Happy New Year. May the year ahead bring you contentment, satisfaction, and, most importantly, good health. Good health seems to be what I’m thinking about most these days. I will end 2018 and begin 2019 by first saying that my intestines seem to be in better balance now, thanks to Oaxaca gastroenterologist Dr. Miguel Gomez Arciniega.
Today, I gathered with a few women friends and my Teotitlan del Valle family to mark my birth day, share our intentions for 2019, and eat gluten-free chocolate cake topped with Oaxaca chocolate frosting. It’s good to be back in the kitchen. (I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet.)
Now, back to the bugs.
For the past four months, my system has not functioned well. After two blood tests and an equal number of lab samples, I was declared bug-free in the USA. But the problem persisted. So, I sought out Dr. Miguel, who diagnosed me almost immediately and confirmed within days that I had a parasite after lab work was done here in Oaxaca in early December.
I do not eat street food. I sanitize my fruit and vegetables with an anti-bacteria disinfectant. I hesitate to eat lettuce except in the very best restaurants. I’m cautious. But sanitation is illusive. We can even get sick (and I have) in upscale Mexican restaurants owned by the most famous chefs. In the USA, we can get poisoned from something as simple as bad romaine lettuce. Food and water-borne disease have no boundaries.
I was diagnosed with Blastocystis. This is a common microscopic organism, but as Dr. Miguel explained, when the microbiota is out of balance we have problems. I had too many bugs in my intestines!
What to do?
Dietary No-No’s. No dairy, he said. Not even yogurt or kefir or milk. No mole. Now Oaxaca is famed for her seven moles and its a challenge to eat Oaxaca food and not consume mole. Next, no beans. No legumes. No garbanzos. No quesillo or queso fresco (likely because they aren’t pasteurized). What can I eat? I asked him, disheartened. Anything else that you want, he said. Well, it really didn’t matter since I had no appetite. A travesty when one lives in Foodie Heaven.
Here in Oaxaca, there are many over-the-counter remedies. That lead me to believe that a lot of people here suffer from long-term intestinal upset. Bugs are a way of life. People just don’t talk about it.
A few people have shared with me cures that employ natural homeopathic treatments, like consuming pounds of raw garlic. Intestinal bugs come in many different forms and varieties, but it seems that the symptoms are similar.
When friends asked, How are you? I told them. Some whispered they have problems, too, and asked for a referral. Intestinal health is a topic most of us prefer to keep private.
Oh, and did I mention, the lab work here was 300 pesos (equivalent to $15 USD) and my first hour-and-a-half consultation with Dr. Miguel was a hefty 500 pesos (equivalent of $25 USD).
Meanwhile, my Zapotec friends and neighbors celebrate the New Year by wearing something new and cleaning house. Making a fresh start, so to speak. It might be more effective to clean house than to make a resolution!
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
Happy, Merry Holidays to all friends and acquaintances, virtual and concrete. I’m winding down my short North Carolina visit and return to Oaxaca on December 24 in time for Christmas Eve village festivities — a midnight supper with extended family.
This year (2018) I received Season’s Greetings letters from long-time friends, written, duplicated, personally signed and mailed to me via the USPS, one accompanied by a family photo complete with obedient dog. It’s catch-up time for those of us who live far away or who have been out of touch for a while.
Usually, the update includes what grades the kids are in (for those still raising them), favorite sports and hobbies for all, everyone’s accomplishments, and far-and-away travel destinations reached. Reports are glowing.
One friend, closer in age to me, included a year of what’s ailing her and her husband, and their dwindling animal menagerie. I’m commiserating from my easy chair. This has been a year-end filled with ailments.
I’ve never written and sent one of these letters. Today, I can barely remember what I did ten or eleven months ago and I don’t keep a database of everyone who has touched me in my life. My co-dependence on technology is palpable.
This is so different from Mexico, where most families and friends still live in close proximity and see each other regularly, sharing in family celebrations, participating in the raising of infants and children, attending birthdays, baptisms, marriages and funerals. Yet, they are becoming dispersed now, too, as young adults seek jobs in faraway cities, often across borders. Do they stay in touch with a holiday letter? I doubt it.
This prompted me to think about the year in review and the year to come. And to give you a more personal note of communication.
Before I left Oaxaca for my short return to North Carolina, Itzel Guadalupe aka Lupita asked me what my intentions were for 2019. She had already begun to think about hers: weave and sell five rugs, learn English, study harder to qualify for high school and then college, maybe visit the USA — with my help, she added! And, why not?
And, I wondered in self-reflection, Is it more important to go over the year past or to focus on the year to come? As a historian, I’ve decided to do a little of both. We must learn what came before in order to build on the future, no?
