Sunday, October 31, 2010

El Dia de Muertos

It is not difficult to realise the importance of this day as you walk through the centre of Guadalajara.  On every corner there is a representation of Catrina.  The plazas are full of stalls selling special cakes, chocolate skulls, flowers, candles and alters. 
It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the first Spaniards tried unsuccessfully to eradicate. Now the ritual has been mixed with christian religious practices and has evolved to the present day celebration.  A ritual known today as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

This is a very special ritual, since it is the day in which the living remember their departed relatives. Sometimes, when people of other cultures hear for the first time about the celebration of the Day of the Dead, they mistakenly think it must be: gruesome, terrifying, scary, ugly and sad. Nothing further from the truth, Day of the Dead is a beautiful ritual in which Mexicans happily and lovingly remember their loved relatives that have died. Every house makes an Ofrendas  (alter) are set up in the houses for their dead relatives. Generally ofrendas are set up on a table covered with a tablecloth and papel picado. They are decorated with sugar skulls, candles, cempasuchil (marigolds) flowers, and paper mache skeletons. Plates with the favorite foods of their dead relatives are also set on the ofrenda. Some have also liquor and cigarettes. On the ofrendas for the deceased children they place toys in addition to the food.

On 1st  November , there is a ceremony in honor of the Angelitos takes place in the cemetery.  The little angels or angelitos are the children that died and that could never experience the happiness and sorrows of adulthood. The celebration begins with a mass. After mass, the women and children go to the graveyard to clean and decorate the tombs. They bring with them flowers, bread and fruits in baskets covered with napkins that they embroidered themselves, as well as the copal, incense, that they will burn so that the aroma will help guide the returning souls. Each family brings with them in honor of their deceased relatives.

The ritual to honor the deceased children ends around nine in the morning.  Then in the evening at   at nightfall, the most impressive celebration will begin, the ritual in which the souls of the deceased adults are honored. Stages are set up for dancing and celebration.

At night, with everything ready, the dances begin. The Danza de los Viejitos, Dance of the Old Men, representative dance of this region. In pre-Hispanic times this dance was performed as a ritual honoring the Sun.
At midnight it is the graveyard is the place in which living and dead will reunite once again.
The bell at the entrance rings all night long, calling the souls to return and enjoy the splendid ceremony. The women and children who silently find the tombs of their relatives, on which they place the lovely embroidered napkins and set candles, the flowers and food that their dead so much enjoyed when alive.The essence of this beautiful ritual is to lovingly and happily remember the dead relatives, their life, and in this way, give meaning and continuity to human existence. It is a festival in which family celebrate the life of those who have left them with food, drink (from what I here quite a bit of this), dancing and singing.

I think that the Mexicans have this right!! It is a celebration of life, of those who have gone.  A very natural way to celebrate the flow of life.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 3 En el campo - plus every type of Taco you can think of!!!!

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On the second night of our trip we stayed in a small hotel in Zapotitlan, basic but clean with comfortable bed.  There was no time in the morning for breakfast, as we had to pick up some of the locals and then drive to Alista for the final meeting of the trip.  However, when we picked up my favourite little lady, she had prepared warm tacos, with bean filling and salsa for us to eat on the trip.  Amazing, she must be in her late 60's and she was up making us breakfast!!  We all squashed into the Ute with another 5 locals sitting in the back.

Today's meeting was to try and assist the group of eight business to move on to taking over the program for themselves and to try an resolve a couple of internal rifts.  Quite a difficult day for Paula and Marco.  Everyone arrived from the four villages and each group was laden with different types of taco.  (Potatoes, fish, meat, beans with salsa)  To wash all this down Raymond (the only man in the group) brought along 4 bottles of his home made punch (made from plums).  (Here I am talking about food again!!).

The meeting was a difficult one and it was interesting to watch the different body language as people put up their arguments. Finally, some action points were agreed on and each group had small projects to complete for the next meeting in two weeks time.

It was time to drive back to Guadalajara after a couple of very tiring days for the two consultants from CAMPO.   

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day Two - Copala

It was up early on the second day of this trip.  Marco again negotiated the multitude of dangerous curves and pot holes as we headed to Copala for the first meeting of the day.  When we arrived, there was time to grab a quick bite to eat for breakfast.  Paula and Marco took me to a small shop where they informed me they always went for coffee.  The reason for this was the lady that owned the shop, always knew what was happening in the town.  (A valuable source of the latest gossip).  The shop consisted of one table with three chairs, a couple of shelves with bottles of soft drink and a tiny kitchen. 

