Monday, April 7, 2014

Seafood and Songs: A Trip to Juchitán

Last week the music trip went on yet another van ride, as we ventured to Juchitán de Zaragoza.  We unanimously agreed that it was nice to get away from the tourism of Oaxaca, but we definitely missed the dry heat as soon as we took our first breath.  We spent the week meeting so many talented musicians of all ages, and trying out our own musical talent now and again.  When we weren't listening to awesome performers, we were holed up in our air conditioned rooms or eating a lot of fresh sea food; anything "mojo de ajo" (a garlic sauce) was always rewarding.

On Wednesday, we enjoyed an American style breakfast in air conditioning (a true luxury in sweltering Juchitan) and headed over to Pancho Tina’s house, an older, more unconventional musician in the region. We met Pancho, the 86-year-old former iguana hunter and troubadour in his backyard and listened to him play the washtub bass, harmonica, and maraca all at once. Every now and then he would take a break to fill us in on the stories behind the songs, many of which were originals. Pancho proved to be a true artist at heart, drawing inspiration from everyday scenarios, like two birds fighting, and transformed it into art. We learned he had the chance to marry a very rich woman, but declined the offer because he didn’t want to lead a life revolved around money. Perhaps more than we learned about styles and forms of Zapotec music was learning the value of integrity and being true to yourself. Pancho was one of the more out-there people we met on the trip, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to show his true self!
On Thursday, our group went to a flute-making workshop lead by Elyuth, a flute maker/player from Juchitan. The fljute is an important instrument in the Isthmus. It is often paired with a prehispanic drum and is used in many community ceremonies. For example at XIndxaa, a community ceremony where monetary donations are given to the party hosts, the prehispanic flute and drum are used at dawn to announce the coming of the festivities to the community.

The process of making the flutes was a long and interesting one as we had to be very precise with our measuring and carvings. We used bamboo rods  and had to cut mouth pieces, sand it, burn holes into the rods for the correct chromatic scale, and insert wasp wax into the mouth pieces to produce the correct sound. It was a very natural process, everything that was used came from the community. Once we finished our flutes, Elyuth taught us a piece of music that we all learned and got a chance to solo for the group. Making these instruments from start to finish on our own really gave them a sentimental value and made us each very proud of what we had accomplished.

In the town of Tehuantepec, Javier, a marimba student, played more traditional songs from the Isthmus region for us on the chromatic marimba. This type of marimba plays five octaves with sharp and flat keys arranged like on a piano.  The instrument originates from Chiapas, where it developed from the piano in the nineteenth century.  Up close, we saw that each resonator has a hole covered with a membrane made of pig tripe that lets each note have buzz distinctively.  Fascinated by Javier's talent and not wanting the performance to end, we were urged out by the arrival of young Tehuantepecos ready to work on their own marimba skill with the maestros.

On Saturday evening, after we had returned to the city, we were treated to a private concert by the Orquesta Mexicano where they played a piece composed by Carlos Chaves. The piece featured many prehispanic instruments and was rightfully titled ‘Cantos de México’. This rather unconventional orchestration included the concha de tortuga and flutes, which many of us had played while in Juchitán. One instrument that I was particularly intrigued by was the chirimía, a double reed instrument and predecessor of the oboe The sound was particularly interesting with an almost haunting timbre. I really enjoyed being able to see the instrument and to be able to better understand the history of the instrument that I play. The piece was separated into many parts with the leader of the orchestra explaining each segment and contextualizing how the piece related to the different regions in Mexico. It was fascinating to hear the piece finally be performed in its entirety, showing a very unique blend of Mexican nationalism and prehispanic influences.

By the end of the week we were back in the van; annoying each other by playing our handmade flutes and taking Dramamine to head back to the city.  We’re now spending our days compiling all of the footage we took from the week into documentaries – get ready!

