My son was here for a week and returned to Southern California yesterday morning. He arrive three days after my return from Michoacan. What did we do? By choice, not much. We took walks in the campo with the dogs. He came to my Artful Aprons of San Miguel del Valle talk, another sold-out event at the Oaxaca Lending Library.
We hung out. Talked. Shared memories and regrets, philosophy and politics, hopes. We checked in with each other. We read and took naps on the terrace hammocks. One night, I lit a fire in the chiminea and a log jumped out onto the grass. He was the firefighter. I was contrite.
It’s been unseasonably hot here. Almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We moved slowly. We went mezcal tasting with Emmy Hernandez at Gracias a Dios in Santiago Matatlan, with a stop first to visit Arturo Hernandez in Mitla to buy a scarf for his girlfriend. A fact that gives me joy.
I grilled BBQ ribs. We ate out. We cooked in. We shared meals with our host family and friends. We are blessed to have each other. He gives me advice, which I appreciate. I am tender with mine. He doesn’t need much advice, either. Mostly, we call it feedback. Time together went quickly.
Tomorrow I leave for a full textile study tour in Chiapas, gone for 11 days. I’m not quite ready to leave the quiet of my casita in Teotitlan del Valle. And, my regret is there has been so little time this winter to have time with my friends here, many of whom are seasonal. They are getting ready to go back north and after Chiapas, I return to North Carolina for a while.
I promise myself that next year will be different. That I will slow down and do less, have time to take classes, learn to embroider or crochet or make something I haven’t before. But, most importantly, to have more time to be with friends — here in Oaxaca and in Mexico, and various part of the USA. And, to be with my California family.
So, I’m rethinking the number of study tours I will offer in 2020, where they will be, when they will be, how long they will be. I’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, Susie and Bruce arrive this afternoon to move into the casita to care for the dogs while I’m in Chiapas. My suitcase is almost packed.
It’s going to be 81 degrees Fahrenheit today in Oaxaca with a low of 55. I have no complaints now after returning here four days ago from very chilly North Carolina, which is not as cold as where many of you live! My bones are warm. Am I trying to tempt you? Yes.
I am seeking a reliable, clean and tidy, culturally sensitive, respectful and mature (this has nothing to do with age) person to stay in my Teotitlan del Valle casita and feed my three adopted dogs two-times daily, morning and night. This opportunity is for ONE person. If I know you, all the better!
I have a Tip Sheet to share with those who are interested. If I don’t know you, then I ask for three references.
Set 1 Dates: Arrive January 30, depart February 14
Set 2 Dates: Arrive February 26, depart March 7
During this time, I am away in Michoacan and Chiapas leading textile and folk art study tours. The dogs must be fed!
Teotitlan del Valle is an indigenous Zapotec village about 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca city in the Tlacolula valley. It is home to 6,000 people, most of whom are tapestry rug weavers. This is a great opportunity to explore Mexico’s amazing weaving culture and live with people who have inhabited this region for 8,000 years. The city is accessible by private taxi, colectivo and buses.
I live on the land of my host family who are weavers. They work exclusively with natural dyes. I do not own the land I live on — they do. I built the casita I live in. And, because this is a Usos y Costumbres village, my casita is legally owned by my family. Being understanding and respectful of this environment is a key ingredient to being here. Relationship and communication are everything.
I am also seeking a dog/house sitter for March 13 to April 13 and April 28 to May 15, 2019
Reasons to Come:
Warm your bones!
Giving care to loving animals: Dog-lovers know why!
Practice your Spanish
Explore weaving and natural dyeing
Immerse yourself in local Zapotec culture
Find peace and solace in amazing, pristine, high desert beauty
I woke up early with the wind at my back, ready to get a jump on the Day of Giving Thanks. In Mexico we call it Dia de Accion de Gracias. It is a good day to take a walk and think about all the goodness of life.
An early walk in the campo, Thanksgiving morning
It was close to eight o’clock this morning when I set out to the campo, the wild, unpopulated area of the village, beyond the pale of settlement. The sun was warm on my back. There was a breeze. The day was promising.
The first boundary marker, a stelae from another century
My three dogs were with me, Butch close to my heels, always guarding. Mamacita out in front. Tia running off after birds and rabbits, stopping from time to time to turn around and check my progress. These are campo dogs, rescue dogs, dogs who have learned to be obedient and stay close.
Butch (foreground), Mama (right) and Tia along the path
This was a day of exploration. I went far beyond where I usually go along the narrow foot path ascending toward the mountain range that is a backdrop to Teotitlan del Valle, part of the Sierra Madre del Sur. I imagine this to be an ancient trail, the border between our village and the two adjoining us — San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, that the locals call Santiguito.
From the third marker, views toward Tlacochuhuaya
As I made my way along the incline, I was careful not to stumble on loose lava and sedimentary gravel. Rock outcroppings offered natural stepping-stones.
Moonscape-style cactus off the beaten path. Baby Biznaga?
There are three border markers along this route. I had never been to the third. It was glorious out. I figured, Why not? Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, I reminded myself once again. Let’s figure out where this goes.
A bouquet of lantana by the roadside, growing wild here.