In no time we were sipping (nescafe) coffee from large colourful (and very chipped) mugs and eating soft tacos and a mix of beans and pork in a rich chili sauce.  Yum!!!!! (I was certainly giving my stomach a good test this trip).  The cost of our breakfast and the latest village news was 45 pesos  ($4.50 for the three of us).

Breakfast over we headed to the meeting.  This meeting was with a group of seven women who have started a business that purifies local spring water and bottles it for home use.  (Here in Mexico, everyone buys large bottles of water for consumption).  Tap water is only for washing.  In this meeting Marco reviews the business plan that he has helped set up for them.  There are discussions on some of the problems they are having.  One of the areas that stands out is how they communicate with the public.  Marco points out how important this is and the group works on ways to improve this area of their business.

After the meeting we drive back to Zapotitlan and visit my favorite little lady from our last trip.  This time I have the pleasure of watching her make tacos in her outside kitchen. This was especially interesting to me.  Many traditional homes in Mexico have two kitchen spaces one outside and a more modern one inside.  She had a huge stone bowl in which she mixes the flour etc to make the tacos, then another stone that she rolls out the tacos.  Then finally there is a big terracotta plate over coals that the tacos are cooked on. 

Recently I read a book called Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico (Joe R. and Teresa Lozana Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culturewhich examines kitchen space in Mexico.  This book looks at the traditional kitchen space and all the cultural and community aspects related to this space.  A very interesting book that examines social and community traditions related to cooking and the kitchen, for women in Mexico.  I was very excited to be able to experience this first hand. 

Getting back to the food, again we were served up with a huge lunch of chicken, tacos, salsa, huge avocados from the tree in their garden.  Yes it seems that I am spending a lot of time eating on these trips!!

El Campo continued.

Our second meeting for the day was in the Village of Toliman.  This puebla is very impressive, the cobbled streets are neat and tidy, and the buildings freshly painted.  The puebla gives the impression of a community that takes great pride in their town.  This afternoons meeting is with a small group of women who have a small sewing business.  The purpose of the meeting is to help the women turn the business into a profit making organisation. 

We are welcomed into the small factory which is a semi covered area attached to one of the lady's houses.  There are a number of industrial sewing machines and all the fittings that go with a business that produces clothing. 

 Marco sets up the sheets of butchers paper on the wall ready to record the business of the meeting.  (This is the system of "White Board" that is used at all the meetings.)  All the points and instructions are written on Butchers paper.  After the meeting these are folded up and filed, with dates and places for future reference).  An interesting and practical form of record and minute keeping, which on reflection is the same as the electronic white boards that we use in our meeting rooms at home. 
The main theme of the meeting was to show the women how to estimate the cost of producing a garment.  A cost that included hours of work, electricity, wear and tear on machinery etc.  It was very interesting, as this was a new concept to them.  It has been very interesting to observe the way the two consultants from CAMPO present their capacity building programs to the women of the area and to watch how the women take on the new information and use it to improve their business.

Then of course after the meeting we were provided with an evening meal.  Another huge bowl of soup with meat and corn.  Yes I think we went close to eating dos vacas that day.  I could not finish my bowl.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Second Visit to El Campo

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to return to the small pueblas (small towns)  south of Guadalajara with the two consultants from Centro de Apoyo para el Movimiento Popular de Occidente (CAMPO)  again.  This time we went for three days.  The four towns that we visited were Toliman, Zapotitlan de Vadillo, Copala and Alista.  

It was another early start.  My instructions were to be at the office by 7.30 on the dot.  So the night before I organised for a taxi to pick me up, packed all my gear into my back pack ready for the next day.  Of course, that night I woke every hour on the hour!!! You know what is like when you have to get somewhere early.  I was up and well organised by the time the taxi arrived, off to the CAMPO office.  Of course I was early.  So I waited in the dark in front of the office, watching the street wake up.  Marco arrived at 7.30 and we paced the pavement as we waited for Paula.  Marco was getting a little restless, as he knew we had a long drive and the first meeting was scheduled for 10.30am.  8.00am and still no Paula.  Marco checked his phone and paced some more.  Then we received the call from Paula, she had slept in.  Soon she came screaming up on her push bike apologising profusely as she jumped of the bike.  

