Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thoughts from Oaxaca: Our Final Blog

Currently, I am sitting here in one of my favorite cafes in Oaxaca, reflecting on my study abroad experience. Oaxaca has been a place of personal growth for me, and while I have conflicting views about leaving, I know that I will bring what I have learned here back to Vermont with me. Oaxaca will always be here, and I look forward to reminiscing about these past fourteen weeks while planning to return someday.  CH

Reed's Haiku
Al pastor... carne?
Necesitas tlayuda?
Sugar pan. Hay más?
See you Later Oaxaca
As I sit in my quiet house in Vermont, I still do not know how to feel. These past few months have been like a whorl wind and I feel like I just got placed back where I began, but with much more knowledge. I still can't help but question drinking the water from the faucet or not shutting off the shower in between soaping. I definitely am not the same person I was when I left.
Although I still am not sure how I feel about being home, I do know that I had an incredible three and a half months in Mexico. I learned so much, made so many friends, and saw some truly incredible places. I will never forget my time there and never cease to look back on it with a smile. 
I was warned by many that when I got back home, describing my experience to people would be one of the most difficult challenges I would face; and that has proven true. I still don't know what to say to people when they ask me about it. What did you eat? Where did you go? What were the people like? What did you do there? Uhhhh...that's always the first thing that comes to mind. It's just so hard to pick out a few things over a three-month period to share with someone. It's hard to describe my experience without being able to show them. However, I will continue to try my best.
I want to thank Mary Lucia, Amber, and Carey for all your help. You three are truly amazing people and were always there when we needed any sort of help. Mary Lucia, you really were like a mom and I really appreciated everything you did for us. I loved that you really allowed us to do things on our own and learn for ourselves. I think it made us all more independent and confident. I feel very honored to have been in your last Oaxaca group and will miss you, but hope to see you around campus. Thanks again for everything.
Oaxaca, I will see you again soon!

Abrazos y besos,

Oaxaca, voy a extrañarte.   Thank you everyone for a wonderful semester! -KM 

This past semester has been the most incredible time of my life. I will never forget the friends I made and the memories we had together! Hasta luego Oaxaca!

Thanks for everything Mary Lou!! It would never have been the same without you!


Whatever happened in the last three months, happened. Without fault the events that have come to pass have changed me, for better or for worse, forever.
Caleb Z Demers

Adrianna and I are sitting in a hostel in Chiapas and I can't keep my mind from wandering back to Oaxaca.  I will take Oaxaca's livelihood and spirit back home with me. I could not have asked for a better group of people to learn and grow with over these past three months. We have been through some crazy adventures together and we truly know each others ins and outs. I will miss all of you, but it is just the beginning.  Tlayudas anyone? 


I find a little bit of me
in every place I go to see
but this time around
I think I was truly found

To everyone apart I have met and spent time with in Oaxaca
You have made my heart whole.
Oaxaca you will stay in my mind and heart forever
Thank you for all the beautiful times
It's not goodbye. It's see you later. 

Mexico taught me to live my life al pastor. 
Patrick Carton

I have finally decided to write down my thoughts and feelings in the final blog. I almost feel like I don't want to face this adjustment, I haven't allowed myself to process through everything that happened in Oaxaca. I think that instead of trying to cover everything that happened, I will share a story.
During the village stay in El Carmen, Josie and I decided to explore a little bit and walk around the small pueblo. On our way back to the group, we heard yelling; as we looked towards the noise we saw a middle-aged woman running through her garden towards the road that we were walking on. With full water bottles in our hands, she persisted that we come into her home and have some flavored water. We followed her through her garden into her small home. Her daughter rushed around to find chairs for us to place on their dirt floor. After we finished our drinks, she then came out with food! She stood there watching us and asked questions as we ate. For me, this experience stood out in my time in Oaxaca. I felt that this was an excellent representation of the majority of the people in Oaxaca. There always seemed to be a present combination of endless time, curiosity as well as generosity.


"Whenever I got caught up in stress, I could only conclude with this phrase: '...pero no llegó la sangre al río'. At least the blood hadn't reached the river; how bad could it be when you're spending your time in such a wonderful place? - CW"
Never in my life have I felt so comfortable out my element. I dared to be late, dared to try street food, and dared to be present. If I learned anything in Mexico, it's that sometimes you just need to "ir con la corriente."



