Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Dinner with the Families of En Vía.

By Kathryn Boelk

Christmas is on our minds; especially that glorious Christmas dinner, which inevitably becomes something of an all-day event for those who celebrate Christmas in the United States. As I fantasize about my family’s traditional dishes, like prime rib and shrimp bisque soup, I also wonder if the women of En Vía will be celebrating this holiday and what it will look like for them and their families.

While Christian holiday traditions certainly exist in various indigenous towns throughout Oaxaca, Christmas is not universally celebrated. Though many families that we know within the program recognize Christmas, they do so with a beautiful variety of traditions distinct to their own cultures, lifestyles, and families.

On a recent tour to Teotitlán, one of our borrowers, Guadalupe, shared some of the traditions that her family takes part in on Christmas, but also noted some differences. She explained, for example, that “Santa Claus does not come to Teotitlán.” That is, gift giving is not a common Christmas practice in Oaxaca. Instead, families gather to “receive” Christmas on the night of the 24th, something which often entails wishing one another good luck and good health as well as sharing a meal.


Tamales for Christmas dinner!

Gloria, whose business is making tamales and assorted desserts to sell in Teotitlán’s market, tells us that the Christmas season is indeed a very busy one for her. She has many more customers buying tamales at this time of year, particularly on Christmas Eve and throughout the final weeks of December for the posadas (a tradition in which neighbors gather to reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for safe lodging before the birth of Jesus). Gloria says that in Teotitlán, on Christmas Eve, many people attend a late-night Mass in the town’s church at around 10:30 pm and afterwards eat a dinner at home with their families.


Gloria prepares tamales for sale over the Holidays.


In the town of Tlacochahuaya, we spoke with Maria Luisa and her husband, who told us that their favorite Christmas dinner dish is guajolote. This variety of turkey apparently has a very distinct and savory flavor, such that even when it is cooked plain, it tastes as if it has already been seasoned. It is considered something of a treat to eat guajolote and apart from Christmas, the animal is often given as a gift at weddings. The guajolote has tough meat though, so it must be cooked for a long time in an oven (above or below ground) or as a soup.


Guajolote turkey for dinner! 

Maria Luisa says that she and her family often eat chickens that they raise as well. She proceeded to tell us the story of the last chicken they had raised from a little chick especially for dinner. Despite themselves the family grew rather attached to this particular chicken (they even gave it a name!) And come time to prepare for the meal, they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I think they ate a vegetarian meal that year!

It has been a joy to learn about and even partake in a few different Christmas traditions outside of my own. From all of us in En Vía, we wish each of you, our friends, a very happy holiday! Oh, and buen provecho!  



Friday, December 21, 2012

School's out for the Holidays!

By Heather Hutcheson


Volunteer English teacher Heather reflects on her classes in the town of Tlacochahuaya as lessons come to an end for the holidays, and she says goodbye for now to her wonderful little students. We know the kids will miss coming to class during the break and will also be missing their teacher Heather until her return!


Volunteer teachers Heather, Alexis, Kathryn and Tony with their students.


Teaching with En Vía is a priceless experience and one unmatched by other volunteer opportunities. You might think it is hard work, getting children to fall in love with English, but they are ready to learn and can pick up a list of twenty-five new sentences and know half of them in fewer than two hours.  As a group, they now know hundreds of nouns and have the confidence to try out writing and speaking their own sentences in English.

One student, Kevin, writes: “Soccer is beautiful, and basketball is ugly.” And when we were practicing “to be” verbs, Jennifer and Mariel, twins, were delighted to see and understand a sentence that read: They are twins.



Getting to know more about all of the students is one of the most rewarding elements of this job.  I know that they love to draw and especially enjoy using markers, and so we did many activities that involved drawing words. I also have learned they all like to play on the swings before class, and even the smallest girl, Magdalena, will fight for the green swing because it is the highest.  The boys, without exception, draw hearts in their notebooks as often as the girls draw flowers.  And of course, certain kids don’t like to share with certain others because of broken hearts and more minor infractions.  Plus, certain people better not sit next to others because it disturbs the order of things.



Elizabeth likes to draw and eat fruit, but she doesn’t like melon, especially cantaloupe.  Most of the students said their favorite food was soup: noodle and alphabet.  And spinach, hamburger, and eggs Mexican style were among the foods that they don’t like to eat.

When Jennifer had a chance to write two sentences about things she dislikes, she took aim at the colors green and pink; she also dislikes soccer and kickball.  Ulises, one of the younger members of our class, joined the team that dislikes kickball, spinach, and pineapple.  Although he dislikes going to the doctor’s office, he aspires to be one in the future and so does Gabriel, Jennifer, and Narda.



