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Santo Domingo Museum, Yagul, Tlacalula Market

26 Mar

Hola amigos!

This past week we had many ups and downs. Two weeks ago we started our “tracks” in
which we chose to take classes in Food Systems, Botany, or Spanish, depending on our
individual interests and majors/minors. I chose Spanish myself and it turned out to be a little
more than I bargained for, yet helpful and interesting nonetheless. Our professor was very
passionate about teaching and urged us to express our ideas about abstract topics each day like
our personal views of the cultural differences between our own culture and that which we
observed in Mexico or the Zapatista movement. These 4-hour discussions were entirely in
Spanish with the exception of one of us asking for help expressing our ideas or with an odd
vocab word. From the beginning I realized my Spanish was nowhere where I thought and, half
way through the day, I would often become very tired or frustrated with the sheer amount of
things I didn’t know or understand about Spanish. However, in retrospect, the class improved my
knowledge of Spanish and Mexican culture immensely.

 


Unlike other classes I have taken here or in Vermont, there were field trips to famous
cultural areas at least once a week. The first in-class trip was to the convent-turned-museum
attached the Santo Domingo Church, a rally point well known to everyone in the group. On the
outside, the church appears to be much smaller than reality. But once you enter through the
museum doors, there are corridors upon corridors of smaller doors, opening into halls of artifacts
of indigenous tombs recovered from Monté Albán or old systems of distilling mezcal. It could
have easily eaten up an entire day instead of the 4-hour class we had to explore it. The second
field trip was to the Botanical Gardens just outside that was home to every native plant in Oaxaca
including the ancient relative of corn that we see today as the result of centuries of artificial
selection by farmers. Some tree and plant species were so strange it almost felt as though we
were in the middle of a Dr. Seuss story (or Jurassic Park).

The latest excursion was to the ruins ofYagul (“old tree” in Zapotec), a home for the elite after wars in Monté Albán forced them to relocate. Among these ruins were epic plazas and rooms easily distinguishable though they were more than 1000 years old. They also contained a unique ball court shaped like an “I” that is thought to have been home to an ancient sport that celebrated special religious events. In
addition, it was one of the first areas of inhabitance for early humans who lived in caves near the ruins where evidence of the ancient corn species was found, among other things. From the road leading up to the ruins we could see cave paintings in giant crevices carved into the walls. After
this we traveled to the nearby market of Tlacalula, the city of relocation for the ancestors of the area after the Spanish Conquest. Once entering the market, it was easy to see how you could be lost. The main street of the market was flooded with vendors and market-goers buying and
selling everything from machetes to black pottery and leather shoes to local produce. It appeared to never end and, after about and hour and a half, we still had not found the end of the market due to the many side streets and distractions along the way. On our way back, we all rested our feet and took naps on the bus home.

With only four weeks left, I’m looking forward to doing more outings like this to other famous ruins that are scattered around the state and exploring even more topics in my upcoming classes. The time has gone by so fast!

Hasta luego,
Sarah L.

 
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Beach Hopping + Village Stays

12 Mar

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted which leaves a lot of catching up to do. Two weeks ago we finished our 6 week session at the language school, Solexico, and had four days reserved for research on our independent projects. This time, of course, was spent unproductively enjoying Oaxaca state’s beautiful beaches and eating fresh caught seafood.

 

The trip to Puerto Escondido (the main beach town) was rough–a seven hour van ride on twisting mountain roads. There was more than one of us who woke up the next morning with large bruises on our heads where they repeatedly banged against the windows of the van. However, we made it there safe and sound at 6 a.m. Thus, the first hotel we spotted, we got a room. The next day was spent lounging on the beach and maneuvering our way around the city and finding new places to eat to satisfy cravings for fresh-caught fish. The following day we traveled to Mazunte (another, less touristy beach town) in a bumpy collectivo and spent the night eating more food and dealing with large, aggravated scorpions. The following days consisted of more beach hopping, lots of lounging on hammocks and reading Kurt Vonnegut (a favorite author among the group)–not to mention the obvious popular pastime of beach-goers (swimming!). By the end of the trip, we were all significantly more tan and no closer to finishing our final projects.

The week after we were split up into three different groups and shipped off to two different towns to work with non-profit organizations or weaving cooperatives. My group was one of two headed to the famous weaving town of Teotítlan to work with the weaving cooperative called Bii Dauu. This cooperative consists of at least 10 families, many of whom are related in some way, that produce tapetes (rugs) and an assortment of other weaving related products. The most amazing about this cooperative, in my opinion, was the use of all natural dyes that were harvested from a community “huerto” or farm. Though many weavers claim to use only natural ingredients, it is in fact very hard to turn a profit because the cost of the sustainable production of its natural dyes often breaks even in the less busy seasons. For this reason, most weavers buy their already-dyed wool from vendors and are able to sell for a lower cost. This however, was not the case at Bii Dauu as many of the weavers held a strong belief that the use of natural dyes was simply more environmentally sustainable and responsible. During the week, we learned all about these beliefs while working in the garden and learning the process of producing beautiful rugs from natural dyeing agents and wool.

