esos ojos

One of my very early blog posts about my visit to a coffee farm in Chiapas.!! Please enjoy while I’m still dealing with personal issues.

howdoyousaytacoinspanish

esos ojos

In March of 2010, I took my last class for my master’s program. Luckily for me, that last class was also a study abroad trip to Chiapas, Mexico. While we were in Chiapas, we learned about sustainable growth, indigenous rights and the history of Mexico. We met with many groups, toured non-profit organizations and visited some villages. And of course, we ate some great food – moles, tacos, chicken, etc. And we drank some wonderful coffee as there are many coffee farms in Chiapas.!

front

One of the villages that most stands out for me during that trip is Nuevo Yibeljoj in Chiapas, Mexico. The town is in the highlands of Chiapas and in 2010 had a population of 595 residents. The town’s inhabitants are Tzeltal or Tzotzil speaking indigenous peoples. Many of the residents have small coffee farms in what can only be described as their backyards. The town belongs…

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with a rebel yell….

EZLN painted house

EZLN painted house

I am descended from rebels. Historically and genetically. Historically, Croatia has a long history of insurgency. It has resisted the infiltration and occupation of many invaders. The long list includes the Romans, the Venetian Republic, Hungarians, the Austrian Hapsburgs, the Ottoman Turks and the German and Italian armies during WWII. Let us, of course, not forget the communists who held Croatia in a vise-like grip for the latter part of the 20th century.

my father (left) and his friends before leaving for Italy

my father (left) and his friends before leaving for Italy

And this is how I am genetically descended from rebels. My father did not believe in communism. He wanted a free democratic Croatia. And so in 1961, he left his village in Hecergovina in the former Yugoslavia with two friends. They walked for three days straight, stopping only to sleep or to hide from the authorities. Finally, they reached Trieste, Italy where they requested asylum. My father spent a year in a refugee camp in Italy awaiting the U.S. to accept his paperwork. His friends went on to France. Finally, in April 1962, the U.S. government granted my father political refugee status. He was free to come to the United States.

my father (right side) singing with some friends

my father (right side) singing with some friends

That could have been the end of his rebellion. But it wasn’t. My father continued to believe in a free Croatia. He marched in Croatian national pride parades. He invested in the Croatian community by participating in the church, the community and the Croatian school (the one where I missed all those Saturday morning cartoons..!!). But he also invested in the Croatian people. He sent money back home, he pressed the U.S. to stop doing business with Yugoslavia, he passed out leaflets and he helped the diaspora find jobs and homes. Because of this involvement in the community and the stipulation on his asylum to not be involved in overt acts against the U.S. or Yugoslavia, we had many visits from the FBI. Hence, my abilty to spot a FBI agent…

My father (blue grey suit) outside church

My father (blue grey suit) outside church

Throughout my youth, I was inundanted with ideas of resistance, rebellion and freedom from tyranny. And so my fascination with revolutionaries around the world was born, including the U.S.’s from Britain. But also groups as farflung as the Irish revolutionary army (IRA), the Basque nationalist and separatist group ETA, even the Quebec sovereignty movement in Canada peaked my attention.! If it smacked of rebellion and unrest and the formation of a new country – it had my attention. Not that I condoned violence, it was the romantic rhetoric that made me swoon.

My mom, my rebel dad and me

My mom, my rebel dad and me

So in March 2010, when I signed up for my Chiapas study abroad class, I was pleased to discover we would be meeting with the Zapatista revolutionaries in Mexico.! In fact, I was excited.!! However, almost every single other person in my life expressed interest ranging from complete disinterest as in “Who are they?” and “Who cares” to “Omg – you are going to get yourself killed.!” But I was not nervous, I was thrilled to go. Ok maybe I was a little nervous. But I had technically grown up around ‘rebels’ my whole life. So I figured, I would be fine.

EZLN symbol

EZLN symbol

The day finally came to see the Zapatistas. We took our bus to one of their villages in the Chiapas highlands. We arrived at the village fairly early. A letter had been sent ahead of time announcing our visit. However, the Zapatista villages are considered an autonomous region of Mexico; therefore, when we arrived we had to hand over our passports for approval. It was exactly like entering a foreign country. We were allowed to enter the village, but were only escorted to an administration building. Apparently, there was some confusion with our admittance because two students were carrying passports from Colombia and one from the Ukraine. Initially, the Zapatistas seemed confused by this, but we were able to explain the discrepancy to their satisfaction.