Ulises and Gabriel like to go to the city, but they do not like to go shopping.  Elizabeth wants to go to Cañada, a region of Oaxaca.  Narda enjoys seeing movies and Abigail, who wants to be a police officer, wants to go to Huatulco.  She was surprised to learn that city names, like Oaxaca and Huatulco, are the same in Spanish and English.

They’re growing up together, and they’re learning together in and outside of school. They all have big dreams for the future.  Nearly half of the class wants to be doctors.  Others want to be small business owners, or police officers, and there’s even a future racecar driver!

Every minute we had together, we spent learning and laughing and enjoying one another.  In January they will meet another volunteer and another door to the language will be opened to them, and they, without hesitation, will settle right in.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Walking the Walk: Volunteers and the Adoptive City of Oaxaca.

By Kathryn Boelk

 As a new volunteer to En Vía, I have had the opportunity to meet not only the inspirational and determined women who participate in the program as borrowers, but also the spirited volunteers who support the program and all that its operation entails. Though we all come from a variety of hometowns and life experiences, we all share Oaxaca as our adoptive city and are greatly appreciative of the opportunities it has afforded us. Today, I’d like to share some of what we have discovered and enjoy about Oaxaca.

The markets are one aspect of Oaxaca that Kirsten enjoys in particular. Her favorite market is held on Sundays in Tlacolula, a town in the valley outside of Oaxaca city. On a given Sunday, Kirsten likes to go out to breakfast in Tlacolula and wander around the market. You can spend an entire day in the market, buying snacks and drinks here and there. She enjoys seeing the great variety of goods sold by local vendors and finding new things to barter for (although, truth be told, she prefers not to have to barter).


Volunteer Kirsten enjoys breakfast at the market


Kirsten says that her experience volunteering with En Vía has given her a behind-the-scenes understanding of entrepreneurship in Oaxaca, an appreciation that she could only develop from talking directly to women who own their own businesses and work with En Vía. Every bag of beans sold at the market takes on new meaning when you realize that it requires an entire day to clean them. She can tell if a woman grew the garlic she is selling or if she bought it from a grower in Puebla, depending on its size. She has learned where these products come from and the tremendous work it requires to get them to market.

Kim enjoys photography and wandering the city with her camera in hand. She loves to sit on the steps in front of Santo Domingo, or perhaps on a terrace above the street at sunset, and watch the tourists, families, and friends interacting around her. There are frequently comparsas (parades with music and dance) and other impromptu performances and gatherings to take part in, or to simply observe. She likes people watching and appreciates that so much of life in Oaxaca is lived outside, such that she can easily be an active participant or an observer who looks from the outside in.


Santo Domingo church in setting sun.

Samantha has a bicycle that she likes to make use of here in Oaxaca. She says it is a much more efficient means of transportation for running errands in the city. She also likes to ride her bike to villages just outside of Oaxaca. The longest trip she has made was to the town of Tlacochahuaya, a town in which En Vía works, that took three or four hours each way.

Sam also described how she enjoys spending her Sundays in Oaxaca. After eating dinner at her favorite restaurant, she walks around downtown toward the Zócalo. There, she often sits and orders something to drink, taking time to relax and simply enjoy the presence of others. She likes that not only tourists, but also Oaxacans and their families take walks throughout the city. She pauses to take everything in, appreciating the space and the relationships shared within it.

Armando is also a fan of the markets in Oaxaca. On Sundays, he frequents one market in particular where a woman sells empanadas amarillas. Other than the markets, Armando also enjoys walking around the city – and not only the historic center of Oaxaca. He likes having errands that take him to different neighborhoods, giving him a chance to walk around the entire city and listen to music. His iPod frequently accompanies him on his walks, playing electronic music.


Market scene. 

Throughout these conversations, a theme becames apparent to me: we really like walks!

While writing this post, I found myself wanting to substitute the word “walk” with one of the five different verbs and phrases I use in Spanish to express the same action; because the process seems so much more dynamic in Spanish, perhaps because it plays a greater role in daily life here.

I also found it difficult to explain how comforting, yet invigorating, the simple act of walking has been. Some of my best conversations – and subsequent learning moments – originated from walks down Alcalá towards the Zócalo on one of the pedestrian-only streets, picking up pastries, gelato, or elotes along the way with friends.

After realizing how personally significant this process of mobile reflection and decompression has been for me, the unfortunate lack of public spaces reserved for pedestrians in the United States has become increasingly apparent. Both my eating and walking privileges in Oaxaca have spoiled me, and I am certain that I will desperately miss them when I finally return home.


Walking in calle Alcalá.