We grabbed all our gear and caught a taxi to where the camionetta (Ute in Australian) was parked.  (They need to put them into secure parking lots).  We were off!!! Marco was on a mission, to get to the meeting in time.  However, the windy roads, potholes and the fact that the tyres on the camionetta were not in very good condition made for an interesting ride.  (Lots of squealing of tyres on the corners).   Paula called the people involved in the first meeting to let them know we were going to be late.  There was no time to stop for breakfast of coffee on the way today.  (Luckily, I brought a couple of muesli bars with me).  I took the opportunity to take a few photos of the beautiful landscape around me as we drove through the mountains.
We finally arrived at Zapotitlan around 11.00am  and there were a large number of people waiting outside ready to join in the session that Paula had arranged for the morning.

The first session was a workshop with members of the community on gender awareness.  The aim of the program is to improve the relationships between men and women in the area.  About 40 men and women from the town and outlining areas took part in the session.  Paula later advised me that over the past couple of years this community had been identified as an important area for changes in relationships between men and women and issues related to gender.  She said that a lot of this was due to the fact that a lot of the men had had to travel to other areas such as the USA to get work to support the family.  This meant that they had to look after themselves, cook, iron and clean etc.  This exposure was giving them a better understanding of the woman's role int he family and when they returned they were more open to assisting with domestic chores.

The first meeting finished, we visited the house of my favorite little lady in the district, and yes she had lunch ready for us again.  A huge bowl of soup with meat and corn, accompanied by soft tacos, avocado, salsa and onion.  (This was the start of a huge day of eating, and Marco later commented, Paula and Diane ate a cow today!!!!).

Virgin of Zapopan

One of the most important religious festivals of the year in Guadalajara is on the 12 October. This is when the Virgin of Zapopan is taken from the main Cathedral in the centre of the city to the Basilica in Zapopan (about 7 kms away).  Local papers report that around 2 million people take part in the procession. The virgin placed in an impressive carriage and a huge procession of native dancers in the most amazing costumes follow her. 

 I was very keen to witness this celebration, so I met with two friends at 5.30am and we caught a taxi into the centre of town.  The city was buzzing.  Thousands of people had slept in the streets overnight, ready for the big day. The cathedral and the plaza outside were packed.  We were lucky enough to be able to get reasonably close so that we could see when the virgin was brought out on the cathedral and put into her carriage for the journey to Zapopan. 

Then we witnessed the amazing parade that went for over an hour.  Feathers, beads, costumes of every colour you could imagine.  The dancers proudly paraded and danced by.  Many of the dancers had metal plates on their feet, so that combined with the music and drums added to the impact of the spectacle. It was still very dark, so with fingers crossed I snapped as many pictures as I could and hoped they turned out.
Once all the dancers had passed by, we joined the throngs of people on the journey to the Basilica in Zapopan.  As awe walked, we were kept entertained by the different groups giving displays of dancing on the way.  The atmosphere was that of a family celebration. Three and four generations of families, strolling along, enjoying all the different foods and drinks from the stalls that lined the streets.  Considering the thousands of people, if was very calm, everyone taking their time and enjoying the day. 

Once we got near the end, the procession became very congested, and progress was extremely slow.  However at around 11.30am in the morning we finally arrived at Zapopan.  Here we passed through about 5 arches decorated with palms and flowers.  There was possible way that we could get in to the plaza in front of the Basilica.  There were so many people.  However, we did manage to get to the edge of the Plaza and in the distance we would see the Virgin being handed over to the priests from the Basilica.   

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Domingo en Puerta Vallarte

This afternoon I picked up some photos from my weekend in Puerta Vallarte.  They were photos taken with a waterproof camera.  The pictures reminded me that I hadn't finished my story about my weekend in Puerta Vallarte.
 There was no chance of sleeping off our Saturday night with the Mexican Pirates as we decided to take boat trip to Los Arcos early on Sunday morning.  This trip included snorkelling at Los Arcos then we were taken to a quiet beach for lunch in one of the local restaurants.   As all my family knows, I am not the most capable person when it comes to snorkelling and this time it was made even more difficult because I had to hold my vest on as the waist strap was broken. Trying to hold on to my snorkle and vest, I attempted to take some photos with the disposable camera. Considering I just held the camera under the water, clicked and hoped for the best the pictures weren't too much of a disaster

Before lunch I went with the group on a horse ride up (and up) a very rough muddy track to a waterfall up in the hills.  So much fun.  We had to ride through a couple of small rivers.   When we arrived at the cascades, everyone had a much need cool off in the pools at the bottom of the cascades.

