Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Libros sin Fronteras weekend in San Miguel de Allende

Viola Canales touches the hearts of young and old

Viola Canales

I want to share with you some highlights and photos from the visit of Libros sin Fronteras' invited author, Viola Canales to the community of San Miguel de Allende, MX.  She arrived late Wednesday and then began a whirlwind tour reaching well over 400 people during the weekend. 

The children reading in unison with Viola
Thursday morning at 11 was an appearance at the school at Las Clavallinas in the campo. This community is approximately 45 minutes outside SMA with very limited public transportation. Several of the Libros sin Fronteras team carpooled to this community and then to the rural community of Estancia de San Antonio for an afternoon event. All the students were well prepared with questions about the book and there was a wall display at Estancia with artwork, questions, reviews of the book, etc. 
Outside the classroom at Las Clavallinas
Art are writing projects based on
the book "El Gusano de Tequila"

After each of the talks, Viola spent time signing each book with a few kind words of encouragement to each of the children.
Signing each book with a few words for
each child of encouragement
signing books in Estancia de San Antonio
Some of the children in Estancia de San Antonio
Thursday night was the Literary Sala talk "Bridging Two Worlds, as a Storyteller" and Viola here touched the hearts of the adult expat community of San Miguel. These attendees did not need to be convinced of the need for literacy and Viola took the opportunity to speak about her several books and her connection to the stories and rituals of her childhood Mexican experiences, encouraging everyone to find their "don" (inner light or gift to share with their community and world).

On Friday morning the Libros sin Fronteras team headed to the community of Cruz del Palmar. As we headed out, there was a bus sent to pick up children from La Palma and Los Ricos to bring them to Cruz del Palmar and an opportunity for the children to be together from several rural communities. This event was attended by several mamas and abuelitas (grandmothers) and often Viola referred directly to them when talking about her life and her book. It was the memory of her family and the childhood memories that are so very much a part of her life.

The children of one of the visiting schools had all made drawings for Viola, and are seen here showing them off before presenting them to her.  Viola wound up with quite a sizable  pile to take home and some will be displayed here in SMA in the future.
Displaying the art work by the students from Los Ricos
Consejo Turistico in SMA
Introducing LsF in Spanish
Saturday morning was a very well attended event for the local community - mostly children. Here again there was transportation arranged to bring the rural communities of San Miguel Viejo (Ojala-Ninos) and the community of El Huizachal to San Miguel. I introduced Viola in Spanish for this event and after talking to the enthusiastic crowd, reading from her novel and her latest publication, a book of poems, Viola invited Hortensia (Horte) to the microphone to share her success story and the success of Libros sin Fronteras. Horte, from El Huitzachal, started reading Cajas de Cartón, the book from last year's author, Francisco Jimenez, along with her children and then with the encouragement of some of the LsF team members, she finished her high school equivalency and then with the help of LsF and Mujeres en Cambio, she received a 4 year scholarship to the University Allende to study nursing. She is now in her first year of study. She shared with the audience how hard she works, how education and reading are so important in her life and how each person can go on to study as she has. She was so comfortable with a mic in her hands and really touched us all. 

Horte shares her experience with the audience
Viola reading from her new book of poetry

Walking through the crowd

Viola's 4 books
Sunday morning was the last event of the weekend at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of SMA where Viola once again had an overflow crowd to hear her talk entitled "Living Life with Ritual, Sparking the Spiritual". She shared again stories from her book and how she connects rituals of Mexican culture into her life and encouraged all, once again, to find their "don" or gift to the world.

These 4 days were the culmination of our 2014 program and the success was tremendous. We exceeded our fundraising goal (and so money is being saved for the next year's program) and we purchased 380 books which were disbursed to children in very rural communities. We know that we have touched the hearts of so many children and also connected with many adults, both Mexican and foreigners. We thank ALL of you reading this weekend review for your support, both as volunteers and especially as financial donors. It is with your help that this project happens. Please stay in touch for news of our next year's author and book.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

April in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, MX

At the graveyard on the way to Tenejapa.
These are Mayan crosses which predate Christianity
In the caves of Arcotete
This has been a very interesting and fulfilling month for the both of us. My thoughts first and Ricardo's later. Following our 3 weeks of teaching in Comitan, this month was more inward for me. I dedicated the month to two important intentions that I had made early in the year. One, to dedicate time to yoga and accomplish some postures that required dedication and a bit more strength than I had earlier this year and secondly, to spend some time each day in a focused area of creativity.

