Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 19:02

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Last Wednesday, our friend Oscar invited us to a Mayan farming ceremony that took place in the countryside near the small village of Xohuayan about 45 miles away from Muna. Oscar studies agroecology in the “Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan”. We were given the opportunity to attend such an event thanks to Oscar’s teacher who has been collaborating with the cooperative of Xohuayan for a long time. The aim of this particular day was to teach students agricultural traditions and give them a better knowledge of the local farming. A group of 15 students came to learn the meaning of a traditional farming ceremony (called “Wuajikol”) for the mayan people.

 Let’s start giving some explanations about the “Wuajikol”:

“Wua” means “tortilla de mais” in maya which are very thin pancakes made of the local maize’s dough. These “tortillas” are the basis of Yucatan people’s nutrition. They use it like bread with all their dishes; “Kol” is a soup made of maize’s dough. The whole name “Wuajikol” means that community’s farmers are about to honor goddesses and nature’s grandeurs for the wealth of their future crops. The “Wuajikol” is a long farming ceremony that starts at 6:00 am and ends up at 05:00 pm. The community arrives in the countryside area where the event is about to take place. As soon as they arrive, tasks are clearly defined between men and women: Men are taking care of lighting the traditional oven and women are in charge of cooking. Everyone knows exactly what he/she is supposed to do and no one is ready to waste time…


 1)      Men are getting the traditional oven ready (called “Pib”)


It is a buried cooking system. They dig a hole of one meter deep and five meters long in the ground. They first cover it with dry leaves. Then they cover the leaves with wood and stones. The leaves will help the wood to burn out so it can heat the stones. They will need at least 2 hours before heating up.


2)      The community offers their traditional welcoming drink (called “Saka”)


The community is thankful to the students and the volunteers for coming and sharing this friendly and spiritual moment. People are handing their visitors a holy drink of maize with honey. It tastes very sweet.


3)      Women prepare the holy food (“Pim”) that will be served after being blessed by the mayan priest (“Mem”)


Women divide into two groups. The first group cooks a chicken soup in big pots. The second one takes care of the “Pim”. As we said before, everything is used in the maize tree. The holy meal of this special farming ceremony is: hand-made tortillas de maiz (pancakes of maize dough) put together the one above each other until getting a total of twelve tortillas1. Each tortilla de maiz is covered by a paste of pumpkin’s seeds. On the upper tortilla they dig four little holes each one corresponding to the four cardinal points and they stuffed it with the holy drink (“Balxe”2) and with some maize’s dough. The “Pims” are wrapped into Banana’s leaves to protect them from the dirt and to give them a special flavor.

After finishing the “Pims”, Mayan women mix the rest of maize’s dough with water and then split the two of them. The liquid part is kept apart and added to the chicken soup. The solid part (the maize’s dough”) will be used to feed the cows and chickens.

1 – The number 12 is interesting yet it refers to the number of apostles of Jesus. It is a true speaking example of syncretism.

2 – Balxe is a local Yucatan tree used as medicine plants as well. We used its crust with some honey to prepare a Mayan drink called the same name.


4)      The holy food is buried in the traditional oven


By the time stones are hot enough they get rid of woods and throw the “Pim” in the oven. Moves need to be quick to keep the heat and the smoke inside as long as possible. Everyone takes part in the labor to try to help. People organize themselves as a human chain to hand the “Pims” to each other. When they are all in the oven, stronger men cover them with more leaves and eventually with the dirt.


5)      The holy food is taken out of the oven and served


In the meantime the Mayan priest says his blessings in his language and worships to the Four Winds (“Quatro vientos”3) to ask them the right to cultivate. The Four Winds are grand spiritual forces who own the land. Therefore they have the power to decide the quality of the future crops. The “Mem” had previously prepared the altar with candles, a bottle of Balxe and four bowls filled with “Kol” (representing the Four Winds) and a dead chicken.

After taking the “Pims” out of the oven, men unwrap them and mashed them into small pieces before adding it to “Kol” and the chicken soup.

By the time everything is ready for the community and the visitors to share the holy food, it is about 05:00 pm. Most part of the farming ceremony takes place in the preparation of the food following a very particular and traditional technique.

I was amazed to see how friendly and happy families of the community were all along the process. They had been very kind and willing to show us their Mayan traditions. Unfortunately cultural expressions such as these farming rituals are disappearing and few communities keep on practicing them. Centuries after the conquest of Spaniards and the mayor conversion to Christianity of million of indigenous people, Maya communities still have their own strong beliefs and wish to preserve it through future generations.



3 – The four winds are the owner of the lands. They watch over the farmers while working on their maize crops. A Yucatan Mayan belief says that if a farmer stands right in the particular spot that separates his crops from the one of another farmer at 12:00 pm exactly, he will suffer from a strong pain and high fever the day after and will have to go back to his crop with a “mem” (a Mayan priest) in order to apologize to the four winds and ask permission to cu




Kuraburi Legend

A long time ago in the past, there used to be a man whose name was known as “Mee”. He was living in the area, which in the present is being called Kuraburi. He was very well-known for his attractiveness, and had a beautiful wife, who was called the “Black Woman”, cause of the dark tanned color of her skin.

