Monday, December 31, 2007

Año Nuevo and Beyond

New Year's Eve found us en route to the Cordero's House around 10:30p for a big feast and festivities. We'd spent part of the afternoon preparing a hearty black bean soup as our vegetarian contribution to the meal. The house was decked in the finery of Christmas lights and nativity scenes still. The long dining room table was dressed in candles and brightly colored table linens. We were a "packed house," Azucena & Rafael, their two sons, Mauricio and Alejandro, Mau's girlfriend visiting from Barbedos, Ayesha, Sarah & Aaron, Me and Mau's friend Chucho (sort for Jesus, no idea why).
Mau & Ayesha

Me & Chucho

Conversation around the coffee table, followed by a tiny match with Mau's new Wii. Then midnight approached. We each took our place around the dining room table. A bowl of 12 grapes was laid out at each place setting. Per tradition in México, at the stroke of midnight, everyone crams 12 grapes into his/her mouth, making a wish for each month of the new year, and each stroke of the clock. Hugs and best wishes all around. And then, at last, we sit down to 12:00a. Can you believe it? People like to eat late on holidays here!

By the close of the meal, all looked defeated by black beans and pork shank. But somehow, somehow, we rallied enough energy to clear the furniture from the living room to make a dance floor. Rafael's new Bose speakers rolled out; they're quickly attached to an iPod and the night truly begins.

Let it never be said that you can't hoof it past sixty--because the most energetic and tireless dancers at the party were surely Rafael and Azucena. We each took a turn about the dance floor--even Chucho, who surprisingly had never danced before in his life. It was great fun.

Like most in Oaxaca, we slept in the next morning, our dogs tired from shuffling to the beats of salsa, meringue and mambo. Not all of us felt energized by the frolicking of the night before. Some kind of bacteria took hold of our little Aaron. But we were sure that perhaps a day at a spa in town might do the trick to relieve him of fever and the shakes. So we schlepped off to Los Olivos for massages and mani/pedis. Sadly, it didn't do the trick. So, what to do....? Go to Cozumel, of course!

This is Aaron's tongue from New Year's Eve. See that lil' white spot on the tip? I'm almost certain that's the bacteria, about to take hold...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A bit of Oaxaca, tourist-style: Second Batch

Sarah was interested in a Cooking Class. So I offered up mi mamá Mexicana as her teacher. Azucena kindly acquiesced and took us to the open market at Parque Llano where we purchased hordes of veggies for our feast, and a little something with which to make orchata. Here's a picture of our beautiful sopa de guias. Guias is a very traditional soup made from the leaves and branches of the squash plant. Added to that is corn and the actual squash itself. Finish it off with a mild red salsa and a generous squeeze of lime. yum!

A typical morning in Oaxaca for Aaron might include, donning his newly-purchased hat de palma, eating a sweet bread and chilling on my flamboant coach for a spell in his undies. That might be a typical morning for Aaron. I can't be totally sure he ever really did that. It's not like I have pictures of it, or anything.

A favorite day of mine was when we headed out to San Agustín de Etla, a pueblo about a half-hour outside of Oaxaca. The artist Francisco Toledo began a project years ago to remodel an old textile factory into a art gallery/design school/paper mill all with the idea of sustainable production and green building in mind. I traveled to the site of this factory in 2003 when it was just a run-down building. The structure that sits there today is incredible. And you can see why they nicknamed this spot "Vista Hermosa," (beautiful view).

After we'd toured around the place, we hiked it uphill towards the center of town in search of a place to eat. When a collectivo taxi strolled by we flagged him down for a recommendation. He suggested a little place around the corner called Comedor Juquilita. It couldn't have been more perfect. The family that ran the place was so friendly and accommodating I wondered if they'd ever had tourists come through before; they seems surprised to see us. They hefted a table out back for us so we could eat while taking in the view off the hillside. We munched on freshly made tortillas (mine a blue Tlayuda--a bit thicker and crispier than the typical variety) stuffed with beans, avocado, tomatoes and cheese. Someone even brought us a tiny glass of mezcal sweetened with wine (or was it honey?) I can't remember. Delicious!

It was easy from there to hop another collectivo taxi back into Oaxaca center, where we stopped off at Iglesia de la Soledad. Out front of the church is a large stone plaza where we fell upon a card game, to which we invited ourselves. The game was chased by a ice cream parlor glass filled with nieve (snow), mine was a double scoop of rose-flavored and mango.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A bit of Oaxaca, tourist-style

I'm fresh back from vacation. Sarah and Aaron are now safely back in Chicago, enjoying, I imagine, food without bacteria. I'll quickly blog on a bit of our visit together. Side note: I'm having a bit of a connection problem--so I'll just have to post these pictures piecemeal until I can load them a bit more quickly.

