Tag Archives: Mexico

Scavenger Hunt: NCSU Students Discover Oaxaca

The emphasis of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Study Abroad Program in Oaxaca was on sustainability. How we develop as communities and nations depends upon how we provide for ourselves now and for future generations. These are complex issues that over the course of the 10 days in May 2019 that we were together, we parsed and discussed.

Take photos of 3 agricultural products you do not know, ID their scientific + local names

Professor Ricardo Hernandez, a leading researcher in NCSU’s department of horticultural sciences, led the group of 11 students and involved them in daily discussions, all focused on sustainability, environmental impact, social structures, and innovation using technology.

Jordan, Stephanie and Chloe identify cactus species, Templo Santo Domingo
At Monte Alban, a foundation of history and culture

Since I know the city, I helped develop the Scavenger Hunt for students on their first day. This took them to six sites around the historic center; they traveled by foot in teams of three. At each site they needed to answer questions, take photos, and engage with local people. We provided maps and clues!

Guillermo, Amalie and Dallas find the aqueduct, year it was constructed

Ricardo and I met them three hours later at the Zocalo for dinner at one of the patio restaurants, where they described their experiences, what surprised them and how they felt making their way in an unfamiliar place.

Here is what students said:

  • People are open and welcoming.
  • They take what they have and use it to the fullest.
  • They are resourceful and close to their environment.
  • Artisans make and sell the beauty of their cultural history.
  • It seems that they are recycling everything here. A Gatorade bottle becomes a soap dispenser or planter.
  • Poverty inspires ingenuity: I saw a dog house made from scrap metal.
  • If a culture does not evolve, then it will not survive.
  • People here are close to the earth. This made a big impact on me.
  • Sustainability depends on increased food production.

The next day, after a visit to Monte Alban, and then lunch and a pottery demonstration in Santa Maria Atzompa, they noted that food is sourced locally and is community-based. The family that cooked for them took pride in the preparation and in offering a culinary experience that was a reflection of their cultural heritage.

What’s this? Fruit of the nopal cactus called tuna!

The students ranged in age from 19 to 39, in undergraduate and graduate school. Their hometowns were urban and rural, in Virginia and North Carolina. The father of one student was born and raised in Oaxaca, so this trip was a homecoming for him.

Who was adventurous enough to taste these?

I found them all to be curious, intelligent, thoughtful and respectful — a great testimony to their parents and their educational experiences.

Organic blue corn tortilla and grilled nopal cactus paddle, foundation for healthy eating

We are accepting reservations for 2020 and 2021 university study abroad programs. It takes about a year to plan this program. Please contact us for a proposal. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Mexico City Art History Tour, October 2019

Arrive October 17 and depart October 21, 2019

We have not offered this program since 2017. Now is your chance to register and explore the lives of Frida and Diego through their art. This is a special offering limited to 4 people. You will join a group of 6 already registered. Click on this link and then contact me: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera 2019

North Carolina State University Study Abroad Comes to Oaxaca, Mexico

For the past 10 days, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC (and me!) was host to 11 students and Professor Ricardo Hernandez. They came to study sustainability in developing countries. Dr. Hernandez is a leading international researcher in agricultural greenhouse design in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at NC State University.

With Professor Hernandez at Monte Alban

This is the second time I have worked with him to host a group of visiting students. We developed the program together and I sourced the contacts to meet his needs and made all the arrangements.

A hot chocolate break in the Teotitlan del Valle market, made from scratch
Restored wall, Zapotec temple, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

We were based in Oaxaca City for the first five days of the trip and then flew to the coast of Oaxaca, staying in Puerto Escondido to investigate commercial and small scale farming techniques, hybridization, plant cultivation, natural dyeing and weaving. Temperatures on Oaxaca’s coast this time of year are in the stratosphere. The heat index on some days reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit!

Grace tries her hand at weaving with Omar’s help. Alysia waits her turn.
At Taller Fe y Lola, the NC State University group around the indigo dye pot

Students couldn’t help but learn about the culture of Zapotec and Mixtec people along the way as they studied the milpa planting system, visited mango and peanut farms, and explored the Hierve El Agua canal systems built by Zapotecs centuries before the Spanish arrived.

The NC State Wolfpack Jump, Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden #rocaxaca
Fresh red snapper and shrimp tacos, Puerto Escondido

They ate mole, chapulines, and handmade tortillas. They visited a mezcal palenque and learned about agave cultivars. They dug deep into Oaxaca history with a climb up to Monte Alban, a walk into the depths of Benito Juarez market, and a tour of the Ethnobotanical Gardens.

#packabroad #rocaxaca at Hierve el Agua
Calcium deposits, Hierve el Agua

For one overnight, they experienced traditional village life in Teotitlan del Valle where they met rug weavers, cooks, and market vendors. They compared the daily village market and supermarket shopping at home. They saw the newly restored Zapotec archeological site that serves as the church’s foundation.

Tasting wild and cultivated mezcal at Gracias a Dios, Santiago Matatlan

Some students told me their parents were afraid to let them go to Mexico. Nine were undergraduates and two were master’s level students. All said this was the experience of a lifetime!