comedor pinguino or the penguin diner

comedor pinguino or the penguin diner in the village

On a side note, while we were waiting to be admitted many of us required the use of bathroom facilities. Since we were not allowed to go into the village technically, we were led behind the small la tienda on the roadside. So remember how I waxed profusely about the amazing bathroom at Ocosingo. Yeah, this bathroom was the exact opposite..!! First, we had to walk through a maze of dirt, refuse, discarded metal and chickens..!! Yes, I said chickens..!! Have I mentioned I’m a city girl who is afraid of birds in general. Let alone chickens. Did I mention me and my classmate held hands.! Then of course, the bathroom was an outhouse on stairs..?! With chickens outside clucking.! Oh well…I digress…

zapatista village administration building

zapatista village administration building

Once our visit was approved, our passports were returned to us. We were then taken to a building that appeared to be a schoolhouse or meeting room. Three Zapatista rebels, two men and a woman, sat at the head of the room and told us their story. Basically, the Zapatistas are a revolutionary leftist group located in Chiapas. The group is made up mostly of rural indigenous Maya, though their leader and main spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, is not Maya. The Zapatistas take their name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and leading figure of the Mexican Revolution.

painted revolutionaries

painted revolutionaries and a classmate

The Zapatistas have led a war or rebellion against the Mexican state since 1994 when NAFTA was signed. They were concerned that NAFTA would bring about a larger gap between the rich and the poor. However, since their 1994 uprising was squashed by the Mexican army, they have refrained from using weapons. The Zapatistas, or EZLN, now have adopted a different strategy that attempts to gain both Mexican and international support. They have started an internet campaign to explain their intentions and bring about more awareness to their plight. As well as, invite outside groups such as my study abroad class to hear their history and their requests. This change in tactics has garnered greater support from a variety of NGOs and other organizations. It has also created increased attention among the media.

classmates outside a painted building

classmates outside a painted building

Among the Zapatista requests are indigenous control over their resources, especially their land. Since 1994, they have been creating autonomous municipalities in Chiapas. In fact, San Juan Chamula discussed in an earlier post is one of these autonomous municipalities. They have their own police force and the Mexican army is not allowed to enter. Also, on our drive to Agua Azul and Palenque, we had to pay fees to enter to both the Mexican government and the Zapatistas as part of this autonomous agreement. The Zapatistas also believe in a bottom-up approach to politics rather than a top-down. That is why they believe the Mexican government and NAFTA are flawed. Power should come from the people according to EZLN.

my professor outside a painted building

my professor outside a painted building

At the end of their speeches, there was a question and answer session. I even got to ask a question about women’s rights among the Zapatistas.! The Zapatistas actually have a Women’s Revolutionary Law which declares women to be equals among men.! The meeting was definitely a top ten moment in my life. After the Q and A, we were allowed to tour the village and take photos. The buildings were amazing with many painted in bright and colorful hues. There was also a small shop that sold clothes and I picked up a beautiful purple embroidered blouse or huipil.

Me, my professor, our liason and zapatista rebels

our liason, me, my professor and zapatista rebels

Upon leaving, the Zapatistas asked us to tell their story to the outside world. That was their only request of us. That visit was an amazing experience.! One I will not soon forget. The genuine struggle of the people brought to mind many revolutionary stories I have heard throughout my life and my schooling. The basic rights of a people to govern themselves and their land. Is it too much to ask for? Or is it too much not to ask for? Only the heart of a rebel knows the answer for certain. But it appears the Zapatistas and my father came to the same conclusion that it was too much not to ask for their freedom. Only time will tell whether a rebel heart beats within me….

weaving a life…

central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico

central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico

The last two weeks I have been taking you on a tour of my initial visit to Chiapas, Mexico. We have visited Nuevo Yibeljoj, Union Majomut, Agua Azul, Palenque and Ocosingo. The reason for this tour is I wanted to contexulize my experiences during this phenomenal study abroad trip. I also wanted to share this amazing journey in the hopes that you would understand the strong connection I feel to this extraordinary country.! Sometimes, the decisions and experiences we choose weave a completely different life for us.!

church in Zinacantán

church in Zinacantán

We have a few more places to visit in Chiapas. But today, I want to talk about Zinacantán. San Lorenzo Zinacantán is a village in the southern part of the central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico. As with the residents of Nuevo Yibeljoj, most of the population are Tzotzil Maya, an indigenous people with linguistic and cultural ties to other highland Maya peoples. Zinacantán translates to “land of bats” and comes from the Nahuatl language. In Tzotzil, “land of bats” is spoken as “Sots’leb” which is what the residents call Zinacantán.