The week went by fast in Oaxaca. We trekked around the city, visiting galleries, artisan shops, museums--trying our best to eat only the BEST Oaxaca had to offer. One of our quick stop offs was at this store. I know it looks like Aaron is in line at the DMV. However, he is really waiting to pay for some red undies; that's a lingerie store. It's traditional here in México to don red underwear for New Year's Eve; they carry buena suerte.

Sarah directed us to a restaurant called La Olla, of which she had read in her handy Lonely Planet. This is a picture of her picturesque dinner, or which I cannot remember the name...Sarah? I had two tamales, one a chicken tamal in mole negro sauce, the other a tamal de chepil. Both delicious! And Aaron had the spiciest little chile relleno I'd ever tasted. He braved his way through the whole thing. And we all had a bite of the best flan we'd ever tasted.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


They're here! And they're making me eat a LOT!!!! No time to write in depth, for now. So here are some pictures...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Christmas was mostly a quiet affair for me this year. Traditionally people celebrate on Christmas Eve here. The Zócalo is filled with passerby. Each church builds a float to honor the birth of Christ. And the steadily march throw the town center, where fireworks and confetti explode in the crowd (no fear of litigation here!). Then people retire at the late hour of 11p to eat their Christmas feast with family and friends. It's not uncommon to stay up the whole night reveling together.

I was invited to a couple homes for Christmas Eve dinner. The Cordero's headed out of town to spend Christmas in Chiapas with friends. So I ventured over to Eugenia and Isaac's house at 11 for dinner. We didn't eat until after midnight. Turkey, salad, a bit of Christmas punch. Seven of us huddled around a small table to chat and enjoy the evening. I got home around 2:30a, which I'm told is early.

The next morning it was breakfast in bed. It's Christmas after all! Most of the town is shut down. Everyone is taking the day to rest from the celebration the night before. I take advantage of the calm to walk a bit. A friend invites me out for a morning smoothy. Later I trek over the Cordero's to feed the dogs, Oso (bear) and Era (a goddess' name). I have a nice chat with dad, thanks to the internet and Skype. And then I settle in to make MY Christmas feast.

First I make some carrot ginger soup. While it warms, I start to construct some dinner crepes. I whip up some crepe batter in the blender, and pool the batter in a shallow pan.

Inside each crepe I spread sautéed broccoli, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

I roll it into a pillow and layer on top a mushroom, brandy sauce. yum!

A friend comes over at 9, and we enjoy a quiet Christmas meal. He obliges by doing all 5,000 of the dirty dishes I created. Sucker!

Tomorrow Sarah and Aaron arrive in the morning from Chicago for a nice long visit. We'll spend a week here in Oaxaca, tooling around. Then we're off after the New Year to Cozumel!!!! I can't wait. More on that later. Happy Holidays, all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day 2 in

My plan this morning is to head out of town north, as if I'm treading back to Oaxaca in a van, but this time I'll hop out at Teposcolula, City of Historic Monuments. I met a couple at the Anniversary Celebration from Teposcolula, who timidly agreed to be interviewed. So, now I will follow the tiny address I scrawled in my notebook over a week ago and attempt to find them again.

When I jump out at the center of town, I ask the ticket guy at the bus station where Galeana street is located. He draws me a quick map on the back of a receipt (which he doesn't give me, but just uses to demonstrate the route). However, as I'm heading further and further from town center, and it appears the the edge of the city is approaching fast, I stop to ask a bread maker. He's unsure of Galeana and directs me to the Tortillera. She doesn't know either. I'm beginning to think that no one knows the street names around here. The same is true in Oaxaca City. The street names change every several blocks, thus, people find it easier to memorize sign posts, rather than street names. Often directions will sounds like this: Head up hill, there's a bank on the corner of the street, take a right, you'll come to this two-story house, there's a mangy dog out front, he doesn't bite, take a left...

So by the time I'm clearly out of town range, I stop over at a gas station and wander inside to the restaurant in back. A woman in the kitchen approaches, but she, too, is uncertain of Galeana's location. However, when I tell her the name of Felipe, the farmer,who I am looking for, she asks, "Oh! Does his wife make tortillas?" And bam! We're in business. She directs me back into town and describes my exact route, even the wooden fence the lines their front yard. Who would have guessed? The town has maybe 3600 people--but it seemed a stretch that a name would do it. Guess not!

Out front a man is sweeping up the street. I inquire about Felipe, the farmer, he says "Ah, yes, that's my boss, follow me." It turns out this is Felipe's son. The "my boss" throws me off for the first 20 minutes. Apparently, some people affectionately call their parents "boss" in some parts of Mexico. I'm thinking my dad would like if I did that, too!

