Thursday, December 06, 2012

Where the cash goes

You don't write checks in Oaxaca, not for a pair of jeans and not for the electric bill. It's a cash-based economy for the most part. I've gotten used to taking out chunks of change to cover everything from school tuition to the down payment on our house. And, once I have a little cash, it's all too easy to spend. Unlike the United States, which often demands driving somewhere or finding something open at an odd hour, Oaxaca's corners, byways, and pueblos do business around the clock.

First there's the phenomenon of the corner store. This still exists in some U.S. cities, at least in high foot traffic areas, but in Oaxaca it's a staple. There is a miscelanea (a store that sells miscellaneous items) in every neighborhood, and some have multiple. They might sell the junk food and soda you would see at a California corner liquor store, but they also have fresh fruit, veg, ingredients for baking, salsas, fresh pan dulce and the like. The better stocked miscelaneas, though they might be so tight you can hardly turn around in them, have a seemingly limitless stock of any item you wind up needing, such as lip gloss, light bulbs, and party favors.

But shopping in Oaxaca gets even more convenient than walking to the corner. We have various peddlers, vans, and vochos that come by, knocking on our door to sell mountain honey, dried hibiscus blossoms, tejate dough, probiotic drinks, oranges, tortillas, fish, and pan dulce.

My favorite type of convenience shopping is at intersections. Any long red light at a major intersection is an open invitation for vendors to jump into the line of cars and sell stuff through the car windows. The toy of the moment is always on offer, be it a bouncing Sponge Bob doll on a furry pipe cleaner or a wind-up baby chick. Bags of limes, boxing gloves, plastic airplanes, Zapata moustaches, chicklets, roses, and churros wrapped in pink paper--we've gotten them all en route. It gets so, on the way to a party, we'll stop at a favorite intersection to buy a gift, and another to get a food item to bring.

I credit all this street activity to the fact that Oaxacans walk and take public transportation everywhere. Yes, there is un monton de drivers buying items through their car windows, but what supports that corner store culture and the street peddling around the clock is that people get out of their homes and, instead of pushing the garage door opener, they push a stroller or carry their babies and they walk to get their shopping done, vinyl market bag on shoulder and cash in hand.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Oaxaca's Party Bus

Well, there I was, checking one of my favorite blogs, sad because it hasn't been updated for many months, and I thought, shouldn't I do right by my own blog?

We've just arrived back to Oaxaca after three months al norte. It all comes back in a rush, how the mountains are higher here than those in California, how the cars are louder and smellier here than the smog-controlled ones in the U.S., how life is easier in Oaxaca, even with children at two different schools and work to attend to.

Part of what makes everything fundamentally different this time around is that my best friend, Meggie, has joined us for the next few months. Suddenly I see it all through her eyes, the graffiti and the market bags, the produce and the houses painted brightly.

The daily stuff is always what thrills me. Like yesterday, when Geni and I boarded the Primer Etapa bus to get home. This is my bus--I'm all about this route, with its buses that seem a little more rattling and that are often packed.

And we got on the best of the mutts of the buses, the one with "Amor Prohibido" painted in broad cursive letters across its entire tinted window. Forbidden Love means only one thing: we lucked on to the party bus.

This driver is loco, mostly in a good way. He keeps the tunes cranked loud and hits the topes hard enough to make the velvet tassles on his bus window curtains swing and tangle. He often keeps his route going long after the other drivers have pulled in for one last tlayuda and mezcal before calling it a night.

And nighttime is the right time on the party bus. At night, the lights blink in time to the reggaeton. During the day, however the scene is a bit like the after-party of the after-party, rough, a little tired, and too bright to fully open your eyes and look around.

We were surprised when, after a block into our journey on our favorite bus, smoke billowed from underneath the doors. We sat around waiting for our cue from the driver/deejay, who kept sending his henchman out the door to signal someone or something.

Soon enough another bus pulled up, already jammed with people, and our driver waved us off, telling us to board. I watched more and more people cram on and I realized that this was one right to party I wasn't going to fight for.

Luckily the women in front of me agreed and went back to the driver to demand their 5 pesos 50 centavos back so they could board a bus with room the breathe. I followed suit. The driver said to me, not angrily, "It's not my fault."