Thank you Oaxaca and everyone I was with the past semester for showing me that I can do anything if I am in the right mindset.  I learned more than I ever could have imagined.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Our Much Anticipated Botany Trip!

Day 1: April 1, 2013
After a two hour ride to the outskirts of Oaxaca City, we arrived in our cabins at Capulapam. The adobe buildings stood atop a mountain peak slightly higher than 6,500 feet (2050m) above sea level (Mt. Mansfield is 4,396 feet above sea level for all you Vermonters) provided us with an amazing view of the surrounding land. After a short rest we scurried to where we were going to eat; a lovely trout farm which we visited the last time we came to Caplulapam. We ate and then walked around the area guided by our reliable botany teacher, Michael. 
Michael teaching some eager students about their 
find by the river!
He showed us several plant species new to us and even some he hadn't seen a while. We were able to get an inside look when we dissected the flower of Lobelia speciosa (among two others). Beautiful red tubular flowers, perfect for hummingbirds to pollinate! After another break and some reading, we went to dinner during which we ate plenty of delicious food. Michael then provided us with a delightfully informative lecture about the relationship between elevation and biodiversity and how precipitation and heat play a role in Oaxacan vegetation. The night ended with a group bonding roasting of marsh mellows over a fire! Delicious! Overall, I’d say we had a pretty successful start to our botany trip! While we snuggled into our blankets due to the cool mountain air creeping into our room, we were already looking forward to our adventures for tomorrow and the week ahead. 
Marshmallows before bed! Who knew that strawberry flavored marshmallows could taste so good!
Day 2: April 2, 2013
Alarm clocks rang at 8:30 Tuesday morning to alert us to the start of our day. Showered and dressed we marched to the van and filed into our breakfast spot. The smell of scrambled eggs, black beans, and coffee crept into our noses and filled us with excitement for a tasty start to our day. After breakfast, we returned to the cabañas for a short rest before meeting in our classroom for a quick talk on the broad spectrum different types of plants; gymnosperms, angiosperms, ferns, lycophytes, and bryophytes. Comida was delicious! We had trout from the ecofriendly trout farm in the pueblo…yum! Our teacher, Michael, then told us of our afternoon plans; a hike into the forest to look at plants! We ventured through the woods while listening to Michael tell us fascinating facts about the plants of the area. Occasionally, a rather observant student would spot a particularly interesting one and inquire. Of course, our professor did not mind going off topic to tell his eager students about a yellow parasitic plant we spotted or a lycophyte growing on a nearby oak. After dinner, we watched videos that illustrated tropisms, (the movement of plants). Very cool! Did you know, most plants are right-handed in that when they grow, they rotate counter-clockwise?? Early bed for this crew because there are a lot of exciting adventures awaiting us tomorrow!
Class by a stream!

Day 3: April 3, 2013

After our long and windy road through the Sierra Norte we made it to a restaurant called El Mirador. Before lunch we ventured up the nearest mountain for a look at mountain plants. Perched atop the mountain, we were able to look at several species of plants related to those we can find in Vermont (only on top of Mount Mansfield and Camels Hump due to the altitude)!
A look at the vegetation and landscape at the mountain summit!
We continued our car ride to El Esperanza where we were taken to our newly built cabins. After getting settled, we went to dinner at a quaint comedor. Back at the cabins, with our bellies full, Michael led us in a group discussing on our reading material for the day. We had a great open discussion about different plant diversity theories dissecting each one for its flaws. After the lecture, we decided that we needed to retire for the night so we would be well refreshed for the day ahead tomorrow!