Felipe remembers me, and my promise to visit. It's so late in the week, he was afraid I had forgotten. We head inside to the small stone kitchen where his wife is still busy making tortillas. She's more cautious about my presence than Felipe. Regardless, I get out my equipment and begin to record her tireless process of making tortillas. She grinds a corn masa until it's smooth and thin on the lava stone metate. She hunks off a small piece, rolls it between her palms, and then places it in a press to smoosh it flat. She peels it from the press and then places it delicately onto the floured comal, which sits over a small open fire. Flip flip flip, each tortillas takes a spin. One-by-one they puff up large and then deflate. Flip. They are done--so she places them into a palm basket to keep warm. I record, I ask questions. She places a fresh warm one in my hands, sprinkling fresh farmers' cheese in the middle. It is the best tortilla I have had to date.

Her son and husband file into the room eventually. They each take a turn at the microphone. They are avid listeners of the station, even though they do no speak a language other than Spanish. The music, the programs, they play on the small radio affixed to the stone wall almost all day long. Felipe takes me out to the fence that surrounds their house and shows me the long reaching view of the valley. He points off into the distance at a large yellow tree. "To the left, that is my farm."

When the interview is over, the son offers to take me into to town and show me some of the historic buildings the town is named after. When he is not teaching at an elementary school in town, or helping around the farm, he is a licensed tour guide. So we take a walk through the enormous town church, Templo Mayor, which has the largest outdoor Dominican chapel in all of Latin America. We then hike up hill to the Casa Cacica, which was the home of the leader of the indigenous tribe that peopled this valley. The missionaries built the church as close as possible to the Cacica hoping to draw the local crowd that would visit the Cacica to their Catholic stone steps.

Casa Cacica

The day is dripping away, and I'm expected back at the station. So I say goodbyes and hope right into a van that pulls up to the Plaza. It's a fast hour's ride back to Tlaxiaco. I jump out at XETLA. This week begins Christmas break for many. But the station doesn't stop broadcasting ever. Thus, three of the staff members must keep the place running while the others are on break. It's Cornelio's shift when I arrive. He lets me into one of the offices to use a computer. I've agreed to give a few quick English lessons to some of the staff. So with the help of a book a purchased in Oaxaca, I start to write out their first homework assignment. I leave several copies in a manila folder out front at Reception. We'll see how many accomplish their assignment on my return in January.

Before the sun dips down, I take advantage of the light to walk back into town to my little room. The family, my landlords, are all dressed up for the wedding they have been feverishly preparing for all week. When I arrive Mary, all decked out in finery, shoos me into my room and tells me to quickly come over to the reception site. Truthfully, I dawdle a bit, tired from the day, and also a bit shy about attending a wedding of I-don't-know-who. Eventually, I get dressed up and head a half-block away to the wedding site, which is a large tent erected over a vacant lot. The family has adorned it in flowers, bolts of fabric, clay pots traditional to Tlaxiaco. Two stages are set up in front--because one band is not enough for a party of this size. With a town so small, one would not think there would be so many guests. But people have come from all over to celebrate. Plus, it's Christmas, so many are home to pass the holiday with their families--and of course, they have to attend the wedding, as well. There are possibly 350-400 people. Some are sitting at long stretching tables. Others are in folding chairs circling the dance floor. When I walk in the bride and groom are being pushed into some kind of dance that is traditional for weddings. The groom is being sprayed by his family and friends with beer, poor guy, while the bride is held aloft by her bridesmaids. They then strip the groom of his shoes and socks, hoist him up like a coffin and march him around the tent, with the bride trailing behind. I hear something about how he is married now, which means he's basically dead, I guess. This is all kind of foggy because I didn't have anyone explaining to me the meaning behind the dance. So bear with my naked observation free of comprehension. They then sit the groom down, totally drenched in beer, and the bride has to put his socks on him. People then belt him into an apron and hand him a broom. The emcee is yelling something over the mic about how he's going to have to get used to helping with the housework now. So he begins to dance with the broom around the dance floor--he seems to be having a grand time. They shove a belt into the brides hands, and all taunt and encourage her to whip him with it. What is this?!

Eventually I find Agustin and Mary in the crowd. They sit me down at a table and a plate of mole and rice is placed in front of me. I eat. I have a drink. I chat with a few people. I watch the dance floor fill and empty in a flash. And after I take a spin on the dance floor myself, I decide I'm done. I know the party, which started at 3 in the afternoon, will stretch on until the morning. For a people that truly work all week long, and don't have a weekend from work like we do in the States, a wedding is a great excuse to finally relax and enjoy.

I'm anxious to return to Oaxaca, however. I've got house guests arriving in a few days--so things need to get done! So I set my alarm for 6, and drift off to sleep with the boom boom of the bass thumping in the background.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It starts with a sea of clouds, it ends with postre

Lunch in Tlaxiaco

I awake early, in darkness. The pinche gallo was eclipsed by some other ruckus in the house at 12:30a, and later at quarter to four. So it's with eyes heavy with sleep and creaky limbs that I drag myself to shower. It is a particularly chilly morning. I can se my breath inside the house. Even the young woman who makes juice in the street-side store is not up yet. I suppose she has stolen a few more minutes under the covers.