Our days started at 6 a.m at which time we would wake up, eat, and head to the farm for work. This included making biofertilizer, constructing beds for plants, watering nopales (cacti in which cochineal bugs are grown and harvested to produce a red dyeing agent) and composting soil and already used cacti pieces. This usually lasted for less than 3 hours–the allotted time–and ended in impromptu basketball games with our supervisors (who were surprisingly good at it and beat out even the tallest of our members). After this, we would head home again for more food. Being sufficiently stuffed, we often snuck in a nap before heading out for more class. This time was generally filled with our learning the process of dyeing the wool, using the looms, or making our very own mini-tapetes. Another meal of sizable portions followed, again followed by another class with similar themes as the previous one. We were all well fed and worn out by 8 p.m, which became bedtime for the majority of the group.

 

One thing to note about the people of Teotítlan is their dedication to their culture. Everyone except for the newest generation spoke Zapotec, a language indigenous to the area since pre-Hispanic times. This was spoken everywhere: at the table, among family members, in the street, in the small mercado and in the school while simultaneously learning Spanish. In addition, it was common to see people shaking hands on the street or whenever someone entered a room in order to express greeting. This produced an air of a close-knit community with a common history and an uncommon language (though they were happy to teach outsiders a few Zapotecan words). They also welcomed each person whole-heartedly into their homes, giving up their own beds (in a few cases) or loading our plates with enough food to satisfy even the hungriest of stomachs. Many were very eager to practice their english or share stories and history about their town and people who all regarded us with warm words. By the end of the trip, we all felt as though we were part of this community and had a strong desire to return in the future.

Though we had all stayed in other villages earlier in the program, we all agreed that this was the most informative and inviting community of them all.

Hasta la próxima,

Sarah Leidinger

 
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A weekend in Capulalpam

13 Feb

Hola todos!
In my most recent field trip, my group and I traveled to the small pueblo of Capulalpam located
in the mountains of Oaxaca. Unlike the city and most of its surroundings, these mountains were
full of vegetation, potable water and refreshingly clean air; the experience was reminiscent of
Vermont during springtime. The trip getting there, however, was pretty trying for some of us.
In order to illustrate our venture up these green monsters, I quote our TA (she did the
program 3 years ago) who said, “it was like riding in the spinning teacups at the fair for 2.5
hours.” Her description did not disappoint. Turn after winding turn, we went up, down and
around a few of these mountains before finally reaching our destination. Though everyone
prepared themselves with a tablet or two of Dramamine, a few of us (myself included) were
feeling a little queasy by the end. Luckily, there were no accidents and the vans’ drivers left with
no more to clean than could be expected from a large group of snacking college students.
Upon arrival, we were all ready to stretch our legs and check out the amazing views from
the hillside town. After learning about the pueblo and talking with the municipal president, we
were shuffled off in small groups to our respective home stays.


The next day, we went to a community farm that produced much of the pueblo’s produce
with the help of many local students who we saw in action towards the end of our day. Among
other things, they grew carrots, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and garbanzo and string
beans. They taught us ways in which they protected their veggies from weeds or bugs while
growing great tasting and healthy food without the addition of pesticides and with minimal use
of added nutrients. Not only was the tour educational, it was also filling and delicious as we were
able to try some of their veggies (probably the only time I’ve ever enjoyed raw beets). That
night, we had the option of going to a traditional healing center and having a limpia (spiritual
cleansing by a healer), an “energy” reading, a massage, and a temescal (similar to a sauna but
much hotter, often used in traditional medicine).

 


The following day we awoke at 8, packed and ready for the ride home that afternoon.
After dropping our bags off at a local community center, we happily hiked through a temperate
rainforest (who knew!) in true Vermont fashion. With plenty of sights and endless amounts of
fresh mountain air, we hardly noticed the passing of the 3 and a half hours it took to finish our
hike. Throughout, our tour guide (the municipal president) gave us a quick education in local
herbs used in traditional medicine and the environmental history of the land and the conservation
efforts in place there. Finally, we finished up the day at a small restaurant with local trout for
lunch followed by a zip-line. All in all, it was a great trip with some of the best sights and
experiences so far!
Hasta la próxima,
Sarah L.

 
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