Tag Archives: marriage

Oaxaca Love Story: Carol and David Get Married

On Thursday, January 12, at the bench in Labastida Park where they first met a bit more than two years ago, Carol Lynne Estes and David Levin got married.

Carol Lynne Estes and David Levin at Parque Labastida

It was one of those gorgeous late afternoon Oaxaca winter days punctuated with clear skies, bright sunshine, passersby on bicycles, street vendors hawking fresh roasted corn-on-the-cob, a group of salsa dancers in the adjacent space waiting for their teacher, school children with noses in open books, mothers towing recalcitrant children.

We gathered to witness and give support to a great couple!

As we gathered, Gail Schacter, a Victoria, B.C. snowbird, retold the story about how she introduced Carol and David. Seems that she and Carol had gone shopping to replenish incense sticks from the ceramics shop inside Plaza de las Virgenes. As they exited onto the street, Gail spotted David, who she knew, across the park on a bench eating a sandwich after his gym workout. They went to say hello. The rest, as they say, is history/herstory.

Oaxaca is a place for convergences, new discoveries, exploring identity, creating new beginnings. Living here has a way of opening us up to possibilities. It also stimulates us to see what we are capable of doing, being, becoming. This is not a new-age concept, but one more of what it means for some of us to live life more passionately, fully and in support of each other’s choices.

It is more than escaping the chilly north for a patch of winter sun and clear blue sky. Young and older gravitate here for so much more.

From the moment that Carol and David met, they were inseparable. Carol’s girlfriends had to get used to that! We quickly learned that this was a couple who stuck together, so an invitation to one was an invitation to both. Their devotion to each other, I think, expanded our capacity for friendship, inclusion and intimacy.

The park bench where it all began! Felicidades.

Some of us wondered about this unlikely couple, a Texas English teacher and a South African Jew who settled in Canada after university study there. Theirs is a model for respecting traditions and differences.

Carol, Gail and David remember introductions

In 2015, Carol and David traveled together throughout Asia for several months, learning to negotiate everything. And, it seems, they managed this pretty well. They didn’t kill each other! They returned to Oaxaca even more committed to their relationship and started planning their next adventure.

Mary and Carol, celebration time.

Life takes us in unpredictable directions. On a stopover in Toronto to visit family last summer before going on to India, David had a medical set-back. Now, with great Canadian health care, he is recovering well, but they need to be in Toronto until the treatment plan is complete.

Amidst the hubbub of a public park, a wedding!

David and Carol are making Toronto home for the time being, but they came back to Oaxaca to get married at the park bench where they first met. Oaxaca is their heart home. We gathered round in tribute to their love, commitment and testimony to all that Oaxaca can provide for each of us in different ways.

May your cup over-floweth–with mezcal, of course.

In Spanish: Saludos. In Zapoteco: Chichibayoh. In Hebrew: L’chaim. With Bob Klotz officiating and Mary Erickson standing as a matron of honor, we raised our cups of mezcal. What else would one drink at a Oaxaca wedding?

Divine lemon cake from La Pasion bakery in Colonia Reforma, tops off the event



Renewing Intimate Connection: A Retreat for Couples in Oaxaca, Mexico

Thursday, February 23 to Wednesday, February 29, 2012.

This retreat will enhance couples communications skills using ABC Change Process ®.  Stephen Hawthorne, LCSW, developed this proven, successful approach over the past 30 years in private practice and teaching in Duke University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry’s Family Studies Program and Clinic where he trains and coaches psychiatry residents and psychology interns to use the ABC Change Process ® for their work with couples and families.  Up to 4 couples will be accepted to participate.

Oaxaca, Mexico, is a remarkably beautiful, peaceful and culturally rich city where committed couples can truly “get away” from day-to-day pressures at home, allowing them to focus uniquely on each other and their relationship.  This experience offers dedicated time to renew your intimate connection away from intense demands of work, family, and the distractions of daily routine.  At the same time, traveling together in a foreign country offers excitement and challenges, along with opportunities for improving communication and closeness.

Retreat days will offer a mix of group seminars, experiential exercises, private couples consultations, and special activities tailored to each couples’ needs and desires.  Throughout the retreat week, we include scheduled one-on-one customized and confidential sessions with each couple to further explore and invigorate the relationship.  There will also be plenty of free time to discover the UNESCO heritage site of Oaxaca, a 16th century historic city, dine in exceptional restaurants, stroll through museums and galleries, visit renown archeological sites and take in the vibrant nightlife as you practice the skills you are developing.

Even the happiest marriages can get stuck when trying to resolve difficult issues.  In this safe, supportive environment, couples will have the opportunity to improve communication skills and create a closer bond with increased marital satisfaction.

