An interview with a craftsman

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary — evs global change @ 01:00

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I was asked by my boss to interview a local craftsman, beneficiary of a project we are writing to promote the development of tourism in the area of Muna and surrounding villages, such as Opichén, Maxcanú, Kopoma.

I have to interview the beneficiaries in order to consolidate the participatory process, to monitor and to evaluate if the project we are planning matches with the needs of the community.

My boss  told me where I had to go and the nickname of the person I had to meet: El Pajaro.

I arrived in the place where the interview had to take place, but I thought: “Maybe I’m wrong, this is a Cervellama!”A Cervellama is a wholesaler, a beer wholesaler. I was already wondering where my boss sent me, but finally, I came in and I asked for El Pajaro. The man seated behind the counter introduced himself: Emeterio Medina Martín, better-known as el Pajaro.

After my initial surprise we began the interview:

Emeterio Medina Martin from Muna, Yucatán, fifty years old, divorced, two daughters, presently is a commission agent. Again my doubts: where is the craftsman? Or maybe, I didn’t get what my boss asked me to do…yes maybe I just got confused!

But Emeterio started to tell his story. Yes currently he is working as commission agent in the store of his sister, but till ten years ago he was living in Cancún, where he sold his crafts. He was a craftsman, he carved wood, reproducing ancient Mayan symbols, characters and figures. The problems began after some low seasons. The tourism in México decreased for some events such as the war in the Persian Gulf and hurricanes, affecting seriously his livelihood.

So he came back to Muna, his homeland. Once there, step by step he finally left the craft as his second job: the need of a job to support his family guaranteeing stability, and the fact that his ex-wife was used to fight with him because his craft work dirtied, reduced the time for his passion.

As soon as I heard that till now he carves wood, I asked him if it was possible to see his art. Again he surprised me: El Pajaro went to the room besides and he came back with a wonderful carved wood and henequen picture, enormous and astonishing. I asked to take a photo and after he showed me some old pictures.

Emeterio explained that in Muna there are many people who are craftsmen but all of them have to do another job to have enough money to survive. This means the loss of a cultural aspect of Muna.

I ask Emeterio why he decided to join our program, what could he earn teaching tourists how to make a carved wood craft. He answered that till now his sole relationship with tourists was trader/buyers. From his point of view this could be a way to make tourists understand the values and the process behind crafts. He thinks that the result of this project could be tourists aware of what is an original art and what it’s just an imitation. And maybe, tourists could learn to give the right price.

My interview with Emeterio was finished. Once again I was surprised. Once again Mexico showed its multifaceted reality, full of commission agents or taxidrivers who are craftsmen, mechanics-anthropologists, cooks-painters, bookkeeping-singers…and so on. Things are not what they look like to be at a glance. This is what Mexico is teaching me.




Bienvenidos en el mundo de “El Mirador” – Spanish and Maya classes of the volunteers in Yucatan, with a local artist

Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan Diary, Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 22:31

Pedro at work, El MiradorArtworkshop at El Mirador - Pedro with a group of children

As you already know it is three girls, Chloe from France, Rosalba from Italy and Katy from Austria, doing their volunteer service in the region Yucatan in Mexico, in the Chac – Lol cooperative. Our Hosting organization is situated in the Yucatan`s region, near Muna. The inhabitants are the evolving of Caribbean mayas. The Eco-touristic center, where we are living and working, is one of the projects of the cooperative, they also have tortillas`mill, so they can protect and promote their traditions.

 Muna is a silent and small village, all inhabitants know and support each others in different ways. For example our neighbor gets water for free from the side of our HO, and we get the food for the three dogs that are living here with us. Most of the people here are Mayas and still living in traditional ways in the typical Maya – houses. We three volunteers also share a typical Maya-cabin, the rooftop is made of palm trees.

The inhabitants of the village are using Yucatan – Maya and 80 percent of the people are speaking Spanish as well. When I arrived here it was not easy for me because of the language barrier, I did not speak any Spanish at all. My colleagues Rosalba and Chloe, both can speak and write fluent Spanish.

 Since a couple of weeks I get intensive  language training by a local artist, he can speak English and basic German as well and he supports me a lot to learn Spanish. Chloe and Rosalba are taking Maya classes as they can already speak Spanish. I want to introduce you to his working place “El Mirador”, which is close to my HO and Uxmal, which is an archeological side.

