We three Susans always bought T-shirts and stuff with three women on them, but being corn goddesses trumps them all. Though honestly, these blocky-headed broads look as though the weavers were documenting a visitation from The Others, who came in peace bearing corn stalks. Wearing skirts, no less.
We three Susans — giving our age away as if we were all Lindas or Debbies — have been friends since elementary school and junior high in Dallas, Texas. Sometime after graduating from different colleges, we started getting together again so that we wouldn’t lose touch with each other. We took Three Susans trips from Belize to Martha’s Vineyard and Salt Spring Island, Canada (OK, islands were a theme for quite a while, also wine country). Last week the other two Susans finally made it to Oaxaca.
We had kept up the annual trips pretty well even through children (mine) and divorces (Susie P.’s and mine). Aging parents, their illnesses and eventual passings brought things to a halt these past years (we only have one parent, Susan M.’s dad Ed left), and we hadn’t taken a Three Susans trip since I’d moved mostly to Oaxaca more than five years ago.
In Mexico, we got just as satisfying reaction out of introducing ourselves as las tres Susanas in Spanish as we do in English. “En serio?” is the inevitable reaction. Si, en serio. The next reaction being that though my Mexican friends here think I’m a giant, at 5’6” I’m actually the shortest (and oldest by two days) of the Susans. Between us we even out on most other things, though not like you’d think.
There have been three husbands between us, though one Susan had two and one has managed to avoid husbands altogether. Only I had kids and now a granddaughter.
The other two have professional jobs (one’s a lawyer, the other a computer systems administrator) while I’ve been a freelance writer all my life – a good thing now since it allows me maximum Mexico time, telecommuting from Oaxaca as much as I can.
We own four houses among us, none of them mine. We all have corrected vision, me with glasses, one with two contacts and one with only one for her bad eye. But all that’s just the outer stuff. We’re still essentially the squirrelly adolescents we were when we met, not quite mainstream any of us, still trying to figure out what we’re going to be when we grow up.
So what to do for their four days in Oaxaca? I wanted them not to be just tourists, but to see into the window of my world down here, to experience my new life just a little.
Since their first full day was Thursday, we headed to my favorite indigenous market in Zaachila, taking the second-class bus. It’s a great market of foods and baskets, and ordinary stuff that people need (including the infamous Last Supper rat poison, sold in unmarked packets without the sacrilegious picture of daVinci’s famous painting, all with rat faces).
Zaachila is also famous for its nieves, or ices, so we tried a few flavors. Piña colada, coconut and sorbete were successful; alas limón con salsa not so much. It turned out to be red sauce over green ice, an unfortunate color mix and even more unfortunate taste combo. The 16th century monastery in Cuilapam is largely empty but still stunning.
I’d never been to Zaachila and Cuilapam so late in the afternoon and hadn’t counted on the packs of high school kids cramming the buses back to Oaxaca. We rode like packed sardines back to the city. That day my pedometer showed 18,000 steps and 9 miles. (see 10,000 Steps: All in a Day’s Walk in Oaxaca.)
Friday we sprang for the luxury of a private car with driver all day, to avoid the packed collectivos and save the inevitable waiting time for buses. Felipe, who’s based in Teotitlán, picked us up in Oaxaca and by request took us straight to pay homage to the Tree of Tule, arguably the largest tree in the western hemisphere.
Supposedly two thousand years old and astride one of the great energy vortices of the world, it’s really quite moving. Noble in its quiet immensity. We wandered around the ruins of MItla, source of many of the geometric Zapotec rug designs, had chicken with black mole at Isabel’s rug shop and restaurant in Teotitlán, and checked out some of the beautiful rugs in town – many made by weavers who are now friends.
Saturday, I’d already arranged for the other two Susans to come on the Fundación En Vía tour where I was doing my weekly volunteer gig serving as a translator guide for the tours which fund microfinance loans for women. We visited borrowers in San Miguel del Valle, a gorgeous little town on the skirt of the mountain above Tlacolula.
Most of the women there are seamstresses, sewing and embroidering elaborate pinafore-style aprons that they wear daily over jewel-toned pleated dresses with lace collars. (See more about San Miguel in Not Your Ordinary Groundhog Day.) I don’t speak perfect Spanish by a long shot, but considering that I started it late in life and could barely conjugate a verb six years ago when I arrived, I feel pretty good about being able to translate between a group of tour participants and local women.
On Sunday, we hung out in the city, shopped a fair bit (the Susans loved MARO, the women’s co-op on Cinco de Mayo) and ended up in the late afternoon at a party at my friend Michelle’s in Teotitlán del Valle. Live music on the terrace, a spectacular sunset, good food and drink, dancing in the moonlight: it was a pretty great way to end too short of a trip.
This trip’s common souvenir (my older son, once visiting the Houston Susan a few years back, said it was a little weird that she had all the same travel stuff in her house as we did in Dallas, including a painted coconut-hull fish from Belize) was a ceramic group of three possibly women, possibly unisex Neanderthals, dancing in a ring and holding a little bowl in the middle that’s perfect for a small candle. (We all already have the corn goddess rugs, a must-buy when I spotted them a couple of years ago in Teotitlán.)
The Susans are back in Texas now, alas returning from 80 degree Oaxacan sunshine to cold weather and ice. But when I burn a candle in the Three Susans ring, their faces positively glow.
— Susan Bean Aycock, embracingtthechaos.org