Village Life

June 1992

"I am scarce able to walk slowly enough in a village, where a 20-yard walk from Isabela's house to her aunts may take five minutes..."

The first question is, where do I begin. The experiences in my life in the last four months have been so immense, so varied and rich, I am overwhelmed by the task of conveying them.

Life here for me is so full and often exhausting. It is a very physical existence, with lots of bicycling and walking. Mentally, while most of my conversations do not reach great intellectual heights they revolve around new territory for me. The value of a bull, the coming of the rain, black bean plague, the amount of work to gather wood for the kiln, the neighbors bad character, the flavor of tortillas, going wet back to the U.S., and so on and on. Some conversations are repeated daily with different folks - "where are you from?" The U.S. I say, California (who the hell knows where Nevada is). California to most Mexicans is L.A. "Is there work up there". "How can I get up there?"

These conversations get old, irritating, but the irritation is always outweighed by the absurdly overwhelming hospitality of the people. They never hesitate to buy you lunch or a soda or open their house to you. There is an incredible warmth among the people that I have never seen in the U.S.

And yet while I'm seeing all this and soaking it in, I am also able to stop idealizing Mexico and especially Mexican village life. In their beauty there is also the negative. Villages are perhaps like big families held too close. They are full of strife, envy and gossip. Most talk about other villages is negative and cutting. These are very closed worlds. Male- female relations are generally abusive, though I never witness it but I learn on the side. They are also extremely clear, black and white, and traditional.

Women make all the food, serve the men, clear the table, wash the dishes, clothes, raise and bear the children (lots). Men work the land and many drink a lot. Yet abusive, macho and drunkard, most of these men seem to have a good and simple heart. Many seem almost an extension of the soil they plant.

My work and pleasure often find me in remote villages and If I didn't know better I'd think these places were only populated by women. But the truth is that during the day (this time of year anyway, which is plow and sow time) all the men are in the countryside working except the very old, young, or injured. Also many are working in the U.S. I'm absolutely amazed at how many men I've met that have gone to the U.S. to work. In the villages I'd say about 80 percent of those I've met. In the cities it is much less. There is a gap between the city and village, very different worlds and attitudes prevail. Mine is the luxury of playing in both.

Life down here has me existing in many realms. To go from the city to 500 years back into the countryside, to a hushed warm village and spend the day among women kneeled on the floor grinding corn (nixtamal) for tortillas, and rhyming back and forth to each other in Zapoteca or Mixteca or Mixe, to smell the hot corn and pig shit and ripe alfalfa and taste the clean wind. Then to return to Oaxaca in the afternoon with all its groaning buses and church bells, music from doorways and the blur of hurried people. This is an amazing and always abrupt transition to make. It really opens an awareness of the worlds we walk in and how varied they can be. Most of us never get out of our city or village, and our mind space, and so operate believing that's all there is, not understanding the immense variety of options that exist and also gladly free of the knowledge of our own constraints.

I must make an observation on the comment about the blur of hurried people in Oaxaca. This is a relative condition as seen coming from a village. I am scarce able to walk slowly enough in a village where a 20-yard walk from Isabela's house to her aunts may take five minutes. There is never a hurry out there, and perhaps to make their town larger, they walk slower. But perhaps they just don't know a hurried walk, for what is there to hurry. It is seeing this that I really have to laugh at the myth of progress and better living. These people have not one modern convenience except electricity which solely lights the house, radio, and TV. (A far to common feature) and they do work hard grinding corn or making tortillas, pots, etc. Yet their day is always taken at a slow pace - relaxed with time to chat and gossip and visit, and of actual work they do not put in 40 hours a week. And so for a family with a decent piece of land to plant, good rains for the seed, and a good level of pottery sales, life is a good one with food always on the table. To suggest however, that there is not hunger or suffering in villages would be a foolish lie. And I couldn't see myself living such a life style because I would be ruined by the monotony. Yet there is much to learn from such a place, and learn I will.


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