Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

On Becoming a Permanent Resident in Mexico

Last month I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book about ex-pat women from the USA who have chosen to make a life in Mexico. Tell your story, the editor said. Write about your experience. What was your reason for leaving our land of the free, home of the brave (my tongue and cheek terminology)?

I dug deep. Went back to the story about how I met the Chavez Santiago family thirteen years ago in Teotitlan del Valle and fell in love: with them, with Oaxaca, with Teotitlan del Valle, with the rug weaving culture, with Zapotec life and values, with the climate, archeology, history, artisanry and art.

Monte Alban, Zapotec archeological site, Oaxaca, Mexico

But, I always did, and still do, consider The United States of America my country, where I am vested and invested in language, culture, and especially social justice and political issues.

And, I am now spending most of the year at home in Teotitlan del Valle, with occasional, short stays at my apartment in Durham, North Carolina.

So, I went deep into that question about how did I get to Mexico, and more importantly, why I make it home, am comfortable and love it there. I will save this for when the book is published and you can read it for yourself.

Glyphs at Monte Alban Museum

(As a consequence, I wrote a blog post about the difference in terms: immigrant and ex-pat.)

By writing about this I realized that it is time to declare my commitment to Mexico by applying for a permanent resident visa. It was about time, I told myself. I have been living permanently in Oaxaca for many years but functioning as a visitor, leaving the country and returning. I wrote the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh, NC, and scheduled an interview to make application.

(I confess, too, that the Supreme Court Justice nomination and hearings helped me make this choice, too.)

My application was approved and within two hours I received the official visa in my passport. I knew I had done the right thing after taking a pulse on why I was grinning ear to ear!

Flags for sale in Tlacolula, a size for everyone.

This means I will have 30 days after returning to Oaxaca to present this credential at the immigration office to get the ultimate, official identity card. Permanent means I no longer have to leave the country at the end of 30, 60 or 180 days. It means I can get a bank account and a credit card and own a car, get discounts and free admissions to museums, bus rides, and what else tangible I do not know. But, the intangible is that I belong in Mexico, too, and that feels good.

While I was at the consulate, I met Cecelia Barros, who heads up cultural affairs for the consulate in North and South Carolina. We talked about ways to bring attention to the talent, creativity, rich history and culture of Mexican people to this part of the USA. Our mutual goal: to overcome and disable the stereotypes and shiboleths that so many hold about Mexico and Mexican immigrants.

Chinas Oaxaqueñas at El Tule Guelaguetza 2018

I invited her to Omar’s presentation at Meredith College, and we are cooking up some ideas together about ways to develop educational programs that would offer greater cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. I’m excited about that.

My experience at the Mexican Consulate was positive and supportive, and did not mirror that of my Mexican friends and family who go to the US Embassy in Mexico City and are treated perfunctorily, with disdain and most often with denial.

Before I leave to return to Mexico on November 8, I will vote.

Gathering in the church patio, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

 

Day of the Dead 2019 Women’s Writing Retreat: How Memory Inspires Us

Arrive Wednesday, October 30 and leave Monday, November 4, 2019. The retreat can accommodate up to 10 women. You have a year to plan!

We gather for Day of the Dead 2019 in the traditional Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico to write with intention for five nights and four days. Day of the Dead inspires us to revisit our memories of people and places, to go deep and then deeper, and to write in whatever genre speaks to us: memoir, journaling, fiction, personal essay, creative nonfiction, and poetry.

New and seasoned writers are welcome. Come to kindle and rekindle the writer’s life.

Cost is $1,095 per person for a shared room, and $1,395 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.

During this time, Oaxaca honors her ancestors: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, young ones lost to tragedy. Loss surrounds us: loss of time, loss of relationships, loss of self and identity, loss of a loved one or someone with whom closure was incomplete.

Day of the Dead Altar

It is also a celebration of life, the continuum, the link between the generations before and the world we inhabit. During the workshop we discuss Day of the Dead symbols, meaning and concepts, comparing Mexican beliefs with those from our own cultures to spark memory and creativity. Perhaps we explore this in writing or use it as a device to trigger imagination.

Day of the Dead offers each of us an opportunity to explore the tenor of life, and the meaning of life and death, transition, passage, and relationships. Memory is powerful. Recall gives us permission to exhume and revisit, to sit with what is at the surface or buried deep within, to see beyond the mask. Writing gives outlet to self-expression whether your goal is to publish or not.