one of my classmates in Zinacantán

one of my classmates in Zinacantán

Our class took a bus up the central highlands to reach Zinacantán from our home base in San Cristobal. The scenery was breathtaking – blue skies, clouds and hills dotted our excursion. When we arrived, the beautiful church with streamers greeted our arrival. However, so did three very excited teenage girls.!! They were there to meet us and take us to three separate artisanal homes. The group quickly divided itself into three parts and each group followed a very energetic girl through the town’s streets. Mostly uphill, I might add.! hahaha….

artesanias alcatraz

artesanias alcatraz

My group landed at Artesanias Alcatraz. We met an amazing weaver who lived and worked out of her home. Unfortunately, I cannot recall her name. I wish I could remember it because she was a very interesting woman. She worked with other women in her village through Artesanias Alcatraz. Every week, the women would go into San Cristobal to sell their handiwork to tourists and stores. They managed to make a decent living, but far from what you and I would consider ‘normal’. The scarves the women made typically cost about 100 pesos which is currently not even $10 USD. I would have expected that they could have sold their scarves for more since they were unique pieces. But after bartering, $10 would usually end up being the negotiated price.

the weaver

the weaver

At the weaver’s home, we had two people with us who spoke Spanish and one person who understood Mayan. So we communicated with the weaver through translators. She had two daughters who we saw at the house. She was married, but her husband was working. I loved the fact that she asked questions about us.! Not because I think we were important. But because it was nice to be engaged in a reciprocal question and answer conversation with her. I remember her being confused about me because while she knew about the United States, she had never heard of Croatia. It was fascinating watching her absorbing the information about a new country. Similarly, to me finding out about all the different Mayans living in Mexico.!

modeling some of the beautiful handiwork

my classmates modeling some of the beautiful handiwork

After the question and answer session, we learned a little about weaving. We also looked at the finished scarves, dresses and hats. A few of us also tried on some of the traditional outfits.! The pieces were absolutely gorgeous.! I ended up purchasing a lovely purple scarf that could also be used as a mini blanket. I loved it.! The weaver, as busy as she was, also provided lunch for us. We sat around on the floor and some boxes eating tacos filled with ground meat and salsas. It was delicious.! It ended up being a great afternoon.!

a scarf

a scarf

When it was time to leave, we took a leisurly stroll downhill (yay!!) to meet the rest of our group by the church. This is when I noticed that I had lost the scarf I had been carrying around throughout my trip to Chiapas. It was a prettly little pink and brown piece I had picked up when I had been in Dublin the year before. In fact, I had initially been planning on moving to Dublin after my graduation. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, my trip to Chiapas would alter all those plans. But I should have known. Because while I was standing by the church feeling upset about my lost Dublin scarf, I noticed that I was still carrying the scarf I had purchased from the weaver. In that moment, my own life had weaved a different path.

fungus and mushrooms – it’s whats for breakfast

coffee at "el hongo"

coffee at “el hongo”

One of the most memorable meals I had in Chiapas, Mexico was in Ocosingo, Chiapas. After my study abroad class, a few of us ventured on to Agua Azul waterfalls and the ruins at Palenque. Last week, I shared those photos and stories with you.! On our way, we stopped for breakfast at this wonderful roadside diner or comedor.

Ocosingo comedor "el hongo"

Ocosingo comedor “el hongo”

It was literally just on the side of the road in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere to me..!! The name of the comedor was El Hongo or the mushroom. Hahaha.. What a great name.! Though I have also heard it translated as fungus which is even funnier.! Usually, naming your restaurant after a mushroom or fungus is not considered inviting or appetizing.!

breakfast at "el hongo"

breakfast at “el hongo”

And I have to admit I was initally skeptical. But, I followed everyone else’s lead when ordering and was more than pleasantly surprised when my food arrived. The coffee was brought to me in an adorable mug. The fragrance itself woke me up and got me excited about the day. When the meal arrived, I couldn’t wait to dig in. I had ordered quesadillas with melted cheese and, of course, mushrooms..!! There was avocado on the side and fresh orange juice. There was also a slice of melon, but I ate it before I thought to take the photo above 🙂 It was one of the best meals I have had far from ‘civilization’.

garden at Ocosingo "el hongo"

garden at Ocosingo “el hongo”

After the delicious meal, I naturally had to go to the restroom. Trepidatiously, I made my way to the back where the restroom was located. Once again, I was surprised to find this lovely garden on the way to el baño. And the bathroom turned out to be just fine too (though I don’t have a photo to show you)..!! After so many strange and scary restrooms at rest stops in the States, I was grateful to find such well kept facilities. Eventually, we had to get our belongings together and be on our way to the waterfalls and ruins which turned out to be breathtaking.! But this little slice of breakfast on a road in Chiapas was no less spectacular.!

