Dazed and Confused in the U.S.

The more time I spend in Mexico, the more dazed and confused I am re-entering life back in the U.S. Contract writing work, plus seeing family and friends, brings me back to Dallas several times a year. Part of me thrives on getting stuff done quickly and efficiently, shopping with incredible selection, and going into an office dressed in real clothes and shoes to meet with members of my work group. Another part of me is just plain freaked out now by north American life and culture.

To wit: television news, which these past few weeks has been fixated on deflated footballs, celebrity transgender transformation, the birth of an English princess and a violent biker gang war.

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A Great Good Friday

I often forget to note Mexican fiesta days, so it came as a pleasant surprise when José said he’d take a whole day off for Good Friday. I’d been wanting to explore some of the Mixtec area – the land of the “people of the clouds” in its indigenous Nahuatl language — in the area northwest of Oaxaca City, which is a Zapotec region. We packed up José’s VW bug with camp stools, picnics for both breakfast and lunch, my English guidebook and tooled off by 7 a.m. on the cuota, or toll road, towards Nochixtlán (no-cheece-tlan’).

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Aurora Lights Up the Day

Eleven-year-old Aurora was part of the package deal when her father Silvestre, machete in hand, knocked on the garden gate Saturday morning looking for a tree-trimming job for the day. After the landlady and I agreed that we’d split the cost, Silvestre shinnied up the tree and Aurora sat down on the terrace with her skinny shoulders up against the wall and pulled out a composition book and pencil.

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Three Susans as Corn Goddesses

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.

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Giving Thanks in Oaxaca

Like the rest of my life here in Oaxaca, Thanksgiving this year packed a double cultural punch.

Thanksgiving spread, photo by Carol Knox

Thanksgiving spread, photo by Carol Knox

On one hand, there was gringo-prepared turkey and dressing with all the trimmings on Saturday since Thursday was a regular working day here. On the other, there was the opportunity to reflect on some of the things I take for granted on the thankometer every day. Running water, for instance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

José, not really bar tending

José, not really bar tending

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Packing Picks

In the last five years that I’ve traveled in and around Oaxaca – in planes, buses, cars, collectivos and mototaxis, even once in a cattle truck when the bus broke down – I’ve packed a lot of bags. I don’t backpack any more but I like to have what I need without toting too much.

Jumpsuits for travel?

Jumpsuits for travel?

I’m also always amazed at what people wear to travel, and since I almost always have a layover in Mexico City I have ample time to peruse the passengers. I wouldn’t have thought to wear, for instance, a tiger print jumpsuit (never mind the pattern, how do you manage a jumpsuit in an airplane bathroom?) with four-inch stiletto heels. Continue reading

Oaxaca: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

They often mispronounce the name even in the airport, certainly on the northern side of the border. “Boarding for Ox-ack’-uh” will come over the loud speaker and it sounds so wrong I don’t even get up.

It’s “Wah-hah’-ka,” derived from the original Nahuatl name Huaxyacac – which I wouldn’t try to pronounce on a dare. The de Juárez was added later in honor of Benito Juárez, one of only two natives of the state who became president of Mexico. (He was the good one.)

Oaxaca’s exotic moniker is a great metaphor for this fantastic city, capital of the state of the same name: it has a distinctly indigenous flavor, it’s complicated, and just when you think you get it — you really don’t.

Oaxaca's original name in Nahuatl

Oaxaca’s original name in Nahuatl

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