As we reached the third, I could see there was no path up to it, so I made my own switch back path to scale the hill. The dogs followed. A ridge of rock offered me a natural seat from which I could see across the valley to San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya, beyond Santiguito. A perfect spot to meditate.
I imagined those who came before me, centuries past, who sat in this very place, keeping a lookout on the landscape below. In the distance, cooking fires curled skyward and a red-shirted farmer grazed his bull in the lush fields.
Downhill was easy, with a stop at the natural spring for quenching thirsty dogs. Then, a brisk walk home on the back road lined with dried corn stalks and wild marigold fields lining the road.
I covered three-and-a-half miles.
On the final stretch home, between marigolds and cornstalks
Today, a group of Estadounidenses will gather at Los Danzantes for a special Thanksgiving meal after a mezcal toast at the home of my friend Shannon. An adjoining table is with NC restauranteurs who are opening a Oaxaca destination at the Durham Food Court, two blocks from my apartment.
Thanksgiving menu at Los Danzantes, not traditional!
Today will be a change-up from years past. I won’t be cooking. Neither will Kalisa! (I hope.) Instead of sliced, roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, Jacki’s fabulous cranberry sauce, and an array of pumpkin pies, it will be turkey balls and pumpkin pancake at 7 p.m. Nothing traditional about this year for me!
Nature’s display of color, pure and simple
I’m reminded by my friend Betsy, an Anthony Bourdainafficionado, who said, Travel is the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown. And, my friend, Madelyn, who says, Take life with the wind at your back, moving forward, rather than fighting the headwinds that always set you back.
The altar is complete. Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead– 2018 has passed. The difuntos, spirits of the ancestors, have returned to their resting places content that we have welcomed them back to earth for the day to celebrate their lives. Some of us talk to our parents, ask their advice, admonish them for shortcomings, appreciate the gift of life.
Mexicans know how to honor their generations with this day that is considered more important than any in family and community life.
El Dia de los Muertos is the homecoming of the spirits of the dead all over Mexico, a reunion of the dead and the living. The old ones say that when the spirits come back to the world of the living, their path must be made clear, the roadway must not be slippery with the wet flood of human tears.
The Calavera Painter clay figure above is for sale. $75 USD plus $8 mailing.
I am not attempting to appropriate a culture that I haven’t been born into. I participate and create Dia de los Muertos to learn more about how to accept the transition from life to death and the continuum and cycles of life. It is a devotional practice like meditation and prayer. Finding comfort is essential for the human spirit.
Last night, a few friends gathered here at home in Durham, North Carolina, to pay tribute to those who have gone before us. Mostly parents and grandparents. They brought photographs to place on the altar.
Photographs, a recent phenomenon, help us remember. In Teotitlan del Valle, photos were not placed on altars until the 1960’s. It is said that after two generations, memory of a particular person is lost. Storytelling, recalling favorite foods, jokes, clothes, activities was and is essential to remembering especially in the absence of visual clues.
We sat around in a circle sharing our memories, comparing how we prepare for death and dying here in the USA with Mexico. Of course, this depends on our personal upbringings and spiritual beliefs, and whether there is any ritual associated with remembering those who died.
I could imagine, as we sipped wine, beer and mezcal, ate tamales and enchiladas, and told stories of mothers and fathers and grandparents and siblings, that we could have sat around a family gravesite in Teotitlan del Valle, laughing, bringing up tears and feeling connected — to each other and to those who passed on.
We told stories about the love of music, literature, eating and drinking, a good joke, growing up on humble southern farms, sprawling suburbs, gritty city centers, of immigrant and refugee families, of missing a sibling to reminisce and remember details. Someone said that one never recovers from the loss of a mother, another that her father was the most important support in her life. We were real, talking about function, dysfunction and love.
Next year, 2019, I will be in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, with Professor Robin Greene. We will be leading the Day of the Dead Women’s Writing Retreat. A year away and we are half-filled — five spaces open. Will you join us?
The Aztecs, I read, believed that death fed life, that human sacrifice was necessary to feed the earth to make sure there is enough rain, fertile seeds and soil, an abundance of food. Death was not feared but celebrated, honored, even welcomed.
Zapotecs practiced ancestor worship and buried their dead in the courtyard of family homes so they would be close and could consult with them regularly. Bones are swept aside every ten years to make room for the next ancestor in the same resting space. This is still common in many villages.
I honor my parents and grandparents by remembering them. Sometimes, I feel they are with me, especially when I am saying or doing something that is exactly as they would have said or done it (or so it feels). I think about my own mortality and try not to be afraid, to accept the natural order of life that is synonymous with death. Will I live on? Yes, in the memories of my family and those I have touched. Is there comfort in that? Perhaps.
Day of the Dead diorama, tin, handmade. For Sale. $85 USD plus $8 mailing. Folds flat.
As we search for meaning, for connection, for intimacy, Day of the Dead gives us pause to examine our own lives and those who came before, those who gave us life, and to ride the tailwinds and not fight the headwinds.
Omar Chavez Santiago, a young talented weaver from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, and Galeria Fe y Lola, will be in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina for a set of talks, cochineal dye demonstrations and textile sales from October 17 to October 21, 2018. Events are open to the public.
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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