Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday in Teotitlan del Valle

Started the day with another long stroll--in search of breakfast.  Finally found a hotel dining room that was opening (and not limited to guests).  But the dining room was worth the wait--it had a flower-bedecked altar, high ceilings, old paintings of saints on the walls.  We had cups of the incomparable Mexican chocolate, with bread to dip into it, yogurt, a lovely platter of papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple, with crunchy churros to finish.  While we were waiting for our repast, we were spotted as tourists and serenaded by a guitarist and a young boy who sang with great feeling and dramatic gestures.

Then we walked to go--meet a homey!  Small world--a woman that we both knew at Florida State retired a few years ago to Oaxaca.  She still keeps a room there, but Oaxaca got too big and crowded and she moved to the next village over, Teotitlan del Valle.  She was headed back home Sunday morning, so we joined her for the taxi ride there.  She lives with two widowed ladies there and is helping them to set up a bread and breakfast (the smaller villages are still very traditional and it's the men who have the jobs--it's difficult for a woman to make it on her own).   Although we've only been away from home for a few days, I was glad that there were two dogs and a lovely tortoiseshell cat to greet us and let me get in some critter-cuddling.  Roberta has an upper floor apartment with a large patio overlooking the mountains and a courtyard with pomegranate trees (and hummingbirds).  We drank more chocolate (made the traditional Mexican way, with water instead of milk--quite good when the chocolate is excellent) and had sweet bread.  After our snack, we walked to go visit the town.

Teotitlan del Valle is known as "the village of the weavers" (villages tend to have specialties--some villages have potters, some are agricultural) so I was in heaven.  But there is the similar feeling here as that in the market in Oaxaca, that I can only call "desperate abundance."  There are beautiful rugs for sale everywhere--and all rather the same.  Who is to buy them all?

We walked to the church (where a friend of Roberta's admired Bob's beard--the natives seem to be able to grow mustaches but not beards).  Although we were allowed to take pictures inside, we didn't.  The paintings, statues, incense, flowers, saints, and Christ crucified are so beautiful, so big, so overwhelming that to try to reduce it to a few snapshots would diminish the memory.

Roberta then took us to visit the woman's cooperative.  This is an anomaly in rural Mexico--women are expected to remain in the home, not be activists.  But through their work with the community has earned them respect, and a voice in the village meetings.   Their work is at the grassroots level, and it's having an effect.  One of their earlier efforts was to help clean up the village--they got large recycled paint cans, cleaned and painted them (with sayings such as "water is life" and "don't pollute", and put them around the town so people had a place to put their trash rather than throw it in the street.  At first emptying the cans was done by a volunteer but the village eventually set up a trash pickup.   The women also raised contributions and did the work to plant some 400 trees to replace those cut for firewood and reduce water runoff.

The project that interested us the most was their modification of a traditional Zapotec cooking tradition: a comal (round, slightly curved griddle) over an open flame.  This has a few drawbacks--it's smoky, a bit dangerous if children are running around, and uses quite a bit of wood.  The cooperative designed a modified stove--by simply building a clay wall around most of the cooking area and adding a vent to the outside, they removed the smoke, and greatly reduced the amount of wood needed to cook--all without taking away the tradition.

I realize this post is growing a little pedantic--but I was really impressed with the changes these women are making.

So . . time to go back.  No taxis are hanging around Teotitlan del Valle on a Sunday afternoon, so we waited on the street corner for the bus.  Normally they would run to Oaxaca, but Sunday is the market day in the next village over (which I won't even try to spell) so they were running there instead.  So into the next town, down the block to the next bus station (grabbing some fresh bread and fruit at a stand, just in case the munchies hit), and on the bus back to Oaxaca.  A quiet stroll, a quesadilla at a stand in the park (you watch her make the tortilla, then fill it with cheese and herbs as it cooks on the comal), and back to the room to repack--the tour starts tomorrow!

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