Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Season on the Island

I made it back from Mexico feeling grateful and settled, happy to have gone and happy to be home. Things I will miss: the body wrapping heat, delicious food, friends I see too rarely, old pre-Hispanic ruins scattered everywhere, and practicing Spanish. Things I won't miss: the constant noise in cities large and small, always being on my guard, buying drinking water, and taking cold showers.

And now it's back to Orcas Island, where I will live in the same yurt as last year for another summer. I love the quiet of the woods, the dark sky with bright stars, the deer everywhere, the small community of familiar faces, the flowers blooming, and being near the water all the time.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Making Tortillas and Running Up Pyramids

The last couple days with Josa were my favorite. We took an overnight trip to a few more communities, this time Nahua instead of Mixteco. In the first village we went to, they were already in their second year of the program, so their gardens were more established and thriving. They grow vegetables to supplement their beans-squash-corn diet, as well as herbs or flowers as small cash crops. I helped one señora clean cilantro to sell at their local market.

Then the family invited us to stay for dinner, and I tried to help make tortillas. They make it look so easy, but really it takes practice! I was clumsy, and tore a tortilla, and I think the lady was genuinely shocked. "My 8 year old daughter is proficient at it," she marveled. (Well, c'mon, we all have the skills we need for our own culture. At 8 I could make mac 'n cheese, vacuum, and record movies off the TV.)
It was a delicious meal of hot tortillas (tlaxcali in Nahuatl), beans, cheese homemade by the señor's mother, and fresh red salsa ("We could use a blender for the salsa, but it gives it a funny taste, so I prefer to do it by hand", the señora said). In the midst of all home-grown, home-made food, the kids are eating Frito's potato chips. The mother sighed and said she tries to get the kids to eat what the adults do, but they just want hot dogs, chips, and candy. A challenge for parents across cultures.

They next day we stopped in another village where they were having a community corn de-graining. After the corn is harvested, it's dried on the cob, and then rubbed off to be stored as grain to make masa for tortillas for the rest of the year. It takes 2-3 days of constant work to de-grain it all, and everyone pitches in with each other's corn.
Josafat and I stopped to help for awhile, and they were a jolly bunch of men and women of all ages. They brought us blended watermelon juice and joked around. (They call Josa Ingeniero, which means "Engineer", as a title of respect).

"Hey, Inge, where'd you pick up this guerra [white girl]? You guys look good together. Gosh, we sure like weddings in this town... and we haven't had one for a long time! Man, a wedding would be great. Oh, and there's this great plot of land at the end of town, could really use a young couple to work it. Just keep it in mind, Inge..."

They were cracking up. "Sounds great... but I don't know how to make tortillas!" I protested. "That's okay, we'll teach you!" One of the older women, probably in her 70's, was puzzled. I told her you can buy tortillas in the US, but not everyone eats them, and that we eat more bread. "Bread!? But, how do you sustain yourselves?" she asked.

Then it was time to leave Guerrero, say goodbye to Josa, and be on my way traveling back north. I went to the new-agey town of Tepoztlan, which has a prehispanic pyramid up on a cliffside overlooking the valley. I've been there before, and it's a steep climb to the top on a stone staircase. I did my best to jog up, but the incline and the heat and the high altitude kicked my butt. It was a great workout though, and a stunning view from the top.
From there I went to Cholula, which is a small city right next to Puebla in central Mexico where I lived with Josa for a month, two years ago. I forgot how freaking awesome Cholula is. It's the perfect size, big enough that there are things to do, but small enough that you can walk most places, and feel safe. It is also home to the largest pyramid IN THE WORLD, by volume.
The pyramid is super overgrown and looks like a big grassy hill, and when the Spaniards arrived they built a church on top of it. There are great running trails all around the base of it, and it's a sizeable jog to the top, especially here at 8,000 feet. When I lived here before, Josa and I would go running there every day, and it's fun to be back and do it again.