One day, the “Black Woman” fell ill. In order to help his wife, Mee decided to go into the mountains in order to find herbal medicine.

On one particular hill, he met another beautiful woman, whose skin was as white as purest rice. He immediately fell in love with her, and forgot about his wife’s sickness.

Not so long after, he brought her back to Kuraburi.

The rumor about the romance between “Mee” and the white skinned woman was quickly brought into the ears of the “Black Woman”.

Caught by a tremendous sadness, the “Black Woman” ran out, without really knowing where she was running to. She just knew she had to be away, away from him, and all the memories of him, which had been the actual roots of her disappointments.

When the white skinned woman found out, about the Black Woman’s misfortune, she was distressed, and also ran away from Mee. She went back to the hill where he first met her, and became a nun.

Mee, who was left all alone, went up on another hill, sought reflection and became monk 

The field, in which the Black Woman was finding herself after she had calmed down, is now called “Tung Nang Dam”, which, directly translated, means the Black Woman Field, or the field of the black woman.

The mountain, which the white skinned woman had stayed on, as a nun, has been called “Mae Nang Kaow”, which means the “White Lady”.

The other mountain, on which Mee had chosen to become a monk, is now called “Khao Pra Mee”, which means the “Mee Monk Mountain”.

Several years afterwards, the white skinned woman ceased being a nun, and came to settle down in Kuraburi. This area of Kuraburi has been called “NangYon”, which means the “Returning Lady”, from that time on.

Even today some people believe that anyone who comes to NangYon will find themselves returning again and again.

Remarkably, the area, which lies close to the Mae Nang Kaow Mountain, is also called “Tung Rak”, which means field of love, partly because of the great amount of “Love” flowers that can be found there.


Four Winds: Owners of the Mayan Lands

Filed under: Uncategorized — evs global change @ 20:06

A Mayan farming ritual in Yucatan: a unique experience of learning and sharing


A story

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary — evs global change @ 20:54

I have often heard from my boss that **** is a village with a high rate of emigration.
Actually walking in **** you have the impression that an age group misses, particularly that of my peers up to 35.
I found out chatting with the villagers that anyone has, at least, one family member or friend in the U.S. We have simple chats, like the ones at the bar, although I am not attending the folk “cantinas”: as a woman and foreigner, in a village so small, a visit to a cantina would be the end of my reputation and my work.
So they are stolen words, small traces that as Arianna’s thread, lead to a special place, the key site.
It is the first time I can say that my addiction to tobacco has brought me to something good. Thanks to it (which I believe has already significantly reduced the duration of my life) a night I asked Blanca, the cook, a ride with her trici- taxi to go to ****.
Once in the down-town, already quite late, Blanca asked the taxi driver to pick me up as soon as I was finished. She looked at me like somebody who knows a lot and said, ” es una persona de confianza, con él puedes regresar al complejo sin problemas a esta hora”.

That was how I met Carlos. He returned at the appointed hour and we left. The trici-taxi is the most common way to travel short distances: it is a motorbike pulling a cart covered with a plastic sheet to protect from rain or sun. That’s where customers stay, as seats wooden planks or, in the case of the best equipped covered with plastic cushions.
Carlos began the conversation. Usual questions like: where are you from? Where did you learn Spanish? How long have you been living in México? Do you like to stay here? He added that he spoke little English because he lived in USA for 6 years. In that occasion he already mentioned his tortuous journey to cross the border. When we arrived, we continued to talk. He was caught while crossing the border by police, he was sent back and he tried again, not without fears for his life. He was happy that everything ended well and he was not to re-cross the border again in those conditions. There ended our first chat.
I found the courage to call Carlos some time later. It was another interview that gave me the strength to do the nerve and ask specifically to see each others to talk about his experience. A few days before, for a research work, I went to interview one of the partners of the Cooperative, Choni. From the interview turned out that her husband was in the U.S. without a visa, without any document. She has not seen him for seven years and their family situation was aggravated by the fact that nor Choni nor her children had ever obtained the permission to go as a tourist in the U.S. for lack of requirements. In the case of her children, being minors, they need the father’s permission to emigrate. It was easy to imagine that the father, illegal in the U.S., could not expose himself.
Their story had touched me so much. I realized the trail of pain that leaves behind the migration, especially if it is simply dictated by necessity.
More research work, some official statistics, although it is impossible to record or make estimates of the illegal presence of foreigners, gave me an idea of how high is the volume of the phenomenon and how it has increased since 1994, with the entry of México in NAFTA.

Statistics have the ability to turn people into numbers, to deprive them of their faces and their experience. Statistics hide the lives of flesh and bones men, the small drops that shape the river of history. I would be never told, why a person may decide to leave his family, his country, risk the life to go elsewhere. I would be never told about the journey to appear in official statistics of the residents without permission.

Unexpectedly, Carlos gladly accepted to meet us. We met at the eco-tourism complex and he took me to his house, so I could meet his wife as well.

