Eight of us from cities across the US decided to meet in Oaxaca to renew old friendships and explore the region. Most of us had some working facility with Spanish and none of us had been to Oaxaca before. We heard about the En Vía tour from our advance man on the ground in Oaxaca who had come two weeks early to study Spanish at Instituto Cultural Oaxaca and had heard Emily’s presentation. Our like-minded group all wanted in, and we arranged the tour for our second day in Oaxaca.
Elizabeth and Shelley were our guides that day and we arrived in Teotitlán in time for lunch at the restaurant of Concepción who with her two partners was applying for her third En Vía loan. The tlayudas were outstanding, and after lunch Concepción explained how her loans had made it possible for her to expand her business and to send her children to school.
The next stop was at the church in Teotitlán. The church is such a charming setting set against the hills. We had the feeling that we were gaining a view of village life that few tourists get in rural Mexico. The fresh flowers that adorned all the chapel altars showed a village proud of its church and its place in their community. We learned that the church had been built on the ruins of an old Zapotec pilgrimage site and many of the old Zapotec designs were preserved amid the stucco covering. These were designs that we would see repeated in many of the weavings that day.
Our first weaver was Eulalia who met us in the churchyard. After a short van ride into the hills above Teotitlán she welcomed our group into her home and became our first teacher about dyeing and weaving. We learned that wool from a six-month old lamb has just the right amount of lanolin to make the carding process easier. We learned about all the dyes necessary to make these weavings in the traditional way from pomegranate skins used to make yellow to the dried up parasite worm, cochinilla, used to make the brilliant reds. Eulalia practiced some of her English on us that she had learned from her En Vía English classes to explain about the weaving process. All of us were taken with her independence and skill as a weaver, and one couple in our party went home the proud owner of a Eulalia original.
When our tour was done, we had visited the businesses of 6 women, two groups of three. Their stories revealed to us how just a small loan can go a long way toward empowering these women and making a difference in the lives of their families and their communities. On our last night we sat around reminiscing about the most memorable parts of our 10 days in Oaxaca. Many of our very best memories were of these hours we spent learning from the women of Teotitlán and our time together as friends was made all the richer by sharing this experience.