.

Curious puppies roaming the patio. Sylvia got them colorful collars.

In the next week, the pups will get their first inoculations. Sylvia is making an appointment with the veterinarian who comes from neighboring Tlacolula. Cost for the house call and medications is about 250 pesos.

I’m getting updates from Sylvia along with photos showing how the puppies are weaning, lapping pulverized puppy food and milk. Mamacita seems pleased and domesticated, though Sylvia says she bolts the patio through the iron grill work to run during the early morning hours.

Puppy love, a little nipping, a little biting, dog acculturation.

As soon as puppies are fully weaned, we will spay her. This will likely happen during Kalisa Wells’ watch. She arrives on August 16 to take over for Sylvia.

Both Luz and Sombra have both been spoken for, again via Facebook. Luz will go to a family of alebrijes makers in San Martin Tilcajete. Sombra will go to the sister of a friend who lives in Oaxaca, and will eventually return with her to Washington State. We will send them on their way at about 10 weeks old.

I’ve read it is so important to keep mama and puppies together for at least 10-12 weeks so they have a chance to model behavior. So many are adopted out too early.

An early photo of Luz, under one week old.

I will keep Mamacita if she chooses to stay. With my travel schedule, I’ll have to figure out how to keep her and feed her when I’m not in Oaxaca. All suggestions welcome!

Sombra and Luz are spoken for, will go to good homes. So happy about this.

I’d like to urge you to DONATE to the spay/neuter clinic that Merry Foss operates in Teotitlan del Valle. This is tax-deductible and goes a long way to support dogs and cats, especially the females. With this attention, we can help the animals avoid pregnancy and cut, maybe even end, the proliferation of street dogs, a tragedy throughout all of Mexico.

  • Spay/neuter costs about $25 USD per animal
  • Feeding a foster dog costs about $100 USD a bag for 2 months
  • Flea and parasite treatment costs about $20 USD per animal
  • Puppy vaccinations cost $20 per animal
  • No cost for care giving and providing a permanent or foster home!

For me, I took this dog in because of her helplessness, because she is a female, I identified. She has no voice, and there were these two tiny babies depending on her. She could not nurse and hunt for food and water. Not ever having been a dog owner, I learned to give care and compassion to an animal living paw-to-mouth.

Thanks to many of you who have already made a contribution to Merry’s clinic. Thanks in advance to those of you who will.

Donate with PayPal

FYI: Merry has gotten support from Teotitlan del Valle El Presidente Panteleon Ruiz to hold the spay/neuter clinic at his house! This is a major milestone for the village, recognizing the need to control animal reproduction.

Send In The Clowns: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Dance of the Feather Distraction?

Who are these clowns? What purpose do they have in the Conquest of Mexico story? The clowns are an ever-present, necessary part of the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — story that recreates the Moctezuma-Cortez clash that we know as The Conquest of Mexico.

The distracting Clown, with La Malinche in background.

The Dance of the Feather features all the main characters: the Moctezuma (Aztec chieftain), Cortes, the warriors on both sides, the dual personas of La Malinche and Doña Marina …

and, the Two Clowns.

Deep in conversation, the chair dance, on July 8, 2017

Little is written about these clowns. However, I have the good fortune of knowing Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras who lives in San Jeronimo Tlacochuaya, just up the road from me.


Moises is very knowledgeable about Zapotec history. At dinner yesterday, he told me the musical score to the dance probably written in the late 19th or early 20th century, when the oompahpah German music became popular in Mexico. Others attribute it to the French.

Giving water to a thirsty Danzante

The dance is likely rooted in pre-Hispanic ritual and practice, incorporated into village feast days to celebrate the church throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca (Central Valleys) after the Conquest.

Quenching thirst is only one Clown task. Keeping the dance area clean is another.

He also explained the symbology of what the Clowns represent in the story:

What is a Nahual?

“Since the dance represents the Conquest, these clowns or “CAMPOS” represent the sorcerers Aztecs used to spy on the Spanish troops. These sorcerers developed the “Nahual” art, so while they were spying they were able to turn themselves into eagles, coyotes or snakes, and Spanish troops could not see that they were being spied upon. Because of that, their masks are not well-defined. They could pretty much represent any animal. Their function in the Dance now is to entertain, steal kisses, clear the area, help dancers etc.”

The pair of clowns, with the chair dance.

There is a prescribed sequence to the days of the Dance. Each day features a different path of the story line, until the last day, when the conquest is brought to conclusion.

Mindful of Los Danzantes’ needs, a practical task

In the end, as the story goes, Mexico thrives because of her strength in syncretism — the blending of two roots, indigenous and Spanish, the union of Cortes with La Malinche, producing a son named Martin, which defines the beginning of the modern state.

