Friday, February 25, 2011

Libros Para Pueblos

The Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL) was established in 1966 and is the oldest English language library in Mexico. Ten years ago members of this library began a program called Libros Para Pueblos in an effort to bring the joy of reading to children in primary grades in the remote villages surrounding Oaxaca. Today there are 41 libraries in remote villages. We went to visit two of them yesterday.

Our group of eight gathered at the OLL at 9 where we were met by three volunteers and a van. Our first destination was the library at San Lucas Tlanichico. The small village is outside of the market town of Zaachila. Emblazened over the door in both Spanish and Zapotec is the motto of their library .... Casa del Saber ... and yuu nan ... house of knowledge.I was unprepared for what happened upon our arrival. The local school emptied out and and each child came and shook our hands and went into the library and chose a book to read to us. We spent the next forty minutes listening to these young readers read to us. I let the pictures speak.About a 15 minute drive from San Lucas is the school that serves children living in more remote parts of the foothills. The school is named Margarita Maza de Juarez and even this short distance we could see the difference the added remoteness made in the opportunities for these children. If a child who attends this school wants to attend secondaria, there would be a 2 hour bus trip that costs $2 each way. That cost is prohibitive.

We were greeted by the principal and the children and the women who are the officers of the PTA. Again the children were eager to read us their favorite books, and before we left asked us to send them more. We have decided to sponsor a library located in San Pedro El Alto. Like this school we visited, San Pedro El Alto serves remote mountain villages. Interested in how Libros Para Pueblos works? Click here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Montezuma Cypress Tree at Tule

Two Thousand Years Old. 1500 feet wide. Over 635,ooo Tons.

This tree outside of Oaxaca is quite the specimen. Apparently it tapped into an underground spring which accounts for its mass and longevity. When arborists realized a few years ago that it had tapped out its water source, they began feeding it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Music in Oaxaca

Yesterday afternoon we attended a jazz concert in the courtyard of the Casa Colonial. It was in the outdoor courtyard and the quartet shared the stage with drop in vocalists as well as doing Miles Davis and Charlie Parker numbers. It was delightful to sit in the late afternoon sun amid the buoganvilla draped courtyard listening to good music. On Saturday night we dropped in to Amarantos on the Zocolo and listened to the trio Tierra Sol y Luna. If you want musical accompaniment to go with the picture below click HERE. Pour yourself a margarita and close your eyes ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Woodcarvers of San Martin Tilcajete

On the road home from Octolan we stopped in the village of San Martin Tilcajete at the studio of Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Jacobo took us through his studio and explained to us what goes into making a collector's quality carving.He started with the tree, the copal tree to be exact, giving us each a year old seedling to hold in our hands. Then he took us to the woodpile and showed us the difference between male and female tree wood. The female is softer and easier to carve. The male wood has a reddish color in its bark that is used as part of the natural coloring.The carver begins with a machete, chunking the wood into the form that he wants. The finer work is done with chisels and knives. The wood is left to dry for 6 months, and about half way through the drying process is dipped in gasoline to kill any termites.

The traditional ways of making pigment were explained to us. Using his hands as his palette, he began with traditional plant and animal pigments ... the powdered sap of the copal tree when mixed with honey becomes a rich brown. But if you add a little limestone to it, it becomes a rich black ... add baking soda and lime juice to to that and you have a rich yellow. There is a yellow ochre that comes from the fermented corn mold called huitlacoche ... and the reds, from the now familiar cochinella. It was quite the magic show.
Thoroughly dazzled we moved to the area where the painters were at work. There were some painters working on commercial pieces in acrylic. But there were also artists working with the natural paints on the collector pieces. Here is an example of a finished collector's quality piece from their gallery. You can see the intricate detail, and while this picture does not showcase the rich earth tones that I think make these pieces so attractive, it does highlight the intricate detail of the work.

The Traditions of Oaxaca

Friday night after a long day on the road from Ocatlan we attended a dinner and dance performance in the great hall of the old Dominican convent. I will let the pictures speak.The final dance was the traditional dance of the region with the large feathered head dresses

On the road home from Ocotlan

A short way out of town we stopped to visit the workshops of of the Aguilar sisters. These potters work in fanciful pottery images. While there I spied a pottery painter and asked if someone might paint something typical from the region on the side of my Tilley hat. The last time I did that was at a parasol festival outside of Chiang Mai. I was delighted with the result.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ocatlan Market

Today Ernesto, our driver here at the Casa Ollin, drove a group of us to the South to visit the Friday Market at Ocotlan. We arrived around 10 in the morning and the place was jumping. It is first and foremost a regional agricultural market. Blocks of the town are occupied by vendors selling produce from around the region.

dried fish

tomatillos and garlicand chicharron before and after

and, of course, the turkeys

Ocotlan is the home of the Oaxacan artist Rodolfo Morales. One of his murals of Oaxacan life fills the front entry of the municipal building

and there is a museum of his work in a restored convent adjacent to the town square.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teotitlan and the En Via Microfinance Project

Today may be the best thing we'll do while we are here. We signed up for a tour of the weavers in Teotitlan who are participating in a micro finance project sponsored by En Via. Actually it was not only weavers, but also a dress maker, a restaurant owner and a poultry vendor. The cost of the day is $50 US and all of the funds go directly into loans to be given out to entrepreneurial women in the village with whom we visited. Part of the agreement to participate in this program is that the women be willing to give two presentations to the En Via tourists about their work and what their loan will be used for. They receive their loan the following Tuesday and the Tuesday after that must begin to pay it back. The interest rate is zero percent.

Our first stop was at a restaurant in Teotitlan. The woman who made our lunch, Conception, explained that the money form her loan would be used to fix the leaky roof on her restaurant. This will be her third loan from En Via. Most of us ordered a local specialty called a tlayuda ... in this instance a sort of folded Mexican pizza. We pronounced Conception's tlyaudas the best in all of Oaxaca.After lunch we headed for the church in the center of the village. The Spaniards built the church on top of an old Zapotec pilgrimage site. Stones from the old Zapotec temple were used to build the church and are revealed in openings in the white stucco. The Zapotec design patterns of the rugs have their origin in these carvings.

It was here at the church that we met our next host, Eulalia, who guided our van up to her very small home in the hills above Teotitlan. Here in this small room this weaver lives and works. The huge wooden loom and spinning wheel take up most of the room in her home, but she made us feel cozy and welcome as she explained her craft to our group of 8. The dyes are all natural ... the brownish yellows from the skins of pomegranates, the brilliant reds from the cochinilla a parasitic worm of the prickly pear cactus. Eulalia explained to us that this was her third loan from En Via and that she would be using part of it to purchase chochinilla which is very expensive and part of it to purchase a water tank for her roof. Until recently she would have to carry her water up from the river, but now there is town water that runs in pipes along the street next to her house, but she must have a water tank to make it accessible to her home.All in all we visited the home of 6 women all in various stages of growing their businesses. We appreciated their hospitality and their warmth in welcoming us into their homes. Because of this extra margin of money, some women are able to pay for the uniforms to send their children to school, an option not open to them before. The money to fund these women comes directly from the money we paid for our tour.