I head uphill and south to the indoor market to nab myself some fresh bread. Out the market door, I swing right to snag a hot cup of atole with milk and rice, the steam trailing the cup as I head further south where vans head out for Putla. For $2 I hop a transport for San Andrés Chichuaxtla. It's an hour's ride out of town. I recognize a few bends in the road, from my earlier trip a few weeks before, the tiny pueblo of Cuquila, Maria Teresa's sisters house. The van slows as it comes around the turn to Chicahuaxtla and I get out on the side of the road. I head down a steep hill into the center Plaza, about a 15 minute walk away. As I head downhill, the road opens up to the view of the valley below--which due to this early morning hour appears to be a large lake--but in fact, is a sea of clouds and mist.

I'm in town to interview several folks at met a few weeks ago at Plaza Day. Let's hope they remember me, and prove still eager, or at least willing, to be recorded. When I knock on the door of Don Ramón, I am told that he headed out of town this morning, but will be back in an hour. In order to fill the time I make my way up to the Municipal Building to see if I can snag an interview with the President. No luck, the office is all shut up. It looks like people have already begun their Christmas break. I walk over to the bilingual elementary school to see if I can visit a classroom, or speak with the director. Again, out of luck. The school is all shut up. However, I pull aside some kids milling about and interview them, as well as a college-aged woman who is teaching them a bit of English while they are on break.

Still unsure that Don Ramón has returned, I make a beeline for the Plaza to meet up with a chicken/fruit/veggie seller. We sit outside her simple storefront on plastic stools as her kids play around us. She's nervous at first about the large microphone I extract from its case. However, after 10 minutes she begins to tell me about her life, her 14-year job in Mexico City in the house of some wealthy Israelis, and her return to Chicahauxtla for a better life for her kids. When I depart she hands me two mandarinas from her stand. I ask her how much, but she refuses to take any money. This act is repeated over and over wherever I travel; people from extremely humble surroundings offer me their time, their stories, and then, the very little they have. It's incredible.

I head back to Don Ramón's house. Unfortunately, no one answers the door. A few small children are playing in the backyard. I ask the eldest boy if he knows if Don Ramón has returned. He leads me back into town, and then west, downhill, towards the family farm. Ramón is busy piscando (pulling the ears of corn from the dried stalks in his field). So there we stand, on the dipping slope of his hillside field, him tossing fresh ears of corn into a stack, me with headphones and a mic, the green hills rolling out into a valley of clouds.

It's been a full morning--so I pack up my equipment and head back uphill to the highway. Just as I crest the climb, a van is passing. I flag it down, hop in, and sit back for the easy return to Tlaxiaco.

Don Ramón's Field

Later I meet up with Rene at the station. He wants to introduce me to the theater troupe he's in; they are putting up a pastoral play for the 26th. We head in a taxi up a back road off the station. The taxi winds and turns and eventually stops in front of an old wooden cabin, with chiseled adornments, looking over misty green hills. This is the home of the director of the play, as well as the site of the production. Salvador, the director, is a retired UNAM professor of theater. He lived most of his life in Mexico City as the Chair of his department, later as the director of a private arts high school. Now, in his late 60s, I would guess, he has retired with his wife to his hometown of Tlaxiaco. He teaches classes at the Casa de Cultura. His family has owned this cabin for generations; they own the acres of land around it, as well. There are plans to build a university on its property eventually, too.

The young actors are up on their feet, scripts in hand, blocking the scenes today. It does not matter that opening night is 5 days away--they are determined to make something wonderful for those that will gather in folding chairs, or stand next to tall pines to watch them perform. They ask me to take on a roll--but I head out of town a two days, and have to decline.

When rehearsal ends, a taxi appears. Most squeeze into every available seat, even the back trunk. Rene and I decide we'll walk up to the main road and find another passing cab. We head into town, make our way to Rincón de Gon for a cup of hot chocolate and a postre.Later we wander over to the Casa de Cultura for a classical guitar concert. Rene and I say our goodbyes in front of the Cathedral. And just as I'm heading out of the square, one of the guitarists tugs on my sleeve and asks if I will come have a coffee with him and the other musicians. I suppose being the only foreigner in the small auditorium made me stand out. I'm exhausted, but feel I should say yes to most opportunities to meet people. So I follow them to a restaurant nearby, order a limonada, and chat with fellows. They are determined to stay up all night and enjoy Tlaxiaco's fine discotecas. I, however, am ready to sleep. So I bid them goodnight, and head back towards the Plaza to my little room in the big house where sleep finds me soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Arrival in Tlaxiaco

I arrived to Tlaxiaco on the afternoon van. There was a little trouble finding a taxi; the Cordero's truck broke down, and so I was left without a ride last minute. In the end I had to lug my gear and bag down to the main road to hop a cab quickly to the van stop. I was up front next to the driver, and some guy bringing two exotic goldfish to his kid brother in Tlaxiaco. Poor things. At one point he drifted off to sleep, and when we hit a tight curve, the fish took a dive for the floor. Still alive, but with minor concussions (I imagine) they resumed their place on the guy's lap for the rest of the drive.