- Analiz, Bianca, Julia, Katie, Lilly

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Music Track: Week 1

Last week we began our course in music. The first class was quite an experience. As Sergio, our fearless leader, explained; music begins and ends with the body. Thus, we started our course with dance - interpretive dance to be exact. We did different activities during which we mirrored other people's movements and invented sounds to go along with our bodies. Not only was it a lot of fun to be up and moving during a class period, and to see Oliver's personal brand of self-expression, but we also became a little bit closer of a group as a result of the slightly embarrassing activities. The next class, after getting some background info on various instruments and their cultural context, we decided to make our own! We spent an afternoon painting PVC pipes, molding clay, and trying to follow the Spanish instructions. We ended the day with three very cool instruments that actually worked fairly well: a wooden stick that, when whirled around in a circle, makes a low frequency note, as well as a drum, and a clay whistle.

A couple classes later we took a short trip out to Tlacochahuaya where we met up with a very small woman named Soledad. We toured the town's church with her before making out way up a very claustrophobic staircase in order to see the famous organ. This old organ was beautifully painted with flowers and faces covering all of the whistles and pipes that rose above the keyboard. To the side were the large fans, one of which was mechanically operated, that gave air to the large instrument. Soledad, about a sixth of the size of the whole thing, sat down to show us how it works. She produced multiple songs; some more classical, some meant for dancing, and one tune that was commonly used for marches. She also used the various stops to create different volumes and sounds depending on the mood of the piece. Most of what we were learning last week was in preparation for our field trip, which began yesterday, to Juchitan; a lively city located on the Oaxacan Isthmus, one of the hottest and most humid places on earth. Unfortunately none of us have been taking many pictures of our musical adventures because our final project for the course is a documentary-esque video about our travels and what we have learned about music and culture and the interactions between the two. Stay tuned for next week when Bianca and Katie bring to life tales of our adventure through poetry.

Stay cool (literally, because I want to live vicariously through you right now it is so hot I can't even),

Monday, March 31, 2014

Health Track Final Week

Monday, March 24 we met at our favorite cafe in Oaxaca, Cafe Brujula, to get together and discuss roles for psychologists in promoting community mental health; We also talked a little bit about childhood obesity in Oaxaca. This topic will help us prepare to transition in to our last 2 week class, "Food, Health and Culture". Obesity is on the rise and has become a universal epidemic in both the US and Mexico. More to come on that when we join the food track next week!
Tuesday, March 25th our class went to visit The Fundacion Oaxaquena de Equinoterapia (FOE). We met with a lady named Carolina Gomez Balderas. She started this non-profit organization about 7 years ago. Before she started the organization she was a physical therapist for about 23 years working for the IMSS.  FOE defines equinoterapia as equestrian activity for therapeutic methods aimed at the rehabilitation of people through the three-dimensional movement of the horse, which acts in skeletal neuromusculoskeletal system of the human being, with the orientation and accompaniment in the professional area of health, riding and education. It is used as adjunctive therapy in patients with various congenital or acquired pathologies. The place was beautiful, not too big, not too small. She has about 7 or 8 horses, one cow, bunny rabbits and chickens. The land is loaned to the organization by an anonymous person. We first sat down with Carolina to talk about the organization and what she does. Carolina mostly works with disabled children anywhere from 3 months to 21-years-old. We were given the opportunity to watch a couple of the children participate in their therapy sessions riding on the horse with Carolina. A few of us were lucky enough to ride the horses ourselves!

On Wednesday we went out to San Agustin, Etla (St. Augustine) to visit a center where they make paper! Which might sound a bit like a boring factory, but it was actually really interesting and they showed us all the types of cotton and other materials they use to make it. We went step by step through the process and even felt the “paste” of cotton that felt really weird but was pretty cool. Then we went upstairs where we actually got to see a few of the things they did with the paper. In a small store section upstairs we saw intricate earrings, necklaces, and bracelets made out of paper as well as kites and notebooks. They were all so pretty, and definitely what we would call statement pieces. 
After that, we went up to CASA which is a center for arts in San Agustin that held a library, classes and workshops for Mexicans, and also (currently) a gallery of Mexican silver from the 1800s until the 200s. The pieces were so beautiful and featured everything from jewelry, to knives and dagger looking objects, to dining sets and coffee pots and more. It was amazing and knowing us we wanted to try on every piece and possibly buy it for our mothers. But, obviously we could not and moved on.
We then had lunch at a really quaint, peaceful place and it ended up being a great day. And, lucky for us, we had the next day off to finish off our last project of the class!
At the end of the week, we took our take-home exam and  reflected on our experiences. We went over the main points of the course, remembering our discussions of ideas of “normal” mental health, how communities work as systems of mental health support, and the various prevention models that exist. What an adventure this has been!

