2017 Day of the Dead Study Tour, Small Village Rituals and Traditions

The small villages in the Tlacolula Valley outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, are rich in culture and tradition. Perhaps nothing is more sacred here than the Day of the Dead celebrations. This ancient pre-Hispanic ritual to honor ancestors is thousands of years old, as are the indigenous Mexican people who observe it.

Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages.

Out here in the countryside, observances are elemental. They rarely feature glitzy parades, masquerades, endless firecrackers and Ranchera music that now defines the experience of city celebrations. That’s not to say, don’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City. It is to say, give yourself the added experience of participating in a more contemplative introduction to Oaxaca village practices beyond the city.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead Study Tour: 5 days, November 1-5, 2017

I’m inviting you to come along with me to personally explore the small towns off the Panamerican Highway, where we will meet local families, join them in meals, pay tribute at their altars, welcome the spirits of the dead (difuntos) back to earth, accompany them to the cemeteries where difuntos return to their resting places. We sit with them at the graveside to ease their return.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

Here, off the beaten path, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.

For several years now, I’ve thought about bringing a group together to discuss the cultural rituals of life and death, differences and similarities. How do we integrate and observe death, dying, grief, mourning and the celebration of life in our own traditions?

La Catrina, making a mockery of death

How do we understand the practices here in Mexico? What can we learn from this mystical and spiritual culture? What are our shared and divergent experiences? On reflection, how will this Day of the Dead study tour alter our own feelings about death and loss?

So, this will be a small group experience of no more than 10 people. We want to have a very low impact in homes and cemeteries where we visit. You are invited to bring your journals, notebooks, cameras, iPhones, sketchpads, or anything else you need to document this personal experience.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

I will invite resource experts to accompany us on our journey to help guide the conversation, and give you historical and cultural perspectives.

There will be some pre-workshop readings that I will send to you to prepare for the trip and the conversations we will have along the way.

Itinerary, Day of the Dead Study Tour: Rituals and Traditions

  • Wednesday, November 1: Visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla and San Juan Guelavia (Arrive to Teotitlan del Valle on your own by 9:00 a.m. We will designate a meeting place.)
  • Thursday, November 2: Visit a local market, then Tlacochuaya de Morelos and Teotitlan del Valle
  • Friday, November 3: Meet the artisans who bake bread, make beeswax candles, prepare tamales
  • Saturday, November 4: Participate in a cooking class that features ritual foods with a mezcal tasting
  • November 5: Depart on your own to Oaxaca any time after breakfast

What the Study Tour Includes:

  • 4 nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle at a local guesthouse, starting November 1
  • 4 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 4 dinners
  • Cooking class and mezcal tasting
  • All daily transportation from Teotitlan del Valle to the villages
  • Bread and chocolate to present at family altars
  • Honoraria to village hosts, artisans, invited speakers and resource experts
  • Packet of materials to prepare you for the study tour (via email)

Cost: $1,195. per person for double occupancy, shared room and bath. $1,495. per person single occupancy, private room and bath.

At the Mitla cemetery, Arturo Hernandez decorates his mother’s grave

The study tour does not include airfare to Mexico, round-trip taxi from Oaxaca city to Teotitlan del Valle, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, snacks, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

How to Register? Send me an email. 

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After the 45-day cut-off date, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Marigold flowers, the difuntos follow the scent

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!

 

 

No Alternative Facts. Send Paul Ryan a Message: Postcards From Oaxaca

I never intended this as a political blog. Far from it. It’s about art, culture, history centered in Oaxaca, Mexico. But, these are unusual times. After the Saturday march here on January 21, that some say 2,000 people attended, I don’t want to sit back. I want to keep the momentum going, as do so many of you, wherever you are. But, I’m in Oaxaca so this is about Oaxaca!

A simple homemade postcard sends a powerful message.

What Can We Do? Open the Floodgates!

I’m asking Oaxaca Expats and all people of civility to join with us to write Paul Ryan a postcard (address below). Tweet Paul Ryan at @SpeakerRyan (thanks, Mary Stellatello). Seems phone lines into his office are clogged. So, let’s find an #alternatepath for our voices to be heard. The messages are simple.  Use these or create your own:

  • Keep the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA)
  • Don’t tamper with Medicare — no privatization
  • Fund Planned Parenthood
  • Respect differences — do not legislate sexual choice
  • Keep our civil and human rights secure
  • Protect our environment, save our planet
  • Build community, not walls
  • Speak out against HR193 that repeals USA participation in the United Nations.

Here is my Facebook message today:

OK, #pussyhatnation There is no PAUSE. #noalternativefacts (notice the ALT). Only today counts. Today is #justthebeginning.

Since Paul Ryan has blocked his office phones and fax numbers, and is turning away people who show up to deliver petitions, time to change tactics.

Please mail post cards to his home address saying NO to defunding Planned Parenthood, NO to repealing the ACA, and NO to privatizing Medicare! (OR NO TO ANY CONGRESSIONAL ACTION YOU DISAGREE WITH)

PAUL RYAN
700 ST. LAWRENCE AVE.
Janesville, WI 53545

Twitter: @SpeakerRyan

Call to take the survey to #keeptheACA Please participate in Paul Ryan’s survey on the ACA (Obamacare). (202) 225-3031 (option 2), listen all the way to the end, and then press a number if you support the ACA and another if you do not. It takes a couple minutes. You can even leave him a message.

Simple words send loud and clear message to Congress

Roberta Christie and Norma Schafer (me) are collecting postcards addressed to Paul Ryan from Oaxaca expats. We will get them mailed to the USA. Contact us to make arrangements for postcard delivery/collection.

#keepthemomentumgoing #justthebeginning #NMP

You are our elected officials and serve all of us!

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.

 

2017 Feria del Carrizo: Oaxaca’s Handwoven River Reed Basket Fair

Join the celebration in San Juan Guelavia

It’s that time of year again, the end of January and early February, when the river reed weavers of San Juan Guelavia hold their annual fair. The event, now in its sixth year, is more than a show and sale of great baskets.

January 29-February 5, 2017

It’s a food fest beyond imagination! You’ll find lots of tamales, chicken mole, goat barbecue, beer, artisanal mezcal, cookies and cakes there, too, to eat and enjoy. Everything is home made! Safe and clean to eat.

Need a guide? Use Sheri Brautigam’s Textile Fiestas of Mexico to take you there! I introduced Sheri to the Feria last year and she made it a chapter with photos.

Here is the weekly line-up.

Event Program, Feria del Carrizo, San Juan Guelavia

Past Oaxaca Cultural Navigator posts about the Feria del Carrizo. Delve into discussion and photos of baskets, people, food, culture, history.