I hop out at the station. The driver unlatches my bag from the top of the van. I'm delighted that my green duffel has made the whole trip with such a supreme view of the afternoon sun setting on green and burnt red hills--instead of getting shoved under a seat in back. I weigh whether I should mention this to the driver, and decide better of it.

I leave my things in a studio at the station and head over to the auditorium to find Daniel, the Director. He's off to Tuxtepec in the evening--so we double back to the station so he can write me a letter of support for an extension of my grant. Yes, I'm applying for an extension. (Don't get worried, Mom & Dad--it's just two additional months).

Later, Rene and I trek over to the auditorium for teh CDI's Christmas Party. A modern band (as opposed to the regional bands that are at so many of the pueblo parties to which I've been) plays norteñas at a volume just loud enough to prevent conversation. I'm served a plate of shrimp, some kind of charred fish, and what I think is salad. The salad is actually freshly chopped onions, carrots and chiles (that look like green peppers). They've been soaked in vinegar and chile sauce, and then sprinkled with salt. So after one bite, and some painful tears, I leave that section of my plate untouched. Too hot for this gringa's mouth! I like spicy food, but I don't want to die at 29. I dance, I drink a few sips of some 100 year-old tequila. I eat a few dulces from the recently-smashed piñata. (Can I just say that we, in the U.S. are big wusses when it comes to piñatas. We hang them from a fixed point, and blindfolded attempt to find the piñata and hit it. Here, they blindfold you, but the piñata is not hung from a fixed point--it's strung up by a pulley system so someone can constantly change it's height and location. Much harder!)

I arrive at the little room in the big house somewhat late at night. Things are still aflutter due to the upcoming wedding of Augustin's nephew. Mary and Augustin are in charge of decorations. And thus, baskets, clay pots, flowers and ribbon have been coming and going from the house at all hours; it is a Martha Stewart way station.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A bit of mezcal and some conversation

Christmas is fast approaching, as I'm sure many of you in the States are VERY aware since your storefronts, streets and homes are decorated to the nines. Here, if I squint my eyes and walk around in a slight blur, I would hardly notice that the holidays have arrived. The 70-degree, daytime temp is no indication, of course. Nor is the lack of major shopping fever. Sure, people decorate their homes. But without front yards, many of those decorations are not seen by the innocent passerby. Inside each home, many create the most elaborate nativity scenes I've ever scene. The Cordero's have one that takes up the entirety of their foyer, complete with mountainside, desert diorama and river.

Thus, the two most obvious ways that I can identify the imminent holiday are 1) The front of my "hacienda" has been festooned in lights by my landlords. And 2) People have begun to sweep through town on their vacations. Alejandro, the Cordero's eldest son, just got into town two days ago from Vancouver, where he was studying film animation. So anyone out there with a connection in the animation world should let me know. This boy needs an interview! Likewise, Katie, a fellow Fulbrighter, was in town for several days brushing up on her advanced Spanish, and taking some time away from work work work. We bumped into each other at a café in town that has outstanding mango lassis (go figure). Whether it was our shared Mexican experience, or our abiding love for Kai Ryssdal that prompted us to head out for a bite to eat, who's to say. But it was a lovely evening of ENGLISH conversation, and yummy botanas. Here is Katie's first taste of mezcal ever!

Well, I'm off to Tlaxiaco for another few days before my Christmas break sets in. Friends (Aaron and Sarah) will be coming down the 26th to spend a week here in Oaxaca with me. And then we're all off for a few days in the Yucatán. woohoo! More on that later.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Me + Sunday = REST

Like the Lord, my Sundays are for kicking back and looking at the fine changes I've made to the world. This Sunday involved a little of this...

...and some of this....

...and staring at my lovely thatched roof. Isn't it cool looking?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One Day of Total Cooperation

My morning was spent in two ways: 1) taking a trip out for the bi-monthly maintenance of the station's antenna with Abraham, and 2) helping to get everything at the station back in order since the anniversary party. So while I could regale each of you with my Adventures in Moving Chairs, or How to Bargain With a Caterer After You Have Lost Her Napkins--I will not. Instead, I will just skip ahead to the afternoon.

Araceli invited me earlier to accompany her out to her hometown, Magdalena Peñasco, for her community's annual party. Thus, once we dispensed with all of the day's business we headed out of town, southeast, in her little, beat-up car. We intended to leave earlier, around 3. But the day unwound itself rapidly, so we found ourselves racing out of town at 5. Magdalena Peñasco is about an hour from Tlaxiaco. As Araceli puts it, "all year-round the neighbors squabble and fight. But these two days, everyone comes together to 'cooperate.'" One family pays for church mass, another for the decorations. Every tortilla maker in town contributes a giant basket of tortillas. Someone slaughters a bull; someone prepares it. All must contribute, by law. If you've emigrated north, then you must send money. The only exemption is given to students. If you are over the age of 12, and studying somewhere, you can forego a contribution. I gather they recognize the student's plight, and value his/her education. However, once studies are complete, you must continue with your yearly contribution to the festivities.

Araceli points the car off the main highway and up into rocky back roads once we are 30 minutes out of town. We wind around pine trees and small, trickling rivers. Each bend offers a new vista of the surrounding area, which is, to be generically descriptive, beautiful. As we crest the final hill, 100 meters from Araceli's house, a group of women flag us down. They have just visited the party and need a ride home. No communal taxis have come or gone for a spell, so we pop the trunk, rearrange our load and pile them all in. It takes about 40 minutes to snake our way back down the mountain, hop over the highway, wind up the next mountain and leave them off for our return. Araceli chats in Mixteco with the older women. They giggle at my efforts to say "hello" and "how are you?" I'm hoping it's at least recognizable in Mixteco. Who can say?

When we make it back to "town" center (I put quotes because this community is so small it's not really a town. There is definitely a church, basketball court and 3-room school. But there is nothing more to denote that this is more than a collection of small, aluminum-roofed houses). We make our way to the main food tent. We are helped to heaping bowls of yellow mole with a piece of res (beef). Crisp, large tortillas are served, accompanied by peach soda. I ask how many people they have served already today--250, the women answer. Incredible! This little network of homes can't be more than 20 families. And yet, they will feed any and all arriving from nearby villages. I ask Araceli "Why? Why do this? What for?" She laughs and says she can't answer...isn't it obvious why?

Araceli's mom parts from washing pots and pans to come over and say hello. They chat in Mixteco about Araceli's day. I can pick up bits and pieces--it's funny how small gestures can demonstrate a lot. We exit the food tent to make our way to Araceli's house so she can change into something warmer. Now that the sun has departed, a chill sets in. A basketball tournament has just broken up. The hordes of players make their way down the road for an unlimited dinner (basketball is extremely popular in the Mixtecan pueblos. I always thought soccer was the sport of choice in Mexico. Perhaps a basketball court is more compact, and thus easier to place, than a soccer field). Now with coat and long pants, Araceli is ready. It is a quick visit--but nice to get a look at where she lives. Doubly nice to have had the opportunity to get to know her along the ride.

We head back into town. She knows the path so well that the car drives itself around dark corners and bends. I see the small clusters of lights where houses group together in mountain ridges. As we roll into town, traffic picks up. I'm hoping to catch the last suburban out of town to Oaxaca tonight; I've got plans the following day in Oaxaca. But as we pull up to the first light, we notice a calenda coming down the road. It's the Virgen of Guadalupe's day. I bumped into another calenda earlier that morning with Abraham. We had to pull over to let the parade pass by as we made our way up to the antenna. But now, on this night, Araceli sees that we cannot wait and get stuck behind the calenda, or I will miss my suburban. So she swerves through the light and up the hill, taking back streets. I get disoriented from all her turning and accelerating. Without fail, we land at my big house with the little room. I race inside and throw a few things in my bag, zip 'er up and head out with excuses to my landlords who are in the living room. We race back up hill--we've got to get across the main highway before the calenda arrives, or our route to the station will be cut off. It's like the final scene in an action film, except there's less blood, and less make-up, oh and Araceli and I aren't statuesque beauties playing pretend for millions of dollars. Araceli storms across a few lights, and we pull up to double park next to the station. She accompanies me inside, authoritatively taps her keys against the ticket booth window and demands "one ticket to Oaxaca, quick."

Fifteen minutes later I am on a suburban riding north out of town. A small farmer has decided to switch the seat he was originally in to sit next to me. We make a bit of small talk and then fall into silence. I put my iPod in and try to close my eyes and get some rest. But with every tope (speed bump) my eyes flutter open to find the farmer staring at me. I guess I should just say "Please look away. I know I look different, but you are making me uncomfortable." Instead, when someone hops out at Nochixtlan, I ask the driver if I can move up front, where now a seat is vacant. He explains that we're still moving and he can't pull over. I wave his excuse away and say I can hop over the seat, which I do, without permission. It's a bit awkward, me climbing over a giant van seat to get up front. I mumble something about being dizzy in back. The little farmer helps push my backpack over the seat to me. I'm happy for the help, and even happier to get away from his constant gaze; he can stare at the back of my head now in peace.

We roll into Oaxaca at 11:00 PM. I call a friend quickly to see if he can pick me up from the station. He obliges. Again, I fall into bed, exhausted. However, this time I drift off to sleep with a smile on my face; tomorrow I will awake to silence. Buenas noches, pinche gallo, wherever you are.