Food Systems Week 4: Tropical Farming and Gardening Comes to an End #WeLoveVern

This week’s blog post is brought to you by @CaptainTortilla @mosquitomagnet12 and @ReinaDeFotos in a Twitter format, where each tweet is “live” from our different locations. *Disclaimer: these are all fake twitter names, but real (and obviously funny) accounts of what we did.  

Monday, March 24th

9:00 AM @CaptainTortilla: Going 2 Solexico to edit our group paper about San Isidro from noon to 2, can't wait to see what everyone had to contribute! #collaboration

11:59 AM @ReinaDeFotos: Glad to be out of the heat for 2 hours and see everyone prepared in the classroom with their water bottles #HotWeather #Hydration

2:39 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Our paper turned out great, and even better news, I survived the walk home to comida with only 2 bug bites! #DontScratch #WhyMe #BugSpray

2:40 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Almost forgot the link! Click on “Class Writing Project, 2014: Visit to a Mixtec Village” #FoodSystems #Wheat #Corn #Tortillas #Donkeys

9:24 PM @CaptainTortilla: Off to #bed early, big day tomorrow!  

Tuesday, March 25th

6:19 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Meeting at Conzatti park at 7 to leave for chat @ 8 w/students at ITVO- Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca #WhyAreWeUpThisEarly

7:30 AM @CaptainTortilla: Whew, quick van ride! Ready 2 to learn about the students and majors the university offers! #agronomy #computerscience #biology

8:07 AM @ReinaDeFotos: We just had to introduce ourselves and our majors in Spanish, now they’re splitting us into small groups to talk with students... #WishUsLuck

11:37 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Got a nice tour of the ITVO campus and saw so many greenhouses, cacti, and animals! #CactusGarden

11:38 AM @ReinaDeFotos: Saw the saddest goose sitting atop a compost pile where his dead mate is buried. Very sad time, but at least he was cute! #PhotoFromMarge

12:09 PM @CaptainTortilla: A tour of the campus AND free cookies and coffee?! #BestMorningEver

1:15 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Back in the van to go to Cuilapam where Oliver has land and is growing things? We’ll see! #FarmerFrohling

1:41 PM @ReinaDeFotos: I put on all this sunscreen, but it turns out we’re listening to someone talk in the shade about #Milpa #Corn #Beans #Squash #Jicama

2:00 PM @CaptainTortilla: Yikes, there goes a farmer chasing his bulls! #BullsInTraining #MexicanRunningOfTheBulls #RunningFree #FarmLand #UhOh

8:33 PM @ReinaDeFotos: Host mom just asked where we’re going tomorrow, and I said “No sé” #IDontKnow and dug out our schedule. This happens todos los días.
Wednesday, March 26th

8:40 AM @CaptainTortilla: Conzatti park, we meet again. Vern is here. Waiting for rest of group to go 2 the small organic tomato farm #Yum

9:00 AM @mosquitomagnet12: A nice woman, Louisa, has joined us today. She’s helping us by translating at the farm #Ready2Go

9:33 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Learning about the organic markets, not as easy to be a part of one in Oaxaca as I thought! #WishfulThinking

10:26 AM @CaptainTortilla: Holy @#$% this greenhouse is HOT. Gr8 to learn about organic tomato growing vs. large scale like last week, though! #Infierno