A show "Pakal" - the last great Mayan king
This beautiful land of Chiapas has it all for of color in textiles everywhere, natural landscape, mountains and scenery as well as rivers (some of which I posted from the southern area last month), many healthy restaurants and incredible markets of good, local and organic foods, several great yoga studios with many amazing teachers (from all over the world), young people (more than we see in SMA)not just from the USA and Canada - living, working and traveling here in Chiapas, very friendly locals, a chance to make friends speaking Spanish as a common language and a general feeling of alternative lifestyle but with most of the comforts of any home that we have ever lived in. Additionally there are 3 andadors (streets with no cars) that make walking everywhere easy and a large zocolo or common space in front and behind the main church. This has been a time for festivity as we were here for Samana Santa as well as this week - the Feria de Primavera (the Festival of Spring). I think that perhaps the only negative here, though not during April, is the cold and rainy weather which occurs for several months each year. It is something that the locals just accept.
At the Orcquideria in San Cris
The Church of our lady of Guadalupe
in San Cristobal de las Casas

These are political statements and
all are blown up as "Judases" on the night
before Easter.
Bromeliads growing at Huitepec

Several beautiful queens of
The Primera (spring) festival
Stalactites at Parque Arcotete

Entering the caves at Arcotete
We spent a wonderful day in Tenejapa with Alex of Cielo y Tierra Tours. He took 5 of us in his van (including new friends) Enroute we stopped at one of the larger cemeteries in the Chamula area. It is situated on a large hill and flanked by a row of very tall Mayan crosses. Tenejapa is a Tzeltal Maya town known for its master textile weavers and Thursday market. It also has a beautiful church and central plaza. It is known for its peaceful and tolerant atmosphere. It is one of only a few highland indigenous communities where both Catholics and Protestants live and worship openly and where converts are not routinely expelled. Taking photographs inside the church or of officials or processions is strictly forbidden. We did not take any photos of the church, market or of the people. This town rarely sees gringos so we were stared at a lot while walking through the town. We spent 2 hours walking through the market and then had homemade tamales for lunch at the home of a friend of Alex's and then spent an hour looking at textiles at the Cooperative. 
The graves in Chamula - with doors
to open during Dia de las Muertos
when the dead come back to visit. Mexico
has such a different approach to death
Rabanos (radishes) at the market in
The hat of the officals of Tenejapa
with background of the typical textiles of this town
Many of the women of Tenejapa have
this type of braid
Street art in centro

Impossible to photograph the people but
this shows their native clothing - a feast
for the eyes at every corner

So, back to my intentions. In San Cris I went to at least one yoga class everyday and sometimes two. I finally can do Chataranga correctly without plopping down on my belly at least one or two times a class and working up to more and as you can see from my picture....also Urdhva Danurasana. I hope to keep this up in SMA and develop a practice of my own as we travel.
Urdhva Danurasana

My second intention of creativity daily was jump started when I heard about "Sketchbook Skool" an online 6 week course, with a different instructor each week with videos of lessons, motivation and homework. Many of us posted pictures on their website of our work as well as Facebook and it has been a wonderful way to learn and develop a practice. In addition we are taking another 6 session free class on drawing technique that also has homework and a bonus gift if we do it all. You know me...I am great at following direction so am doing all my homework which means I am doing something creative everyday. Just walking around this town and some of the surrounding towns is creative in itself as the color and design of nature and craftspeople gives many gifts to the eyes. Last week I purchased some shawls in the indigenous town of Zinacantan which I will cut apart and make into something - not sure what as yet.

First day of "skool"
Casa de Te

The roof garden of Teresa's house
And as our usual custom....we have made some new friends during this trip and with technology, will surely manage to stay connected and see each other in some place in this great big wonderful world.
Linda, Victor, Mona, Vernon - from Ajijic, MX
Erin and Phillip (we knew from SMA)
Miguel, Bridgette (from Normandy, FR)
and Patricia and Oscar from Merida, MX
Kristen, our guide Alex and Linda
Tamales in Tenejapa
Friends from SMA in San Cris -
Yogesh, Katia and Sally

And now some thoughts from Ricardo:

Traveling through this part of our world has not only brought back memories of my childhood, but has added something new to my spirit and maybe the way I see the world today. I have said for a long time that things are never what they appear to be, that always there is another side or dimension and here in Chiapas one can't help but see that maybe something else is going on that I cannot explain.