Monday, December 10, 2007

#@*&! Gallo

Guess how I woke up this morning? That's right--pinche gallo. It is a true art form how he clucks and chortles, starting at 4:30 or 5. I tried to count in between cuckadoodles this morn to see if he was "singing" at regular intervals--thus, I could plan my sleep in the 45 seconds between clucks. Nope. He's brilliant. It's a totally random spread of clucks. I mean, it's statistically random. Therefore, I am woken up with surprise every time between the hours of 4 and 6, or 5 and 7--depending on when I decide to abandon the warm, little oven that is my bed, for the warm steamer that is the shower. Can I just say, thank god for the hot water at my new place in Tlaxiaco. My #2 favorite thing about America is her hot water. I take for granted our water situation in the States (bad, Megan!)--meaning, we have it in our homes mostly without fail, and generally it comes with heat. Some people argue that our next wars will be over water. Frankly, showers aside, it's something worth fighting for. Often times when I'm out in Tlaxiaco there's not a place to wash my hands. And that's just a silly, small thing. But imagine being without a consistent source of water all the time. Many, if not a majority, of the people in pueblos live without consistent water. It's not simply because they are poor. It is that the government does not care about them. Their towns and roads and schools are so far removed from the commercial centers of México that they are left to shout and demand from afar for things to which every human should be entitled. Or often, as a concession, the government will start to build a paved road that stretches out to several small towns. Halfway through they will stop and abandon the job for years, if not forever. It's the "halfway" means of governing people.

Okay, my diatribe is done, for now.

I rise early, of course (see "pinche gallo" above). I make my way to Rincon de Gon for a hearty breakfast of huevos con jamon, fruit with yogurt and a hot chocolate. I hungrily eat every morsel, pay up and make my way out to the station. It's a 20-minute walk that gives me just enough time to digest and listen to a podcast from the BBC (gotta keep up on my world news even when I'm out in the sticks, eh?)

I arrive just before 9 to await Maria Teresa, one of the teachers who runs bilingual programming from Monday to Friday as a part of the state's education plan. She has agreed to take me out to her Triqui pueblo, San Andres Chicahuaxtla. She shuttles in a bit after 9 with the motor still running in her taxi to take us to the van terminal that leaves towards Putla, southwest out of town. It's about an hour trip through winding green mountains. The temperature noticeably lowers as we climb ever higher. Fresh, crisp air enters through the driver's window. I take part of the ride to pick Tere's brain on a few quick Triqui phrases so I can greet people in the market.

Today is Monday, and Plaza Day in Chicahuaxtla. Families from neighboring pueblos will be in town to buy and sell all the necessaries (fruits, veggies, eggs, salt, milk) and some of the un-necessaries (pumps, soda, music). We hop out at the top of ridge. Women in traditional huilpiles (long red woven dresses) line the side of the small highway. They are waiting to perform a tequi for the community. [Many small pueblos still carry on the tradition of the tequi, which is mandatory community service. Let's say there is trash lining the road, or the school needs a new roof--a group will gather to carry out the task as a party of their mandatory community service. Those who have emigrated outside the small town, will send money, or someone in their stead to perform their part.] We scramble down the very rocky road towards town--me in my hiking shoes, Tere in white mule pumps.

The center of town is modest. The sun glares on white gravel, illuminating a square filled with dozens of women dressed in bright red huilpiles. Each woman weaves her own huilpil by hand, each row of the garment displaying hand sewn figures. One row is a series of birds, another baskets, another women. The huilpil is my entrée into the Triqui language. I stop and ask an artisan to tell me what each figure of her newly made huilpil is in Triqui: Flower=ee-a-ha, Star=ah-tee. Several women gather to gawk and giggle at the fumbling outsider. Many of the women in town today know Maria Teresa. But as they make excuses that they don't speak Spanish very well, I counter with "neither do I. Let's chat anyways." I make a few loose appointments with some of the women, a farmer, the municipal president, a teacher at the local bilingual elementary school. I will return another day alone, when the rush and bustle of Plaza Day won't distract from my interview, or my gathering sound. I want to capture each one in his or her home or job, with the sounds that accompany them. That will make for the best story, and perhaps for a more comfortable situation for him/her.

Tere and I climb to the top of a hill just past town center, weaving between two horses, saddled, and just sitting there all alone. Tere picks up a rock as we climb, warning that "some horses can be a little wild, so beware." We pass the cemetery, which has the best real estate in town, looking over onto the myriad rolling hills with their small ranchos and lagoons. I quickly record the sound of some turkeys making a stir. I think of my pinche gallo.

We hop a ride with Tere's cousin out of town. Tere pokes my pink cheeks and tells me the San Andres sun has touched me. I sit back in the shady back seat of the truck, staring out at the landscape, letting the tonal push and pull of the Triqui the carload is speaking to wash over me.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Station Day

Hey, blog fans, how about I teach you a swear word in Spanish? The word is "pinche," pronounced PEEN-chey. It is an adjective that you use to colorfully adorn any noun you happen to have strong negative feelings about. For example, pinche traffic, pinche tax collector, or in my case, pinche rooster. Pinche, pinche rooster. I mumbled these words in the early-morning, still-dark-out hours of each day I spent in Tlaxiaco. It became my mantra.

