Perhaps it’s the beginning of the rainy season. It has been unseasonably hot here in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley. The temperatures are upward of 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Blessings for rain these last two days to cool us down. The afternoons are now unreliably hot for walking far, if at all. Thermal heat builds up then and the skies open with a downpour, if we are lucky. I am want to sit under the covered part of my patio, Butch and Tia nearby, looking skyward. It’s a week since Mamacita died.
My habits are changing. Today, I woke up and got out early (for me), by 7:15 a.m. to walk into the campo while it was still cool, a mild 61 degrees. The sun was barely rising over the mountain range, diffused by cloud cover. It will heat up again today. The fresh air was good for me and the remaining two dogs. Mamacita’s absence is palpable. It was as if her spirit was following us along the trail.
One step at a time, I remind myself. No stumbling over loose rocks. No looking out into the distance at the next marker. No pretending that there are three dogs here along with me instead of two. Be in this moment and savor all that is good. Mourn the loss. Take one step at a time. Remember. Don’t blame. Keep your footing.
We covered the boundary trail that marks the nearby villages San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, walking to the third stone marker that designates the territorial divide. Back and forth, about three miles. I took a 10-minute meditation rest at the entrance to a box canyon where the trail crosses a dry creek. The land is porous, rocky, cactus-strewn, high desert. Sometimes the dogs stop to pick cactus spines from their paws with bared teeth.
By 9:15 a.m. the sun is well up over the mountain and heat begins to penetrate. I continue along a wide farm path that borders yet to be plowed corn fields. Butch and Tia run ahead, chase field mice, birds, stray dogs. They go the distance at full running speed, heads down, legs outstretched as if ready to fly. This is good for them. Me, too.
At home it’s quieter now. Two hands for petting two dogs. No one vying for more attention than the other. Serene, actually. Even at night there is less barking. I am noting the changes. Accepting what this land has to offer. Taking one step at a time. Understanding the loss.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
Tomorrow, Saturday, May 11, is my travel day back to Oaxaca where I’ll stay put for a while. Yet, I tell myself it’s good to be where you are now. No looking back, no regrets, no living out into the future but to appreciate each gift of the moment. Today, I will connect with friends. Sip a G&T.
Packing challenges the assumptions of being here now. It makes me concentrate on what I will need and how much to take. It’s like cleaning up and getting ready. There’s no avoiding the planning that is required. I have one day to do it.
Perhaps, I should retitle this post, “Taming the Wilderness.” There is metaphor in this.
Yesterday, I went to a funeral at the farm where I lived for ten years with the wasband. The matriarch founder, age 93, passed early this week and my going was a tribute to her life — and mine, then and now. As I walked along the gravel road to the on-site graveyard, I passed the familiar and the unknown. It was strangely similar yet dramatically different. The cottage in which I lived is now inhabited by the next wife (there have been a series of them) and the gardens I once tended were overgrown, unrecognizable.
I passed people I knew and didn’t. They were known and unknown. We have aged. Some of us more gracefully. The wasband’s hair was wilder and he had built some girth. I wish I could say we exchanged pleasantries. It reminded me of where I am now and my gratitude for being here at home in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico.
The dirt to cover the cardboard casket was red clay Carolina. Each shovel-full was heavy and thoughtful. Life is where it takes us and there is reverence in each single act we do.
Being there reminded me, too, about what I do to try to tame the wilderness. I attempted this, too, in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, by planting fruit trees — orange, lemon, avocado, guava. Ants consumed them. I gave up and planted cactus. These are sturdy and well-designed for the climate, to survive and repel the critters. There is a reason that the high desert is filled with native plants.
Here in North Carolina I have no living plants. My flowers are woven into the textiles around the apartment. When I leave early in the morning, I walk out and lock the door. It is easy. I am coming to learn my limitations.
Here is a selection of hand-woven agave fiber market bags and totes, a few woven purses and shoulder bags perfect for carrying cell phones and coin purses. I’ve added tops and a poncho cover-up, too. All from Oaxaca and Chiapas. Don’t miss anything: there are 14 pieces, so scroll down to the end!
To buy, please send me an email: email@example.com Include your name, mailing address with city, state and ZIP code, along with the ITEM NUMBER. I will send you an invoice and add on an $8 charge to mail USPS Priority Mail. As soon as I receive payment, I will ship.
NOTE: ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 9, 2019. The last day I can mail is May 10. I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Thanks very much.
This is the finest quality hand-woven cactus fiber bag made in Chiapas. This is an original to the village of Magdalena Aldama where the men weave these and use them for field bags — to carry feed for the animals, food and water for themselves. They cut, soak, strip, and weave the agave leaves all by hand. The finest ones take three-months to make. They are strong, durable and functional. Comes with adjustable leather straps. They are works of artistry. The coffee color of the bags comes from the smoke over the wood cooking fires. Each one is different.
#1 is from the famed Sna Jolobil cooperative. Measures 26″ wide by 28″ long. The fine cotton cloth is woven on a back-strap loom. The bodice is hand-embroidered in the tiniest stitches. Moss green against cream, light and comfy for summer. They will be at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market this summer and you can bet the prices will be double.