10:27 AM @CaptainTortilla: Just saw a tomato that looks like a chile pepper, but it’s a tomato. Imagine that- a spicy pepper tomato #Genius

10:40 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Got a picture of that pepper-like tomato

11:01 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Drove past San Isidro Zegache where I stayed for my village stay with Sarah, Marge, and @ReinaDeFotos! Off to women’s farming/growing co-op #SpeedBumps

12:49 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Hannah better wash her hands after holding that baby pig! #cute #scared #bacon

3:31 PM @CaptainTortilla: Went to an amazing restaurant with the group. All of the food was #local and grown in the community #CreamOfCarrotAndSquashSoup #Fish #Tortillas #Salsa #Riquísimo
4:45 PM @mosquitomagnet12: A Mexican man approached us as we were walking around and spoke English with a southern accent. I don’t make these things up.

4:46 PM @CaptainTortilla: Just peed my pants jajajaja. This old guy from Mexico spoke to us with the thickest southern accent #Mississippi

11:11 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Everyone make a wish! *Wishing for mosquito net to magically appear* #itchy

Thursday, March 27th.

9:00 AM @ReinaDeFotos: Well rested and ready 2 go! Here at Conzatti (surprise!) ready 2 go to INIFAP to learn more about #corn and #seedbanks

9:40 AM @CaptainTortilla: @ federal research center that is protecting local maize genetics. So much info about corn, Sarah is LOVING IT.

9:41 AM @CaptainTortilla: All of this info is pretty corny if you ask me #punny #JonathanPuns

9:45 AM @CaptainTortilla: 60 types of maize in Mexico and 35 in Oaxaca, ¡Qué chido!

10:02 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Aw shucks, our host Flavio just complimented how good our Spanish is! #shucks #punny

11:30 AM @ReinaDeFotos: Went into a seed bank and saw pink corn. If you don’t believe me, look at this picture!

11:49 AM @mosquitomagnet12: What an a-maize-ing experience! Time to go write a reflection paper for Vern before comida! #punny

3:30 PM @CaptainTortilla: Fresh tortillas at comida today and all I could think about was where the corn came from #YES

3:31 PM @ReinaDeFotos: @CaptainTortilla bit eye holes out of his tortilla for a mask at comida today because he’s Captain Tortilla #Ready2SaveTheDay

7:34 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Could not be more excited for tomorrow!!! Organic farmers market, coffee tasting, and going 2 a restaurant 4 class!! #Foodie4Life

Friday, March 28th

9:30 AM @CaptainTortilla: All the girls in our Food Systems group are a little too excited about this organic farmers’ market right now #local #organic #granola #coconutoil

9:45 AM @mosquitomagnet12: Just bought the CUTEST pressed flower earrings. Last time I got freshly squeezed juice. Not this time. Ready for the coffee tasting!

11:59 AM @ReinaDeFotos: I. Haven’t. Had. This. Much. Caffeine. In. 6. Months. So. Many. Kinds. #CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz

12:05 PM @CaptainTortilla: This Sustainable Harvest place is in Oregon, too?! Bringing in Fair Trade coffee all day every day. #Caffeine

12:06 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Here’s the website for Sustainable Harvest! My hands are too jittery from caffeine to write about all the cool things they do

12:10 PM @mosquitomagnet12: After sampling 4 kinds of coffee, I’m ready to EAT. Vern is now going to try and navigate the streets of Oaxaca to find a certain restaurant #hangry #HungryAndAngry

2:30 PM @CaptainTortilla: At Itanoni, no one can figure out how to order. It’s literally just a tally mark on the menu.

2:41 PM @CaptainTortilla: Despite the confusion, the food was so gr8! A la carte style, fresh off the comal tacos, quesadillas, and other stuff. I like tacos. And tortillas.

2:45 PM @ReinaDeFotos: Our week with Vern has sadly come to an end, but I think he will be pleased with all of our reflection papers and the blog post!!!

