Archive for the ‘Challenges’ Category

Five days ago, Norma Schafer blogger at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator and moderator of the Facebook group, Mexico Travel Photography, issued a 5-day “Mexico Colors” photo challenge to the Facebook group — one photo a day for five consecutive days.  I think she was giving us a gentle prod, because up until then, most of us had been pretty lax about posting photos.  However, with her challenge, the floodgates opened.  Unsurprisingly, my five entries were all about the colors of Oaxaca.


Day 1:  Naturally dyed yarn hanging to dry at the family home of Porfirio Gutiérrez and his sister, Juana Gutiérrez Contreras.


Day 2:  My empty wine bottles hand painted by Isabel in San Antonio Arrazola, Oaxaca — waiting to be filled with mezcal!


Day 3:  Danza de la Pluma in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca — during this year’s patronal festival honoring Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.


Day 4:  The “only in Oaxaca” celebration of Día de la Samaritana in Oaxaca city.


Day 5:  Flor de Piña dancers from San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec at this year’s second Guelaguetza desfile in Oaxaca city.

Norma has hinted that there may be more challenges to come.  We shall see!



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Ahhh… the joys of navigating Oaxaca’s sidewalks.


And, this is nothing compared to manholes minus their covers!  I tell visitors they must ALWAYS watch where their feet are going; if they feel compelled to look up at the bell towers of a colonial church or at a gal balancing a basket of sweets on her head — STOP, then look!P1150492

However, in the absence of municipal action to remedy these hazards to one’s health and safety, Grupo Salvando Vidas Oaxaca (Saving Lives Oaxaca Group), an organization of concerned citizens, has come to the rescue.  According to this news report, the volunteer group was born last year after the founder of the group, Manuel Chávez Nuñez saw a disabled person fall into an uncovered sewer drain.P1150489

Yesterday, the group, which numbers around 15, set up a display of the wooden covers they use to replace gaps and holes in sidewalks around the city.  In addition to showcasing their work and recruiting volunteers, they were collecting donations for materials and giving away free books.  What’s not to like?!!!

P1150496“Everything that is done is for love… We put ourselves in the place of the other person and get down to work.”  (translated from article in today’s Noticias)  Grupo Salvando Vidas Oaxaca, those of us negotiating the sidewalks of Oaxaca offer you our very grateful muchisimas gracias!

Now if only someone could do something about vehicles making right and left turns without stopping or signaling.  Sigh…

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After the 3-day moving adventure, Monday morning I walked down to the Transporte Terrestre office (next to Oaxaca’s Post Office, across the Alameda from the Cathedral) to buy an airport shuttle ticket for my Tuesday morning, bordering on crack-of-dawn, flight to California.  At 55 pesos (less than $4.50 US) from my apartment in the Centro Histórico (more outside the historic district), it’s a bargain.


The driver pulled up at 6 AM on the dot.  Unfortunately, instead of ringing my buzzer, he began banging on the massive iron front gate and shouting, thereby waking my neighbors with apartments closer to the gate.  Then, of course, there was the fact that, in my physically and (apparently) mentally exhausted state the night before, I’d set my alarm for the wrong time, and had only awakened 20 minutes before his noisy arrival. So, with teeth brushed but no shower, no make-up, and probably irritated neighbors, I set off for el norte.  This trip was not off to a promising start!

The other two passengers and I were dropped off at the Oaxaca Xoxocotlán International Airport’s new departure terminal.  Modern, light, airy, signs and announcements in Spanish and English, mezcal and gift shops (but no food!) — everything’s up-to-date in Oaxaca’s new departure terminal.


However, one still must walk outside to get to the old terminal (now dedicated to arrivals) where the only bathrooms, before going through security, are located — a minor hiccup for passengers, but a major inconvenience for airport staff!  Renovation connecting the two terminals is in the works.

There were only a couple of other people lined up at United’s desk and my turn came in less than 5 minutes.  Hoisting my suitcase up on the scale, handing over my passport and flight information, I was prepared to be on my way through security in no time.


Dream on…  for some unexplained reason, the United customer service agent did not like what she saw when she ran my passport through the scanner.  Conversation with the other agent, calls to a superior (who I could see standing in a doorway on the second floor balcony), more computer input and passport scanning, and the line behind me began growing.  Did I mention, this trip was not off to a promising start?

After twenty minutes, whatever problem my passport possessed was miraculously unraveled and I was on my way through security.  It was at this point, ravenously hungry, I began silently chanting to the cocina goddess, that a food stall or at least the convenience store would be open.  In September (my first experience with the new terminal) I sat, with stomach grumbling, at my gate for an hour before the convenience store opened its doors.


This time around, I and other early morning passengers were in luck — various puestos were open to satisfy hunger pangs, snack food cravings, and caffeine withdrawal.  I opted for a generous and delicious cup of coffee and a ham and quesillo torta, topped with tomato, avocado, chile pepper, and lettuce — filling and yummy.

With a happily satisfied stomach, I walked out into Oaxaca’s warm winter morning air, boarded the little Embraer, and, after a brief delay on the tarmac (mechanical difficulty rapidly solved), we took off into the wild (and clear) blue yonder.  Circling twice over the city to gain altitude, the pilot provided us with a couple of bird’s-eye views of Monte Albán and the newly opened Atzompa archeological sites.  Not a bad beginning, after all — the journey northward was definitely looking up!

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From an article a few days ago in CNN Mexico:

Obama recibe a Romney en la Casa Blanca
Es la primera vez que se reúnen desde que el presidente venció a Romney en las pasadas elecciones del 6 de noviembre

Google translates:

Romney welcomes Obama at the White House
It is the first time they meet since President Romney beat in the elections of November 6

???!!!  It’s all about the grammar.  Back to the books for me!