Omnipresent, and critical to the Dance of the Feather

 

 

 

Sudden Event: Street Dog Births Two Pups Behind Casita

This was NOT in the plan. I was going to leave Oaxaca on July 20 unfettered. Wind things up. Pack the bags. Go. Now, there is a Mamacita Perra (female dog) and her two pups camping out in the campo behind the casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle.

Dog house in the campo, tall grass protected them before

I discovered them a week ago, maybe June 29 or 30, when I approached a golden beige mound in the tall grass. I almost stepped on a furry brown ball the size of my fist, maybe four inches in diameter. And, then it moved, ever so slightly. And there was another one, the color of oatmeal, a form barely distinguishable as a living being.

It was then I realized that this dog had just given birth, maybe that day, maybe the day before, secreted behind a young guaje tree, protected from view by grass three feet high (photo above, left of dog house).

Yipes. What was I going to do?

Feed them, of course. The nursing female was bony. I could see her skeleton as she curled up on the earth. Her fur looked like it was going to fall off her body. Her teats sagged and did not look capable of feeding offspring.

Brown puppy, eight or nine days old. Eyes wide shut.

Early on, she would growl lightly as I approached. Now, she knows I won’t hurt her. Today, I patted her head. She is letting me in. I imagine that abandoned dogs feel a lot like abandoned people: wary, on edge, not trusting.

I live in the country, out beyond the village, in the periphery, amidst corn fields, mountain views, wide open spaces, dirt roads, and dogs on the prowl who have been cut loose from their tethers, neck ropes dangling as they run in search of food and shelter.

One of the puppies. The dark brown one is hiding.

Mexico has an abundance of street dogs. Most never get spayed or neutered. People say its a cultural thing, manhood identity. Female pups are usually done away with. No one wants unwanted babies. This is their solution.

Families get their (usually male) dogs as pups, tie them up to a fence post or tree, and feed them once a day. Maybe.

  • Sometimes, they bark too much. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, they growl at the children. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, they get too big and aren’t cute any more. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, they eat too much. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, they take more care than an individual or family can provide. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, they turn out ugly. Cut them loose.
  • Sometimes, owners just tire of the responsibility. Cut them loose.

I could go on.

Few get vaccines. Few are treated for fleas, eye infections, other maladies. They are the discarded and forgotten. And, this is who showed up in my backyard.

My friend Merry Foss has been operating spay/neuter clinics here in the village for two years. She usually takes a handful of dogs once or twice a month, when the owners agree and bring them. Sometimes, this takes some cajoling. It makes a small dent in the bigger problem.

There is a modest charge. Two veterinarians come from Tlacolula to do the procedures. She never has enough money to support the program. Some people can’t pay.

Merry’s veterinarians are making a house call on Monday to check out my wards. When the female is done nursing, I will pay to have her spayed. But, who will take care of this Family of Dogs when I leave in two weeks? Who will oversee the spaying of the female? Who will adopt out the pups to good homes? What will happen to them?

Now, this is something to worry about!

Each morning, I arise and prepare their breakfast before mine. Tortillas, cooked meat and broth. I repeat the ritual before sunset. She inhales the food. She is filling out. The pups are growing.

Mamacita Pera, getting comfortable in dog house

Three days ago, Merry’s friend Kevin brought over a dog house. I lined it with soft cotton bedding and a small rug purchased by my wasband years ago that I figured now belonged in the doghouse.

She (the mother dog) would have nothing to do with it. Yesterday, I put on rubber gloves, and when mom was gone (wherever), I carried the pups and put them inside the house. They are about eight inches long now, eyes still shut tight. She returned, climbed in, and a couple of hours later, all three were outside in the grass again.

But it rained last night, and again today. The weather turned damp and chilly. This morning the Dog Family was warm, dry and secure, happy inside the house.

I haven’t had a dog in forty-five years. My first and only ran out onto a highway and was hit by a car before my eyes. Too painful to go through that again. I’ve never considered myself successful with animals. Too much work. Too much travel. Not enough time. Don’t want the added responsibility. I wasn’t raised with pets. An idea for companionship I consider from time to time, but never act upon.

A Mexican Flag — bandera — red, green, white, nature still life

So, this is something new. And the tragedy is that I won’t be here to participate in the rest of the story. I’m wondering if there is someone out there who would like to step in to help? That means you would need to be here!

