Tag Archives: North Carolina

NCSU in Oaxaca: Saving Sea Turtles

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. It’s Pacific coast is rugged, rocky, with swirling turquoise water, warmed by ocean currents. Our group from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science has been based in Puerto Escondido, a favorite spot for world-class surfing, too.

NCSU students take part in sea turtle release

This is a global sea-turtle nesting area, among the top five in the world. Preservation efforts to protect the eggs are a priority by volunteers and wildlife preservation group.  Several species have been on the brink of extinction.

Amanda and Ricky’s expressions of delight, fascination say it all

Harvesting sea turtle eggs has been banned by the Mexican government since the early 1990’s, but ancient cultural traditions are powerful. Coastal indigenous communities have depended on turtles and turtle eggs for food long before the conquest. It is difficult to change ingrained habits.

Green sea turtles, just born, ready to go to the ocean

Poachers still roam the beaches in the midnight hours to find nesting sites and steal eggs.

Sunset illumination on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast

One of the most incredible experiences of this journey with students and faculty was to take part in a baby turtle release on the coast just north of Puerto Escondido. We arranged this through our wonderful hosts at Hotel Santa Fe.

John couldn’t be happier — he’s about to release a baby turtle

The gender of a sea turtle depends on the warmth of the sand and where the eggs are laid in the nest. Climate change has a huge impact on future populations and reproduction.

Students hear environmental protection practices from volunteer

I remember visiting the coast village of San Mateo del Mar in 2008 to meet the Palafox family weavers. Located on the coast, surrounded by lagoons, the fishermen of the village depended on sea turtles for food.

Nearby luxury beach homes at water’s edge

A huge pile of turtle eggs graced the center of the dining table at the lunch prepared for us. I couldn’t eat, and I know it was rude to pass the bowl without taking one.

Watching the turtles move toward the sea — fascinating

This week, there were faces filled with delight as each student scooped up a tiny baby turtle with a coconut shell bowl to carry it from the nest to the edge of the sand, where it would make its way into the ocean.

Wolfpack tribute on the beach near Puerto Escondido

The group left Oaxaca yesterday. They are an amazing set of young people, smart, curious, sensitive and courteous — a tribute to North Carolina State University. I am impressed by their intelligence and caring, and I will miss them.

It was a privilege to work with the faculty at NCSU to develop this program.

A big, brilliant Oaxaca sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Our donations to participate in this activity help to fund the on-going preservations efforts of the sea turtles along Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

Baby turtle before release

Volunteers patrol stretches of beach throughout the night. If a volunteer encounters a poacher who finds a nest before s/he does, the volunteer can offer money or most likely backs away to avoid confrontation.

Another view, sea turtle release

 

 

Poco a Poco: Unpacking Oaxaca in North Carolina

My first week here was busy. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and are crowned champions. I managed to stay up until midnight to watch it all and celebrate.

North Carolina living space with Oaxaca treasures.

The NCAA, in its infinite ignorance, announced it would lift the sanctions and bring sports tourneys back to NC since the state legislature amended the anti-transgender bathroom law (a sham piece of legislation that still violates civil rights).

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo alebrije now tops my bookcase.

And, I’m unpacking and settling in. A work in progress. One of the greatest pleasures of being here is rediscovering and becoming acquainted with my Oaxaca folk art collection that I haven’t lived with for four years.

I thought I had downsized to the bare bones when I dismantled my household back then, keeping only what would fit into a five foot by fifteen foot storage unit. But, my goodness, there are many more filled boxes in the upstairs loft space to unload. But, there’s no rush.

I’ll be here until mid-May. And, perhaps a folk art sale is in the offing!

Old brick tobacco warehouse walls in urban Durham condo

My new space is in an old tobacco warehouse listed on the National Historic Register. Ceilings are twenty feet high. One wall is old brick. The floor is beat-up maple, solid, showing almost one hundred years of wear. I’m downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

In the morning and again at night, there is the sound of the engine whistle as the train moves between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Cars on the street below are muffled reminders of city life.  From the top floor, I look out on tree tops.

Galley kitchen.  Alfredo Hernandez Orozco cloth/copper lampshades

This is a juxtaposition to living in the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca countryside, beneath the mountains where my rooftop terrace commands a 360-degree view of the Tlacolula valley. It is not quiet there either, but the sounds are different.

