Monday, July 23, 2007

San Dionisio Ocotepec

We spent Thursday and Friday of last week with our artisans. Raul has a Range Rover and a Suburban (which they call the Tanque de Guerra--"War Tank") to shuttle us around. All of our artisans live between a half an hour to an hour away by car. The leather group is working the furthest away, in San Dionisio Ocotepec, so we jumped in the Tanque de Guerra with Team Fireworks, Team Wax, and Team Pottery. It was kind of nice being the furthest away, because we got to see a lot of the countryside. We dropped off Team Fireworks (Tomo, Naoko, and Carlitos) and Team Wax (Dina and Kim) in Tlacolula, and drove on to the little town where Team Pottery will be working.


Team Pottery lucked out, as they are working in one of the most beautiful places in the state of Oaxaca. The town is nestled in a valley between two gorgeous mountain ranges, and what's even better, everyone in town still dresses in their traditional garments, which are stunningly colorful. Further, the lady running the pottery workshop is pretty successful and has a huge, colorful, beautiful house. Here are a few photos I took while we were there:

A shrine inside the pottery workshop:


Their work:


We headed off to San Dionisio Ocotepec with Raul and as we drove into town, I was immediately struck by all of the wonderful handpainted signs. Graphic designers are total suckers for handpainted signage, and I'm no exception.



Don Germán and Doña Clara live in a cement house with a huarache store in the front room:


The place is pretty big and there are concrete floors, so they are considered pretty well off in this little town, but I won't lie, many people would be shocked by their living situation. I personally wasn't too shocked, I guess since I grew up so close to Tijuana and I've seen pretty extreme levels of abject poverty from a young age. However, Lindsey, one of the Interior Design girls who is working with us, confessed to me that she was surprised by their living conditions.

Our instructions for Thursday and Friday were to document the artisan's process step-by-step: in our case, from hide to shoe. However, I'm not sure if it was Raul's presence or our late arrival--Don German pretty much decided that we weren't working that day. Rather, he was going to take us on a tour of the town.

It's worth mentioning that Don German used to be mayor of this town. In Mexico, this is an unpaid voluntary position lasting three years. I learned about this from one of the articles in our reader. There is a strong sense of civic commitment in Mexico, and it is very common for men to volunteer much of their time and effort towards the good of the community. It's a very difficult situation, however, because not only are these positions are unpaid, but often the man is left unable to work at all due to his civic commitments. This was the case for Don German--he was unable to make a living off of his huaraches for three years. In addition to this economic hardship, the mayor is also responsible for throwing a huge feast for the entire town once a year. In other words, he has to pay to feed from 400 to 600 people, in addition to volunteering all of his time towards his mayoral duties. As we later learned, this has put Don German's family in a difficult financial position, and he is feeling extreme pressure to move to the US to become a migrant worker. We also learned that so many of the men in S.D.O. have moved to the US for work that at weddings, the women dance two to three ladies per man. Don German is a proud man, super intelligent, and very interested in politics (more on that later). Actually, he reminds me a little of my dad. He's in a very difficult position, he does not want to leave his family for the US, yet he feels he is against the wall. I'm still trying to process what all of this means for our interaction and our collaboration together. I'm sure I will revisit this topic in later posts.

In any case, we're recapping Thursday here, so let's get to all of the things we saw. First, Don German took us by a mezcaleria, where they (you guess it) make mezcal. First they take the maguey plant (which is a type of agave), cut and clean the plant, and bury it the ground with some hot coals and other spices and such. There are 4 tons of maguey under the ground here:


After 3-4 days, they pull the roasted plants out and grind them in here (a horse pulls the big wheel round and round):


Then they go through several rounds of distillation (sorry, I didn't get a lot of the details at this point). What's funny is that the mezcal man decorated his little mezcal shack with photos of naked women...and drawings that his little nephew made. Kind of a weird combination:


After the mezcaleria, we headed over to the water treatment plant that Don German built when he was mayor. He was clearly very proud of this achievement and really wanted us to see the thing that he built. On the way, Dona Clara kept pulling on plants and telling us their medicinal properties. Turns out she is an herbalist. These people are super interesting. :)


We made it to the water treatment plant, and I have to be honest, the smell was pretty potent. I can definitely see why Don German is so proud. He motivated the entire town to work on this public works project, which provides water for irrigation. I'm not really sure about all the physics, but a pipe collects rainwater from the mountain and a series of rocks filter the water until it is usable for crops.

On the way back to their house from the water treatment plant, we ran into Don German's grandmother!!! She is 95 and only speaks Zapotec...and she still works! I think she works with a metate, grinding corn and such to make masa. but there were some language issues at play here so I'm not sure if I understood correctly:


We also saw the town's church...and about 150 kids waiting in line to confess. Don German shared with us some of his thoughts on the church...surprisingly, he wasn't too keen on it. He felt that the people in town should be spending their time working or doing civic good rather than waiting in a confession line. And it was easy to see his point...there were a LOT of kids waiting to confess. What's funny is, what do you need to confess when you are 9 and 10 years old? Anyway, the point is, Don German is a pretty progressive guy.

I really enjoyed walking around their town and seeing what life was like in a less touristed area of the Oaxaca state. Here are some of the photos I took around town:

Beautiful mix of colors and textures:


They use flattened bottlecaps as washers. Smart!


Kind of random...we got a bag of Doritos at a little store, and they had fortunes printed on them! (With respect you will obtain things):


1 comment:

Unknown said...

thank you very much for describing lovely little town, but i will tell you something this town is not what it looks like, it has more than you have seeing for example.................. contact me and a will tell you i am sure will want to know its amazing history and i know it ok any ways, don german has a nick name they call him LEATHER