Email me: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Would you like to make a contribution to Merry’s Spay and Neuter Clinic? email: merryfoss@hotmail.com 

OR make a gift here and I’ll make sure she gets it. Choose your amount. The amount is the number after the last backslash. Or, create your own amount. PayPal will deduct 5% from the transaction.

www.PayPal.me/oaxacaculture/50

www.PayPal.me/oaxacaculture/30

www.PayPal.me/oaxacaculture/20

www.PayPal.me/oaxacaculture/10

Mary Randall has offered to be a check collection point in the USA. You can mail your check payable to Norma Schafer, to Mary Randall, 4208 Loni Ct, Modesto, Ca. 95356

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Me Photo Study Tour: Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration through the eyes of your camera, with those who lives here? This is a walking study tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more!

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Amateur photographers who have a range of skill, from no experience to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

Teotitlan’s Dance of the Feather: Taking Big Leaps

The Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — is a cultural phenomenon in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — Oaxaca’s central valleys. It’s especially true here in Teotitlan del Valle where the church feast day celebration is perfected to an art form.

Leaps and fancy footwork define Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feathers

If you are in Oaxaca now through the weekend, you will want to come out either today, July 5, or Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9, from 2 until 9 p.m. when the dancers will act out the complex story of the conquest, and the battle between the Aztecs and Spaniards.

I’m told that it’s the indigenous people who always win in this version of the story!

Dancing in front of the Moctezuma, who is flanked by Dona Marina and Malinche

Doña Marina/La Malinche represent the same woman and syncretism of modern Mexico. Yet, this is a personal story about conquest, slavery and how a woman became maligned as part of the cultural history.

Skill, athleticism, concentration for dancing

I’ve attended this annual festival almost yearly since 2006, when cousins and nephews of my host family made their three-year commitment to dance in honor of community, religion and customs. Their last dance was in 2009.

They dance this way for up to 12 hours, with few breaks.

This is the second year for the group that is dancing now. They have one more year, and then the feather headdresses are passed along to the next set of young men. This is not a performance, it is a serious act of commitment.

In the church courtyard with sacred mountain Picacho watching over us.

As I sat and then stood, and then wandered around the periphery, I was reminded how much energy goes into this endeavor. And, how energizing it is to give witness to this tradition that has gone on here for decades, maybe even centuries. The entire pueblo comes out to pay tribute and applause.

La Malinche, represents Cortez’ indigenous slave who becomes Dona Marina, convert

This is a pre-Hispanic tradition that was incorporated, like many others, into the Catholic church saint’s day celebrations. In reality, it is an oral history through dance and mime and music.

All come to watch, the abuelos (grandparents) and ninos (children)

Inside the inner church patio, the canastas (baskets) sit, ready to be stored for another year.  Young girls wearing traditional dress carried them on their heads the night before. The parade through the streets touches every neighborhood.

Canastas, with notations about neighborhood, mayordomo (sponsor), when made

Onlookers take seats under the corridor for shade

On the other side of the church wall, on the streets surrounding the permanent village market, is a different scene. It’s a carnival. Games, rides, food stands, music compete for entertainment.

Juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional life

This experience is mesmerizing for children. It’s like a circus mid-way or a Midwest USA State Fair.

The kids love it, pure fun, cotton candy, fast, fast.

Take a seat. Grab and go tacos al pastor. Win a teddy bear. Oh, yes, the pastries, ice cream and candy are divine.

This is an intricate web of bamboo scaffolding. See the Dancer, top left.

Back inside the church courtyard, the men are setting up the scaffolding and fireworks for the 10:00 p.m. show. It’s called a Castillo or castle.

It’s a complex structure of bamboo with spinning parts, explosives attached!

And the dancing continued until sunset — puesta del sol — when the church bells rang and the dancers set their headdresses down on the brick floor until the next day.

Dusk brings the snack vendors to feed the fireworks watchers

I couldn’t stay up that late! But, I watched from my rooftop in the distance.

 

A mile away, I can see the church and flags, hear the delight

Footnotes of History — Dance of the Feather

About 500 years ago the Spaniards conquered the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.  Many indigenous people died, and it is said that the population was reduced by 90% during the two centuries that followed. From the stories of the battle, this beautiful dance emerged, which is carried out in certain cities in the center of Oaxaca, and is also a part of the Folkloric Festival called Guelaguetza in late July.

Dancers catch their breath, walking in a circle, rattles shaking

LA DANZA DE LA PLUMA, is originally from the town of Cuilapan de Guerrero, a municipality adjacent to the town of Zaachila and the municipality of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan.  The dance is as old as Oaxaca culture and still preserved. The main characters are a Moctezuma, a Malinche and the converted Malinche who became known as Doña Marina, plus the two jesters or mockers.

Women watch relatives from under the corridor

 

Children grab a birds-eye perch to get a better look

Balancing this heavy headdress is not easy!