Arturo Hernandez, Mitla, Oaxaca, wove the bed spread, Chiapas pillows

I hear donkeys, goats and turkey. I hear the SONI Gas truck announcing its arrival via loudspeaker. The tortilla vendor sings in the distance. The church bell announces a wedding or funeral. Then, all goes quiet, and there is nothing to capture my attention but my own imagination.

Cozy corners, lots of light, another retreat

Here in Durham, the lulls are less frequent. I am embraced by long-time friends. The circle of life expands so that I have the pleasure of enjoying both spaces, different and comfortable. I am no longer an ex-pat but a seasonal bird.

On Monday, I managed to host twelve of us for a Passover seder, including four wiggly little boys who loved jumping on the hardwood floors and climbing the loft stairwell. Our three core families have known each other for forty years and now we get to “enjoy” the grandkids. My poor neighbors!

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you from? Where are you going? Oaxaca, Mexico. Durham, North Carolina.

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina. On the early morning flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City, I met Carina Pacheco from San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca. She was on her way to Cabo San Lucas where the family has a shop that sells famous Mitla woven cotton textiles.

Where are you from? she asks me. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I say with some pride in my voice. And, now I’m sure to add, Durham, North Carolina, too, also with equal pride. Durham will be my new home, too. Carina and I promise to stay in contact. I’m certain we will. Oaxaqueños keep their promises. Plus, we live only a few villages apart down the Panamerican Highway.

Weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca: “I made your clothes.”

In Houston, a young man named Stefano helps me load my two giant suitcases (I’m moving, after all) onto a trolley to go through customs. Stefano is from Puebla. His great, great-grandfather came from Italy. He lives in a small town near Cholula, Puebla, populated by Italians, and speaks excellent English.

Mexico is a melting pot, filled with immigrants: Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, Germany, France, Philippines, China, and yes, the USA. They are Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and more. A long history of diversity shows in their complexions and features. Racial and cultural intermarriage is accepted here.

Where are you from? says Stefano. Two places, I answer. Oaxaca, Mexico and Durham, North Carolina. It’s beginning to sound real as I prepare to move into my apartment/condo in downtown Durham, which is why I’m here now. We sit down to share a meal together before he goes on to Tampa, Florida. This only happens to me with Mexicans!

Durham is an old tobacco town undergoing urban revitalization. Its downtown is filled with great restaurants and street musicians who are steeped in the South’s blues culture. It’s a pedestrian lifestyle. I’ll be close to good, longtime friends who I miss.

Downtown Durham, NC — where I live now, too

I’m also here in a Blue Bubble, where I can make a difference by participating in the NAACP and changing the course of my state’s and country’s political history. Ojala! (That’s Spanish for, god willing.)

It’s been four years since I’ve had a home in North Carolina and I’m grateful to be back. Oaxaca is my home, too, where indigenous identity speaks to me. This is where I look out over mountains and valleys where textiles woven and dyed with the hands of the artisans are a song.

And, what are in my suitcases? Oaxaca whole bean coffee. A cotton bedspread woven by Arturo Hernandez. A rebozo from Tenancingo de Degollado. A blouse from Cuetzalan, Puebla. A poncho from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Borders are seamless in the end.

Yet, an airline representative steps onto the plane in Houston and says that due to heightened security, we will be escorted to immigration. I don’t remember that. Another new form of intimidation?

 

 

 

 

For All the Bad Hombres and Nasty Women: An Essay on Voting

Yesterday was opening day for early voting in North Carolina, where I live when I’m not in Oaxaca. The top priority for being here now was to change my voter registration to my new legal name of Norma Lee Schafer and to vote in this presidential election. I drove to Graham, North Carolina, the Alamance County seat of government, stood in line and cast my ballot. Done.

But not really. The politics of anger, bitterness, biting and back-biting, hurled insults and what it means to live in a democracy where voting is a right, a privilege and a responsibility are taking its toll on me. It was a sleepless night for me on October 20 as I reviewed the October 19 “debate” and its aftermath, what it means to have a clean election that is not rigged.

Vote Protector Volunteer. I see this as reassurance.

Vote Protector Volunteer. I see this as reassurance.

So, this is what is prompting me to write this essay about voting, elections, and the tone of discourse in the USA. To say I am disturbed is to minimize what is happening in our country. I know many of you join me.

To disrespect the electorate and the electoral process by a major party candidate who says he will not accept the election outcome unless he wins brings our democracy to a level I have never seen in my lifetime. Political analysts say it is without precedent.