Day 4: April 4, 2013
Phew what a day! A cold and wet morning greeted us in the mountains of La Esperanza in the Sierra Norte. Breakfast helped warm us up with some delicious atolé made with oatmeal instead of corn. We then loaded up in the van for an hour long drive to the waterfalls. 
This picture shows an example of the numerous species 
of plants growing by the river. Such diversity!
We saw many new families and genera of plants in the forest because as our professor explained to us, we were in the latitudinal range of the widest diversity as well as being in the right elevation above sea level for maximum diversity. We saw all three species of Fuchsia that grow in Mexico on the road to the waterfall! Michael showed us a plant that was one cell thick. It was very thin and grew under the rocks at the waterfall. Moss or fern? Michael let the group talk it out and use our previous knowledge of the difference to determine, correctly, that it was a fern! Our big adventure for the day consisted of, not only taking pictures of the waterfall, but also of practicing our skills at identifying plant families in our newly designed purple rain ponchos! Some of us were getting really good at knowing family characteristics. Our professor was quite impressed on how quickly we were picking up at these families! Dinner and an early bedtime for this group! 

Group shot at the waterfall!

Day 5: April 5, 2013
Today was the day we had all been waiting for! Today was our hiking day!! After breakfast, we layered on the warm clothes and rain coats and headed for an old mountain trail. Our guide told us along the way that the trail had been used for 200 years before the current highway was built that connected nearby pueblos. 
 I think all of us were in awe of the fact that we were walking in the worn footsteps of many people before us. We stopped along the way many times for a closer look at several different plants. Michael took the back seat during the task of identifying many of the plant families and let the group decided which family they belong to. Walking through the rain forest was a very surreal feeling. Most of us kept commenting on how we felt as though we had stepped into the “world” of Jurassic Park! Of course, our wise professor pointed out the fact that some of the plants we were looking at had ancestors from the time of the dinosaurs! 
Torey and our new friend Jonathan who was just as entertained with us as we were with him!

Day 6: April 6, 2013
            The sun was shining as we opened our eyes on our sixth day of our botany trip. We hesitantly packed up our belongings, wishing that we could stay one more day in the high mountainside pueblo. A short 45 minute van ride delivered us to another pueblo called Yetla. This location offered riverside cabins for those interested in Eco-tourism. We were assigned our cabins and excitedly unpacked our belongings, some still wet from two days in rainy La Esperanza. We had a break from the action for a couple of hours. We all quickly spread out inspecting every inch of our new home: the rocky riverbed looked very welcoming to many of us, who quickly suited up to wade in its cold waters; a soccer field that sat next to the collection of cabins hosted a game of futbol; and we even were able to witness some children playing in the river water fed pool on the property as well. After a quick and very delicious lunch, we dove into our studies. Michael provided us with an informative prerequisite lecture and that is where we started our fieldwork. We ventured from tree to tree, this time learning about the low-land humid tropic plants in the area. We tested our memory when we arrived at a fig tree which is only pollinated by wasps which then lay eggs in the fruits. The fruits then host the growing wasps until they are ready to be on their own. The hot sun (a contrast to what we had been dealing with for the past two days) fueled our enthusiasm as we wandered around the property. A well-deserved quick dip in the river after class cooled us down for our dinner. We had a quick lecture after dinner and will our bellies and minds full, we settled down for the night. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!!!

Day 7: April 7, 2013
            With some careful planning today started off without a hitch. Our excursion to the forest on the other side of the river was postponed until the afternoon which gave Michael plenty of time to teach us about lowland tropical plants. 
We explored the land on which our cabins resided and looked at many plants new to our vocabulary. Michael gave us the liberty of choosing which curiosities we looked at. If we missed a rather important one, he would direct our attention to it and tell us all about the plant. We feverishly scribbled down what he said in our notebooks so we could go back to it at a later time. He helped sort things out for us when he created a chart with the three major types of legumes and the differences and similarities they shared. After comida we prepared for our trek through the forest. 

We were ferried across the river and were delivered to the other side with eyes wide open not wanting to miss anything. Our two tour guides did a spectacular job showing us the land. While Michael covered anything plant related, the guides told us the history of the land including its very wide uses: tobacco fields, sugar-cane fields, pasture land, and even a film set in the 70’s! 
As we were walking, the guides stopped us at a plant and explained its medicinal benefits. They explained that you can grind the leaves and apply the green juice to a cut and it will keep the cut clean and help it heal faster; “Equivalent to modern day Neosporin!” said our TA Amber. We even got to put it to the test on someone’s knee! After a several hour walk/hike through the forest, we took a break for a swim in the cold water of the river. As we ate dinner together we realized it was our last night at this spectacular place. The people, food, plants, and experience would be something left to our memory and photographs. Thankful for our experience, we listened to one final lecture and crawled into our beds. What a great trip!

