January 20, 2009
Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
Dear Family and Friends,
Thank you, thank you, thank you. For sending generous sums of money, clothes and toys, this year and over the past four years. For your suggestions, prayers and good thoughts that float down to us on the wind. And for your interest in the well being of the families who live here in this village, so far away from where you are.
First, Lola’s story. Lola is almost 12 years old, and has begun the process of diagnosing the cause of her developmental delay. She has a pediatrician and an endocrinologist, and is now taking thyroid supplements. She has also started coming to my “English” class on Saturday mornings. If you have access to U-tube, the following link will take you to a video made by Art Mayers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ll3LMAd5H4
Art came to our class today, and was swept away by the expressiveness of the children. Lola is the star of the video. She has a way about her that draws you in. Her smile, her eyes, her presence. . .makes whatever we do seem like huge fun.
Later in the day, Art and I took the video to Lola’s house to show her Mom and family. At one point, while we were all gathered in front of the computer screen, Lola took my hand in both of hers, said “gracias”
and then did the traditional greeting of children toward an adult. She bowed and kissed my hand. Lola speaks only single words, mostly nouns. But that did not keep her from clearly expressing her very serious
gratitude for the gift of the video.
After getting to know Lola, I have a better understanding of education theorists who say there are at least ten different kinds or aspects of intelligence. In the inter-personal realm, Lola scores higher than average. Her greatest talent is establishing openness and trust. Add a strong presence and enthusiasm, and it’s no wonder that she is well loved by her family, cousins and neighbors.
On Monday, Lola, Lidia (Lola’s adoptive mother) and I are going to a neighboring village to check out a school for developmentally delayed children. Lola has never been to school. Then, in a month we return to the endocrinologist. One thing will lead to another, as it does in all of our lives, and by the next time I write to you, who knows what news we will have of Lola!
On to Rosa’s story. Rosa is a single mother of baby Jesus Angelo who was born last September. I have known Rosa for several years, and have worried about her unusual level of anxiety. We even consulted with a doctor, who put her on anti-anxiety medication, which Rosa tried and rejected in favor of local herbs. I have noticed that sincebaby Jesus was born, Rosa has become a calm and contented mother.
When Roberta and I went to take the family photo which we sent to you in our last letter, we discovered that Rosa and her family lacked a front door for their house. This made for very cold sleeping at night. I mentioned this to Rick, our friendly local carpenter, and he agreed to make a door, which he painted blue. And then Art made a u-tube video called The Blue Door. htttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_ZGfbkFw1Q Rick is the very tall man in the video.
Not only did Rosa not have a door, she also lacked a gas stove. The family was doing all their cooking with wood fires. In the video, you can see the new little gas burner stove. Plus we bought a tank
of propane. Our local handy-person, Juvenal installed the gas stove and helped Rick install the new blue door.
Juvenal and his wife Norma drive to Oaxaca once a month and buy basic grocery supplies from a wholesale grocer, and deliver them to Lola’s and Rosa’s families. Norma is a professional pastry chef, and she will be making birthday cakes for Lola and baby Jesus Angelo. Norma also rounded up lots of hand-me-down clothes and toys for the baby.
And finally we have Ana and Candido’s story. They have a beautiful and new little house, but can’t move in because they do not have electricity. We split the cost of bringing electricity to their house. We
bought all of the materials from the hardware store, and they are paying to install a post and for the electrician. Juvenal is managing this project too.
I realize that this is a long letter with lots of videos to watch. But the bottom line is that I want you to know there are three families in Teotitlan del Valle who are feeling very grateful to you. I don’t have the final figures yet, but we have over $1,200 in donations which is close to 16,000 pesos, with the current exchange rate.
Please send my letter on to any friends who may be interested. We’ll be needing more money for Lola’s transportation to school if she decides to attend. All donations can be sent to my brother Sam Burns,
1147 Johnson Ave, San Jose, CA 95129.
I hope that my letter finds all of you well and reasonably pleased with life on this exceptional planet that we inhabit.
Much love. . . . .(unconditional, no less!)
Ani, Lola, Rosa, baby Jesus Angelo, Candido and Ana
The Observer, Ethnography and Cultural Commentary
Ruth Behar, the noted anthropologist, wrote “Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart,” in 1996. It is one of the readings for our documentary filmmaking workshop that starts tonight in Teotitlan del Valle. I read it on the plane ride between Houston and Oaxaca last night and it raised my consciousness about going through life interpreting what we believe to be happening or the reasons behind other people’s behavior and decisions. This is especially true when one is living and working in another culture. It is so easy to observe traditions, differences, ritual celebrations, and bring your own meaning to it. But, it is just that, my own interpretation of what someone is is thinking or feeling based upon my own cultural history and bias. So, as we enter this week of documentary filmmaking in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, we will raise and discuss these questions as a group. What we see from our own lens is just that. We interview others and they will tell us their story. It may not reveal all that 7,000 years of cultural history has imbedded in their answers. I will be careful, as an interested observer, to recount, retell, describe. I will ask those who live here to explain, interpret, give meaning to the visual story and I will do my best to accurately record in writing and on film their voices. My role is not to evaluate or judge, but to discover.
Comments Off on The Observer, Ethnography and Cultural Commentary
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle, Workshops and Retreats