Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tule Village Adventures

It started with a note home from school: "Geni necesita una falda." Geni needs a skirt.

This message could mean a number of things, from a school uniform request to some new rule being implemented. Upon pursuing the topic with Geni's teacher, Jukari, it becomes clear that Geni needs a folkloric dance skirt done in the traditional style, made to measure, for the Thursday Zapotec dance classes. By next week, please.

Wouldn't you know it that Geni's classmate, J., has a grandma in Tule village who makes these skirts? We followed the directions given by Rosalea, the third grade teacher, who told us to approach the tree, walk around it, and head toward the block with the little mezcal shop. There we would find a tiny storefront filled with folkloric clothes and a workshop with J.'s grandmother inside.

But looking for a mezcal shop next to a folkloric clothing store near the Tule tree is like telling a tourist to head for the store under the neon sign in Times Square. Every block with its own mezcal shop! Folkloric clothing for days! The only option is to ask every single store owner where J.'s grandma, the seamstress, is.

Three sets of instructions later, we stumble upon the shop, so close to the giant Tule tree that its upper branches provide shade through the doorway.

The grandma emerges from the back courtyard holding a baby and greeting Geni. She's the outfitter for the entire student body of Colegio Stanley Hall, Geni's elementary school. The girls at the school's Zapotec dance classes all wear tiered skirts trimmed with lace, with enough extra fabric that they can gather the skirts by the edges and raise the edges over their heads without revealing their legs. Quite a feat, really.

But where is the fabric for the skirts? Grandma disappears under tables and begins a looooong treasure hunt through various plastic bags, leaving us in charge of the baby.

Endless reams of fabric everywhere but, apparently, the just right fabric is not there. I know how this story goes, having lived seven years in Oaxaca, and I want to cut to the chase rather than do the "come back four times" thing. I tell her we will take any fabric, that it does not matter. We need the skirt by next week!

Grandma takes Geni's measurements and writes them down on a tiny scrap of paper that most certainly will be immediately lost. How could it not be? She also asks for 250 pesos up front, no small sum. But all that extra fabric will bring up the total to 500 pesos, if she can just locate the fabric.

What color does Geni want? She watches Geni but then realizes Geni has not seen any of the choices. She descends again to locate swatches, samples, anything. She finds a patch of green.

"Yes, green! Si, verde!" says Geni, surprisingly agreeable.

Grandma's eyebrows knit in worry. She is out of green, even though it is the only sample she has located for us. She offers purple.

I am anxious, in only the way a US person gets when in a Oaxaca village with school demands breathing down her neck. "Si, si!" I say.

Geni says, "No."

I coax and plead with Geni, knowing we will not get the skirt in time unless we can agree to this mythical purple fabric. She finally acquiesces.

I place the order, pay, and get a receipt. As we turn to leave, Grandma says, "Come back soon to see the purple fabric and make sure it's what you want. I'll try to find a sample of it by Monday."

Of course you will, abuelita. There is no speeding up when you are on Oaxaca village time. I just have to remember that this is a good thing.