Besos y abrazos,
Enya y Codi

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Arts & Sciences: Botany of Oaxaca (Week One)

This week marked the beginning of our Oaxacan botany course with our professor, Michael Sundue, an expert on plants. We learned all about the different parts of plants, and the two types of flowers (monocots and dicots) and how to tell them apart. We went on several scavenger hunts throughout the city of Oaxaca to find examples of different flowers, fruits, seeds, fibers, etc. The photo to the right is a variety of sweet potato and is a root. The course consists of one three-hour lecture in the morning and one three-hour lab in the afternoon every weekday. This coming week will bring an adventure starting in the mountainous village of Capulalpam and ending several hours to the northeast examining plants that exist in different climates and elevations.

Although we had an intense work load this week, it did not stop people from enjoying one of the busiest times of year in Oaxaca, Semana Santa, or Easter Week! Unlike most people's Easters back home, Semana Santa is a weeklong celebration from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Thousands of tourists came to visit the city during this week, which made it very enjoyable. There were new people to meet and activities ranging from baseball games to parades (like the one on the left). We also had a group meeting on Thursday night at Mary Lou's house to check in and see how everyone was feeling about the trip winding down. Emotions ranged from "I will do anything to stay in Oaxaca longer" to "I'm counting down the days till April 15th". Though no one is wishing away our last few weeks, people are definitely excited to be returning home soon!

Some of us took the opportunity to attend one of the Oaxaca Guerreros games and for a little more than a dollar we got to see some professional baseball (right). Another popular activity was a huge parade that went all over the city on Good Friday. As a city full of Catholics, the parade was more of a mourning funeral procession as that was the day Jesus was crucified. As the weekend approached a small group of girls returned to Puerto Escondido, where most of us went during our break, for some fun in the sun and ocean. The rest of the group that stayed in the city enjoyed the usual activities like going out to dinner, getting work down at a cafe, walking the stairs up to the Guelaguetza, and going to bars with friends.
With some new acquired knowledge of plants, flowers, fruits, and fibers, we are looking forward to our weeklong trip in the woods. Warning to the families and parents: no Internet for this group from Monday to Monday this week, so we're not just ignoring you don't worry!

Besos y Abrazos, 
Kathleen y Brittany

Final Week of Music Class!

Makin' instruments in the Children's Library
On Sunday, after a day of rest from our adventure in Juchitán, we joined Edgar Serralde in the Biblioteca Infantil to make a variety of pre-hispanic instruments. We made drums, buzzers, and whirly-doodle noisemakers, but our favorite by far were the clay whistles. The drums were made by stretching animal hide over the rim of a clay pot and lashing it to a wicker ring affixed to the bottom of the pot. The drums were by far the most complex instruments to construct. The buzzers and the whirly-doodle noisemakers, on the other hand, were much simpler to make. The whirly-doodle noisemakers were comprised of a string and a piece of wood, and the buzzers were made using a small sheet of metal and a short length of elastic. Finally, we were provided with two lumps of clay and given the freedom to shape our whistles into any form we desired. The instruments that we made fell into three categories: vibrofonos (noise through vibration, such as the buzzer), membranofonos (noise through membranes, such as the drum), and aerofonos (noise through air, such as the whistle).
Elena demonstrating the whirly-doodle noisemaker

The instruments we made, minus the whistle, which still needs to be fired
The next day, we gathered at a dance studio in CEDART for a jam session using our drums and flutes we made in Juchitán. We learned multiple forms of rhythms, from "va-ma-nos Jua-ni-to" to "chu Jua-ni-to". We took turns playing bass drums, smaller drums with a timbre more reminiscent of a tenor instrument, and turtle shells. Everyone played their hearts out, especially our professor Sergio, who is a master of the flute. This was our last formal music class before our final lunch at Sergio's house.

