Eva and her sister-in-law start making a bit of breakfast. And as they do, I realize that it will kill me. They cook using water from the tap in this house. In fact, last time I was here they were drinking straight from it, too. Perhaps the water this far out is a bit cleaner than what's in the city. But as I go out back and start to wash some dishes to help out--I look down into a small well where you draw the dish water from and it's dark gray. This can't be good. I try to think if there's a way I can excuse myself and run into town for a snack. I supposed I could just explain that while the water in the food won't touch them at all--it will wreak havoc on my innards. But instead, I pour drops of Nutri-biotic (a grapefruit extract I use to kill germs on my veggies and fruit at home) into my Nalgene bottle and start downing the water as a preemptive strike. Turns out, nothing happens. Maybe it's because they boiled the soup for like an hour over a high flame. I think they do it for taste--but it has a two-fold consequence. Or else I have a stomach of IRON. Whew! American nerves calmed.
Eva and I decide to take a walk--as the day's festivities won't get rolling until the later afternoon. We end up at a local high school called the CBTA. We talked ages ago about collaborating with CBTA's director to get our youth radio project up and running. But some sort of political struggle was happening within the school--so we backed away. But as we crest the hill leading up to the school I ask Eva if we shouldn't just stop in and see if we can have a casual chat with the director; take advantage of the time we're there, eh? She waffles back-and-forth until I finally physically push her towards the school's administration office. It turns out the director is quite interested. He's got lots of ideas about how to integrate into their program. He even gathers two or three classes together in one room so we can pitch the idea to the students. We'll meet in a week to collect questionnaires from the students.
We decide to take our luck for a roll and head out to Santa Cruz, a nearby rancho that has it's own community station. I've heard from others that it is connected to the high school there. It's worth taking a gander and talking to those who maintain it. At the least we may be able to garner some airtime on their station for the kids' projects. We hop in a taxi--it's a quick 20-minute drive north deeper into the mountains. We struggle a bit in town trying to locate the place--but eventually head uphill to a small two-room cement structure with a tiny antenna. We hear music coming from inside--but no one answers the door. Eva hoists me up into the window so I can peer in. No one. Looks like it's just pre-recorded music. THESE people know it's party day! Thus, we head back in the same taxi to Mixtepec.
It's time for the horse races. I don't know what to imagine here. I'm keeping my imagination at bay since yesterday's chicken slaughter was so surprising. We jump out at a neighborhood on the Northwest side of town, Colonia de las Rosas. A long white road stretches out before us--flatter than any I've seen in Mixtepec. Groups of people are huddled against one-story houses and storefronts--trying to escape the blazing rays of the sun. Some have scaled to rooftops for a better view. We pass the race starting line where men are feverishly constructing the starting gates from which the horses will catapult. All over town horses are tucked behind trucks or amidst corn fields, lassoed to trees, awaiting the upcoming race. I suggest to Eva that we pick winners and bet to make the race more interesting.
We end up taking shelter against a building, sitting with some friends of Eva's--two couples, a few grandmothers and two young kids--one with some pretty impressive geographical knowledge. He practices his English a bit with me. Me: You speak some English, then? Him: Yes. Me: Uh. So have you spent some time in the U.S.? Him: Yes.
Finally the gates have been dug and set. Twice as many people now line the narrow road. Two horses begin their warm-up, jogging up and down in front of us. The jockeys instead of sitting atop lightweight saddles are actually strapped to the horse, their legs lashed around the horse's midsection. Only one of them wears a helmet. Yikes! A few police troll the sidelines, instructing people to back up more behind the thin twine cord that has been set up to delineate racetrack from "bleachers." And without much pomp and circumstance the horses throw themselves from the gate. A wave of yelps ripples through the crowd as the horses pass by. I'm trying to get my camera up for a pic--the wind knocked from me as they zip pass so close. A clod of dirt flies up from a hoof and thwacks me on the chin. Woah. So exciting! This is nothing like Arlington's staid racetrack back home in Chicago.
The crowd settles again as we wait for the next duo of horses to warm-up and get into place. A friend of Eva's and a cameraman, waltzes by and shoots the breeze. He excuses himself to get down to the end of the road to film the next round. And again, without much of an announcement the next to steeds break from the starting gate and leap into action. I can't even get my hands up for a picture. And then, all of a sudden the crowd around me pushes more at the cord holding them back to see the end of the race--necks craned north. A friend across the road yells to his wife and she takes off running down the road towards the finish line. Something's not right. There's been an accident. The woman who took off, turns out, is a doctor. About 3/4 of the crowd follows down the road. They all must see what has happened.
It turns out that cameraman, the one who just moments before had been talking with Eva, was standing inside the racetrack confines trying to get just the right shot. He was just too close inside. One of the horses ran straight into him. What could he have been thinking? I can't imagine. Apparently, the jockey tried to break, but there just wasn't enough time--and the horse threw the cameraman aside like a piece of trash, cracking his forehead open in the front. It then fell, taking the jockey with him. It seems to take forever for the ambulance to finally pull down the road. It's so sad. And even though there are still a dozen other horses still tied to trees and trucks waiting to have their go at the track--the event can't go on. It's not so much of an official decision--the crowd just doesn't have a heart in it any more. Everyone drags their feet, heading back towards town center, all mumbling and whispering about the race, and the two poor men now racing towards Tlaxiaco's hospital in an ambulance.
The event clearly changes the remainder of the day for everyone who was there to witness it. Eva and I make our down towards the river's edge and see that the second despescuazada is already in motion. She gets up close to record some sound. I just can't take it today. Another 40 chickens down.
We head towards the Municipio to catch another band playing. Masked revelers jut and stomp to the rhythms. The "dance floor" is ringed by observers. Someone standing behind me asks Eva to introduce us. He's from Mixtepec, but has been working in Miami, Florida for years. His English is pretty good. He tells me he's just down for the festival--but will head back up north once it's over. He also tells me he likes the color of my skin. I look down at my sunburnt shoulders and think he's joking. Uh huh.
We grab a quick taco--tasajo--not chicken, I'll have you know. Then there's a search for a collectivo to get us back to Tlaxiaco. Eva's got a piece to finish for air tomorrow--and I need to head back to Oaxaca. We eventually discover her brother in the road--he and his wife are heading back. So we squeeze four to the front seat and start off--the hustle of street vendors, the screech of roller coasters, scurrying stray dogs snaking underfoot for scraps, the Lucha Libre just gathering its crowd in the Plaza, and of course the thump thump of a bass--all falling away as we head up hill and out of town.
This guy's yellow cape above says "Show only for the ladies"
This guy's yellow cape above says "Show only for the ladies"