Lunch with Reyna Mendoza finishes with nopal fruit sorbet called tuna

Over the next few posts, I’ll be featuring select stories and photos of the NC State University Study Abroad Program journey through Oaxaca. If you are an Instagram user, check out the group posts at #rocaxaca

Puerto Escondido baby Ridley sea turtle release is trip highlight

We can customize study abroad programs for university faculty and students on a range of topics, including agriculture, sustainable development, art, archeology, history, textiles and cuisine. Contact me to explore options. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Climbing rocks in search of endangered murex snails used for purple dye
Fishing boats and NC State group, looking at daily catch
Luis Adan weaves with murex snail dyed cotton, Tututepec Mixe, Oaxaca

UK’s Selvedge Magazine Includes Chiapas Textile Article by Norma Schafer

While I was traveling in Japan this spring, I received an email from Selvedge Magazine editor Laura Gray inviting me to contribute an article to the June 15, 2019 publication. Topic: Anything you want to write about Chiapas textiles, she said.

As I thought about the Maya women in Chiapas villages who weave, the most impact they have on me is how they choose to incorporate the designs of their beliefs and everyday life into the cloth. Cloth has meaning which gives it life and longevity. So, the article is about what these designs mean and their significance to the weavers.

Preview of the article about woven identity in Maya textiles of Chiapas. Gala huipil is woven with naturally dyed wool with supplementary weft technique, Tenejapa, Chiapas

You may have difficulty reading the text of the article I wrote above. I reformatted it from PDF to JPG so I could publish it here. I encourage you to purchase the issue that will be published on June 15, 2019. It contains an compendium of information by other contributors, too, including Marcella Echavarria, Anne Menke and Ana Elena Mallet who live and work in Mexico, collect and study the indigenous textiles woven and embroidered here.

I will be leading a Chiapas Textile Study Tour during winter 2020 with Textile Fiestas of Mexico author Sheri Brautigam. Dates are February 25 to March 4, 2020. There are a few spaces open. Please send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com if you want to join us.

Gala huipil, cotton, San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas
A woman’s signature is figurative, woven into the bottom line of the cloth

Selvedge, Magazine organizing and hosting a World Fair in London, July 2020. I’d like to go and have applied to do a presentation with my goddaughter, Zapotec linguist Janet Chavez Santiago. If accepted, our talk will be about cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation, identity and the politics of indigenous cloth. I’ll keep you posted about whether it will come to pass!

Saying Goodby to a Good Dog: RIP Mamacita

From time-to-time, it happens here in the Oaxaca village I also call home. A good dog dies. Not from natural causes but most usually from poison-laced meat. It is the fastest and easiest way. Others are hit by vehicles or cut loose from tethered ropes when feed becomes too costly, to fend for themselves. Most dogs here are disposable. I do not know how Mamacita was killed or by whom or for what reason. I can only surmise.

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

I was in transit between Durham, NC and Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, when the news came to me via text: Mamacita died and was buried the day before. I needed time to process this. To absorb the shock and sadness. To reflect on the culture I come from that considers animals as pets and trusted friends, who are cared for as well as humans in many cases. How can I make sense of this?

You may remember Mamacita as the dog I rescued and adopted in June 2017 after she dropped two pups in the tall grasses behind my house. She was skin and bones, incapable of providing sustenance. I am reminded that without my intervention, she would have likely died. Caregiver friends came to housesit and feed Mamacita in intervening times when I was gone. They took her to get spayed, along with Tia and Butch, who also came along and formed an extended family. I am eternally grateful to them. I’ve written to each and they know what happened.

Tia and Mamacita, always happy to walk with me

Could it be that Mamacita was killed because she was unjustly targeted as one of many marauding dogs, starving, homeless and roaming the fields in search of a domesticated chicken or turkey? Campesinos can live a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth life. Poultry is food and an important source of income. There are a multitude of campo dogs; they reproduce because they haven’t been spayed or neutered, and are out of control.

TinType Photo of Mamacita in the campo, Tia in the distance

Was it a random act? Two other dogs were found dead that day on the same country road, I was told later. Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is this inevitable? Are all dogs here disposable? What about my two dogs? Some here, though not enough, are sympathetic to the life of dogs. Maltreatment is not universal.

Mamacita at the presa, spring 2019

Mamacita was first and foremost a campo dog, bred in the wild. I adopted her but could not contain her in a gated patio. She lived a life of freedom, sleeping during the day, running with the pack at night. Sylvia reminds me that while she was nursing, Mamacita would disappear for hours. She came home for meals and belly rubs. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up. I worried, but I was confident she would return.

Mamacita in foreground, Butch, then Tia.

We are heaving deep sighs, me and the two dogs. They now sleep on the patio, closer to me. They sense the loss. Their bond was primal.

Mamacita (left) and Butch on our afternoon walk

I will miss her circle dance on the patio in anticipation of her meal bowl. I will miss her nuzzle and her companionship on evening trail walks. I trained her to sit and wait for treats. She wore a collar. She looked well-fed and cared for. She took to everyone who gave her a pat. She was spayed. All signs that she belonged to someone. Why did this happen? Answers escape me.

This is yet another reminder that to live here requires me to suspend judgment. To understand. To puzzle out how something like this can happen to a sweet dog that was an integral part of my life. Suspending judgment is a practice. I cannot overlay my own values on an 8,000 year old culture. They have survived this long for a reason. Sometimes cruelty and heartlessness figure into that. This is human nature everywhere, no?

Our daily walk in the campo. Butch at my side, Mamacita out front, Tia leading.

This is, I am coming to understand, another perfect lesson in cultural competency. Es la vida, it’s life, is a common saying here. Things just happen. There isn’t always a reason. It is not for me to ascribe fault or blame, only to accept what is. I have learned that it is not my role to change anything, to make it better in terms of my own acculturation and values.

It is so quiet here. The absence of ONE is noticeable. The other two are sleeping on the patio. We all move with a heaviness, the two dogs Tia and Butch, and this human. Today it will be 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here’s to Mamacita. May she rest in peace.

In the dog house, Mamacita, summer 2017