Day of the Dead, handmade tin, folds to 10-1/4×6-1/2″. For Sale, $95 + $8 mailing

Teotitlan del Valle is our base. It is an ancient weaving village about thirty minutes beyond the hubbub of the city where Day of the Dead rituals are practiced much as they were hundreds of years ago.

During our time together, we will integrate our writing practice with visits to San Pablo Villa de Mitla cemetery and a home altar on the morning of November 1 with a local weaver friend. Then, on the evening of November 2 we will go with a local family to the Teotitlan del Valle cemetery to guide the difuntos back to their resting places.

Calavera Artist, hand-painted, 8-1/2″ high x 3″ wide. For Sale, $85 + $8 mailing

Want to buy Muertos decor? Send an email.

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.

Roses on the writing table with journal notes

Planned Itinerary: 2019

  • Wednesday, October 30: Arrive and check-in to our retreat space. Group dinner. Introductions.
  • Thursday, October 31: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities, group dinner, coaching session
  • Friday, November 1:  Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, visit to Mitla cemetery and home altar, independent writing, lunch,                afternoon workshop, group dinner, coaching session
  • Saturday, November 2:  Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, visit to Teotitlan del Valle cemetery, dinner on your own
  • Sunday, November 3:  Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional                    activities, group reading and celebration dinner
  • Monday, November 4:  Breakfast and depart

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. We can arrange transportation for you to/from the airport and to/from the city at your own expense.

What is included?

  • Complete instruction with four workshop sessions
  • 4 dinners
  • 5 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 5 nights lodging
  • transportation to Mitla cemetery and altar
  • daily gentle yoga (optional)
  • mini-seminars on writing topics
  • one coaching session

Please bring a photo of a loved one. We will build a group altar, too.


Meet Robin Greene, Writer-Editor-Professor

http://www.robingreene-writer.com/artist-statement/

We are pleased that Robin Greene is returning to lead this intensive writer’s retreat. This will be her eighth 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 forthcoming from Light Messages Publishing in spring 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.

Additionally, Robin is a registered yoga teacher (RYT200), cofounder and editor of Longleaf Press, and cofounder of Sandhills Dharma Group, a Buddhist meditation group. 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.

Day of the Dead, Some Links to Culture and Traditions

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 $1,095 per person for a shared room, and $1,395 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 a PayPal invoice to secure your space.

Reservations and Cancellations:  We accept payment with PayPal. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 15, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before September 15, 2018 via email, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/$50,000 emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 30 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 30 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!

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, and VivaAerobus. Check Skyscanner for schedules and fares before you book.  Note: I always book directly with the carrier for better customer service.

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 30 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time from Oaxaca. We can arrange a Teotitlan del Valle taxi driver to pick you up from the airport or in the city to bring you to the retreat.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Day of Clay, Video and National Ceramics School, San Marcos Tlapazola

My father was a potter so I have a special affinity for clay. My kitchen in Teotitlan del Valle holds an assortment of San Marcos Tlapazola barro rojo from for cooking. Shelves are stacked with elegant, simple red clay dishes and bowls from which to dine. I love this clay and the women who make it. The village is up the road from where I live.

For centuries, since pre-Hispanic times, San Marcos women have made clay cooking and eating vessels, forming the shapes by hand after digging (a man’s job) and mixing the clay. They constructed outdoor wood fires to “cook” the low-fire ware, all the while breathing in the fumes.


Recently the cooperative built a smokeless kiln designed by Japanese engineer Yusuke Suzuki.  Maestra Macrina Mateo Martinez and 16 families in the cooperative, Mujeres de Barro Rojo, can now produce higher temperature ceramics, more pieces at once, and have better quality respiratory health. This was possible through help from Fundacion Kasuga, Tajin, Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu, and Andares del Arte Popular FAHHO.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

They started the non-profit Escuela Nacional de Ceramica (National Ceramics School), to teach others how to build and use the same type of kiln, and celebrate Global Day of Clay with the release of this video.

Mujeres del Barro Rojo, San Marcos Tlapazola

In addition to the women, the video features my godson Eric Chavez Santiago, general manager of Andares del Arte Popular gallery where the ceramics are sold.

While the video is in Spanish, the visuals tell the story. Here is a brief English explanation that goes with the Facebook video narrative:

Today, we join to the celebration of the Global Day of Clay #GlobalDayOfClay we’d like to recognize the work, the passion, ability and interest of all the artisans in our country that make clay a way of life; that every day make an effort to preserve their traditions, maintain the quality of their craft and pass their knowledge, for the new generations to continue this path.

México, concerning clay, is rich in raw materials as techniques and designs that date prehispanic ages.