4:45 PM @mosquitomagnet12: Recovering from comida. Trying to nap. So much caffeine. And too many bug bites. Still can’t figure that last one out #BloodType #SweetBlood

That’s all for now!
@CaptainTortilla (Carter Lincoln)
@mosquitomagnet12 (Lauren Truncellito)
@ReinaDeFotos (Caitlin Safford, Photo Queen)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Health Track Week 2!

It’s our second week studying community health in Oaxaca and it’s another week packed with more field trips to learn about different mental health approaches and organizations available here in Oaxaca. At this point, we’re really starting to get the hang of the class and what to expect for the next 2 weeks!
For our first trip of the week, we met in a great little restaurant named Jicara to meet with a woman named Betty Ramirez to speak about her position and what she sees at the women’s shelter that she works at. This talk was a rather bleak one, so I’ll spare all the details but it was hopeful to hear of programs like this available in the city. Our only hope is that it expands and accepts more women! To sum it up, this shelter accepts about 30 women and their children who are going through very severe instances of domestic abuse. Due to the small capacity, they can only accept women who are in dire, life-threatening situations, and unfortunately many of the accounts she told us about were that bad. However, she explained how it supports the women and builds their communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as boosting their self-esteem and encouraging them to form better relationships with their children. They also receive help in four areas: medical, social work, legal, and psychological. Although it was very hard to hear about, this trip proved very useful and informative to the three of us.

  For the next trip we went to a small town outside the city to visit a center called Casa los Abuelos (which literally received that name because it is located in their grandparent’s house). Here we received a very interesting and detailed account about what limpias (cleansings of the body) are, how they are done, and what their purpose is. It was our very first conversation with a curandera (a traditional/alternative healer) so we were all very interested! After our discussion, Anna perked right up and volunteered to do a limpia which consisted of having a bundle of herbs brushed on every part of her body along with smoke and some water. Basically, the herbs brushed the negative energy out of her body and released her spirit, and the water that was spit on her was so that the body would be shocked and recollect its spirit. The curandera then rubbed an egg along every part of her body as well, and later cracked it into a cup of water to do a reading. It was a very interesting experience, and we all ended up wanting limpias! But that will have to wait ‘til next time.

The last trip of the week consisted of going to another town outside of the city and visiting a shelter for kids called Casa de los Hijos de la Luna. In this shelter, they accept any children that their parents voluntarily leave there, usually during circumstances in their lives that may include having domestic violence at the home, or the mother being a night worker. Although the children were delighted to have us there, and they were all so adorable (just imagine a handful of 3 year old Mexican babies), it was a bit sad to see them in light of the situation. However, the people who worked here obviously had very well intentions and cared about the safety of these children, or else they would’ve just been alone at their house and/or neglected.

Overall, this was a very intense week for us what with all the information that we’ve received and all the stories that we heard. However, it clearly gave us a much deeper and broader understanding of the kinds of issues that are going on here in Oaxaca and although these programs are small it gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe they will grow and expand and help the majority that are in need, and not just a small subgroup of them.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Health Track Week 1

This week began with a small group of three Psychology and Human Development Students and Professor Lynne Bond. We started our class by discussing what "Community Mental Health" means in general, and then moving forward to discuss what it looks like in Oaxaca. We assessed what the needs and assets of Oaxaca might be in the area of mental health. What resources exist in mental health? How does Oaxacan culture foster or impede mental health development? In our next class, we began to discuss what is considered "normal" mental health in American culture and Oaxacan culture. By observing and naming the norms for health in a certain culture, we can start to form a better understanding of why certain health issues exist in certain places, and what is being done to prevent or treat them. Much of this week was spent in discussion about these themes, so that when we visited places that provide mental health support, we could have a more holistic view.

Our first excursion was to visit the Centro de Atencion y Formacion Humanista. This is a center that offers "alternative" mental health services to the community. There are a few characteristics that make this organization different than the current options that exist to treat mental health issues. They take a stance rooted in social medicine, which takes social identitiies such as socio-economic status into account when considering the issue of mental health. They believe that each person has a crisis at one point or another in their lives, and to label oneself with a mental illness can be stigmatizing. They seek to question the idea of "mental illness," and encourage their clients to question the social, culture, and political systems that influence how they look at their health. It was interesting to hear their take on mental health!

