I’m at Zicatela Beach Puerto Escondido after taking the little plane that could, aka AeroTucan, at 7 a.m. this morning. Our coast of Oaxaca textile tour will start on Saturday. Meanwhile, my long-time Ohio pals Sam and Tom are staying at my casita and caring for my dogs Tia Margarita and Butch.
Yesterday, their first full day in Oaxaca, Sam, Tom and I went to Tlacolula to get cash (there are no ATMs yet in Teotitlan del Valle), and spent a fair amount of time meandering. Sam and Tom are professional photographers. I’ve always aspired to be like them. What I’ve learned is that the beauty is often in the detail. And, often in the grainy detail that using a darkroom can get. Except with digital trickery.
They like using the iPhone App TinType, and so do I. Here’s a sampling of the Not-on-Sunday market in black and white. Slower paced. Almost spare. Time to notice details. And, I like the artsy, old-timey results.
I’m no longer hauling around my big, heavy very professional Nikon equipment. In fact, I’d like to sell it. I also bought an Olympus mirrorless camera a couple of years ago, and find that it’s too weighty for me now, too.
International Women’s Day was Thursday, March 8, 2018. It’s days later and I now find time to acknowledge, honor, recognize, applaud some of the women we met along the way during our two back-to-back Chiapas Textile Study Tours in February and March this year.
Women make, sell, suckle babies in Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas
I don’t know all their names.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Zapatista icon in Chiapas, role model for justice
Their hands, feet and faces are universal stories of women who work hard with little recompense.
Shop keeper, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas
Their garments tell the stories of culture, history, creativity and subjugation by Spanish conquerors who imposed clothing style as indigenous identifier.
Maria and her niece, Aguacatenango, Chiapas
Most are women who weave or embroider.
Maruch is her Tzotzil name, Maria is her Christian name, San Juan Chamula district
Some are women who craft pottery — cooking vessels and decorative jaguars, many of them life-size.
This is Esperanza sculpting a clay jaguar, Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas
A few are famous. Most are not.
Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Juana Gomez Ramirez, Amantenango del Valle
They are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, nieces.
Rosa, center, and her nieces, Magdalenas Aldama
Some, like Rosa and her husband Cristobal, participated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising to stand for indigenous rights. The movement paved the way for a stronger voice for women.
Producing handmade paper, Los Leñateros, San Cristobal de Las Casas
They carry babies on their backs, harnessed by robozos.
Market day, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas
They use rebozos shifted to the front of their bodies so infants can suckle. They use rebozos to carry market vegetables and fruit to the cooking fires.
Lourdes, research coordinator, Museo Textil Mundo Maya
Few are professionals like Lourdes who translates Spanish to English for us, educated in sophisticated cities far away.
Maria Meza, weaving cooperative director, Tenejapa, Chiapas
Others head cooperatives, organizing the business of textile making and selling to sustain families.
A metaphor for indigenous women worldwide, essential and faceless
Some are faceless. We see their progeny.
Manuela Trevini Bellini with PomPom Shawl at her shop Punto Y Trama,
A few are expats from Italy, France, Canada, the United States or Japan, who migrate to the promise land.
Women’s hands make organic tortillas from native corn
We see hands making tortillas, tending the cooking fire, soothing a child’s cry, serving a husband dinner.
Pioneer Swiss photographer, Gertrude Duby Blom, at Na Bolom
Most of all, we know that women’s work begins early and ends late, is continuous, often self-less and usually in the service of others.
Andrea Diaz Hernandez weaves this for eight months, San Andres Larrainzar
Take a moment to consider what women around the world give as we regard those whose photos we see here.
In Yochib, Oxchuc, impaired mobility, health care access hours away
Take a moment to give thanks to all the women in the world. We are more similar than we are different.
Oaxaca and Chiapas have a lot in common. They are the two poorest states in Mexico, have the lowest literacy rates and in the rural areas there is little or no access to health care.
Chiapas and Oaxaca have the highest percentage of indigenous people in Mexico, yet they are under-represented in politics and business, lack access to education.
Because of the rural character of each state, people are isolated and removed from the mainstream. They produce some of the most exquisite textiles in all of Mexico.
For this entire time in Chiapas, I am using only my iPhone 8Plus with zoom lens. All the photos you’ve seen since February 12 are from my portable device with very little editing. I’m a devotee. Thinking of selling other equipment!
Thank you for following this adventure. There is more to come. Our Chiapas Textile Study Tour Group 2 starts this coming Tuesday evening.