#2 is from the small family cooperative operated by Rosa and Cristobal in Magdalena Aldama. This is what the women wear for their daily attire. Each year that I go, the designs become even more elaborate. I hand-picked this piece based on quality of weaving and the density of the supplementary weft — the threads added during the weaving process to create the patterns. It takes hours to make a piece like this. Piece is 26″ wide by 24″ long.
#3 From Oxchuc, Chiapas, and woven by Cristina on a back-strap loom. This is a wonderful, soft cotton poncho in a graphic black and white. It took Cristina 38 hours to weave this and it measures 32” wide x 28” long, $145
#5 (above) and #6 (below) and #7 (third) are hand-woven market bags — best quality. They are originals to the village of Magdalena Aldama where the men weave these and use them for field bags — to carry feed for the animals, food and water for themselves. They cut, soak, strip, and weave the agave leaves all by hand. The finest ones take three-months to make. They are strong, durable and functional. Comes with adjustable leather straps. They are works of artistry. The coffee color of the bags comes from the smoke over the wood cooking fires. Each one is different.
#8 comes from Tenejapa, Chiapas and is woven on a back-strap loom using the supplementary weft (added threads to the warp) technique to create the beautiful pattern. Use it for cell phone and coin purse or an evening bag,
#9 is a well-crafted wool bag, lined, from Teotitlan del Valle. It has a zipper. Priced at less than what I paid for it.
#10 is wool dyed with cochineal red from the Bii Dauu cooperative in Teotitlan del Valle who does some of the finest work in the village. It is lined and has a zipper. Priced at less than what I paid for it.
#11 is a unique bag with a lively color combination. I bought it in the weekly market directly from the maker. The village is an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de las Casas.
#12 is a soft, soft, grey and cream stripe wool woven on a back-strap loom in the village of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, where women raise their own sheep, then card, spin and weave. Use this for a winter wrap or drape it over a chair, sofa, ottoman or bed for Bo-Ho style.
#14 is woven on a back-strap loom in a small Chiapas village. I love the color combo. It comes from Jolom Mayatik Cooperative. The braided strap is a work of art in itself and is of highest quality. Use for evening, cell phone, coin purse and cosmetics.
After a year of walking with some days up to and exceeding 10,000 steps, my beautiful huipiles and blusas no longer fit me. For the next week, I’ll be offering for sale some of my clothing treasures from Durham, North Carolina before I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Most of these are new or lightly worn and purchased directly from the makers. (See photos below.)
These are loose fitting, cool for summer, and drape easily. In this group, two blouses and one dress come from the Oaxaca Coast, the villages of Pinotepa de Don Luis and San Pedro Amusgo. The embroidered dress is from the Oaxaca mountain community of San Bartolome Ayautla. They will fit size L to XL. Measure across your chest and hips to be sure of fit.
To buy, please send me an email. Include your name, mailing address with city, state and ZIP code, along with the ITEM NUMBER. I will send you an invoice and add on an $8 charge to mail USPS Priority Mail. As soon as I receive payment, I will ship.
NOTE: ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 9, 2019. The last day I can mail is May 10. I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Thanks very much.
This is an amazing indigenous weaving from the Pinotepa de Don Luis Dreamweavers weaving cooperative. You see the symbols of double-headed turkey, lightening, corn plants, and eternal life woven into the cloth. The village is 12 hours from Oaxaca City and four hours from Puerto Escondido. If you can’t make it on one of our trips to the village or to the Santa Fe Folk Art Market where they will be this summer, this is the next best way to shop. Each piece is unique, so there is no guarantee you will find this one again.
#2: Caracol purpura, the rare purple snail is the featured color element on this gorgeous huipil. The three wefts are joined together with caracol dyed silk yarn, also hand-spun, in the turkey-trot needlework style. The color is intricately trimmed in purple snail-dyed silk, too. The body of the blusa is made from hand-spun cotton grown locally in the village of Pinotepa de Don Luis. It is lightweight gauze, perfect for summer. Design elements are similar to the indigo/coyuchi blusa described above.
#3 SOLD and is from Zacatepec on the Coast of Oaxaca in the Mixtec region just beyond San Pedro Amusgos. I bought this in the village from Odilon Morales who is at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market each year and operates the Oaxaca cooperative Arte Amusgos. The cotton is hand-spun and woven on a back-strap loom, dyed in a lovely blue indigo. The small animals — are they deer or rabbits or dogs? — are finely hand-embroidered with commercial cotton embroidery floss. The embroidery is impeccable, teeny, tiny stitches.
#4 is from the Oaxaca village of San Bartolome Ayautla and embroidered by Anacleta Juarez, famed for her perfect, almost invisible stitches. It takes months to embroider a garment like this. The cotton is manta, a natural fabric that Mexicans love. The finish work is amazing. The birds and flowers tell the story of the mountains where they are made in the Cañada region between Oaxaca and Veracruz. I bought this directly from Anacleta.
Thank you for considering and stay tuned for more offerings this week.
Zayzelle: Dress Simply is our new clothing line, one dress, one-of-a-kind, one size fits many, imaginative cloth. Plus, jewelry and an easy-to-wear pullover scarf. Keep checking back for What’s New.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
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