Tag Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Three Steps Closer to Oaxaca

I now have a signed contract for the sale of my Durham, NC, condo after two months on the market. Patience is a test in so many ways. We have struggled, endured, survived this last year when many haven’t. I remind myself daily that this is a blessing and carry on.

Now I can begin my return to Oaxaca after I get packed and moved to Taos, NM. My Durham departure date is May 6, 2021 and I expect to arrive in the west by mid-month. Then, I anticipate going to my casita in Teotitlan del Valle for a few weeks this summer to dip my toe back in the water after being gone for over a year. Will it be safe by then? Safer than it was before, I expect. Mostly because I have been vaccinated.

Vaccine distribution in Oaxaca is still spotty. My friends in Teotitlan del Valle tell me they have registered to get a vaccine with the village administration. They have been promised availability and times to show up for the jab — and each time, this has been cancelled and rescheduled. We shall see how it goes today.

My goddaughter Janet tells me that the Oaxaca government says she will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March 2022. She is in her mid-30’s. That’s a year from now. Think of all the young people in Mexico who will not be vaccinated. Millions. Youth represents most of Mexico’s population! Here are the demographics.

Elsa tells me that she had two people cancel dye workshops last week because they got infected with COVID. They were foreign tourists. Not a good sign.

Last night, I shredded the notes I took last year about how to stay safe presented by Dr. Atul Gawande, public health physician. We were in a steep learning curve then. The danger now is in relaxing our vigilance, even with vaccine. In reviewing them, not much has changed from March 2020 to March 2021 about precautions:

  • Wear a mask that covers your face and nose
  • Stay 3-6 feet apart (later adjusted to 6 feet)
  • Use hand sanitizer liberally
  • Only meet outdoors

Those of us who have been vaccinated are feeling more adventuresome. My friend Winn is returning to Oaxaca for three months on April 7. My other friend Carol is there now. I am getting more requests for natural dye and weaving workshops. Our study tours are either full or have just a few places open. All signs point to recovery — physical, psychological, emotional, financial. But, I believe we must proceed with caution.

When I return to Oaxaca, I will wear a face shield, mask and use hand-sanitizer liberally, just like before. I will choose flights that minimize airport layovers. When I drive west, my gasoline and rest stops will be brief and equally protected. I still spray gasoline dispensary handles with alcohol!

As I begin to pack, there will be Oaxacan and Mexican treasures to send back into the world. Please stay tuned for items I will offer for sale in the next weeks.

With gratitude, Norma

Juvenal’s Funeral: Saying Goodbye in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid on January 31, 2021 in Southern California. He was a healthy man in his mid-50’s and left behind his wife Norma, daughters Nancy and Lizet, and son Lionel. Nancy just had a healthy baby boy this week. Life continues.

Juvenal’s body was returned to Teotitlan del Valle on Friday, March 5 and the funeral service was yesterday, March 6 in a traditional Zapotec ceremony.

So many of you made contributions to the fund to send Juvenal’s body home, and we sent the family enough money to cover these expenses. So, again, thank you very much.

My friend, Ani Burns, lives in Teotitlan and was a very close friend with Juvenal. With her permission, I share her experience of the funeral with you:

“I just returned from Juve’s burial, and I feel ten thousand percent better.  The outrageous beauty of the flowers provided by the committees that Juve served on, the outrageous beauty of the Mariachis competing with Souza Mexican music in another section of the Panteon, the outrageous smoothness of the Mezcal….all of this outrageousness matched how we felt.

“Juve died on January 31.  Family and friends did back flips to get his body home, which happened last night at eleven pm.  Now that the outrageousness is finally normalizing, we can get down to the serious business of enjoying Juve’s new grandson born this week to his daughter Nancy; his daughter Lizet’s quest for an iphone; and his son Leo’s possibly achieving the height of six feet in the coming months.  

“Breathe,” I said to myself and whispered the same to Norma, Juve’s wife, who I practice yoga with. “Here and now,” I said to myself. The breeze, the basket of ancestral bones that were extracted from the grave site and later replaced in proper skeletal order! Only in Mexico! Trumpets, strings, the soloist who needed no microphone, the women gathering over here, the men gathering over there, the gringa (me) dreaming under a tree in between, the wide-eyed chihuahua guarding the vendor stand….

Yes, we wore masks. Yes, we oozed with hand sanitizer, and yes, I was the only serious social distancer.  

Thanks to each of you for being such a great friend.

Abrazos fuertes,

Ani

Norma Schafer’s Back Story: I met Ani almost 20 years ago when I lived at Blue Heron Farm in Pittsboro, NC. She had a home there, too. Shortly afterward, she made a permanent move to Teotitlan del Valle for a quiet, more tranquil life in this traditional Zapotec weaving village. In 2005, she invited me to visit and that was the beginning of my sojourn there. I fell in love with the weaving and culture and the Chavez Santiago Family. The rest is history.

As I developed this special relationship with my host family, Ani developed her relationship with Juvenal and his family. She participated as babies were born, baptized, confirmed and married. Juvenal advised and helped her. They were mutually supportive of each other. One more painful loss now because of the pandemic.

You can read about Juvenal in previous posts here and see the list of generous people who made gifts to return his body home:

The Teotitlan del Valle panteon will be included on our 2021 Day of the Dead Oaxaca Culture Tour. This will bring me to final Juvenal’s resting place, where I can sit with him and pay my respects.

Ani references removing the ancestral bones from the gravesite, cleaning the grave. This is done with traditional reverence and prayer before returning the previously deceased and their bones back to make way for the newly deceased. In ancient Zapotec culture, there was a burial plot inside the house. Ancestor respect, which we call ancestor worship, is an integral part of the circle of life. We talk to them to get their counsel and they visit us with spiritual connection during Day of the Dead.

Help Bring Juvenal Home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My friend Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid-19 last week alone in a San Diego hospital. He was in his mid-50’s. A young man by my count. Oh, to be in my mid-50’s, full of life with years ahead of me. But, for Juvenal, this was not to be. His wife Norma and teenage children were with him in California while he was working, but they were not allowed in the hospital — a tragedy we hear so often, when there is no familial comfort in those last days and hours.

Help with a gift to bring Juvenal’s body home!

I am writing to ask you to help because it is expensive to return a body home. The family estimates that they need about $3,000 USD for transportation. This does not include funeral expenses. This is the amount we want to raise to help them. Can you help?

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

If you don’t use PayPal, we can receive your gift via personal check, VENMO or Zelle. I can also send a Square invoice. Let me know and I will send instructions. I am able to transfer your gifts directly to the family.

There is no question that Juvenal’s body will be returned for burial next to his ancestors in Teotitlan del Valle. He was a traditional Zapotec. My friend Annie Burns, who lives there and knew Juvenal like a brother, says that is what he would have wanted. It’s the family’s wish, too. In an 8,000 year old culture, traditional burial is a sacred part of life.

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez and family

I met Juvenal when I first visited Teotitlan del Valle in 2005. He had lived and worked in Los Angeles for some years by then, going back and forth, sending money home to his young wife as he was starting a family. He loved his work: driving long-haul tractor trailers all over the USA. That’s what took him back to L.A. this time — an offer of work to drive a load of liquid sugar from the border to the city every day. The company wanted him because Juvenal was a reliable and safe driver.

Hear Juvenal sing, April 25, 2019

Like many Teotitecos, Juvenal and his family received US citizenship during the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986. He settled in LA with his kinfolk who had migrated there years before. Like many Teotitecos, he traveled back and forth to the USA seamlessly. Everyone from Teotitlan del Valle has family in either Santa Ana or Moorpark. His English skills were excellent. He was a quick study. So he taught English classes on the patio several times a week to adults and children alike who wanted language skills to interact with tourists who were coming to buy hand-woven rugs.

On that first 2005 visit, Juvenal invited me and the wasband to visit his class and speak to them in English. It would be good practice for them, he cajoled us. His smile was invitation enough. A big, wide, generous grin that evoked a life filled with satisfaction and joy. We spoke slowly using simple language and where needed, Juvenal translated. We became friends.

Lizet holding the wedding photo of her parents, Juvenal and Norma

In the years that followed, Juvenal’s wife Norma, opened an apron stall in the village market and I would take visitors there to get theirs so they could look like the locals before taking a cooking class from El Sabor Zapoteco–Reyna Mendoza. Norma, a proficient baker, became my go-to person for baking birthday and quinceñera cakes. I was especially fond of her carrot cake with fresh grated carrots. Bite into it and still taste the crunch! The last time I saw Juvenal was on February 12, 2020, when he delivered two cakes for a small birthday party.

Juvenal with daughter Lizet

Norma earned her own pocket money by selling aprons and baking cakes. Juvenal was the primary income earner and would travel periodically back to Los Angeles to work, adding dollars to whatever pesos they had on hand from weaving and selling rugs. Then, Covid came and tourist income for the entire village dried up. This time, Juvenal left with his wife and children so he would not be separated from them for very long. Los Angeles became a hotbed for the virus this winter.

Lizet, Parade of the Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Juvenal leaves his wife Norma, 21-year old daughter Nancy who is pregnant with her first child, Lizet, age 17 and Lionel, age 15, and grieving family members in Los Angeles and Teotitlan del Valle.

This is Lionel, Juvenal’s son, singing La Cucharacha — kindergarten!

Thanks to Lizet Gutierrez and Anne Burns for sending me photos and music! and to Scott Roth for his memories.

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

Thank you very much for considering how you can help! -Norma

A Vignette from Anne Burns:

If I was walking down the street and saw a wad of bills on the ground, what would I do? What Juvenal did was go on the locals radio broadcast and tell the village that if anyone could name the exact amount, they could reclaim their money. And that’s what happened. A family came forth naming the exact amount. They had been saving that money for a long time and had been devastated when they discovered the loss.

This past week, as I have tried to come to terms with my loss of Juvenal, it has not escaped my notice that a praying mantis appeared in my kitchen patio and stayed a long while as I sat on the brick floor, or that an owl flew out hooting at me while I was walking one evening on the side of Picacho, the mountain sacred to this village.

Deck Your Halls with Oaxaca Rugs: Shop Open

We got this shipment of hand-woven Oaxaca rugs just in time for the holidays. Even if you are celebrating small (and we hope you are), these floor coverings (or display them as wall hangings) are a great decor enhancer for a fresh, new look. Made in Oaxaca, Mexico, by Taller Teñido a Mano on a 2-harness treadle loom, these tapestries are versatile and sturdy.

What makes these rugs special?

  • Our artisans use only naturally-dyed churro sheep wool
  • The wool is hand-carded and spun with the malacate — drop spindle
  • Dye materials include cochineal, indigo, wild marigold, wood bark, pomegranate (to name a few)
  • Our artisans dye the wool themselves — this is a slow process that yields amazing, vibrant and strong colors
  • The weaver uses his imagination to create unique, one-of-a-kind textiles
  • Designed in Oaxaca — made to last a lifetime

We also have Face Masks dyed with indigo, walnut and wild marigold, along with several skeins of cotton thread (3-1/2 ounces / 100 grams) dyed with indigo and wild marigold — perfect for weaving or embroidery.

Please place your order quickly to receive by December 24, 2020. Thanks so much.

#1–Indigo, cochineal, undyed wool, 23×36″ $285

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

#2–Indigo, cochineal, un-dyed wool, 23×36 $285
#3–Cochineal, indigo, marigold, pomegranate, 23×23″ $195

Handmade in Oaxaca: Taller Teñido a Mano specializes in experimenting with natural dye extracts for different applications on fibers. They have 18 years of experience and lead a group of artisans to create tapestries, bags, home goods and other textiles, often supplying thread to other artisan weavers, too.

SOLD. #4–100% henequin (Jute/hemp) with indigo + undyed wool. 23×22″ $175
SOLD. #5–Indigo + undyed wool, 31×55″ $285
#6–Indigo, undyed wool, cochineal, pomegranate, 23×23″ $195
#7–Indigo ikat + zapote negro, 22×33″. $295
SOLD OUT. 4 Skeins of cotton yarn, 3.5 oz. /100 grams, $24 each
  • SOLD. Yarn Skein #A — wild marigold (1), $24
  • SOLD. Yarn Skein #B — indigo (1), $24
  • SOLD. Yarn Skein #C — indigo (1), $24
  • SOLD. Yarn Skein #D — indigo (1), $24
Face Masks, 100% cotton, lined with natural dyes, $17 each
  • SOLD. Face Mask #1–TOP: pomegranate dyed
  • SOLD. Face Mask #2–MIDDLE: walnut dyed
  • Face Mask #3–BOTTOM: indigo dyed
  • Face Mask #4–indigo dyed (not shown)
  • Face Mask #5– indigo dyed (not shown)
  • Face Mask #6 — indigo dyed (not shown)

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

Mask-eR-Aid and More for Oaxaca

Lots to report since the last time I wrote about The Oaxaca Mask Project.

The recent 7.5 earthquake in Oaxaca eclipsed news about Covid-19 last week. Fortunately, in the city and surrounding villages, damage was light. The quake was centered near Huatulco along the Pacific Coast, where indeed, some villages suffered.

This week, the Welch-Allyn Vital Signs Monitor arrived in Teotitlan del Valle, a Usos y Costumbres village. Armando Gutierrez Mendoza, a member of the village health care committee, took it to Municipio President Andres Gutierrez Sosa, who received it — our gift to them. Señor Andres sends his thanks to all of us!

Here are photos of the committee opening and using it at the public health clinic.

Four donors made this vital signs monitor possible: Kate Rayner, Claudia Michel, Boojie Colwell and Dr. Deborah Morris.

All set up and ready to use!

A special thanks to Larry Ginzkey who organizes Hoofing It in Oaxaca hiking group. His group of hikers collected and donated $250 USD for The Oaxaca Mask Project.

Clinic nurse reading blood pressure and oxygen levels
Pulse oximeter measures oxygen levels in blood, can help detect Covid-19

If you live in Oaxaca or the pueblos and you want to receive and distribute masks to those in need, please let me know: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Jorge Toscani wear a mask

Rachael Mamane from Food for All took 70 masks to Jorge Toscani who is part of a Oaxaca taxi fleet. He told us that they disinfect the taxis regularly and has distributed our masks to all 15 drivers for themselves and passengers. She also took 150 masks to Puente. Rachael is looking for a contact in Ocotlan where she thinks there is an on-going need for masks.

Masks also went to Mama Pacha Chocolatier, Oaxaca. Thank you, Antonio!

Mama Pacha chocolate is some of the best in the world, I think. It is tempered, which makes it so smooth and creamy — fine eating chocolate rather than the Oaxaca chocolate we know for making the hot drink!

Cristy Molina Martinez sent this photo of a Macuilxochitl woman

We continue to send masks where requested. We had another request from Macuilxochitl for an additional 100 masks, so Cristy took them over there.

A family of mask-wearers in Macuil

Cristy’s cousin Catalina Martinez, who operates the folk art gallery WA’HAKA, has organized a food pantry in Teotitlan del Valle to help 50 older people. We gave her 80 masks to distribute.

We are slowing down as requests for masks subside. Lately, we are waiting to sew and distribute based on whether we hear there is more need. So far, we have made and distributed 3,119 masks.

I’ll give you more tallies of what we have accomplished in coming days.

Fabric for mask-making to Oaxaca

Berle Driscoll is moving from New York City to Florida this week. She wrote to ask if we could use more fabric for Oaxaca mask-making — she had a lot of unused cloth! It’s hard for me to turn down an offer like this. I received two boxes yesterday and will consolidate to include colorful elastic cording I will donate to the cause.

Hang tags for our masks–how to use and wash!
Kari Klippen-Sierra brings masks to the Santiago Family

Kari Klippen-Sierra has helped immensely. For the past two months she has worked with us to get masks to families and the health clinic in San Andres Huayapam, where she lives with husband Rudy Sierra. She has also made sure that two non-profits operated by the Episcopal church to help at-risk families receive masks. She repeatedly picks-up and distributes!