"I know," I reassured him. The other women were bitter. They were sure it was his fault. They thought he just wanted to keep their monedas, or that he was going to take a lunch break on his smokey bus. I was undecided, but I wasn't going to tell him that. I have to stay in the good graces for next time when I'm out later than I should be and in find myself in need of the services of Mr. Party Bus.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Hello everyone me and Roans first book is going to be out soon. Hey by the way we need some members be the first(or maybe by the time you get this you'll at least be the second)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Democratic Education in Oaxaca

Our school, Taller Colibri, has had some fascinating developments in the past few months.

First and foremost, our great teacher, Suzanna, has just been invited to present with a panel on the practice of democratic education. Her work will be part of the International Democratic Education Conference in Puerto Rico.

The core values of democratic education concern communication and respect. In essence, teachers, parents, students, and community members associated with the school listen to each others' input to collaborate and contribute to the school. On a day to day basis, it is as simple as designing curriculum that reflects children's interests or resolving conflicts by listening to one another and brainstorming solutions.

Our current unit shows these core values in action. The children expressed an interest in international cooking. They conducted research, asking each other as well as adults about favorite recipes, family recipes, and cooking. They read through cookbooks to figure out how to create, change, record, and use recipes. Now they are signing up for days of the week to bring in ingredients so they can cook and eat together. They will track their recipes and their general cooking experiences by writing and compiling a cookbook.

There's room for so many divergent projects at democratic schools as well! The children have been planting seeds in the garden, hiking up the river, doing bicycle tricks on dirt paths and in the village zocalo, meeting neighbors, birdwatching with a local expert, and making valentines. They have been welcoming new students and visitors to the school, some of whom speak English and others of whom speak Spanish.

The whole school has just been invited to a village on the other side of the mountains. The home where we will be staying is on a farm where the villagers practice organic and sustainable agriculture. What great adventures are in store for Taller Colibri?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Favorite Oaxaca Beach Secrets Revealed!

How silly to keep favorite places a secret, as if sharing the information will cause crowds to descend. The fact is, my favorite beach area in Oaxaca would not appeal to resort-lovers, non-swimmers, people who won't at least try to speak Spanish, and those seeking the luxe experience. I like my beach with a palapa hut, fresh mariscos, hammocks in the shade, and waves to jump, and not much more.

The journey to my jewel of a beach San Agustinillo starts in Oaxaca city. About 3 hours into the drive, you're in the mountains, freezing your patootie off, and thinking that it's pure madness that you will be in tropical heat within the next couple hours. Relish that mountain air, because the drive is about to get barfy.

Before hitting the mountain curves, I go to the "it" spot in San Jose del Pacifico, La Taberna de Los Duendes. Duendes are Latin America's evil folkloric creatures and this is their tavern, featuring mushroom murals painted all 'round, a nod to the rainy "high" season in which people partake in the local psychedelic delicacy. In dry season, it's all about homemade cheeses, onion and tomato jams, pastas tossed in homemade sauces, and hookah pipes you rent by the hour. I bought miniature knitted mushrooms from the back wall gift shop/gallery and played a game of chess while eating pasta with olives, capers, rosemary, basil, and toasted nuts.

A couple hours later, you either dodge the rope pulled across the road by the local village woman or you donate to whatever cause she represents, and you know you're within spitting distance of Pochutla. Pochutla is the urban hub of the beach towns of Puerto Angel, Zipolite, San Agustinillo, Mazunte, and La Ventanilla. Or you can take a sharp turn to go to Puerto Escondido. Somewhere there is a different sharp turn to get to Huatulco.

I love Pochutla. You drive through a narrow, winding street that goes by cheap pharmacies, people selling coconuts roadside, and baskets of baked goods. This is the place to stop to stock up on cheap stuff, or to send someone in the car on a two-minute shopping spree as you circle the block. For the best deal on high SPF sunblock (which can be pricey in Mexico), go to Dr. Simi, my favorite generic drugs and toiletries pharmacy chain.

The wind through Puerto Angel is a tease, because water views keep alluding you. I recommend a stop or side trip to Playa Panteon, particularly if you have younger children who want a dip into mellow waters. Park at Cordelia's hotel, order a drink to rent your table space, and set the kids on soak. If the conditions are right, the stronger swimmers can do the 10-minute swim to the hidden caves and tidepools on a sand bar to the right of Cordelias.

Onto San Augstinillo. You pass Zipolite, the nude beach and home of a yoga retreat or two, on route, worth telling people about even if you don't wind up going. Then it's San Agustinillo, a place dear to me.

