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.
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.