His home is beautiful, spacious and bright. We sit in the lounge and Carlos, as reading my thoughts, says that the house is the reason why he decided to migrate to the USA.
I do not need to ask questions or to introduce why I am interested … Carlos wants to tell his story: My only role is to listen, to transform myself into a blank page where his story can be embossed. The room is pervaded by his words and the sweet and moist eyes of his wife.
“Before leaving for the U.S., we lived in another house. It consisted of just one room, which was where we slept, ate and spent our day, my wife, my son and I. The walls were made of plasterboard and the roof of tin. We were simply too poor to afford another. I worked in transportation for the government, but what I earned was not enough to give us a decent house. I told my wife that I was going to the U.S., but she did not believe me and even wanted me to go. Only when I returned from **** with my flight ticket, she realized I was speaking seriously”. His wife mentions a gesture of assent with her head, she looks back to a distant past, and her face assumes an expression of resignation before irreversible decisions of others.
“I bought a ticket to Mexicali, the capital of Baja California. I began to get in touch with some relatives who live in the United States, ****, California, to inform them of my coming and to organize the trip. My sister-in-law lives there.
When I left was June the 9th, 2003. I was not alone: I travelled with my niece and her five-year son. Our relatives managed to get in touch with a young man with dual nationality. This guaranteed him to cross the border without problems. He was our contact person with the coyote. Do you know who the coyotes are? Yes, right: the people who lead the trip along the border. You can meet many of them at the airport. By a masking approach, they ask if you go to the other side. At that time the price ranges to cross the frontier was from 1300 to 2000 U.S. $, depending on the route. The cheapest is through the desert. There are good and bad coyotes, you have to be good at choosing “.

Hearing these words, I realize that my whole mental universe on coyotes, smugglers and other pseudo-guides has a kick. There aren’t coyotes or buenos or malos, smugglers or good or bad for me … they just may have a negative connotation. Carlos puts their shape under an ambiguous and ambivalent light. Throughout his story I can not understand what he really thinks, what was the relationship. Sometimes he shows the human side, others he reveals foul aspects. At one point, I realize that people need a huge leap of faith to offer themselves and all that they have to a coyote. Faith. This word will appear again during the story.
“Which are good and which are bad coyotes? The worst are those who are in contact with groups of offenders. During the trip the group of migrants can be attacked by groups of criminals who were previously contacted by the coyote. And so they end up being robbed even the little they bring with them. There are coyotes good, those that bring you to destination”.

I wonder where they find the money to pay for the trip. Also if during the trip they travelled just with the coyote or it was a group. Carlos will answer telling.

“The trip is paid on the arrival by relatives or the contacts on the other side. I returned the money working. The migrant does not bring much with him, almost nothing. My wife had sewn a secret pocket inside of my trousers to hide the little money I brought with me. ”

I smile thinking of the wisdom of women. My mother’s face appears before my eyes, while embroidering the initials of my name on my clothes.

“We stopped at a motel waiting for the call. Then we were told we had to go to the park. There a car came. We went up and the car took us to a small house where we slept.
Where were we? In San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora. We were greeted by a woman. We stopped at this house 2 days. They gave us food and a place to sleep. But we were under surveillance: when I needed to call my wife I had to ask permission to go out and to explain where I was going and why. It’s a measure so that people do not escape. For them would mean losing money.
We were alerted by the woman that the departure was at 11:00 pm. We left in a car with tinted windows. We were four: my niece, her son, me and another woman. We stopped in a place where we were joined by another car with four other people, other 4 migrants. Finally we reached the place where we tried to cross the border for the first time. I say first because the attempt failed miserably that night. The coyote had warned us not to touch anything, do not touch the wire because it would have tripped the alarm. But while we were crossing, the trousers of one of the women remained entangled in the barbed wire. All around was lit up, and in less than a minute came the Migra. In that moment we saw the coyote running away. One of the policemen pulled his gun and ordered him to stop, to stop or he would have shot. The coyote stopped, his hands rose up. The policeman caught him, and seizing him by the hair pushed back the head of the coyote and put the gun in his mouth: <<That’ll teach you to escape! >>. No. No, he didn’t shoot. But we were terrified “.


“What happened next? They took us to the police station, divided men and women. They made pictures, they took our datas. We didn’t have eaten for hours, we were hungry, but they didn’t give us food. They presented the two options we had: to begin a trial before a court or return home. I chose the latter. Thus they brought me to San Luis Colorado by coach. In San Luis, I did not know where my niece was. I waited for hours in the same place they left me. Finally she came down from another coach. ”
“We had a number that the coyote had left us in case of emergency. We called. They brought us in the same house where we had spent the previous nights. This time we stayed there a few days. We had to wait longer because in those days a bus carrying migrants capsized right on the border. This incident generated controls all across the area. Then we moved to another house. This was really close to the border and near the offices of Immigration”.
“What I saw in the place chosen for crossing the border again was a place steeped in sadness. Many people waiting for the right moment to cross. Men and women wrapped in their clothes worn out, sitting or sleeping near the wall that separated us from our goal. They hid their faces in the light of the Mexican police. We didn’t take anything with us, or food or water. I drank water from a small tank. Some Mexican and American people of good heart leave these containers of water in the desert because it is the place of migrants passage “.
“This time we had to cross the border, passing under the wall. Yes under the wall holes were dug, people pass throughout them to go from a side to the other. We had to check the Migra’s steps. This time it wasn’t only our group: we were three groups. Each group would have passed through a hole. The indication was to check that there were no Migra’s cars passing and if not, that was the right time to start running as fast as possible “.
I need to interrupt Carlos. I need to ask how to cross the border in this way with a five-year-old child.