By participating, you and your partner will:

  • Improve your understanding of each other’s needs and desires.
  • Increase your ability to express your own needs and desires.
  • Gain a clear understanding of the Problem Communication Pattern that keeps you stuck having the same argument over and over in some important area.
  • Learn multiple ways of interrupting that Pattern and creating breakthrough with mutual resolution.
  • Increase your ability to give and receive feedback, bringing you closer together.
  • Develop the greater warmth and intimacy that meaningful and successful communication creates.
Plus add-on extra days for a cooking class and market excursions.

About Your Facilitator—Stephen L. Hawthorne, LCSW 

Stephen Hawthorne

Stephen Hawthorne was hired by the Duke University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry in 1981 to create their first training program in Family and Marital Therapy.  He has taught in the program ever since.  Over the years, scores of psychiatry residents and psychology interns have learned and applied his ABCTherapy(R) model.

For a podcast about how and why ABCTherapy is so effective, click here.

As a couples and family psychotherapist in private practice for the past 30 years, Stephen Hawthorne has helped hundreds of people to create more satisfying and intimate relationships.  He has presented at many professional conferences to excellent reviews, and is founder of the Family Institute of the Triangle.   Hawthorne holds an A.B. with Honors in Political Science and French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his MSW from the University of California at Berkeley.   He is a licensed clinical social worker with expertise in working with and teaching about gender issues, sexuality, chronic illness, death and dying, and palliative care. In addition, he has lived and traveled in both Europe and the developing world which gives him a keen awareness of cross-cultural issues.

Who Should Attend:   

The retreat will benefit all couples that are committed to improving their relationship – even if it is already pretty good!  It is not for people who are trying to decide if they should get married or stay married.  Creating true intimacy can be hard work, so being committed to the relationship is an essential condition for attending.

We suggest that each couple have a personal conversation with Stephen before registering to get any questions answered and to see if the workshop will fit your needs.  He can do this with you via Skype or telephone. Please contact him at phone (919) 942-8097 or email stephen@stephenhawthornelcsw.com. If either or both partners are in therapy at home, we request that they discuss attending this workshop with their therapist and clarify potential benefits as well as potential pitfalls.

Typical Daily Schedule

Arrival on Day One, check-in to your bed and breakfast, evening reception buffet and short orientation session.

Sample First Day

8:00-9:00 a.m.—Body movement and stretching

9:00-9:30 a.m. Breakfast

10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – Group Session with Stephen, orientation/application of the ABC Change Process with discussion, handouts and experiential communications exercises with your partner.

1:00-2:00 pm. —  Lunch

2:00-4:30 p.m. Some couples take part in private consultation with Stephen for in-depth personal guidance, while others are on their own for the rest of the day. On the days when couples do not have a session with Stephen scheduled,they may, at their leisure, enjoy the sights of Oaxaca and surrounding villages on your own.  This is a perfect time to visit the many unique local galleries, museums, and shops.

Subsequent days will have private couples consultation appointments and other skill building group sessions as well as free time to take your new skills out into the city to develop together. 

Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

We have selected a lovely, comfortable bed and breakfast inn located in the historic district of Oaxaca city.  It is within easy walking distance of excellent restaurants, galleries, museums, churches and other historic sites.  We will provide you with a list of “on-your-own” daily activities and arrange private transportation for you to visit outstanding local artisan villages and markets.

Cost: $2885 per couple/double occupancy.  This includes private room with private bath, daily breakfast, daily supper, welcome reception buffet, all group facilitation and learning sessions, and private couples consultation sessions, resources and recommendations.  

Add-on extra activity days: 

[  ]  Option A:  Add-on 5-hour Oaxaca cooking class, includes local market shopping tour and lunch, on February 29 (depart March 1).  Add $285 per couple (includes class, one night lodging, breakfast and lunch).

[  ]  Option B:  Add-on additional night lodging in Oaxaca on Thursday, March 1 (day on your own)  at $145 per couple per night.  Does not include additional activities. (depart Friday, March 2)

[  ] Option C:  Add-on Artisan Villages Excursion on Friday, March 2 (depart Saturday, March 3),  $325 per couple (includes one night lodging, group transportation, guided visit to Ocotlan de Morelos Friday market, visits to famed folk art potters and wood carvers, lunch on your own).

The retreat does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, lunches, and optional daily excursions on your own with associated transportation. We will provide you with directions for taxi or shuttle service from the airport to your bed and breakfast.  We reserve the right to alter the program as needed. 

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your space.  The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be paid by January 20, 2012.  Payment is accepted with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an invoice.  Registrations made after January 20 shall be paid in full.

Please see our cancellation policy listed in the Programs section of the front page of our website.  We recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Let the Parade Begin: Zapotec Weddings in Teotitlan

The preparation begins days, even months ahead. A few days before, the party truck pulls up to deliver hundreds of chairs and raise the huge red and blue striped tent that will cover the courtyard. The wedding celebration is about to begin. On the morning of the wedding, the couple welcomes their relatives in the altar room of the groom’s parent’s house. First, the men from the two families line up and, one by one, walk in to give their blessings to the couple, any advice they have for a good marriage, and any regrets about their relationship that they want to express. Then, the women line up and take their turn. After this, all assemble and form a parade walking around the streets of the village before going to church for the wedding mass, the band leading the way, the priest following, then the couple and their parents, and then all the guests – stringing out for several blocks.