When I was younger visiting my grandparents in Guatemala which borders Chiapas, and has the same Mayan spirit, I saw things differently than I see them today. What a difference age makes. I now see with older eyes versus those of a youth and a spoiled one indeed, I was. Here you see that belief can be very different than what you were taught to believe. Here the people are beings of kind spirit with respect for all living things which is an attitude that comes deeply to indigenous communities like these where nature and people are one and therefore all are better served.

I wish that I was a poet so I could better explain my feelings about what I sense about indigenous communities like theses in Chiapas and Central America. What has hit me the deepest is the strong sense of community in the villages - everybody has each other's back and nobody seems to goes hungry. What is most intriguing here is not just the extremely close family and community ties but their relationship with death. Nobody dies as long as they are remembered and here stories and connections go back generations where for me I have no further stories beyond my grandparents.

So, once again, thanks to everyone for traveling with us and we look forward to seeing many of our US friends and family in June/July of this year.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Teaching in Chiapas, MX....3 weeks at Instituto Tecnológica de Comitan

At ¨Las Nubes¨
Ricardo’s thoughts on teaching in Comitan:
Since my days in school, I have always dreamed of being a teacher and have tried to be one as a volunteer here in Mexico.  Last year I began my journey by teaching English conversation classes two days a week in a high school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Now I have graduated to a different environment, here at the Instituto Tecnológica in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico.  I began a 3 week conversation course with business topics as the source material, having 2 classes a day for 3 weeks.  Enough said as I now have a much greater respect and admiration for all the teachers in my life and the world. I would like to give each and every one a big hug and a new car if I could.  During this time my classes were between 20 and 40 students with many conversations outside of class - enjoying their thoughts or just having fun.  I feel that when you teach someone or just listen you are giving back to the world that has given you so much, except in this case I got the better part of the experience. I am looking forward to continuing this type of class in the future and maybe in different places in the world with my sweetie Susan, who also has been teaching reading and pronunciation classes having 3 classes per day. To summarize here…after every day’s sessions my daily naps have never been deeper nor longer.
Our house ... second floor
Beaautiful downtown Comitan