“Sure. He couldn’t have crossed the border with us. The child was asleep with a tablet. He was entrusted to a pair of coyotes, a woman and a man with dual nationality. For the boy they presented false documents and he passed as their son”.
“Across the wall the Migra’s cars passed along the road. We had the indication to run as fast as possible. Running in the parts where there was no asphalt and rolling along the road”.

I do not understand the dynamics. Carlos sits on the floor and draws with his finger a kind of map to describe the route.

“Here’s the wall, the three groups are arranged in proximity to the holes. My group was at the centre. We had to dive in and climb the other side, as I said. Now after the wall there is not a paved road. There we had to run. Then we had to cross a piece of paved road. We had to lie down and to go rolling. This paved road, as you can see, has an oval shape ”

He points his finger on the two extremities of the egg he has drawn “when the Migra car was in these points, we could have crossed the street. We had to roll on this part to avoid that they saw us.
While crossing one of the groups was spotted and stopped. Their bad luck, gave us time to escape.
After crossing the road, there was another section where to run and then another piece of road where to roll again “. Therefore the “egg” designed by Carlos had the outline of paved road and a sandy heart.

“After passing this part, it was just running. I jumped in a sandy channel 2 m deep. I was running out of my feet, to the city, where we had the appointment with the coyote. The coyote never came. We knew later that he had been captured by the Migra. We were afraid to knock on the door of the appointment. What would happen if we were wrong? We spent most of the night hidden in the street, under a plastic sheet that I found. But at 5 am, a woman opened the door and told us to enter. She took us to the bottom of the house. Then she made the call. And when she names me and my niece, she told us we had to climb over the wall behind the house. In the other side a man was waiting in the car. We climbed. What a strange feeling! We spent the whole night hiding, terrified that the Migra could have seen us and now we were passing before their eyes, sit comfortably in the car, as if nothing had happened”.
“We were going to Yuma. There we were accommodated in another house for several days. A sweet woman greeted us. She gave us clean clothes and delicious food. And in Yuma we met the child. We were ready to leave again. We were travelling across Arizona. As we were further from the border, the coyotes began to get in touch with our relatives”.
“The appointment was given at a gas station. Await our relatives, while coyotes offered us drinks. They finally came. My parents paid for my trip 1800 US$. I could leave with my relatives to ****, 4 more hours travelling. I started my trip on June the 9th, I arrived on the 21st”.

How were the six years that Carlos spent in the U.S.? As soon as he arrived, his relatives had found a work for him in a carwash. After two years he worked for another car wash from 8:00 to 18:00 and at the same time he was working in a restaurant from 22:00 at early morning. He managed to find a third job for his days off as kitchen help in a restaurant. A wage was needed to pay his expenses in the U.S., such as rent, food etc… The rest was for his wife.
In Los Angeles he was able to buy a false insurance number that allowed him to work.
His son joined him. They decided to return when the works of his house in México had been completed and paid. Also he put aside the money for the wedding of his son.
The return was much simpler. He obtained a new passport at the consulate and returned by plane.

Carlos’s wife will know about the trip of her husband only years later. Both, in those years of solitude prayed. “Faith has helped us in these years of separation. We prayed every day. Thanks to my faith I’m here, alive, telling my story. Not everybody had my fate; many have died along the way. Has it been worthy? I met many people; I have many friends from all over the world living there. I suffered a lot, I risked my life, I worked as a mule, now I have my home, and my son got married. We can live in dignity. As in all things, there’s good and bad. The life itself is a journey, a journey through suffering and joy”.


Ps: In order to respect the privacy of the characters appearing in this post, I use pseudonymous. Moreover I decided not to specify the village where the interview took place, or sensible name of places. 


About Rodrigo, the flowers and the bees… Beekeeping!

Filed under: Mexico Photo Album, Mexico, Yucatan Diary, Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 17:57

As you already know it is Rosalba from Italy, Chloe from France and me, Katy from Austria, living and working as volunteers in the Ecotourism place Chac-lol. Since two weeks we have a new friend here, his name is Rodrigo. His motives to live in Chac-lol for the next three months have interesting background and go along with initiatives for a global change, so I decided to tell you about Rodrigo, the bees and the flowers…

Rodrigo is living in Puerto Morels, a place in the area of Quintana Roo, which is situated in the southeastern state of the peninsula Yucatan. Together with three partners he is owning a piece of land up in the jungle, for the economic project named EI AMANECIENDO, they started. This project is based on the motto: “Don t dream your life, live your dreams”. Once upon a time there had been four teenagers dreaming and talking about their own house in the jungle,  with animals, vegetables and fruits from their garden. Their ideas started to grow up and finally they are creating a wonderful place. Their aim is to create a self sustainable place, to produce organic food and honey, and the most important, everything will be worked out in an organic way. Right now all members get specialized in different areas and themes. Rodrigo says that honey is a wonderful, amazing product, beside that he believes that honey export will not be influenced by economic crises and in case of real crises you still have a product to change against others, so you will always have a possibility to survive. He decided to become a professional beekeeper, to support their project with honey production. This is the reason why Rodrigo is living in Chac-lol now, as some professional beekeepers are living close by, and he has the chance to work with them, to learn and profit from their experiences and knowledge.

I`m giving now an overview and some basics about the system of beekeeping, which I figured out on the base of an interview with our bee specialist.

Worldwide existing about 20 000 species of bees, but just a few of them are producing honey. In the region of Yucatan the African bee, the Italian or European bee, and the so called Melipona bee are living.

Bees are building colonial nests of wax for the produce and storage of honey. There is one Queen bee, a fertile female, a few thousand drone bees or fertile males and female worker bees. Rodrigo explained that details vary among different species of the honey bees, but common features of the bee produce system include:

 –       Eggs are laid singly in a wax honey comb, produced and shaped by worker bees.

–       Larvae are initially fed with royal jelly, later switching to honey and pollen.

–       Young worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvaes.

–       Worker bees cooperate to find food and use a pattern of dancing, the so called bee dance or waggle dance. This is their way to communicate. But also to control the temperature of the comb with their wings.

–       This dance varies from species to species.

–       Honey bees also perform tremble dances which recruit receiver bees to collect nectar. You learn to work with the psychology of bees, you have to get a friend and to learn not to be afraid. You learn to understand and use their natural reactions.

–       Bees are living in swarms, that means they are living in a group.

–       Honey bees sense magnetic fields and use that to navigate. Bees can trip for 100 of kilometers, and they always find their way bag to their home.

–       In the high season you can take about six liter from one comb, ten days later the box is filled up with honey again.

–       In the region of Yucatan the honey high season is from November till March. In October, before season, you have to clean and prepare boxes. April, May, June is low season, almost now honey production. You give food and start all the process again.

–       The high honey season is depending on the blossoming time.

–       In general bees are not aggressive animals.

–       A beekeeper is giving a place and food (sugar and water) to the bees. This is the reason why bees don’t leave after their honey is taken away.

–       By the way: organic honey is a medicine for eye infection.

As our worldwide EVS projects are going along with the thematic of global change I hope that this information can be interesting for you as well. To Rodrigo:  All the Best for your future carrier as a professional beekeeper.

If you want to know more about beekeeping and/or the project EI Amaneciendo don t hesitate to come in contact with Rodrigo: cope_tes@hotmail.com

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Experiencing a Temazcal

San Cristobal, a city located in the heart of Chiapas lands, is still well connected with Maya’s traditions, in spite of the colonization and a recent massive arrival of European people. Thus, some villages are still really traditional, like San Juan Chamula, and some traditions are really alive. The temazcal is one of them, though its use spread all over the Indian communities in north and central America. In fact, the word Temazcal comes from the Nahuatl temazcalli which means “home of heat”. It has different forms in the other communities, like the famous tipi for example. As the Mayas were sedentary people, their temazcal were made of stones, so you still can find some traces nowadays, in different archeological sites in Mexico, such as Yakchilan.

For the Mayas, this practice was a way to purify yourself, communicate with the gods, and a symbolism of reborn. Back in time, Mayan soldiers used it before fights and other occasions.

In these days, you can do it in a closed room (or tent) in a garden. In a big fire settled outside are put a lots of stones to be warmed. Next to the tent is the cross and under it one can put his offerings. In general, the offerings are made of fruits, water and other food or personal objects.

Getting ready to enter (photo google)

Right before entering the temazcal, the Chaman wash you. Once clean, you can enter the tent, enunciating the ritual formula “permiso para entrar por todos mis relaciones”, then sit and wait that everyone is ready. Then the experience really begin…

The fire is now ready and the stones warm enough. The Chaman, or his “assistant”, put them into a hole situated inside the tent… and then watered them, so a lot of steam comes out. The tent is now closed and it’s all dark inside, the ground is humid. Species are also used, that give a specific smell and build this unique atmosphere. Your body now start burning, the closest parts to the fire hurt, your legs, your feet. You are now trying to move away from the stones. But even your nose, your throat hurt when breathing. During this process, all the participants, one after the other, are enunciating their requests or their feelings. Generally, all the participants are introducing themselves during the first round. And so it goes. After the round is completed, the entrance door is opened, so a bit o fresh air enter the tent, finally. As the temperature got so high, most of the participants are just lying on the ground, chasing some oxygen and the freshness of the humid soil. After relaxing a few minutes, new stones are added, and another time the door is closed, the stones watered, and the ceremony carries on. The process goes through this different steps called « doors », so it can last few hours. As one also bring instruments in the tent, during each door, the participants are free to play, sing or pray. Actually, the Chaman leading the ceremony, is deciding on how many, depending on how important the requests are. Part of the ritual is the pipe too. The Chaman first bless it, then light it and pass it to the participants, one after the other, thanking the divinities. This is usually the conclusion of the ceremony.

Temazcal (photo google)

You then exit the tent using the formula “permiso para salir”. Everyone is now greeting each other, calling themselves brother and sister, and that’s true that the temazcal is really an experience you share with people, and as it goes really personal and intense, you really feel closer from the other participants. After rinsing yourself from the mud and the sweat, you come back around the fire and all share the offerings brought and blessed by the Chaman, though one part goes to the fire for the divinities.

I participated to a temazcal with a friend and some Mexicans. The experience was really unique, as I couldn’t imagine the strength of the heat, the specificity of the ritual and the all atmosphere. I hope this description would help you figure out, but this is something you definitely need to experience on your own. You’re coming out, physically tired, mentally released, purified…




(Love) stories of Muna…

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary — evs global change @ 07:26

In the last articles in our Blog my volunteer colleagues Rosalba, Chloe and I, we were speaking about our Host Organization, our language classes and the Chac – lol cooperative. Beside that Rosalba interviewed some local people from the village Muna, where we are living, to tell you more about lives of some local inhabitants. So I thought it might be interesting for you to get to know more about the persons we are living, working and dealing with in our daily lives here. Here in Muna you can hear a lot of stories about immigration, most of the times about people you are leaving at least for a while to America, which goes a long with a lot of complications. The story of Dana is an example about immigration the other way around.

 Rommel, our boss, is married to a beautiful lady named Dana. She moved from the United States to Mexico because she fell in love with the country, the culture, and with a special man…Rommel…

 Dana studied social work in the United States and she was especially interested in the field of Sustainable Development, Communities, movements and activities for Human Rights and International Development. In 2004 Dana had her first trip to Mexico as she was fascinated and interested to see Chiapas, where some fair trade coffee is produced, but also to meet and get to know Zapatistas, people who are fighting for the rights of indigenous people. She was fascinated and interested in everything she got to know here in Mexico, and it was just taking a few month that she returned back to visit a conference in Guanajuato. American and Mexican people built up a center with the aim of Global Justice and equality. Dana and Rommel met the first time and the love story started to grow up…

 At the time of the conference Dana did not speak any Spanish, with a dictionary and helpful colleagues who were translating for them, they managed to have their first conversations. On both sides they were fascinated about each other. When Dana was speaking about their first meetings she still seems to get excited and enthusiastic, she can remember every moment and every chat very well. And she can still tell you almost everything about the speech of Rommel at this conference, which she was translating afterwards. I wonder if she still can remember the shoes he was wearing at that special day.

 As we know most love stories don`t have an easy beginning and go along with different kind of challenges. After the conference Dana needed to go back to the states and she was concentrating on her study. But they decided to stay in contact via Email and letters. Dana was highly motivated to learn Spanish and Rommel was wondering about her fast learning process, in every message she managed to write more and more in Spanish.

 Dana got active in translating documents for the Foreign Student Depature and many fields of here study went along with different themes Rommel was working with, like fighting for rights of the indigenous inhabitants in Mexico.

 In 2004 Dana was graduating and Rommel saved up all his money to visit her for this special event. Dana decided to go back to Mexico, together with her future husband. Of course there was still a language barrier which goes along with difficulties. To immigrate from the States to Mexico goes along with paper work and some money, about 130 Dollar a year.

 At the beginning Dana had the three month visa, like all tourist do, and afterwards she needed to cross the border to extend the visa for another three month. Every year she had to go to the Secretary of Migration in Merida, had to show up all her papers and to confirm with official papers and stamps that she never did any crime. It is a fact that it is easier to immigrate from America to Mexico, compared to the other way around. After a couple of years and different kinds of official stay permissions, which costs about 130 Dollar a year and the travel costs, Dana had the possibility to get an official Mexican. If you change your residency from an American to Mexican you lose all your rights and all support from the side of America, so Dana decided to keep her residency as American inhabitant.  So to immigrate from America or Europe to Mexico is much easier than the other way around. But of course and as we volunteers all know it is a challenge to deal with language barriers, to get integrated in another culture without speaking the language, to deal with homesickness and to built up a new social life. It is kind of building up a new life in another country with different conditions. Dana managed all these challenges very well and now I can see her as a strong part of the community, the power in behind, and as a happy mother of two children.

 Shalom Lenin, who received his second name from the side of the famous revolutionist, was born in 2006. Their second child is Neza Yualcoyotl, who once was a Aztec governer who found one of the first underground water systems. On the beds of the boys you can find carved in wood the symbols of the jaguar and the snake, these animals have a special meaning in the Mayan culture. The Mayas believe that every human has like a connection to an animal.