Our next excursion took us to the town of Zapata, a place mostly made up of immigrants from other areas of Mexico. There, a group of women called "Union de Mujeres trabajando por el progreso" formed from 12 women who were mostly working at home, and wanted to find a way to form a community among themselves. The group makes tinctures of herbs and plants which they use for health and healing. They come together multiple times a week to make tinctures, attend workshops, and keep their group in touch with one another. It was incredible to see a group of women who found a cause to unite themselves and form their own community. Many of them had felt isolated or estranged in the community, so this group offers much more than a trade, it offers emotional and social support. Also, we got to help make some tinctures, and learn a little about the process!  

To learn more about community mental health in Oaxaca, we met with a group called "Nueroticos anonimos," or Neurotics Anonymous. This is a group of people who identify themselves as "neurotic" and choose to meet in a similar format as Alcoholics Anonymous or other self-help groups. They told us their personal stories and shared a little bit about their philosophy. It was great that they felt comfortable enough to share their lives with us!

The week was incredibly rich with all different approaches to mental health in the Oaxaca community. We began to appreciate the diversity of the field of health, and began to assess what needs exist in the system. Overall, we were off to a great start with out journey through community mental health in Oaxaca.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Health Track, Week 3: Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico

Off to the magical small town of Cuetzalan, Puebla for the week!

Very early Sunday morning, March 16th, our tiny group of 5 took an 8 hour bus ride to a small town in Puebla, Mexico called Cuetzalan. As soon as we got there late Sunday night, you could definitely tell we were in a different state. Being there felt as if we had just traveled back in time to a town resembling something between that of Beauty and the Beast and a magical rain forest.

Monday, March 17th, our first full day in Cuetzalan, we spent the day exploring the town. The whole town was built in to the side of a mountain and our hotel happened to be closer to the top. Needless to say, we got our fair share of exercise for the week. The town was very lively today. There were many tourists out and about and markets with venders selling all sorts of things. There was a beautiful old church that stood right in the middle of "downtown" Cuetzalan surrounded by small shops, restaurants and cafes. At the end of the day we went back to our hotel, Taselotzin, to eat dinner and enjoy massages and a Temezcal (to study traditional alternative healing methods of course).

Tuesday was a long, educational, fun-filled day. We went to visit an organization called Casa de las Mujeres Indigenas (CAMI). This is a mostly women run organization that helps empower and help indigenous women in their community. The women who run the program told us about all the things they do, including helping women who are victims of domestic violence. Later that afternoon we went to visit a battered women's shelter. We helped the women and children with their herb garden and then sat down with a Curandera (healer) to discuss her work with the shelter and her all-natural, traditional healing methods.

                                                        Her name's Bond.....Professor Bond, hard at work.

Wednesday morning we woke up, had a fantastic breakfast (food here is amazing) and then hiked to Cascada de las Brisas, a beautiful waterfall located within the jungle surrounding the town. Later that afternoon we made a surprise visit to a local "natural healer" by the name of Pedro Martin Lara. We learned all about common mental and physical illnesses throughout the town and certain herbs and therapies he uses to treat them.

                                                                             Cascada de las Brisas

Thursday we went back to the women's shelter to play with the kids, observe the environment of the shelter and eat a lovely comida with everyone. Even though we were only there for a few hours, the experience was eye-opening. The women and children that were there seemed happy to be there. Everyone seemed to get along and the kids immediatly opened up to us, inviting us to play soccer or draw or just run around with them. It was a fun, heart-warming experience.

Friday morning we had to depart from this Pueblo Magico and make our way back "home" to Oaxaca. Overall it was a great time. It's always nice to get out of the city for a few days and explore other places but, at the same time we were happy to be returning to our friends, and families in familiar surroundings.

                                                          Enjoying our 'Last Breakfast' at Taselotzin.