I went back and forth from Oaxaca and the USA six times and made no across the water journeys to foreign lands. Instead, I visited family in California, and friends in New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Chicago and Philadelphia, making a commitment to sustaining relationships. I developed a new folk art and textile tour to Michoacan upcoming in 2019 that includes visiting the environmentally fragile Monarch butterfly colony. I didn’t read enough. I joined and dropped out of several online dating sites after several unsuccessful attempts at connection. It’s hard to be consistent living a bimodal life.
I helped Omar Chavez Santiago get a 10-year visa and brought him to North Carolina on two separate occasions for rug exhibitions and sales. I made a doggie patio and started walking 10,000+ steps four or five times a week with the four-legged ones. I kept up with writing Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog and taking photographs. In late summer, I was contacted by an editor compiling stories for a book about women from the USA who choose to live in Mexico. She invited me to contribute and I dug deep about why I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. That led me to realize the value and importance to me of this commitment and decided it was time to move forward to apply for a permanent resident visa, which I got in November.
It was never in my wildest dreams that I thought I would ever get a parasite, but it took a Oaxaca gastroenterologist to diagnose me after several tests in NC that gave me a clean bill of health. I learned a lot about microbiota, the digestive system, and gut health. I’m getting better. Seems this is a more common occurrence for both Mexicans and transplants than is talked about.
As the year winds down and I’m regaining energy, I also think about what’s in store for 2019 and what lies beyond in 2020. I’ve always liked to revisit this question at my December 31 birthday, now a number I only fretted about becoming long ago. More important now than before, it seems. So, here’s what I’m thinking:
2019 is pretty much locked in:
Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour in mid-January
Michoacan Folk Art Tour and Butterfly Sanctuary in early February
Chiapas Textile Tour at the end of February
Personal textile exploration with my sister to Japan in late March
Oaxaca Day of the Dead Women’s Writing Retreat
Reuniting with family and friends in Durham, California and beyond
2019 Morphing Into 2020 Intentions:
Offer fewer long-distance textile travel programs, reducing the number of winter trips from three to two
Stay closer to home; perhaps focus on a mix of local experiences: folk and contemporary art, textiles, pottery, mezcal, jewelry making, cooking, etc.
Survey Oaxaca Cultural Navigator followers to determine which TWO places in Mexico to visit in 2020 — new or repeat
Accelerate my own personal investigation of international textiles, and perhaps invite a small group to join me
Continue to reconnect with family and friends wherever they are
Love and appreciate nature, walk the campo with the dogs
Celebrate life, the beauty of Mexico and her people, the gritty streets of Durham, North Carolina
Stay politically active and committed to change without burnout
Practice “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and stretch, but differently, with more intention, slower, easier
I wish for each of you a holiday of satisfying abundance with family and friends, of peace and a year of good health ahead. Prosperity is the blessing of life, deep breath and contentment. More to come in the New Year.
December 12 is the Feast Day for Mexico’s beloved Virgin of Guadalupe. The devoted make pilgrimage to her shrine in the Mexico City basilica named in her honor. Many arrive crawling on their knees in supplication. She is honored and revered. Her image appears on every form of religious and commercial iconography you can imagine, from altars and pendants, to tote bags and dish towels. Here in Mexico, I might say she is more popular than God and Frida Kahlo.
She is officially known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called The Patron Saint of Mexico.
What motivates me to write about the Virgin of Guadalupe today? It is Sunday in North Carolina, where I now sit after completing two intense medical procedures upon my arrival (completely cleared of any issues, BTW). I am not Catholic, nor am I a woman of extreme faith. I have my beliefs and was raised in the tradition of question asking and skepticism. I am not an expert in social, cultural or religious history of Mexico by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am a keen observer and appreciate analysis. At university, I majored in history and political science. I have always been curious about revisionism, myth and how storytelling can be interpreted as fact. I also like to hear others’ points of view. This is how we learn and respect differences.
So, who is the Virgin of Guadalupe? She is Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called the Queen of Mexico and the Patron Saint of Mexico. That’s where I got in trouble: I called her a saint in my blog post about the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec.
First, my friend Rebecca wrote to set me straight: Catholics would put her [the Virgin of Guadalupe] above the saints and wouldn’t refer to her as a saint. They might call her Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin, etc.
I replied that Wikipedia and Huffington Post call her the Patron Saint of Mexico, after I went back to verify my facts.
Rebecca came back with: I think the Huff Post is inaccurate. They just didn’t have a word and “patron saint” sounds reasonable. No one would say Jesus is the patron saint of anything. No one ever refers to her as Saint Mary. Jesus, Mary, The Holy Ghost (Spirit), and God the Father are in their own category. I don’t know how things translate in Spanish. I know Our Lady of Guadalupe is beloved. But again Our Lady is not saint.