Comida at Sergio's
On Thursday, we all traveled via taxi to Sergio's marvelous homestead, located in San Felipe del Agua. The taxi ride was hot and sweaty, so our first course of action upon arrival was CANNONBALL! right into the cool, refreshing water of his pool. After a lovely amount of splish-splashing, we were ushered over to the comida table laden with frijoles, tostadas, radishes, lettuce, and queso fresco. Yummo. We were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Victor Robless, a troubadour who was our fantastic guide in Juchitán. Sergio's wife presented us with savory pozole, and we spent many hours jovially conversing and enjoying the company of wonderful friends, family, and pets. After comida, we hung out on the lawn, played games in the pool, and performed acrobatics on the jungle gym. We concluded the afternoon and the music class by presenting Victor and Sergio with cards thanking them for sharing their knowledge of music with us and for making the class a wonderful experience.

Happy Semana Santa!
Reed & Patrick

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Music Class trip to the Istmos!

 Greetings from the Music Group!

On Monday, March 11th, 2013, the music class got ready to leave for the Istmo of Oaxaca. It was a long 6 hour trip to the coast, but it was definitely worth it. The region of the Istmos is very different than Oaxaca City. It has a tropical windy feel with a heavy emphasis on music. Our purpose for this week long trip was to explore and discover musical identity in relation to the Zapotecs of the Istmos in Juchitán.
The beautiful center "Zocalo" of Juchitán

Our first day started off with an introduction of our wonderful guide Victor and our professor Sergio. We were able to get together in a community member's home, where we listened to Victor sing Zapotec songs and play the guitar. It was a lovely and welcoming experience followed by Mexican comfort food...delicious!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 we were privileged to hear two amazing groups. The first musical act was performed by students from a local school.  Using turtle shells, pre-hispanic flutes, as well as drums, we heard sounds unique to the region. Afterwards, we went to a home of a brass band member where we were blown away by the skill and energy of the group members. Also, we participated and watched a conquest dance, traditional to the Istmos.

 On Wednesday, March 13th, 2013, we felt the power of the wind. The windmills in La venta, Juchitán play a major role in the social/political aspects of the Istmos.

We also listened to the musical genius Pancho, who had made his own instrument called 'La Tina.'

On Thursday, March 14th, 2013, we made our own pre-hispanic flutes. It was an interesting process. First we had to cut the mouth piece, sand it, burn holes for the fingers, and insert wax into the mouth piece. After the final product, we all got to practice a song on our homemade flutes!

To finish off our day, we went to a music school where a whole orchestra performed classical songs of the Istmos.

Friday, March 15th, 2013, it was finally time to say our musical goodbyes to the Istmos. We were all sad to leave our amazing week! It will be happily remembered :)

Kat y Kristi !

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Food Systems Track: Week 2

Aprons on, and ready to go!
This week for Food Systems, we started cooking! On Monday, we were in the classroom with both Amy and Cynthia teaching our nine person class. They are both French-method trained cooks so they put a lot of stress on noticing taste and being organized and precise with our cooking. We reflected on our experience in Huayapam seeing how the corn gruel drink, Tejate, is made from Sunday. Then we learned how to write a “mise en place” which means “everything in place” in French. It is a way of rewriting a recipe so that it includes the precise order and timing that every step of the preparation of the foods and cooking requires.

Mid week we spent two days at COMI learning some basic cooking skills and preparing two huge ‘comidas’ for our class as well as several COMI employees and migrants from Honduras and Guatemala. On Tuesday morning, we all met at Mary Lou’s apartment to compile an ingredients list. We then headed to a market to compile our ingredients for the day. Once arriving at COMI,  Cynthia taught us some basic knife skills—how to properly chop and mince an onion, how to julienne a carrot etc.  Afterwards, we divided into our groups to tackle the huge meal we were going to prepare. One group on the appetizer, another the salsas,  another on the main meal, and the last group the tortillas and drinks. Amazingly, we pulled it off without any major mishaps (unless you count Sean completely unscrewing the bottom of a blender filled with pureed black beans). After several hours of hard work we had created a beautiful meal of enfrijoladas, arroz de chepil, botana de cacahuates, salsa de pasilla, salsa de aquacate, blandas, jamica juice and Oaxacan hot chocolate. By the second day, we were really able to fine tune our skills…we made another awesome meal of tlayudas, salsas, a beautiful salad with vinegar dressing and platanos…overall a great couple of days at COMI. Cooking a huge meal for ourselves and the amazing staff and migrants at COMI was definitely a rewarding way to practice our new found cooking abilities.