 It is nice to see that love can be stronger then distance and different cultures can find such a nice way to live together.

The Health Care Center in Ticul and some facts about poverty in Mexiko

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary, Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 01:38

Once I had the possibility to visit the place where Shalom, the son of Dana and Rommel, was born.

The closest Health Care center from Muna is situated in Ticul, which is about one hour car trip away. Segura Popular is the name of the medical health care for people without insurance. This health care center in Ticul has one doctor, he is a gynecologist. On one side he is responsible for all the consults, on the other side he is helping to give birth, more the less all at the same time. Dana and I arrived at seven o`clock in the morning to this Center, knowing that the doctor will not be there before nine o`clock. When we arrived it was already about hundred women waiting there.  Dana received a number and we started to wait, to talk to the women and to play with their children. Also if every women in the waiting hall had a problem, maybe suffering from pain or fear, there was a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, nobody seemed to be stressed and all the women had a big smile in the face.

 At about twelve o`clock there was an emergency, the doctor needed to help to give birth, so we decided to come back another day as the center is closing at four o`clock in the afternoon and it was not sure if there would have been the possibility for the consult of Dana.

 For Seguro Popular, the health care for people without insurance, you have to pay about 10 Pesos each month. You can also do work on voluntary base for the centers. For example you can help to clean the center and you receive points instead of paying the 10 Pesos. When I went to the bathroom I recognized that there were signs which tell you “wash your hands before after using the toilet”, but there was no paper for the toilet, no water for washing the hands afterwards and no soap. Of course the reason for this is the lack of money of this centers, and not that people just don`t care.

Some facts about poverty in Mexico: 40 % of Mexicans live on less than two Euro per day. From 2003-2010 there has been a 40 % increase of unemployment. (CIA World Factbook). 71 % of indigenous communities live in poverty (LRAN). 34.000 people in southern Mexico were displaced by military and paramilitary oppression due to neoliberal agricultural policies.

 Looking at this facts you can imagine that in Mexico most of the people are living without insurance.

– Saludos, Katy


Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 01:13

Part of my tasks during the EVS is to share with tourists my experience inside Chac Lol Cooperative and introduce them to Chac Lol’s projects thus they can have a glance in local community’s daily hard work and way of living.

 1)      Gilberto’s Molino and tortilleria

 Maize is the basis of Yucatan people’s food. You can consume maize in different ways: corn, flour, tortillas, corn chips, tacos etc…Corn crops are very numerous and are part of Yucatan Agriculture. However the quality of the crops depends a lot on the climate yet farmers need rain to see their seeds grow. That is why praying “Cha-ac” (God of rain) through important rituals is part of a farmer’s daily life. First Gilberto is delivered corn in his factory and then the whole process to obtain maize flour from corn starts. Gilberto has equipment to help him to work.

 2)      Maria-Dulce’s Molino and tortilleria

 Maria-Dulce is always glad to open her door to welcome us while she is working. Work is a family experience and it is very often that members of the same family work and support each other. Here, Maria-Dulce works with her daughters: Magali, Rosa, Blanca, Claudia and Maria-Libertad, 5 of her 9 children. They are Carlos’ sisters, our colleague in the eco-tourism centre. The main difference between her tortilleria and Gilberto’s is that here people bring their own corn to see the whole tortilla making process.

 3)      Rusel’s bakery

 The third project is a Mexican bakery. Victor, Carlos’ elder brother, is one of the bakers. Their specialty is to decorate cakes. You can actually see all the diplomas and certifications they exhibit proudly in their bakery’s wall.

The cooperative recently supported the bakery to buy a brand new machine to prepare the dough for breads.

Rusel’s team is posing proudly for us with some fresh french bread (“pan frances” o baguette)

 4)      Oxkintok archeological site

 Located at 28 km from Chac Lol, the city of the “three shining suns”, smaller than the other sites of the Ruta Pu’uc, offers a nice possibility to discover a 2000 year old Mayan archeological city away from the crowd. The first construction started in 300 after Christ and the city was achieved in 1050. The whole site had been restored but it gives a good idea of the structure of Ancient Mayan cities with pyramids, palaces, squares, carving stones etc…Structures are smaller than other important cities built at the same period of time such as Uxmal or Chichen Itza.

 5)      Visit of a Mayan Family

 Our craftsman friend Pedro introduced us to a Maya Family who lives in a “palapa” (typical house made of wood and palm trees) and still speaks Maya to each other. They live in a traditional way: use the water from the well, cook outside their kitchen with their home-made oven, use barely electricity and finally lead a decent life thanks to what their land allows them to grow. They are actually the ones selling to Pedro the fruits he works with for his hand craft (jicara). They also have some palm trees and sell the leaves for the constructions of roofs. They are always very nice and friendly and we enjoy to have a small talk with them.