On Monday, December 10, 2018, I posted on Facebook asking the question: Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a saint?
Hector replied, yes, she is a saint and included in the Catholic Church’s Martirologium Romanum: a list of the people considered to actually be in the presence of God. She is actually considered to be ascended to heaven in her physical human form: Guadalupe is an “advocacy” a kind of suit or custom in which Mary is considered to be willing to present herself to some culture.
I reminded myself that syncretism — the blending of indigenous and Spanish conquest religious, social and cultural practices is how acceptance of the new religion — Catholicism became embedded in the New World.
Hector wrote back saying: Guadalupe (cave of wolves in Latin) was an advocacy of Mary meant to be used in the Christianization of Moorish people in Spain (that is the origin of her dark skin)… and it was also used in Mexico where it blended with the local Mother Earth Tonantzin.
Cristina noted: There is a saying in Mexico: “No todos somos católicos, pero todos somos Guadalupanos.” (We are not all Catholics, but we all believe in Our Lady of Guadalupe.)
Then, my long-ago friend Evangeline added this link from Skeptoid: The Virgin of Guadalupe. This was a history version well-worth reading, since the article postulates that it was Cortes the Conqueror who brought Guadalupe to Mexico from Extramadura, his home region in Spain, to use in the evangelization of the Indios. Seems there was a Guadalupe Shrine there, too. Perhaps the image was repurposed and adapted to a new location, and the accompanying Juan Diego (he is a saint) Virgin Mary sighting told to make conversion more appealing.
You can read the Skeptoid article if you want to know more.
Nevertheless, what is most important, I think, is that the Virgin of Guadalupe has taken on ecumenical proportions as a powerful female figure around the world. Not only is she the most revered in Mesoamerica, she represents woman as Mother Earth, Goddess, strength and perseverance, and yes, of freedom. But, she has evolved.
This paper: The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation, offers an important explanation of the politics of conquest and conversion, race and classism, and how the Virgin of Guadalupe was used to turn a recalcitrant indigenous population from paganism to the new religion. This gives us context and understanding for her popularity. Eventually, later paintings of her included the angel being draped by the Mexican flag, giving legitimacy to nationhood.
Needless to say, the Virgin of Guadalupe is embedded into the popular culture of Mexico. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who she is or what she is called: Virgin Mary, Tonantzin, an amalgam of both. Perhaps she is no longer a unique religious symbol, but an icon of the divine feminine in each of us.
Itzel Guadalupe is my sobrina and I am her tia. We have adopted each other. In truth, this fourteen-year old is the daughter of my friend Ernestina who lives down the lane from me. Her name Itzel translates as Star throughout Mesoamerica. Her namesake is the Virgin of Guadalupe, and she goes by Lupita. There must be millions of women named Guadalupe in Mexico, but this one is very special!
Lupita just finished weaving her first complete rug. Because I am her madrina, Ernestina came to me first to ask me to buy it. This is what happens here and I was happy to say yes as a way to encourage her to develop her artistry, craft and skill. I’d say she did a very good job for the first one.
My friend Scott, a California expert in tapestry loomed rugs here in Teotitlan del Valle, and one of the original exporters of Southwest Style, said that the weaving is very good and the color palette very pleasing. It is natural color Churro sheep wool with synthetic dyes.
I took Lupita with me on Sunday for the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec to expand her perspective. It was her first visit to this village.
The show featured finest woven tapestries from Teotitlan del Valle. In the main floor galleries was an exhibition sponsored by FOFA (Friends of Oaxaca Folk Art) featuring the work of talented young artisans ages 10 to 30 in all media.
Children start playing with yarn here very early. By the age of six or eight, their parents have turned a chair upside down and a child starts weaving warp and weft using the four legs. By the time they are pre-teens, many of them can weave a small rug. They learn more complex techniques with practice, perseverence and dedication. Weaving on a floor loom where one stands for hours requires stamina.
At the exhibition, Lupita and I paid special attention to the weaving work done by the young people of her village. We talked about their designs and I asked her if she knew any of them. She does. My hope in taking her was to give her confidence that she could aspire to reach for more.
I’ve known this young woman since she was two years old. I’ve watched her curiosity and intelligence develop. Perhaps she will go to college and/or become a very accomplished weaver or teacher. She told me her New Years resolution for 2019 was to go to the USA and to make more rugs to sell.
Would you like to buy Itzel Guadalupe’s first rug? $200 plus $15 mailing. I’m bringing it to the USA tomorrow in my luggage. I’ll be in North Carolina for a medical procedure and then return to Oaxaca on Christmas Eve.
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.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle