I rise early and head for the Plaza for a quick bite. A tamal and atole sound just right on this crisp morning. However, by the time I hike it out to the station the crisp air has been burned away by the quickly-rising sun. Summer temps are on their way to Oaxaca. Many say that the rainy season has been dwindling over the past several years. A shift globally that takes root out here in the Mixteca where I see farmers planting their seed only days after cleaning the field (very unusual). They can't afford to miss even one day of rain that may come early.
I had plans today to travel out to San Andres Chicahuaxtla again to interview the director of the bilingual primary school. However, one of the teachers who works at the station informs me that he is out of town for a conference. So, I scrap the trip, not wanting to travel out there for nothing, and find a few other things to do around the station.
Araceli and I work a bit on the sound we gathered at her home the other day. I burn her a copy of the interview so she can translate it into Spanish (we conducted the immigration recording of her sister in Mixteco). I also work a bit on the next English exercise for the group. I've been talked into giving a few quick English lessons to several of the station staff. But after leaving the first lesson's worth of homework with everyone a month ago, I see that only a small couple are actually doing the work.
I head over to the Fondo Regional, a small organization, partially funded at the federal level, that gives mirco-loans to small participating communities. The three guys that run this organization are extremely bright and industrious. And even though they are buried in stacks of papers, what amounts to the mountain of projects they manage, they give me a good hour of their time to talk about what they do. Say you're a small community that is facing hard times. You've got an idea for a sawmill. You rally the support in your community, you start an organization, then you write a proposal. You bring it to the Fondo Regional, asking for the start-up money for the mill equipment. An assembly of representatives from all the other small community groups gets together and reviews the proposal. If they think it has merit, they award you a loan. They may also award the community more than just the money for equipment, they may help train the organization how to make a saw mill work. The three guys who run the Fondo do research, go out and find a saw mill run by a community that is functioning successfully, and they bring the newbies out for what amounts to classes. The community group eventually pays the loan back at an interest rate that is the lowest around--and that interest payment, plus the original investment, go back into the Fondo purse for investment later. It's really quite brilliant!
I'm thinking of doing a story on the Fondo. I've asked the fellas if they'll let me shadow them out to a community to interview and record. They're more than willing--handing over their cell numbers and emails addresses.
Wonder what Pozole looks like? Wonder no longer.
The following day I arrive in the morning only to bump into the Payaso Ponpín--he's an ecological clown, or at least that's how I'm translating his title in English for now. I met him months ago at the Radio's Anniversary party. He started a program, which he shopped out to the public hospital in Tlaxiaco, to help interested communities start recycling programs. I'd thought a while back that doing a story about his work in small villages might be interesting. So when I bump into him this morning, I ask to accompany him as he walks from the station back to the public hospital in town. My first question: Why a clown? It's a long answer. At the heart of it is this: a clown can traverse certain boundaries that everyone else cannot. Ponpín exploits that fact to help change a community's perception about how to treat waste in their environment. He introduces me to the doctor at the public hospital in charge of spearheading the project with him, as well as another doctor working on a youth and sexuality program. Once they all hear I have a microphone, they are interested in commandeering my equipment and time for various projects. I get some names and numbers for my next visit. We'll see what comes of it all...
Later, I help Virgen Carmen record a migration story of a musician she brings into the station. This dude with scratchy vocal chords has been across the border several times. He writes songs Stateside and then sends the music and lyrics to his sons, who have a Norteña band in Tlaxiaco. Some of the songs have grown quite popular, like La Coyotita. Another was selected for a movie called Trade shot in the U.S. We record a bit of his story, and then ask him to sing a bit of La Coyotita a capella.
I should mention that today is the official holiday to celebrate mother tongues. That's right, tonguesssss, plural. Oaxaca ranks at the top of the list with over 16 indigenous languages spoken other than Spanish. And that number doesn't even include the distinct variances between languages of the same root, like Mixteco (of which there are 3 variants). Thus, it's a big day for the region, and the station, for that matter. The director is called away to a community where the Municipal President is celebrating the event. The tech expert at the station is called away to the local college to record their Mother Tongue festivities. As for me, I stick close to the station. XETLA is streaming live over the internet, sharing its programming with various other stations in the country. An event in Durango, which includes the presence of the President, will involve the station. So as you can imagine, things are quite aflutter. Tension is running high that all should technically run well. I find myself a spot out of the way to set my things down, hook my minidisc up to the console so I can record whatever seems interesting on air today, and try to be helpful where I can.