Today we release this video, a work done by the great editor Martha Úc and part of her talented video recording team conformed by Mercy Portillo and Claudia Pasos. This video is the result of the training that took place last July in San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca with the group “red clay women” and artisans of other pottery entities of the state, to build a “smokeless wood kiln”. This video shows the riches of the clay traditions in the country as the strength of our women.

Ringing the Bells: San Miguel Arcangel Church, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca

San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, calls to me. Perhaps because it is hidden — escondido — beyond Santa Ana del Valle and Diaz Ordaz, tucked into the fold of the foothills leading to the Sierra Juarez on the way to the eco-tourism center of Cuajilomoyas.

Stepping up into the church patio

Illuminated Saint Michael on the altar

There are dazzling, artful aprons there that talented women embroider with birds, flowers, animals, and plants in a cascade of color. Wearable art! It is all from their imagination. There is no design that shows up twice. You can find them from this distinctive dress each Sunday at the Tlacolula Market, a 15-minute trip from the village.

Welcome to San Miguel Arcangel

Merry modeling an artful apron

I went back last week with my young friend Lupita. She rarely leaves Teotitlan del Valle and its a big world out there along the Pan American Highway MEX 190. We were lucky. When we arrived, the gates to the church patio were open to me for the first time. This was my fourth visit in recent weeks.

Watch the video!

Inside, I said hello to the man who was doing his church volunteer service. I asked him if we could step up to the altar and then enter an anteroom where there were reliquaries and antique treasures from centuries past. He welcomed us. Invited us in, told us to take our time.

Antonio Miguel invites into the anteroom for a look around

Ancient frescoes were painted on lime plastered walls. Deeply carved wood embellished Zegache-style mirrors. A broken clay figure perched under a gilded miniature pergola. Priestly robes hung in a glass case. It was a feeling of old, mystical, medieval. Without restoration, the space felt even more sacred.

Hand painted frescoes of saints adorn walls

Clay figure perched under gilded pergola

I explained to Lupita that it was her people, the Zapotecs, who were conscripted to become stone masons, wood carvers and painters, doing the labor to decorate these buildings of the new religion after the conquest. This was like being inside a fortress, sturdy, solid, everlasting.

Frame of the antique organ

Ascending through the turret, a rest stop for a view

Antonio asked if we wanted to see the antique organ from the same era as the one in Tlacochahuaya. We would have to climb the narrow winding stairs up the turret to the second floor. He went first. The organ was a wood frame with no musical parts. It must have been splendid once.

From the organ balcony, looking into the sanctuary

Lupita makes her way down steep stone steps. I follow her.

He kept looking at his watch. I have to go ring the bells, he said. It’s noon. So we scaled another round of steps to the top of the bell tower, greeted with spectacular views.

Rope bell is suspended with twisted cowhide

Zapotec symbols decorate church support beams

Antonio rang the bells announcing to the entire village it was twelve o’clock. Then he gave me an interview. He lived in Pomona, California, working as a landscaper for 10 years. He is happy to be home in his village!

An inscription, from 1560?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere, the patron saint of Mexico

 

 

Podcast: Tixinda Dreamweavers Plus Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Listen to the WEAVE Podcast from Gist Yarn & Fiber

Today, Sarah Resnick from Gist Yarn & Fiber, talks with Patrice Perillie, an immigration attorney based in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Mixtec weaver Amada Sanchez Cruz from Pinotepa de Don Luis.  She also interviews Norma Schafer at the end of the segment.

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Patrice started the non-profit Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative twelve years ago. Her goal was to keep very talented artisans in Mexico instead of migrating to the USA where jobs are limited to cleaning houses and washing dishes in restaurants.

Listen to their story — a 26-minute investment of your time

Tixinda Dreamweavers ethically harvests the endangered sea snail that gives the rare purple dye. The group grows pre-Hispanic native cotton. They use the malacate — drop spindle — to make the thread. They weave extraordinary clothing using the back-strap loom.

Weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis, with cochineal

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator sponsored this Podcast. At the end of the segment, I talk about why we take textile lovers to the Coast of Oaxaca to explore the weaving, natural dyeing and hand-spinning culture.

Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado

Pinotepa de Don Luis is one of five villages we will visit on our January 11-21, 2019 textile study tour on the Oaxaca coast. For our Grand Finale, we attend the Tixinda Dreamweavers Exposition and Sale. A noted cultural anthropologist will travel with us. We go deep into the textile culture of the region. You meet extraordinary artisans where they live and create.

4 Spaces Open: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Women of the Ji Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado