Tag Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Rosario’s Bolsas: Embroidered Oaxaca Shoulder Bags

Rosario is my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, friend who is an excellent embroiderer. I asked her to make more shoulder bags to send to me to offer to you. The dimensions are similar for all of them:

  • The bag is 8″x10″ (Because they are handmade, there is some variance.)
  • The shoulder strap is 43″ long. Use as a shoulder or cross-body bag.
  • They are lined and have an inside pocket.
  • The zipper is sturdy and easy to use.
  • The floral motif is carried over from front to back.
  • The embroidery is dense and detailed.
  • Each bag costs $58 plus $12 mailing. Total is $70. We can combine orders.

To Buy: Please email me norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, mailing address, item number and your payment preference. I will mark it SOLD. You can purchase using Venmo, Zelle, or PayPal. I will send you account information when you tell me you are ready to purchase.

I’ve known Rosario for years. She comes from a humble family that works hard to make ends meet. I have encouraged her to develop her sewing and needlework skills, and give her a new sewing machine a couple of year ago to help her sew dresses and blouses and to make these bags.

Thank you for supporting this handwork. It’s not too early, either, to start thinking about the season of gift giving and how special a handmade gift from Oaxaca would be!

YES! Back to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead 2021

Whew. I just bought my plane ticket to return to Oaxaca, after last leaving in March 2020. That’s 17 months ago! So much has happened since then. To many of us, I’m sure. For me, it’s been a crazy year-and-a-half. I decided to sell my historic tobacco warehouse condo in downtown Durham, North Carolina, in December 2020, and move to the wide open spaces of Northern New Mexico. My small casita on the Rio Grande Gorge is just beginning. My return to Oaxaca has been delayed because of this construction project.

Now, I’m concentrating on getting back to my Oaxaca world — my family of weavers, Galeria Fe y Lola, who I live with in Teotitlan, the artisans who are important figures in my life, my two adopted campo dogs who I miss immensely, my friends who are permanent residents. It’s a perfect time to return by revisiting the meaning of Day of the Dead that brings life and death into perspective.

We have a small group participating in the October 28-November 4, 2021 Day of the Dead Culture Tour celebration. This is a culture tour that concentrates on being in the villages for this very important observance. I have space for a few more people and welcome your participation IF you are vaccinated! Most of our activities will take place outdoors and all the artisans we visit will be vaccinated. We will adhere to strict Covid-19 safety precautions.

I’ll get my third “booster” vaccine before I leave New Mexico to make sure I have maximum disease resistent antibodies!

If you wish to participate in this tour, please contact me at Norma.Schafer@icloud.com I am offering several discount packages to entice you to come along!

My friend Carol Estes, a permanent resident, just returned to Oaxaca, traveling by air. She will be writing about her experiences with travel safety, and also what she observes on the ground. Another friend, permanent resident Jacki Cooper Gordon, wrote that protocols are mostly being followed in Oaxaca city now and most people (except for young American tourists), are wearing masks everywhere. Open air restaurants are welcoming clients and tables are well-spaced for social distancing.

Honestly, this is not to say there aren’t risks. Each of us has a different genome and each of us responds differently (physically and emotionally) to health threats. My feeling is that with all safety protocols in place: vaccine, booster, hand-sanitizer, face masks, goggles or face shield, and social distancing, I will be fine. If I do get sick with a breakthrough case, it will likely be mild; I will not die or need hospitalization. The data confirm this. For immune compromised people, the risks are much greater, of course.

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.