We find no reason to stay anywhere other than Bambu, a collection of eco-cabanas with palapa roofs. I love this place dearly, and the laid-back managers, Memo and Miguel, create just the right beachy vibe. They mean eco, too--they recycle, compost, use natural materials for much of their building, have gray water and black water recycling, and integrate their tiny development into the beach so smoothly and beautifully.

There is an outdoor communal kitchen which means you spend leisurely mornings making coffee and breakfast while wandering into the water, sitting on beach chairs or reading and swinging in the hammock. It's easy because the beach is right there, mere steps from the kitchen, and the pretty serious surf creates a beautiful cacophony.

I typically require at least an hour to get the rhythm of the surf here, and to manage the riptide when necessary. But I like a challenge.

Here, then, are some secrets I have unearthed regarding my beautiful beach town, after several visits.

--Mexico Lindo's pizza is far better than that at La Termita, the Italian-owned restaurant and B&B. This was not always the case but, according to local sources, La Termita has downgraded their cheese and it's no longer the beautiful pizza I raved about to friends and strangers alike. By the way, I have not witnessed any restaurant firing up the brick oven before 6:30pm.

--Past the second sand bar from the Bambu part of San Agustinillo, near Mexico Lindo, is a beach spot my friends call "The Secret Kids Club." I'm sorry to reveal the secret here: a soft-sand tiny pool fed by the tide, appropriate for toddlers and kids. Up the rocks, a sandy passage for creating temporary art with shells and pebbles. Underneath, an archway providing a peek of stunning blue ocean. To the right, rocks that trap interesting finds from the sea.

--Posada Jazmin's owners are curanderos that will wrap stings, bites, and burns in leaves or soak them in tea.

--If you tour the lagoons of nearby La Ventanilla by guided boat, wait as late as possible to see all the birds coming to roost in this protected spot.

--Bring cash! They don't want your credit card or debit card here.

I could wax on, about Violeta, the pet raccoon, the energy healer, star-gazing spots, but I'll save them for a part 2 post after my next visit to San Agustinillo.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Looking Forward To Looking Back

I love taking and looking at photos, but I'm dreadful at the steps between, which these days involves downloading the photos, uploading them again, sorting/editing them into books, ordering the books, and paying for them. I just haven't gotten it together to put together the pieces for the past year, which means too many photographs.

Every time we leave the house for a market, site, holiday, or art show, I yell, "Grab the camera," because I never remember to grab it, but I always remember to yell. While we're out, I implore whoever is holding the camera, "Take a picture, get one of that, don't forget that, I might need one of that."

Every beautiful sight or site in Oaxaca--that monumental sand painting, folkloric dance, giant dancing puppets in a processional, stack of mangoes at the market--is both gorgeous and ever-so-transitory. It's all about to blow away in the wind, die with the music, go into storage, or get sold, so catch it catch it catch it.

There's a desperation I have about losing things, forgetting things. Part of it is about my sister dying, part of it is about being a writer and wanting to arrive at some strange amalgamation of personal truths. So when the photo-taking and presenting overwhelms me, I have to remind myself: this is not the only way to remember things. My favorite way to remember a place, a time, a person, a moment involves a teaching term: "looping." In essence, you don't capture the deepest meaning of a concept the first time you learn it, maybe not the second or third. No worries, because it loops around again, most likely slightly different, but when you're cognitively ready and have had enough reinforcement, the information shifts from short-term memory to long-term memory.

This is my life, my joy, and my struggle. I am the one who has to order the same dishes when I go to certain restaurants (Juan's--quesadilla a la Jesus, Biznaga--sopa azteca, Itanoni for breakfast--Veracruzano). Oaxaca's ever-changing street markets have me combing the streets and aisles for the old woman with the blue-flowered tablecloth who sold me the sweetest watermelon. I return to museums to walk the same floor, find that certain painting that transformed me. Travel plans are a perennial struggle between visiting the new and retracing my steps to reenact a prior vacation. Life as a loop may seem boring to some, but I can't bear to miss the things I find beautiful or delicious, even though one part of me knows I return to things at the expense of discovering the new.

When I taught second grade, I had my students hold up invisible cameras and click photographs of the board when they had shared key information that I recorded. They'd blithely click away and I any of them remember that moment the way I do?