On Thursday, we arrived bright and early on Calle de Crespo in order to catch our cabs out to a pueblo called Teotitlan. We eventually arrived at the Vida Nueva compound, ready to cook. We were separated into groups, assigned to a family, and set to learn how to make either soups, desserts, or the main courses. We embarked with our hosts to fetch ingredients from the market, then took note of recipes as we watched them cook—we hopped in with our tea/tablespoons to measure salt added, which the women planned to otherwise toss in by the dash. For the soup-group, we made sopas de caldillo (with cactus petals, peas, and shrimp), calabaza (squash), and garbanzo. For entrees on the first day, we didn’t have time for a mole, so that group made tamales de chepil and frijoles (beans). The final group made flan, arroz de leche (rice pudding), cirvela de dulce (I think we just used peaches in this recipe), and several juices. We observed, built up our appetites, and dined like champions. We then returned to Oaxaca, compiled our recipes, and prepared for the day to come.

First meal that we made at COMI: enfrijoladas, rice, salsas, hibiscus juice.
Friday marked both International Women’s Day and Good Samaritan’s Day. We followed the same routine as the previous day, only this time we came prepared to cook. With recipes at hand, we replicated the meals that we’d already witnessed—except the entrée group had the opportunity to make a mole negro, a sauce that is considered comida especial here in Oaxaca. Before the meal, with everything prepared, some of us explored the town. Because of the Catholic holiday, there was a massive assembly of people at the church handing out free juice, from horchata to agua de calabaza. We filled ourselves up on these sweet drinks, and once again, had a feast. Both days were hugely successful, met with delicious foods.  The mole on our last day, with its broad range of flavors, really topped it off however. After thanking our hosts and gratefully presenting them with gifts, we returned to the city for the weekend with plenty of work to do.

Abrazos y Besos,
Amanda, Corey, & Gretchen :*

Good Samaritans Day celebration (March 8) at the church.

Gretchen, Amanda, and Jess making tamales
Us with the ladies of Vida of Nueva and our meal on Friday.

Spanish Track: Week 2

Pretty view from Quialana
This week Torey and Gabby had a pretty good week.

 On Monday, we had class in the morning in a library next to the botanical gardens of Santa Domingo.  Here we learned lots about different plants, from their different classifications to their different medicinal uses.  We hope to be able to explore the botanical gardens soon after learning so much of the different plants their.  There are over 7,000 species of plants in Oaxaca according to Edith and half of those are in the gardens here!  Wow!
View of the pueblo

After a short break and comida, we met up with Edith again to visit the pueblo of Quialana.  First, we picked up Edith's sister and had a second comida with them and then we were off.  The pueblo is about an hour outside of Oaxaca and is very quant and beautiful.  We spoke with some women there who were embroidering beautiful clothing and bags.  We were also lucky enough to speak with one of the leaders of the community who was a very strong and respected woman.  She spoke about the history of the pueblo and its various leaders in the past. Our other conversation was focused around the privilege that we have as Americans to enter Mexico so easily while Mexicans need to work for years, save up a lot of money, and go through the process of getting a Visa.  Even after all this, many times they still can't enter our country.  We also discussed the struggle the woman of the pueblo have to obtain a visa since many times everything they own is in the names of their husbands and for this they do not seem like very good candidates for a Visa.
The church

The market
On Friday, we stayed in the classroom and looked at the different political and ethnic regions of Oaxaca.  Finally today, Sunday, we got up bright and early to go to Tlacolula, which is about an hour outside of the city.  Here there is a huge market every Sunday that people come to from all different pueblos around Oaxaca to both sell and buy.  We saw everything from clothing to brightly dyed chicks.  We also visited a church in Tlacolula that is located right next to the market. This church was built in 1561 and was gorgeous inside.  There was great detail everywhere and you could see the Spanish influence throughout the architecture.  We ended the day by eating some delicious chicken tacos.

That's all for this week folks! Our last class with Edith is Wednesday so these final days should be filled with learning!

Con mucho amor,
Gabby y Torey