The Teotitlan Trail

I’ve got to back up two days in my mind because I didn’t do an entry for 12/21 and it’s already 12/22.  First, my impressions of the day: an old man, whip in hand, head covered with yellowed woven straw sombrero is riding a donkey down the cobbled street at a pretty fast clip. Between him and the donkey’s neck is a bundle of hay wrapped in cloth and bound with string.  He is sitting on the hind quarters of the beast. Poinsettias are in bloom everywhere, pink, deep red, fuschia–they are native to the area. Sister’s friends Linda Uno and Linda Dos arrive from Oaxaca city accompanied by Elsa.  The troupe is four gringas — me, Barbara, the two Lindas — and the two indigenas, Janet and Elsa. We hike the back alleys, the cobbled and dirt streets, to the end of Iturbide to find the casa of Alejandrina and Tito.  He is one of the finest weavers in the village but not famous like many of the self-promoters. He mostly does contract work for his cousin who is the famous one and sells Tito’s work under his own name. (This is how some families support each other here–cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews working to produce for the famous one.)  The house is cool, calm, beautiful. The altar, a feature of every Zapotec village home, is decorated for Christmas. The Virgin of Guadalupe raises her outstretched arms in blessings over the baby doll laying on the poinsettia decorated cloth table cover. The baby is Jesus.  The walls are thick adobe, floors are concrete, the kitchen is modern with sienna stained concrete countertops, the whitewashed walls are punctuated with textiles: antique huipiles from Peru and the Isthmus and intricately woven Saltillo-style bags by Tito.  We sit on the comfortable sofa and leather covered bamboo-woven chairs typical of Spanish Oaxaca and Ale displays the treasures she brought from Oaxaca to show us: a finely woven silk tapestry about 18×24″ that was the prototype for a top that Tito wove for Lila Downs, the singer.  The piece, 22 threads per inch, vibrated with color, the pattern was a feather border that was iridescent yellow, cream, rust and magenta.  There were small silk bags finished off with straps hand woven  in Santo Tomas Jalieza, a village famous for its fine work on backstrap looms.  If you go to the website: I will try to post photos of this later today. The work is extraordinary. More impressions:  Dolores Chavez prepares pollo con mole negro and sopa de higadito for comida.  Here’s the recipe for the sopa:  prepare chicken broth to taste.  Scramble 6 eggs together with 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken and season to taste with salt, pepper, paprika.  Bring the chicken stock to a low boil.  Pour the egg/chicken mixture into the boiling soup.  Serve with salsa huajillo (This is a mild chile pepper.  You can use as a substitute any mild chile pepper salsa.)  We all sit around the large rectangular table that is brought out into the courtyard. We are surrounded by looms with rugs on them in various stages of completion. We stuff the chicken mole into fresh corn tortillas or flour tortillas that are possibly 18″ in diameter, ripping them apart and stuffing a piece with chicken mole and quesillo, the famous Oaxaca cheese.  After lunch, Elsa, Janet, Barbara, Linda Uno and I climb into the back of the pick-up truck for a visit to the mezcal vendor who is only in town this afternoon to do his pre-Posada sales. Eric drives and Linda Dos is in the cab beside him.  How we get into the truck bed is a hoot. I lift my skirt, put my foot on the bumper and hold on to the back of the tailgate like it was a horses mane, hoisting myself up and over in one clean swoop.  A couple of others pull the tailgate down, hoist their fannies up, do a little swirl to get from a seated to standing position to maneuver onto the truck bed.  We giggle, look at the sun setting, the 10,000 foot mountains ringing the valley, the lights of houses coming on in the dusk, and ride to the edge of the village in search of the mezcal vendor.  Of course, he got tired of waiting for us and was not there when we arrived.Next stop: Juvenal and Norma Gutierrez. He teaches English to villagers eager to learn in order to better communicate with customers from Canada and the U.S. They have a large compound behind tall walls and a big iron gate.  We go there because Norma makes magnificent aprons, checked cloth in various colors that she decorates with big, bold appliqued flowers, fantastic curlycues and zigzags. They are like the apron version of alebrijes.  Village women wear them like a uniform.  The Gringas want to buy and there is an English class in session.  Juvenal invites me and Barbara to speak to the class while the two Linda’s look at aprons (mandils).  I ask one man, Where do you live? He answers, Hidalgo Street. I ask, do you live in a big house or a small house? He says, I live in a poor house. I say, no, you live in a rich house, every house is rich. It doesn’t matter what size it is. There is silence and we look at each other.  I see him as a beautiful, strong and caring man. He looks at me with huge eyes, warm, open, accepting and appreciative. I ask him to repeat, I live in a small house on Hidalgo Street. I want to go back to teach because these are opportunities for all of us to see the world and ourselves in a different light.  At that moment, I think of the young man from Costa Rica waiting in the RDU airport to go home. He is in Duplin County, NC, one of the most rural, underserved parts of the state, teaching ESL through the Visiting International Faculty program. No doubt, he is teaching children of immigrants in the public schools yearning for education, too.The Giggling Gaggle of Girls climb back into the truck, Eric at the helm, steering us to the other side of the village, up the steep hillside, down the back alley of Calle de Fiallo, until we get to the home of Josefina Mendoza, at the outskirts of town.  From her house you can see the lights of the next village in the valley below.  It has taken me two years and five visits to discover these hidden treasures. Her house has no number, one just has to know, search, discover. Her husband is working in the U.S.  She and her daughter weave magnificent pieces using natural dyes, and they, too, contract their work out to a famous weaver to sell under his name.  I know her well enough that we hug in reunion, I ask about her sister who has recovered from cancer diagnosed last year, and the health of her mother.  I speak in halting Spanish, she speaks in Spanish with bits of English good enough for greeting and to complete a commercial transaction.  Josefina supplements her weaving income by selling frijoles in the village market during most weekdays or attending to the basket vendor’s stall when she is not there.It is late now, almost 9 p.m. and we make our plans to go to the Ocotlan market on Friday for the big market day, then go to sleep.     

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