A group of 12 women are immersed this week in our sixth annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. All except two have never been here before. Two came all the way from Melbourne, Australia.
Going to the Tlacolula market is a highlight for any visitor, especially for those who have a gift list. And, we are writers, so before boarding the Teotitlan del Valle bus and entering the frenzy of market day, Professor Robin Greene, our instructor, gave us a prompt to tie the often dizzying experience to the written word:
- What does it mean when we give or receive a gift from someone?
- What do we remember about childhood gifts?
- What associations do gifts bring up for us?
- How was a gift received and by whom?
- Is giving a gift about asking for forgiveness? For showing love?
- For expecting something in return? A transaction?
- Who deserves what type of gift and why?
- When we buy something for ourselves instead of someone else, what comes up?
- Is a purchase associated with a relationship between the person who sold it and why?
At the Tlacolula market, there are the obvious gifts: bottles of artisanal mezcal from Miahuatlan, colorful embroidered blouses from Mitla, hand-woven tablecloths and napkins, brightly painted gourds from Guerrero, hand-hewn wooden trucks for little boys, flouncy dresses with lace trim for little girls, a new apron for grandmother.
These did not turn my head.
I saw a lot of chicken today. I don’t know why I focused on chicken. Barbecue chicken. The women selling cooked and raw chicken. Whole chickens and parts.
There was chicken roasting on the grill. Chicken turning on the spit. The people sitting at long tables eating chicken. The chicken legs and thighs at Comedor Mary that could be topped with mole negro or mole rojo.
I ate chicken for lunch at Comedor Mary although there were many other things to choose from. Took the meat off the bone. Looked at the bone and the meat and thought about my grandmother from Eastern Europe. She killed what she cooked and then ate it.
Most people here do that. Have a reverence for raising the animals, then slaughtering them for food. Would they say a prayer like my grandmother did? Do they imagine the food as a form of gift? Protein is still scare here for those who don’t make more than 150 pesos a day. That’s about $9 USD.
A chicken on Sunday is a gift. I thought so.