Sunday, September 23, 2012

¡Viva México! Mexican Independence Day in Oaxaca.


Giant multi-coloured sombreros teetered on heads, and there were glittering wrestling masks, spiked wigs, and flashing dangling earrings, decorating others. In honour of Mexican Independence Day, you could buy green, red, and white flags, on every street corner. A friend told me that he has fond memories of being bought a novelty moustache by his father when he was a kid, and I did see a great deal of them this year, cruising proudly below the noses of many Oaxaqueños, both children and adult.


The youth gathered in the plazas, dressed to impress. And over their best shirts, was soon splattered a generous amount of white foam and glitter. In affectionate retaliation, eggs filled with paper confetti were smashed over the heads of friends and compatriots alike.

Strolling around the Zócalo was especially pleasant with the coloured lights strung up around the centre kisoko and the palacio building. The children played, running and prancing about the square, adding to the rush and sparkle of the evening. Walking among them, with families and couples and people all around, I felt at home and welcome.



In San Augustin de Etla, a town just outside of the city of Oaxaca, I had the privilege of seeing the local school marching band practicing for the occasion of Independence Day. There is something about the beating of so many drums, and the ring of trumpets, that stirs up unmistakable feelings; to mobilise, and to stand tall. Under the lights and glitter of this festival, the proud beat of protest exists.



On the 16th of September 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a priest in the town of Dolores, gave a mass that was in effect a call to arms and rebellion against the viceregal government of Spain. His cry has become known as “El Grito de la Independencia”, and is now re-enacted in every city and town centre in Mexico on the night of the 15th of September. The historical date marks the start of a War of Independence. As in all wars, there was a heavy cost; of life, and in the formulation and compromise of ideals.



In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, and those that fought with him, recognised that the people were suffering due to bad governance.  An outside power had control over trade and commerce, and through the repression of many, the wealth of the nation was being consumed by a few. Its course shaped a new nation, and it was one fight in an ongoing history of battles for independence.

It has been an honour to live another Mexican Independence Day alongside the people that make it such a special nation. I am truly thankful for the nourishment of home-made pozole, for the fun of fake moustaches, and most especially, for the opportunity to know many Mexicans who are, every day, in their own ways, calling out to make Mexico the great country it is, and independent, as it always deserves to be. ¡Viva México! Live long.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Day of Discovery: En Vía visits Tierra del Sol.


By Samantha Wattson


We need to tell the grandkids about our day” an exhausted Margarita murmured to her sister. “Yes of course,” replied Delfina, “it is important to share this day with them, so they can learn about the differences they make through their choices.” “This was an incredible day,” she added.

As we dropped them off, and waved goodbye, I reflected on the day. It was one of those beautiful days when you learn something new, and share that experience with others. It was also one of those typically beautiful Oaxacan days—that are sometimes rare in the rainy months—where the sun shone brightly and the sky was magnificently blue. It was the perfect day for our first “En Vía field trip to Tierra del Sol.

We had invited women from all of the different communities we work in to meet us at Tierra del Sol in Tlacochahuaya. That day, 16 women made their way to the sustainable living farm.  We were excited about the turnout, as these women lead busy lives, and it can be hard, (as it can be for all of us), to take some time out of the day to learn something new. 


Photo by volunteer, Lindsey Shilleh.

Pablo, the owner of Tierra del Sol, welcomed us warmly to his sustainable farm that is tucked in between the mountains in the Tlacolula Valley. He has spent many years developing the farm. He looked around at all of us thoughtfully, and said that when he began he didn’t know anything about farming, dry toilets, or recycling grey water, but little by little, and by trial and error, he had learned along the way. We were sitting in a circle as he spoke to us. Pablo has a casual manner, and very calm way of speaking that draws a crowd into his words. He explained to us that the goal of the day was not to become an expert in farming or sustainable living systems, but to discover, explore and learn.  It was a chance to reflect on the ways we currently do things, and to develop a deeper understanding of the impacts we have on the earth. For now, it was time to take it all in, and ask all of the many questions that came to mind – and oh boy did we!


Photo by volunteer, Lindsey Shilleh.