Daniel and Fabiola (a visitor from the Commission for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico City) swing by my place in the morning to whisk me off for breakfast. The truck climbs the steep hill south of the city for the barrio of San Pedro. We camp it at a long, communal table in a small restaurant off the main road for the most delicious tamales I have eaten thus far. White rice heavy and moist inside it's corn husk, soaked in green mole, dappled with juicy bits of chicken--yum! Top that off with a warm and creamy cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate. I'm in heaven.

Fabiola & Me at XETLA

I return to the station to sit in on Araceli's "Enlance" show that shares airtime through the satellite with a station in Orlando, Florida. I'm a bit late, arriving halfway through the show--too busy stuffing my face with mole and sweet breads. Yet, I still get to hear Araceli's back-and-forth with Jorge Luna, the "DJ" in Orlando, her quick switch into the Mixteco language, and the calls of various people across the border trying to connect with the paisanos in Mexico.                                                      

The program that follows is called "Poder Joven" (Youth Power) and is run by a small group of college-aged students. I met a handful of them at the Aniversario the night before. Amidst joking and dancing I accidentally agreed to be a guest on their show. So when Daniel, one of the students, signals for me to make my way into the recording studio, I say, "Seriously?" There's no time to talk my way out of it, so I shuffle in, palms sweating, just thinking about my sorry Spanish. I muddle through about 15 minutes of questions; they ask me about my work, my impressions of the anniversary party, what kinds of discrimination I've witnessed of Mexicans in the United States. I try to speak well, to explain my perspective, to offer a "gringo" insight on immigration. I'm afraid my Spanish may have bumbled the message--but all seemed pleased when the program closed out. Rene follows with his show "Saludos Paisanos." Aside from it being immensely helpful to listen to the programming on the station, it's been really interesting to hear the slight change in voice of each producer as their thoughts and news fly out into the ether. I've gotten to know each of them around the station, or at the anniversary. Then to register their on-air personalities is something a bit different, and fun to witness.

Later, I sit in with Eva for "La Hora Mixteca," the show that initially brought me to XETLA, and the land of the Mixtecos. It is this show that I found on the internet, that drew my interest to the use of radio as a means to transmit a community identity across borders, a cultural telephone, if you will. So it is that I at last sit and listen to the show. It's a bit thin on content today, as the preparations for the anniversary party have drawn Eva's attentions elsewhere. She swaps conversation with a DJ in Fresno, California who receives calls from those listening in from the States. The first half hour is filled with regional music. I hear bands from the nights before, their brass and drums thumping over the air waves. Normally Eva will have prepared a "cápsula" or small recorded piece about something regional to play and discuss with her fellow DJ. Other times she'll travel out further to record saludos from those in the pueblos. But with no spare moments this past week, she is left with time to fill. She begs me to sit in and talk on the show. I resolutely refuse. I'm more awake than I was in the morning with the Poder Joven group--so I stand my ground. I stand my ground, that is, until she lays her head in her hands in defeat and mutters, "Please won't you help me...? I need to fill time, please..." And so I shuffle once again into the recording studio and take a seat. This time she and the DJ in Fresno swap interviewing me about my project, how people have received me in the outlying communities, what I think of Tlaxiaco. It goes fine. I feel a bit anxious afterward, and can't seem to sit still in my chair. Public speaking is one thing; public speaking in Spanish is another, really.

Araceli and I decide to make a trip for ice cream and sandwiches (in that order of importance) for the crew that remains late at the station. When we return, she, Eva and I huddle around the recording consule, snacking on our newly hunted grub, whilst the Mexican National Hymn plays in the background (this is the first and last thing that is played each day on the station). The girls laugh at my torta (quesillo, avocado, tomato and lettuce). "Why no meat, Megan?" I have had my fill of lamb and beef and consumé-of-killed-thing for the weekend. So I opt for a vegetarian sandwich. They don't understand.

I hop a ride with Araceli to my lil' room in the big house. I chat a bit with my landlord and her daughter as I squeeze in through the tiny front door, festooned in Christmas regalia (side note: Christmas is big here, like any where with a Catholic/Christian population. They decorate their homes in an incredible fashion, huge miniature villages representing the nativity, large fake Christmas trees, with boxes wrapped with bows underneath. The difference is that the wrapped boxes are empty. Gift giving is not a huge part of Christmas here. They enjoy the pomp and circumstance of colorful decorations and music--but not the consumer angle. Kind of nice!).

I retire to my room off the dining room and kitchen. Is it the air here? Or the constant interviews today? Is is the brain working hard to translate Spanish? I read a bit. I listen to a few podcasts on my iPod. But eventually sleep overtakes me at this early hour. I schluff out of dusty pants and a hoody and into PJs (I am a stern advocate for pajamas!). I brush my teeth and then, collapse.