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Journals from Spring Semester 08: Oaxaca, Mexico

2008-03-11 San Martin Huamelulpan

Hola de Oaxaca! Here's a very detailed update about our excursion with Teresa this weekend. We all had a wonderful time (except for Janelle, who couldn't go with us because she had a migraine and was feeling sick) and it really lifted our spirits after hitting a slump last week. Teresa prepared us for this visit by having us answer some questions about the last fiesta to get us thinking about the organization and the purpose of the fiesta in general, and then we also had an article to read about the pueblo itself. We left Oaxaca city around 8am on Friday and drove 2 hours northeast to a tiny, tiny pueblo called San Martin Huamalulpan. Just like the last fiesta, this was a Catholic fiesta that happens every year, and this pueblo just happens to have theirs on the 5th Friday of Lent. There wasn't a family that was willing to host us this time, and the town was too small to have a hotel, so we stayed about 25 minutes away in a hotel in a neighboring town (Yolomecatl). The first thing that we did was meet our tour guide and she took us straight to the mass. It was beautiful and I was pretty excited because I could understand the entire sermon. After the mass we watched an incredibly interesting dance. Each year, this family coordinates a dance and performs it after the mas. There are two "teams" of men that stand on either side of a court. One team wears white and portrays "los cristianos" and the other team wears red and portrays "los moros" (Muslims or Moors). Each side declares allegiance to their religion and then they act out a battle, through dance, with real machetes!! It's a very elaborate dance, and the entire process takes about 3 hours. We unfortunately did not stay for the whole thing, but the finale of course, shows the Christians winning the battle against the Muslims. After the dance we went and met the Municipal Authorities, which is basically the local government of the pueblo. They were incredibly nice, offered us soda and talked with us about their role in the community. Then, the band arrived to play for the President, so of course we had to dance as well. It was traditional "banda" music, so lots of tuba, etc. There was a woman that came around and paired us up with a member of the community to dance with and I danced 3 songs with this man who had to be at least 70, and was about 4 inches shorter than me. He called me his "huerrita" which means "my little white girl". It was really cute and I had a great time. When the dance was over, that signified that it was time to walk over to the house of the mayordomo (the man that coordinates and pays for the entire fiesta) for the lunch. The lunch here was much different than at the other fiesta. We ate a plate of arroz, con zanahorias y chiles (rice with carrots and chiles) and then a soup type thing that had a patty of something fried in the middle with red sauce and pickled green beans. There was some confusion about what was in the patty...some of us heard fried cheese, some though fried fish, and others thought it was chicken. All I know is that it wasn't spicy, and I just smiled and ate it. Oh, and of course we ate tons of fresh made corn tortillas, yum! After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we came back to the fiesta and participated in the procession. It started in the church and continued down the hill and through the center of town. The townspeople gave us flowers to carry, and Laura Ansari even helped carry the image of the Virgin Mary for part of the walk. The night was kind of disappointing because it was FREEZING!!!! I'm talking like 40 degrees, and none of us knew that it was going to be that cold, so we were all in capris, sandals, tanktops, and a light jacket. We ate dinner around 8:00pm and it was delicious! We had taquitos filled with chicken and covered with beans, lettuce, and cheese. That warmed us up, especially since they had a fire that they were cooking over, but afterwards we got cold again. We ended up huddling together in groups of 4 and tried to stay warm while we waited for the fireworks to start. They were supposed to start at 9pm, but at 10pm when they still hadn't started, we decided to call it a night. Apparently they were still constructing the big castle of fireworks and that's why they were late, but we were too tired and cold. We headed back to the hotel and that's when the fun began. We didn't have any hot water or heat to warm ourselves up, so even though we were each lucky enough to have our own beds, we ended up sharing anyway!! We decided that the extra body heat, plus the combined blankets of two beds, was a much better idea. In the morning we drove back to the fiesta and went and chatted with the family of the "danzantes' dancers that performed on Friday. They have their own area in the fiesta where their whole family stays and prepares meals. We talked with the women about how they prepared the food for the dancers, and they were very eager to talk with us. I think that for a lot of girls this was the best part of the experience, because we were really interacting with "la gente" (the people). After that fun time, we walked to the community museum and learned a little bit about the history of the town. They have a practice of using herbal medicines (like many small communities) to cure commons sicknesses. We learned about the types of plants they use to brew a tea for stomach infection (something I wish I had learned earlier) and other things for getting a baby to change positions if it's almost time for the mom to give birth and the baby is in the wrong direction. Here are a few fun random facts from the fiesta: 1. During the 3 days of the fiesta, the women cook (by hand) about 4,600 corn tortillas 2. The mayordomia (the group that plans everything) consisted of 23 people this year (sometimes it's only 6-7) 3. Our van driver passed a semi on a one-lane bridge that was under construction and I thought we were all goners 4. People use eggs to "cleanse" the body of sicknesses. What they do is hold the egg in their hand and then pass it over every part of the body, and then after it's passed over the entire body it's cracked 5. We were given tapache which is a fermented drink made from pulque (from the maguey cactus that tequila comes from) and pineapple. It had about the same alcohol content as beer, and it had a similar taste, except for the pineapple. Well that's about all I can think of, but it was a great time! Once again the people were incredibly nice, and we found out that when people from very far away visit the fiesta, it is a huge honor for them because it shows them how important the Catholic religion is and how important their fiesta is as well. This was a very long update, but let me know if you have more questions about what we did this weekend!! Krista

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