Tell the African-Americans and Latinos in line with me at the Youth Services Building set up by the Alamance County Board of Elections that this is a rigged election. Tell all the traditional country born and bred southerners with teased blond hair or baseball caps standing with me in the hot afternoon sun that their vote is discounted unless a certain candidate wins.

Standing in line waiting to vote this year meant even more to me than usual. I feel proud to participate in a several hundred year process that is safe, respectful, honest and peaceful. Standing in line, I’m reminded that not many countries in the world offer this to their citizens.  I am reminded that many don’t vote in Mexico because they believe the elections are pre-determined.

I take this voting responsibility seriously. Especially this year when so much is at stake.

As I waited in line that continued to grow as the afternoon lengthened, neighbors and strangers exchanged greetings, smiled, held on to hands of children, tipped their hats for shade. I have no idea whether the kindly man behind me was Democrat or Republican and I didn’t ask as he helped me take off my jacket to use as a sun shield. We stood patiently, waiting our turn. Election officials told me they would not close the doors. Everyone in line at 5 p.m., however long it was, would vote.

In line, I felt this sense of urgency, of significance, of something extremely important happening in a small, rural North Carolina county seat.  I felt what I was about to do was important, very important for the future of this country and the world. I thought about poll taxes and voting rights, and the struggles for equality, legal and social, that each of us deserves. I thought about women’s right to vote and to choose, about borders and walls, about haves and have-nots.

I’m angry as I watch the national drama continue to unfold, unravel, and discharge the next epithet: Bad Hombres and Nasty Women. Political theatre has become the Theatre of the Absurd, and I wish for something better, more redemptive, something that will heal our differences and take us forward together.

And, I’m afraid of a post-election aftermath where we now tolerate personal attacks that turn from verbal to violent, led by a candidate who will not accept a process in which he has failed.

But, mostly, I urge all to vote, to make your voice heard through your ballot as we continue this important tradition of peaceful transfer of power, a tradition that makes democracy work and prevents anarchy.

From One Nasty Woman, Norma

 

 

 

Making Mexico Color Photos into B&W: Chapel Hill Camera Club

Last night the Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Camera Club held a free workshop using Silver Efex  Pro2 taught by Mark Lipton. It was fun to select a few of my color photos and work with the (free) Google program that then becomes an editing option in Lightroom.

smile

I want to share these with you.

Ocotlan Market Woman, 2013

Ocotlan Market Woman, 2013

Mark first recommended that we watch the video Seeing in Black and White by Eileen Rafferty. It’s almost two hours long, but well worth it to understand that color can be a huge distraction from seeing the texture, composition and artistic quality of a photograph.

Tlacolula market scene. 2015. Color.

White sombrero. Tlacolula market scene.

Color evokes emotion. Our eye goes directly to the intense red, blue, orange or green and fools us into thinking that a photograph may be better than it really is.

White sombrero. Tlacolula market, post-processing with Silver Efex

White sombrero. Tlacolula market, post-processing with Silver Efex

Mark says that with B&W photography we can see the layout, the diagonals, the triangles, the textures. But, there are times when color has much more of an impact than black and white, is more effective. It’s up to us to decide!

Bird cage, Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla

Bird cage, Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla

The questions to ask are: Can a black and white photo serve me more artistically? Can an unremarkable color photo have greater impact as a B&W image? Does this image need/want a sense of history or timelessness — enough to choose B&W over color? Does it offer an aspect of artistic abstraction in shape and structure?

Bird cage. Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. Silver Efex post-processing

Bird cage. Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. Silver Efex post-processing

Color is information. The stronger the color image, the more the brain loses the detail of texture and shadow.

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico

In using B&W and to convert from color to B&W, we have to begin to think in hues and tones. Is there enough tonal differentiation in the photograph or will greens, reds, blues just blend into the same shade of grey when it’s converted?  Is there enough contrast? Which filters do I want to use? What b&w film and speed do I want to simulate?

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico. Post-processing with Silver Efex

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico. Post-processing with Silver Efex

Photographers must be aware of light, dark, shadow. There is no saturation in B&W photography. There is glow. Using the sliders in Silver Efex can enhance the glow, says Mark, but we must be aware of keeping a photo natural.

Compare these photos I’ve worked with today and let me know which you prefer — the color or B&W version? Why?

I’m just learning Silver Efex so experimenting with the post-processing software is more about getting a feel for what it can do.