The woman’s relatives do not pay for the wedding. In Zapotec tradition, the man’s side of the family covers all the costs: the mass, the band, the food and drinks, everything. People never rent a party house or hotel for the reception like we do in the U.S. Teotitlan del Valle families use their own house, rent the tent, hundreds of chairs, and provide food to feed all the guests. Everyone is invited (or so it seems) — all the close and distant relatives, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, nieces, close friends, and MORE. Anyone who has ever had an association the family is included on the guest list. You will see town folk lingering at the tall entry gates to the family compound where a wedding is taking place, waiting for an invitation to come in – which will always be extended. A wedding celebration could include hundreds of people. For example, Eric’s parents were recently invited to the wedding of the daughter of the man who delivers their drinking water. The man didn’t know Eric’s parents very well, but liked the way they acknowledged him when he delivered the water, so they were sent an invitation.

The woman’s family is responsible for giving the presents and money to the couple. The man’s relatives would customarily take a bottle of mezcal and flowers, but nothing more. Gifts could include major and small appliances, the size depending upon the closeness of the relationship. In wealthy families, gifts could be a car, a washing machine, a chest filled with gold coins, refrigerators, stoves, television, closets, and dishes. These are delivered to the girl’s house to store until the wedding day. At the end of the mass, the guests form the second parade of the day, the band plays and all promenade to the boy’s house for the reception. A truck or two, filled with the gifts, bring up the rear. Guests will take seats and watch as the trucks are unloaded and the gifts displayed in the center of the patio for all to see. Before cars and television, Eric thinks his people probably gave gifts of rugs, blankets, food and clothing, plus goods traded with other villages.

Guelaguetza: A System of Mutual Support

Weddings cost upwards of $15-20,000 USD. The groom’s family pays for about 60 to 70 percent of the expenses. This is a substantial sum for a weaver, whose annual income might be about $10,000 USD. The bride’s godparents always buy her wedding dress. That is the expectation when agreeing to become a godparent. Many families cannot afford to give a wedding but they feel an obligation to do it according to custom regardless of one’s means. A wedding party can last up to three or four days. When a family doesn’t have enough money, they will ask a relative or close friend to help them cover the costs, and promise to repay it later. This loan is known as the guelaguetza. There is no contract or written agreement. The spoken promise is honored regardless of how long the time passes. It could be one, five or 10 years later before repaying the guelaguetza. The man who made the original gift might say, “my son is getting married now and I would like you to provide the (fill in the blank …. music, barbeque, beer, mezcal, money). The repayment is always in the same form that was given. This is the Zapotec custom and Eric believes this is how his people have learned to honor their traditions, be mutually supportive and get along with each other over the centuries. Every time there is a dance of the feathers, a quince anos (Sweet 15), a wedding, a Christmas posada, or a baptism, there is a guelaguetza – the obligation of giving and paying back.

Eric believes that the women never enjoy the parties. Yet the social fabric of women’s lives are knit together in the camaraderie of life cycle events. Together, they make the fresh tortillas from scratch, starting two days before the event. They are cleaning the chickens, washing dishes, preparing the kitchen, chopping fruits and vegetables. The men are busy, too, trying to get the bull slaughtered to prepare for the barbacoa (goat barbeque), bringing in tanks of propane gas for the cooking stoves, buying the beer and soda, setting up the tent, and also cleaning the house. If the house is small and more space is needed, the men will dismantle the looms and take them out. They might clear out a bedroom or storage room to make more seating and dining space. There are weeks of chores in preparation for these events. Eric feels the women have harder work because they are in the kitchen constantly. That’s the primary reason why he doesn’t want a big traditional party — he is not eager for his mother to work that hard. He is sympathetic to the role of traditional women who prepare and serve the food, give first to the guests and the men, and eat last. And, he also knows that traditions are important to keeping a culture vibrant.

He notes, “When my cousins, the doctors, got married, they rented a party house in Oaxaca. But I saw that the women were bored, they didn’t have anything to do. They waited to be served but were very uncomfortable and didn’t understand this non-traditional practice. There were place cards for seating but in our culture everyone is used to sitting where they want. So, everyone got up and sat where they wanted to. The wedding reception ended after only a few hours, compared with a traditional Teotitlan wedding celebration that continues until 5 or 6 a.m. the next day.”

Some families are leaving the village because they cannot afford to participate in the guelaguetza system. Young people see that there are other choices for courtship and marriage via television and exposure to living in the city or working for a time in El Norte. Family expectations are powerful. Because so much depends upon extended family interaction, acceptance and interdependency, one wonders how these courtship and marriage customs will continue or be shaped by the pressure of external forces that all societies are challenged by.