 6)      Kopoma Cenote

 The word “Cenote” comes from the Maya word “dzonot”. They are underground natural lakes. Some of them are open others are closed. The one of Kopoma is totally closed. You can access only by going down through a narrow ladder. It belongs to Maximo’s family who discovered it while he was building a well in their yard to have water. Now it helps to sustain the family. Cenotes are very mystic places to Maya people. They used to do human sacrifices to praise gods in the ancient time in these cenotes. One of the reasons why is because according to the Maya Cosmo vision, the water was the principle way out for sacrificed people to go to the underworld and to see what is beyond.

Chloé Bergerot


a Mexican Penelope

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary — evs global change @ 02:53

I’m still working on the project. In order to promote a self-development of the community based on tourism, the idea is to create a productive chain around the Ecotourism Complex Mun-Ha Uxmal. Many economic activities are involved in the project, such as tortillerías, organic agriculture, bee-keeping, crafts, bakeries, a cenote and a hairdresser’s shop.

I’m still interviewing people and this task is getting more and more interesting.

The beginning of an interview is always a little bit difficult: On my side, I’m afraid of my Spanish and to ask questions that could sound stupid or, worse, irritate my interviewees, destroying all the attempts to gain their confidence. On the other side, if Mexicans are hospitable and warm to guests, they have their own way to preserve their privacy.

So usually the interview starts very slow, sometimes the answers are very short and there are moments of silence. Sometimes I found myself thinking: “this interview is going nowhere”. But every time something happens, finally we arrive to the “core”. It’s a kind of magic; we pass from the formal to a deeper level. It’s possible to see from the words they use, the different light in their eyes, and their answers start to be like a stream full of details. Every time I come back home aware that I learnt a lot. Every interview is like an opened window on the Mexican world. 

This time the interview took place in a unisex hairdresser’s. Choni (I use a nickname), the hairdresser, is among the beneficiaries of the project. She has been a member of the cooperative Chac-Lol for 16 years. Thanks to the Cooperative, she could build her house. Married, 37 years, 2 sons, she is a beautiful lady. When the interview starts I see her nervous: she is seated but her leg is trembling. She tells me that she would like to move and renew the equipment; where we are was her father’s. I can see that the equipment is very old, the furniture, too. For me it’s really fascinating, it seems like a vintage hairdresser’s. I ask the reason.

She explains that could be a way to have more customers. From this point the interview take another direction. Choni tells me that she lives with her mother and her children and their livelihood depends on her. I’m wondering about her husband, but I don’t need to ask any question. She goes on telling that her husband, in the past, was a temporary worker in U.S. He was used to leave for several months to work in agriculture, as legal immigrant. But a day, Choni’s brother suggested him to go to California, where it is easy to find a job in restaurants. So he left again. Her husband currently is an unauthorized immigrant. He is an overstayer: when his temporary visa expired he just didn’t come back. He was earning enough; he was working in a restaurant as kitchen assistant. He bought a house that he was paying monthly in the U.S., with the name of someone else. But a day, the police arrested him, and even few days later he was free again and managed to stay in U.S. thanks to some friendships, he lost everything. He started to have debts and now he just works to pay them. So he is not able to send money to his family. I ask Choni if she has ever thought about reaching her husband in the U.S. 4 years ago Choni tried to go to U.S. as tourist. She had the letter of invitation by some friends who legally live in U.S. She paid the passports for her and her children. During the interview at the consulate, she was told that her children couldn’t go because the signature of her husband was missing. She told the true, that her husband was already in U.S. When they heard this, they decided that she didn’t have the requirements to apply for the visa.

She hasn’t seen her husband for 7 years, her brother for 5. She is in touch with them by phone, she isn’t able to use internet. 

In the past her husband asked her several times to cross the border like many other immigrants do, without any authorization, illegally. But she didn’t want because of the children.

Now he never asks her to go. She is afraid. She is afraid he has another partner. She is afraid that he will never come back, because he is used to another life-style now. Her eyes are red and wet now.

She adds that if she could earn enough, her husband wouldn’t need to stay anymore there. 

After the interview, I had in my mind some other details of my conversation with Choni. I asked her how people travel till U.S. She told me that her husband flow to Tijuana, and from there he crossed the border.

I had in my mind Manu Chao song…”welcome to Tijuana, sex drugs and marijuana”…Once home I needed to investigate more. Tijuana “aqui empieza la patria” is in Baja California, is one of the points where the trip of millions of emigrants starts guided by the coyotes. Some years ago a wall was built to stop the stream of Latin people coming from México. The only result of this wall is that now people try to cross the border trough Sonora desert. Many of them don’t arrive to the destination, leaving their life and the American dream in the sand. It wasn’t the case of Choni’s husband, who is an overstayer, but it is the case of many others.

I gave a look to statistics: the Department of Immigration of U.S. Homeland Security says that estimated unauthorized people in U.S. in January 2009 are 10,750,000; 6,650,000 are from México, representing the 62% of the total. The most attractive U.S. States are California and Texas, where the 40 % of unauthorized immigrants live. CONAPO (Consejo Nacional de la Población) estimates that in 2007 Mexicans  in U.S. were 11.811.732.

Here again with my surprise and my wish to know more.


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