Agua Azul Waterfall, Chiapas, Mexico

All last week, I talked about my study abroad class to Chiapas, Mexico and the lovely town of Nuevo Yibeljoj. This week, I thought I would concentrate on the two trips I took after the study abroad class. First we went to Agua Azul Waterfalls and then the Mayan ruins at Palenque. I will talk more about Palenque on Wednesday. Today, I leave you with a photo and post I submitted last week to toemail.wordpress.com – Check out their site at the link above the photo.!

mocking birds

hanging out at union majomut

hanging out at union majomut

On Monday’s post, I talked about my initial visit to Nuevo Yibeljoj in Chiapas, Mexico. Meeting the children of the town at their school was one of the highlights of my trip. But of course the other highlight was talking about coffee.! As some of you may know, I have a thing for coffee 🙂 After our initial meeting and the photograph of the peeking child, we were invited for lunch. So we followed these lovely women to our meal….

women from nuevo yibeljoj

women from nuevo yibeljoj

The lunch was delicious.! It consisted of chicken, rice and potatoes. There were also very spicy (picante) peppers if you wanted to add more zest to your dish.! And of course, there was coffee.!! It was straight from the villager’s farms to our cups. I think I had three cups..! It was so flavorful.! Muy sabroso.!

lunch in nuevo yibeljoj

lunch in nuevo yibeljoj

The village of Nuevo Yibeljoj belongs to the Union Majomut coffee cooperative. The majority of cooperative members are of Tzotzil and Tzeltal ethnic origin. The cooperative brings together more than 1000 coffee growing families. The main goal of Union Majomut is to empower indigenous communities which is why even the name is in the local language. Majomut means ‘mocking birds” in the native Tzotzil language. The cooperative was established in 1981 and is located in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

outside union majomuts' warehouse

outside union majomuts’ warehouse

In 1994, the cooperative became fair trade certified. This certification allowed the cooperative to continue enhancing the lives of coffee farmers through several methods. Union Majomut strengthened coffee production methods and improved coffee processing by converting to organic farming to conserve soil. It eliminated the use of middlemen or coyotes. The cooperative also organized women coffee growers and promoted micro banks in rural communities.

jute bag from union majomut

jute bag from union majomut

Union Majomut has received support from various foundations including the MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Oxfam Netherlands to name just a few. The coffee cooperative also sells coffee internationally to Cafe Direct and Pangaea. It was the thrill of a lifetime for me to not only be able to visit the coffee cooperative, but to also visit one of the villages that produces the coffee. The opportunity to sit and drink coffee with the actual farmers was a very humbling and rewarding trip for me.! I will never forget it because that trip changed my life 🙂

If you are interested in learning more about Union Majomut – I have included their link –
http://majomut.org/#/Inicio-01-00/

esos ojos

esos ojos

In March of 2010, I took my last class for my master’s program. Luckily for me, that last class was also a study abroad trip to Chiapas, Mexico. While we were in Chiapas, we learned about sustainable growth, indigenous rights and the history of Mexico. We met with many groups, toured non-profit organizations and visited some villages. And of course, we ate some great food – moles, tacos, chicken, etc. And we drank some wonderful coffee as there are many coffee farms in Chiapas.!

front

One of the villages that most stands out for me during that trip is Nuevo Yibeljoj in Chiapas, Mexico. The town is in the highlands of Chiapas and in 2010 had a population of 595 residents. The town’s inhabitants are Tzeltal or Tzotzil speaking indigenous peoples. Many of the residents have small coffee farms in what can only be described as their backyards. The town belongs to the coffee cooperative Union Majomut. This is the reason I really enjoyed the coffee here. It was straight form the farms to the roaster to my coffee cup.! I promise in Wednesday’s post to speak more about the town, coffee and the coffee cooperative.

back

But today, I just want to describe the initial moments of that visit. We arrived at the town and were greeted very warmly. Eventually, our entire group was led to the building where all of the town’s ceremonies are held. There was a ritual performed before we entered and only aduts were allowed inside. The meeting was held in Tzeltal or Tzotzil (not sure), Spanish and English. However, while the meeting was very interesting, what soon caught most of our attention were the little kids from the town peeking through the wooden boards of the building.!!

side kids

I was able to capture what I believe is the best photo of this “peeking” because I was sitting the closest to the children who were outside. It was so precious.! And delightful.! As with all children, they were so curious to see who these strangers were (us – the students) and wanted to watch our every move. Later on, we went to the school and the children sang for us which was also truly amazing and inspiring. I have often wondered which of the children’s eyes I captured that day. But that will continue to remain one of life’s mysteries…..

front kids