Susan’s thoughts on the Comitan experience:
Once again I am faced with a discussion of differences and/or comparisons. I wrote several months ago that I was going to stop making comparisons and I think at that time, I was talking about comparing myself to others. Living in another cultural and traveling as we do has given me the opportunity to talk about differences and comparisons of cultures and I just cannot help but use myself and my culture as the basis of my comparisons. My goal is not to decide that one is better or worse (maybe that is my personal growth) but just to note and confirm my observations after three weeks immersed in a Mexican culture teaching at a University in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico. This city, larger than San Miguel is a working class city with commerce as its main business. It is not poor, nor backwards in any way and the Pan American Highway runs right through town, in fact it is our bus route to school each day.  
View of Comitan from Mirador
  • ·         People are very friendly to outsiders – we are living in a small Mexican neighborhood where no one speaks any English. We are living above a very large water bottling and delivery company and whatever we ask for is given to us in a kind way. The apartment was provided to us by the Instituto Tecnológica de Comitan where we are working. It is simple but large and very comfortable with a small kitchen and all the basic necessities.
  • ·         Every weekday morning I go to a dance/exercise class. I am the oldest, whitest, tallest, thinnest (first time for this in my life) and just basically stand out in this crowd but I never feel uncomfortable and they just treat me like I have always been coming to this class. I can really see the difference in the way the Mexican women can dance and move their hips. I get the footwork correct but after three weeks I still cannot move my hips in the way that they can. Perhaps it is in their blood but I will keep trying. I also noted the differences in the way Mexican women dress, both in exercise and on the street. They seem to be so much more comfortable in their bodies and with their curves then we were in my younger days. They dress more sexily and wear very tight clothes to accentuate their curves. I spent most of my life trying to hide the little bulges here and there and they are happy to show them off. I think there is much to be learned from them about body acceptance.
  • ·         There are no grey haired Mexican ladies – do they color their hair or just never go grey? Clearly, I stand out in this manner.
Birthday party for Daniel with
Jorge and Maricela
Pineapples growing at Las Nubes
  • We have not found ANY healthy (and certainly no vegetarian) restaurants in Comitan. In three weeks, we have eaten only one meal out of the house. Richard made oatmeal every morning for both of us and I packed our lunch for school every day and came home to make dinner before our evening class. Shopping was also a bit of a challenge until I finally found a little vegetable store in our neighborhood. There are no large grocery stores within walking distance to our home. The only option we had for bigger shopping was to go to Walmart (ugh)! This probably reflects the fact that Comitan is not really a tourist destination, but on the route to many beautiful natural areas in Chiapas.
  • Time….oh my, could I go on about this. Having grown up in the USA with German parents, I only know one way of behaving – being on time and using my time in a very efficient matter. Richard grew up in a similar culture, even with a Latina mother. Mexicans have a completely different idea about time. I don’t think any of my classes ever started on time (even though I was always there on time) and the end time was also flexible. This is not just true here in Chiapas, but throughtout all of Mexico. It was more apparent here as I was living and working with only Mexicans so was on their schedule, not mine. I do not know how a country can run with this type of time management. Also, no one ever seemed to know when other events were happening on campus that would cause students to be in another place other than class. (exams, presentations, assembly events for the whole school). Suffice it to say, this was a difficult situation for me. The amazing thing is that this Insitituto Tecnológica de Comitan is probably better run and more organized than many other schools (2000 enrolled students).
  • Happy and relaxed – that is the lot of the people. Nothing to complain about here – when we went for an all day trip with some friends we just ate our picnic lunch and then just sat around for several hours relaxed on the grass – talking, napping, laughing – no cares in the world. I think had it been in another culture we would have felt (I should say I would have felt) that it was time to either go home, or go somewhere else. Just “being” is fine with the Mexicans. Spending time with their families and friends is much more important than anything else. 
My night class for 3 weeks
  • Now a bit about my students, and the teaching experience. I don’t think I ever had it as a “goal” like Ricardo, but I do feel good when I give of myself to others. I enjoyed the fact that all of my students were voluntarily taking my classes – we were reading the Francisco Jimenez book “The Circuit” that we read in San Miguel de Allende. The students were prepared reading each chapter in Spanish before the class. At first all were very shy to read in English but as the weeks went on they were much more comfortable reading out loud. We will have a “Skype conversation” with Francisco Jimenez in April with all the students on the campus who have read the book. Richard and I will return to Comitan for that event. The students really enjoyed the days when we talked about some of our expressions, slang and of course, curse words! In this way, young people are the same in all cultures. (fart=pedo....always good for a laugh!)
  • Here is a strange comparison…toilets and toilet paper. If any of you have traveled to Mexico you know that many places require tp to be placed in the garbage bin because of antiquated plumbing. I have also noted in some areas that there are no toilet seats…and have heard it is because people steal them. Well here in Comitan it is the same….no places with toilet seats. When I first got to campus I also noted that there was no tp in any of the restrooms (thank goodness I know to carry my own). I did have the courage to ask in the office one day and was told it was also because people steal it. All the people in the office have their own rolls in their desk to carry to the ladies room. Am I comfortable with this cultural difference….I think not!
  • Rivers at ¨Las Nubes¨
  • There are many beautiful natural resources in Chiapas. You may remember my blogs in Sept/Oct 2013 of some of the places that we saw on our last visit to Chiapas. This time we went to Las Nubes and enjoyed a day with Artemio, Natalia and their son Luis.
  • Waterfalls through the tunnel at
    Las Nubes

    Artemio, Natalia and Luis at
    Las Nubes

    Always ready for a dip!
    All these for $2.00!

Thank you again for sharing our adventures with us. I am grateful for so much in my life and travel is one for sure. I do not think I ever realized as a youth how valuable this experience is, especially when there is time to really immerse in the culture. This 3 weeks has been great for confirming for both of us our love for Mexico, the culture and the people.