So with the words: absorb, learn, observe, question, and imagine, illuminated in our minds, we set off on our tour. Rafael, one of Tierra del Sol’s team members, showed us around. The first stop was a windmill; it powered a well, pulling up water to an above ground tank, which then uses gravity to dispense the water.

The next stop, my dream meditation and yoga lounge, was their meeting room. It is a naturally lit single room, with large windows on all sides, made completely of natural materials. The walls are of a bamboo-like plant and mud, the roof of palms, and the floor of a concoction of plants, mud, and hay.  The roof also doubles as a water collector, which is funneled into an underground cistern and used to water the gardens.



Photo by volunteer, Annemieke Buursink.

As we approached our next stop there was a concerned look among the women. Dry toilets. The first of many questions was, do they smell? We all went in, one- by-one, to check the bathrooms, and then Rafael took us around back to see how it actually functions. He showed us how things were collected and then composted, and then he led us a to bin and grabbed a clump of some of the richest, darkest soil I have ever seen, and said ever so seriously, “ this used to be feces.” A few of the women didn’t hear him, or perhaps, didn’t believe him, and they looked to their neighbor for affirmation. As the women received their proof, and word spread through crowd, Maria asked Rafael if he was sure it was safe to have his hands in it. And as ear gave way to interest, the women leaned their heads in ever so slightly to take a whiff of the soil, which smelled of nothing more than rich earth, full of nutrients.  Question, after question ensued from the women, but we had to keep moving, there was still a lot to see.


Photo by volunteer, Annemieke Buursink.


 Next, we went to the back of the kitchen to see what happens to all of the water of the house. There was a complex system for purifying the water. To me it looked more like a Japanese Zen garden with its different levels of pools. This water was all funneled to a small patch of garden a little further beyond the kitchen. We followed the water into a garden where we found about 12 small beds growing such vegetables as tomatoes, chard, eggplant, and beets. Eggplant?! There was a few minutes then dedicated to the tasting of, cooking of, and acquiring of the unfamiliar smooth purple vegetable. This reminds me, I still owe the women an eggplant dish that I promised to cook them!



Photo by volunteer, Lindsey Shilleh.


With every new pass we were learning. Whether it was about new vegetables, or the ability to create valuable, nutrient rich soil, or that there is so much life to be found in our own backyards. The bubble of excitement surrounding the women continued to grow. Then, we hit the compost and fertilizer area. I have never seen a group of women so impressed with piles of rotting food and waste! The questions and statements that flowed from this point on were endless. Many of them have small plots of land which they farm, on the outskirts of their communities. In general, they use a monoculture form of agriculture, planting one crop over and over again, or maybe interchanging between maize (corn) and frijol (beans); a farming style that usually relies heavily on chemical fertilizers. It was evident they disliked using chemicals on their food. They complained in unison about their vegetables being laden with toxins, or about neighbors spraying fertilizer in the heat of midday, or when the winds were up, carrying the smell of chemicals into town. Here they were learning that there was another way! And that all they need are a few items that can be found free, or very cheaply, in their own towns and can be mixed together in a large tub, forgotten for a few months, and then used to feed their plants. They were delighted.



Photo by volunteer, Lindsey Shilleh.

The energy stayed with us, as we visited the trout pond. It was, to say the least, idyllic. Reeds surrounded the pond and the air around us was filled with a soft buzz that came from the beehives behind. The pond was partially covered with lilies, fittingly all in bloom with pink, yellow and orange blossoms. There was a small dock at the far end. And then there were the fish! The trout were popping up here and there, and the women were shrieking with excitement.  


Photo by volunteer, Annemieke Buursink.


The day didn’t end there, we planted green beans, ate tomatoes off the vine, and learned about building clay ovens for baking bread, and thoroughly exhausted our brilliant leader, Rafael, with our questions and enthusiasm.

It is amazing what we can discover, if we allow ourselves the time to explore and learn new things. This was a new world with so much beauty, and it wasn’t in some far off place, or seen in a movie. It was a tangible place with reachable, accomplishable projects. As these women discovered in a small farm in their own backyards, or as you, our friends and supporters, learned during one of our tours, there are a lot of amazing things growing and happening all around us.


 Photo by volunteer, Annemieke Buursink.