 Pedro, my Spanish teacher, is married to a wonderful Mexican women and he is the father of three children. He is working and living from being an artist and he owns a  handicraft store, the so called “El Mirador”, where he is selling dream-catchers, necklaces and many other wonderful pieces of his handicraft. Pedro has 15 years of experience in this field, before he was working as a tourist guide. He is Mexican, but he is very close with the Maya culture, he also speaks their language. Pedro is only working with natural products like stone, coconut, wood, seeds and a special fruit that is called jicara. Jicara is a fruit from a tree which exist once a year, the material is similar to coconut. Before plastic existed the Yucatan inhabitants used it as cups, this was an old tradition in this area. In El Mirador this tradition is still existing as Pedro does not use any plastic at his place.

 Our language training is taking place at El Mirador, I had to add some pictures to show you this unbelievable wonderful place. On one side senior Pedro is our Spanish and Maya teacher, on the other side he is giving us the possibility to take part at his art workshops and he always has interesting and nice stories to tell…so that we get closer with the Maya culture and the local people. Muchisimas Gracias.

 Como El Mirador no hay dos!





Filed under: Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 01:08

After some difficulties to set everything up we finally made the exchange Yucatan/Chiapas come true!

The basic idea was for the volunteers of Yucatan to get to know the project of the volunteers of Chiapas and understand better their work and objectives.

This idea occured during the arrival training in San Cristobal in march. It finally happened at the end of July. We just came back to Yucatan with lots of nice memories we will always keep with us!

The exchange lasted 5 days in the jungle Lacandona, Chiapas where we did different cultural and sport activities: visits of archeological sites, kayak, rafting, swim in beautiful waterfalls etc…

Day 1: Montebello, Chinkultic and Lacantun

Quick stop in Montebello lake to take nice pictures and try some gastronomy specialties of indigenous communities like cheese or chocolate! Visit of the small archeological site of Chinkultic after a nice picnic near Santo Domingo river. Afterwards we went down Lacantun River by kayak which was quite an experience for some of us especially for those who fell of the kayak! (We won’t say names!) We finished our first exhausting day in the camp of Ixcan in the Montes Azules Natural Reserve where we had to set up our tents under a harsh rain! The mosquitos were also enjoying the party!

Day 2: Archeological ruins in the jungle and Rio Lacanja

The kind of adventure that makes you feel like Indiana Jones!

After becoming actually pretty good at kayaking it was the time to go down and visit a archeological ruins in the jungle. Eli, our local guide, and Alex took us there. It was amazing to see how ground and huge trees’ roots grew above the pyramid. We had accommodation in the ecotourism centre Rio Lacanja. Great sleep in the heart of the jungle listening to the river and wild life.

Day 3: Yaxchilan and natural pool of Rio Lacanja

A small boat took us from Frontera Corozal to the entrance of the archeological site of Yaxchilan. I really like this place because you get the access by the Usumacinta river that separates Mexico from Guatemala. It is from the classical period during Escudo Jaguar I realm. In 2h30 you get a pretty good idea of the place going through the Gran Plaza (Big Square), the big and small acropolis. It is in the middle of the jungle and hearing monkeys screaming is quite impressive! Back to Rio Lacanja Alex took us to a “manantial”, a natural pool with pure clear water inside a primary forest. Very delighful to swim in it!

Day 4: Bonampak and Rafting at Golondrinas waterfall

The archeological site of Bonampak is famous for his wall paintings describing slavery and war scenes. The quality of the acoustic is so good that people can communicate from the top of the pyramid to the bottom very easily. The Rafting took us through rapids and small waterfalls. The biggest one is Golondrinas and it is a 45 minutes walk away. We had dinner at Enrique Chankin’s home that night, a Lacandon Maya who invited us to a nice meal and introduced us to his family. He wears the typical long white dress (“sak nok”) of his community.



Day 5: Palenque, waterfalls of Misol Ha and Aguas Azules


This tour gave us the opportunity to know another ecotourism centre in Chiapas and talk about ecotourism practices. We could exchange and compare with our own experience in a ecotourism project in Yucatan. It was also very interesting to exchange with local people, the Maya Lacandon, and study cultural differences with Maya from Yucatan. Dios botik samalech!

San Cristobal is a city that we, Yucatan Volunteers love! It is the second time we go and hopefully there will be a third one! Right before the jungle trip we spent a few days in San Cris to visit the closest indigenous villages like Zincantan (known for its typical purple hand-made clothes and handcraft) but also San Juan de Chamula where indigenous go to the church and pray in order to have good crops, to have health in the family etc…They still do some traditional religious practices and observing such spiritual moment is amazing.


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