At the close of the day I wander over to the traditional medicine clinic that is next door to the station. With funding help from a donor in Florida, located through the station's contacts, this clinic opened up this past September. It not only serves a purpose to the community, offering free traditional medicine treatments to anyone in the area, it also serves as a means to preserve this ancient tradition of the region. I sit down with 6 of the clinic's doctors, all women. It's rare to find them all in attendance; normally they serve shifts throughout the week, traveling in from their distant pueblos to put in a day or two of clinic hours. Due to a meeting of the organization, I am lucky to have them all in one place today. We sit down for about an hour to chat about how each woman finds herself here--serving her community, as well as the wider region at this clinic. Why do they do it--work for free? What does traditional medicine offer a community? Have they encountered discrimination of the practice? I'm hoping I can cut together a small piece about the work of the clinic--and find a photographer to snap photos of the operation (anyone know anyone?). Then I can cut together a nice slideshow with sound they can use to shop around for funding. That's the idea.
The day winds down, and I head into town to meet up with a friend. The local college is holding a beauty contest tonight. I'm curious if it at all resembles beauty contests in the States. I wish, oh how I wish, I had been carrying my camera so I could show the wonder that is the Ms. Tecnológica Pageant. But alas, I had no camera. So my words will have to suffice. Imagine this, a small town square, decked out with a triangular runway, festooned in pink batting and the confusing presence of a fruit basket in the center. Students cram around the runway, small groups huddled together around posters and banners with the names of their favorite girl scrawled out in glitter. The sun sets. More passerby gather around, teetering on nearby stone walls for a better view. Local vendors take advantage of the crowd and stay open all night selling churros filled with cajeta, or punch with warmed fruit swimming in steaming cups.
We find a spot just behind the main stage, precariously balancing on a stone wall. My friend instructs me to puff out my elbows so that no one will squeeze into the small space between me and my neighbor to the left. Oops, too late. Someone fills the spot--and I almost tumble off from being jostled around so much. Britney Spears' voice cracks the muddled noise of the town square. She's singing "Gimme More..." just as the crowd erupts into screams. My buddy says there will be no swim suit competition, "This is a small, traditional town, Megan." But when the ladies strut out, they're all wearing shorty shorts, halter tops and high heels, gyrating to the music. What's the difference? This is just like a swimsuit competition--except that their clothing is more likely to catch fire, than be water resistant.
To make the evening more interesting we each pick our favorite girl. And I'll just tell you up front, I have exceptional taste--'cause my girl wins the big show. My friend picks his fav--and just to show his support every time she crosses us he yells like a drunken sailor, "Yea, Mamacita. Owww, me gustas, me gustas!" Real classy!
After the Shorty Shorts strut, there is a singer, and some traditional dancing from a local group. Then the competition takes a turn that certainly distinguishes it from any pageant I've seen in the States. Each girl comes out basically dressed like this:
So while our beautiful American ladies must come up with talents like this:
These young women dress up in regional costumes, and present their costume to the crowd saying, "My name is Azucena. My costume is from the Istmus of Oaxaca. The beads on this hem mean..." And so forth. And just to give my pageant buddy some credit, when he favorite girl speaks a little Mixteco in her speech he yells out with equal enthusiasm as for the shorty shorts dance, "Owww, me gustas tu lengua materna, nenita!" (Basically, I love your mother tongue, baby. I'm sure he means that nicely.)
There's some more singing and dancing. A mariachi band, very poorly mic'd, is brought out. And then it's time for the Evening Gown competition. I can't believe how much work has gone into this. I mean we're already on to outfit number three here--and each one is accompanied by a different hairstyle and jewelry. They must have a small army helping them change.
At last, around 11, the winners are finally announced. There are 2nd and 3rd runners up; there's an award for Señorita Simpatía (literally, Ms. Affection--which I think must be something like Ms. Congeniality), Most Photogenic, and finally the winner--which as I mentioned, is the girl I selected at the start. I have an eye for these things! Fireworks are set off into the audience--no law suits here. The whole thing's over.
The crowd breaks up slowly. I finish up my punch and think how grateful I am to NOT be a beauty queen. What pressure. People here are not bashful. I mentioned that my friend would hoot out in pleasure at the ladies. But there were also those who would yell out kind advice like, "Hey, you should exercise more, " or, "That's not a good color on you!" You have to be made of tough stuff here to be a beauty queen, I suppose.