After lunch it was time to take the small local boat back to our boat.  The trip home turned into a fiesta, (drinks were included, and flowed freely). 

Yes, I had to indulge in more Margaritas!!!  The Boat captain was quite a keen dancer and had everyone up doing the Mexican version of Nutbush city limits.  Then we were entertained by various passengers with their versions of tango, samba and there was a couple of very amusing pole dancers.

A great day was had by all,  and considering the cost of the day was only $50 it was great value.  When we finally arrived back into the port we fell into a waiting taxi and headed back to our hotel for a light dinner and an early night.

Apologies and Partial Celebrations

I must apologies.  I am afraid my blogging has been on hold.  I have so many stories to tell, but not the time to write them.  However, today I am feeling great.  Yesterday, I sent the second part of my research project off.  The research plan.  It was a great feeling to push the send button last night.  You know, no matter how many times you review and go over a paper, you always find errors or things you thing should change.  You have to reach a point when enough is enough and push the document off to your supervisor.  Then you have the anxious wait for its return and the accompanying "red notes".   

I now have six weeks to put into action all the aspects of my research plan and then write the final report. I actually think that this is a very limited time frame in which to produce a good piece of work.  However, I have come to the conclusion, keep it simple and do the best you can. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Margaritas and Mexican Pirates

So excited!!! I was heading off for my first touristy trip in Mexico.  Myself and another girl from the spanish school caught a bus for the coastal tourist town of Puerto Vallarte.  The trip on the bus was around four and a half hours through the mountains and down to the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
The last part of the trip reminded me a lot of driving near Cairns.  Very tropical

After a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel, El Pescador, an older mexican style hotel right on the beach.  We unpacked out bags, jumped into swimmers and sarong and headed to the pool for a margarita!! Well, that was out intention anyway. 

As we came down the stairs we got chatting with the lady at the front desk that organises day trips, and before we knew it we were in a taxi, making a made dash to a night trip on a pirate ship!!  I didn't even have time to change out of swimmers and sarong.  However, when we arrived it was all ok as the rest of the people on the trip were very casually dressed.

Well we were treated to a very entertaining evening with some very dashing Mexican Pirates.  Very touristy, but lots of fun.  And Bonus! Margaritas were flowing freely.  Even Better!! one of the dashing pirates made sure our glass was never empty.  The evening included a cruise, some fun and games with the people on the boat, dancing, dinner and drinks and a couple of shows, one was a traditional indigenous dance and then the pirates danced, sang, and ran havoc.  Lots of fun. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Post Meeting – and no not Tequila but Mezcal!! (the best part of the story)

After the meeting we all climbed back into the car to take the women from Toliman back to their homes. By now it was dark, and was very dangerous trying to drive and dodge all the potholes, so the short trip took quite a while. Each lady was dropped off and we finally arrived back at Rosalba’s house and were invited in for some food. Rosalba was someone who really impressed me. She told me that she became very interested in natural medicines when her daughter was a baby and was very sick. They tried natural medicines on the baby and she got better. This made Rosabla decide to study natural medicines in the local college. She was someone who seemed to have a very good balance in her life, family, work and church. She was very involved in the local church and committees that worked with the church for local celebrations.

We all sat in the lounge room while she plied us with delicious sweet corn, covered in lemon juice, salt and chilli. Que Rico!!! Or Delicious!!. Her husband then joined us and it was then I found out that he was a wine maker (well a maker of Mezcal) . This is made from the same plant as Tequila and here they have wineries like we have for wine, however they are for Mezcal. The inevitable bottle or should I say flask appeared after dinner. Come on Di, you should try some!!!

Of course one does not turn down the opportunity, however when Rosabla handed me a glass with a good three inches of Mezcal in it, I was a little worried. First sip!!! Wow!!! That is strong!! I am going to sleep well tonight. “Careful Diane”, warned Marco. Mind you earlier in the night he was trying to convince me that I should drive so that he could have a drink!! (joking). Paula and I slowly sipped out way through our Mezcal which had been topped up with some sprite as we enjoyed company of Rosabla and her family

It was time to hit the road again, we drove to the next town San Sebastian where we had rooms booked in the local hotel. Again, a slow and dangerous trip, in the dark dodging potholes and negotiating the curves. Paula and I were very chatty, due to the evening’s liquid refreshment. We arrived at our hotel at around 11 in the evening. I really felt sorry for poor Marco who had been driving all day. He handed me my keys and with a very large grin said “Sleep well”.