I am an admirer of Eric Mindling who has, over his 30-year relationship with Oaxaca, documented her people with glorious photography, and introduced many travelers to regions far off-the-beaten path. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to life, the grandparents, culture, survival and identity. It gives us pause to think about whether we are sagebrush or tumbleweed — and what we appreciate. I hope you enjoy and share.
Beyond the town’s paved roads, back into the hills far from the village center, is the sacred site Teotitecos call Las Cuevitas. It is the third night, January 2, of a weeklong New Year’s observance practiced here in Teotitlan del Valle long before the Spanish Conquest. For the ancients, the moon set the calendar. A late December -early January super moon would have been an awesome sight thousands of years ago just as it is today.
Sunset at Las Cuevitas, 2018, infused with cooking fire smoke
I arrive by 4:30 p.m. when it’s light enough to find a comfortable seat on a rock outcropping. I am intentionally alone to take in this environment where I live and to do my own meditation about the coming year with no distractions other than the landscape and my neighbors.
The rock mountain has changed dramatically since I was here two years ago. In a beautification plan, I see the steep, stony hillside is planted with young trees struggling to survive this high desert terrain.
Tents are as simple as a large umbrella to protect from wind and sun
The deep holes in which they are planted look like moon craters. Perhaps in ten years this will become a tree-shaded park filled with flowering Flor de Mayo and guaje trees. Ojala!
Dusk brings obscure images of people and distant mounds
But not now. The soil is more hospitable to thorny brush. Careful. A misstep on the rock pebbles will send you tumbling. (It did for me and the protective lens cover of my camera shattered.)
A camp tent and meat on the grill
This third night is less populated, more tranquil with fewer people. Families set up camp and convert the slope to a picnic ground. Some have tarp shelters or elaborate tents, sides tethered to ground with rocks gathered nearby. Ropes anchor tent to boulders.
Extended family gather around the table for a meal together al fresco
Children carry blankets, barbecue grills, wood, charcoal, a bag of meat to cook, a basket of mandarin oranges. I smell charcoal fires and gasoline, the strike of sulphur as a match lights. A wind whips up, carries smoke and cinder. Children hide their faces. So do I. Grandmothers, braids tied with crimson ribbon curl atop their heads like a crown, hover, tend to tender eyes.
Las Cuevitas panorama offer a spectacular valley view
Fragrant greens and wild flowers are traditional here
The language of Zapotec is spoken here. First language for first peoples. People I know and some I don’t, greet me with Feliz Año Nuevo, extend their arms in embrace and a pat on the back.
Packing out the remains of a meal or an overnight stay?
Las Cuevitas is the place to pray for a good year. Mostly, my friend Antonio tells me, people ask for good health. Nothing is more important, he says. In my personal world, God is universal and all human beings are good. It is easy for me to be here, lay a coin on the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe — Earth Goddess –and pray for a year of good health and contentment. We all deserve blessings.
In the grotto, small caves hold religious altars to accept prayers for good health
A small chapel receives visitors who kneel and pray
Along the rock hill, I see remnants of dreams constructed on the last two nights of the celebration with rocks, moss, fragrant greens, sticks. These are facsimiles of new houses, a second floor addition, a roof, a fence, a stockade for cattle or goats. Dreams come true if you come to Las Cuevitas and build a miniature.
Miniature farm animals are an important part of constructing dreams
Families gather together for the annual celebration
Mostly, it’s about family, intergenerational connection, integration, celebration. Gathering on the hillside to build together, eat together, pray together, play together. Cultural continuity and endurance prevails here despite intrusions from other worlds.
I’m waiting for Sunset at Las Cuevitas
It’s 5:30 p.m. and the sun glows through the clouds. I’m waiting for sunset at Las Cuevitas. Dry grasses wave. Firecrackers are lit and go skyward with a bang. All is illuminated.
The grandmothers, their braids are a crown
Beyond the caves, cows graze on the top of the opposite hill. Families continue to stream in. Women fan cooking fires. Men carry cases of beer, coolers of food. Soon after dark, young men will throw fireballs across the horizon, much like their ancestors did in a test of strength.
I stay until the sun dips into the Sierra Madre del Sur beyond the next village, Macuilxochitl. You can see their church in the distance. Under the mound that rises on the horizon is an unearthed Zapotec archeological site.
Gold glow of the setting sun, Teotitlan del Valle, January 2, 2018
As the sun vanishes, there is chill and I want to get down the rocky slope before the light dims and I can’t find my way. I want to remember the vast expanse of universe, the valley below, the magnificence of sun, moon, stars and the days that are a gift to make meaningful.
This is sacred space to respect, enjoy and keep clean
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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