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When “progress” isn’t progress; another thought provoking article that discusses what NAFTA hath wrought…

Donkey in corn field

After NAFTA, Mexican farmers sow uncertainty
by:  Mike Wold

Agribusiness and US policy clash with Campesino culture

The donkeys began to sing to each other as it got dark — starting with a honking bray from one far down in the bottom of the valley, then another answering from up on the hillside, then a third from a little way down the dirt road running by Eleazar García’s house. The road itself was empty by now; even earlier it couldn’t have been called busy — a group of schoolgirls in their white uniforms; a pickup truck with empty burlap sacks in the back; a battered van bringing farmers back from Nochixtlán, the market town two hours away.  I’d been in rural Mexico before but never had a chance to watch the light change as the sun sank below the western hills.


Supporting small farming in Mexico is a win-win scenario for both the U.S. and Mexico.  But instead, the U.S. has successfully pushed Mexico into an export-oriented agricultural model that assumes depopulation in the rural areas, as large agribusiness replaces small-scale farmers in places like Oaxaca. Many of the displaced farmers will, as a matter of course, migrate north to work in maquiladoras (manufacturing operations) on the border or they will cross to the United States. In other words, the development model the two governments have adopted makes migration inevitable. 

There’s no profit for corporations in helping people stay on the land, where they’re insulated from the ups and downs of the world economy. But, as García put it: “If you really want to combat hunger in the world, it’s in the hands of campesinos. They live on what they grow. It’s important that people begin to understand that.”  [Full article]

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Fascinating and revealing… from Upside Down World.  I encourage you to read the full article.

Defying the Myth of Native Desolation: Cultural Continuity in Oaxaca
Written by Kathleen Melville
Friday, 09 December 2011 15:56

Woman grinding masa on stone matate

“There is no remedy, and the Indians are coming to an end.” – Don Felipe Huamán Poma de Ayala, 1615 (quoted in Restall, 100)

Despite the passage of nearly four hundred years, Huamán Poma’s dismal pronouncement remains the sad ending to many popular narratives of the conquest. In classrooms throughout the United States, students learn that the arrival of Columbus spelled the end of Native American civilization and that the Spanish conquest obliterated indigenous culture and society in the Americas. As Matthew Restall notes in “The Seven Myths of the Conquest”, this pervasive “myth of native desolation” (102) obscures the strength and vitality of indigenous people throughout history and into the present.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the lives and work of indigenous people belie the myth of native desolation and attest to thousands of years of continuous, evolving culture. In July, over 30 educators from the United States convened in Oaxaca for a summer institute funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Our goal was to better understand the histories and cultures of indigenous people in the region so that we might help illuminate and preserve them through our teaching. With unit plans that we designed and shared, we hope to disturb and diminish the myth of native desolation and to enrich our students’ perspectives on native culture.


Globalization and transnational corporations also pose a significant threat to indigenous cultural continuity. Artisans in Oaxaca complained that Asian companies have been mass-producing textiles and wood carvings abroad and then undercutting the tourist market locally. As documented in several articles on this site, the agricultural corporation Monsanto aims to expand its reign into Oaxaca and eliminate small maize farms like the Vicente family’s. Drug cartels, their own breed of transnational organization, also jeopardize indigenous culture by increasingly luring young people into lives of violence far from home. These giants make for formidable foes in the fight for cultural survival, but the indigenous communities of Oaxaca have faced formidable foes in the past. From the Aztec conquest to the Spanish conquest to the present day, indigenous communities in Oaxaca have endured and evolved, defying the myth of native desolation and defining a culturally sustainable future for themselves.  [Full article]

(FYI:  I just had first-hand experience with the threat cheap imports pose to the livelihoods of Oaxaca’s artisans.  I do all my Christmas shopping in Oaxaca (so much more enjoyable than hitting the malls in the USA) and purchased backscratchers for stocking-stuffers that “looked” like they were made from the ubiquitous carrizo found anywhere a trickle of water is found in Oaxaca.  However, there they were in a bin at one of the chain drug stores here in el norte!  I’m thinking they were made in China.  Wood carvers, potters, and weavers, the conversation is the same; business is down and these creative and talented folks are being forced to return to work in the fields.)  — casitacolibrí

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Challenges and rewards

It’s only Tuesday, but it’s been a week already!   Living in Mexico requires a rewiring of one’s brain; wrapping one’s mind around a much more fluid concept of time.   As writer Tony Cohan pointed out, in his book by the same name, one must learn to live On Mexican Time, or endless frustration will result.

This morning I spent an hour at the Telmex office (yet again) attempting to upgrade my internet connection speed; my fourth trip to the office in six days.  Friday, I was assured that it would be taken care of on Monday and that my presence wouldn’t be necessary.  This morning, a check at speedtest.net revealed my connection speed had not changed.  So, off I went with as much documentation, patience, and good-nature as I could muster.  Eventually, after great deal of consultation and computer inputting, I was told all would be well in 24 hours.  We shall see…

Feeling not a little frustrated, I trudged up to my neighborhood indigenous mercado for some much needed provisions.  It’s never bustling with activity nor is it bursting with atmosphere, but it’s my local market and, though unlike Cheers, nobody knows my name, I am recognized and greeted with smiles by the gals who regularly sell me cheese and produce.  And today, there was a woman sitting next to the stairs selling hand (not machine) made tortillas.  My lucky day!

I walked back to Casita Colibrí smiling to myself.   How could I not, when returned home with big ball of quesillo, pimiento, epazote, warm tortillas, 2 aguacates, and flor de calabaza???

quesillo, pimiento, epazote, aguacates, flor de calabaza, torillas

Yummm… comida beckoned!

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