The Meeting

When we arrived back the main plaza of Zapotitlan a number of women (including the lady we had lunch with) were waiting outside the town centre. After about half an hour of running around to find who had the key to the meeting room, we were hustled into a small dirty room that looked a little like a neglected storage area. However, within minutes chairs of all shapes and sizes were brought in,from nearby houses, a table was set up with Coffee and the meeting started.

I have to admit there were bits that I didn’t understand; however I think I was able to comprehend the main parts. It was interesting to watch the body language of the different women, and to see how Marco and Paula dealt with the different personalities while they tried to encourage and move the women on to the task of taking on the responsibility of the group for themselves.

In the following month, there will be two more meetings of this group and I hope to be able to attend these as well. There are so many interesting factors involved, including the views of CAMPO, those of Marco and Paula, the different women in the groups, the issues for the women in relation to running a small business, their responsibilities to family, community and the church etc.

I hope I can use this as a case study to look at development and empowerment for women in rural areas of Mexico.

Lemons, Tequila and Salt, final episode!!

Another week has passed by!! October already! I think I need to post the next part of the Tequila and Lemons story. Fortunately, it has a good ending. Last Friday, I tripped of again to the CAMPO headquarters. (I am getting to know this place well!) The taxi dropped me off nice and early (7.30am), still very dark, and the street was very deserted. The coordinator had advised me that the two staff members that I would be travelling with would be there around 7.30am. No. All was very quiet. Oh! No I thought. Don’t tell me I have done it again. I leaned up against the fence and waited. Luckily, they both arrived around 8.00am. Phew!!! Again for privacy, I shall call them Paula and Marco. They seemed very nice, though a little cautious of the strange lady from Australia. After about half an hour of sorting out all their gear, we were on the highway heading south towards Lake Chapala. After about an hour we stopped for breakfast and coffee, and Paula and Marco quizzed me on my background and why I was interested in CAMPO. They then explained why they were making this trip.

They were visiting a group of women who lived in three small villages Toliman, Zapotitlan and Copala in the mountains about 4 hours south of Gadalajara. CAMPO had been working with these women for about 10 years, supporting and advising them on the development of their small business enterprises. Two years ago the group was quite active, however over the last two years the numbers and interest had dwindled. Because of this,the management of CAMPO had decided that they would not be supporting it anymore, and if the women wanted to keep the group going it would be up to them to take over the responsibility. It seemed that Paula and Marco were very disappointed that this had happened and felt that it could have been handled in a better way. The meeting that we were going to that afternoon would be to advise the women of the change and to help them take the first steps towards taking on the responsibility of running the group themselves.

We were back in the car and on our way again, through the rich green rural area around Lake Chapala. Soon we turned off the main highway and started to climb up into the mountains. There was a noticeable change in the road conditions, the two lane highway had turned into a narrow windy road with lots and lots of potholes!!!! However, the scenery was breathtaking!!! Lush green mountains and valleys! Every now and again we passed through a small village. Finally, we arrived at the small town of Zapotitlan and we pulled up at a small house painted a very bright purple, to visit one of the ladies involved in the group.

I must say I was humbled by the generosity of this tiny lady as she welcomed us to her very basic home. We visited the area where she makes punch and jam from local plums. She also proudly showed us an official document stating that she was licenced to produce cheese. Then we were invited to the kitchen for lunch. When I asked to use the bathroom she showed me where it was and was a little embarrassed and said "es pobre". I assured her it was fine.

After lunch we then drove to the next town Toliman, I had to admire Marco’s ability to negotiate the curvas peligrosas (dangerous curves) and potholes. Toliman was a very quaint, neat puebla nestled in a little valley. Here we visited two other groups of women. The first was a home of a lady who has a sewing business set up in a sort of a shed connected to her house, and the other was the home of a lady who makes and dispenses natural medicine from the plants in the area. Her business was very impressive. Rosalba, took us on a tour, showing us the different stages of production and the final product all neatly labelled ready for distribution.

Well it was time to return to the other town for the meeting. Six adults and one child climbed into the car (I am still not sure how we managed to fit) and we renegotiated the road back to Zapotitlan for the meeting.