Global Exchange

My first morning home I picked this handful of tomatillos and made a pot of Rancho Gordo pinto beans. I appreciated food cooked in my own kitchen all over again although I hardly went hungry while away.

I traveled for ten days with Global Exchange to Oaxaca, Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead, learn about the effects of GMO contamination on native varieties of corn and the challenges created by migration to the indigenous people and their land. I had no idea however I was in for so much more.

We toured the ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla; visited a healer, a third generation artisan mescal farm, a public radio station funded by the people and markets that rivaled any I've visited. The earthiness of the markets alone was worth the trip.

We ate as guests in private homes, one mole after another. My favorite was the chichilo, served at a long white clothed table in the midst of a forest at the base of Monte Alban. If I could speak Spanish I would have talked with Noemi Gomez Bravo, a member of a United Nations work group for the human rights of the indigenous people. Instead we smiled and ate chapulines (grasshoppers), from one of many shared bowls for snacking.

The evening of Dia de los Meurtos we were the guests of a family in Xoxocotlan for a traditional meal prior to the vigil, or in our case a visit, in the cemetery. We drank hot chocolate and ate tamales that were without a doubt from out of this world, made by two Grandma's I wanted to bring home. The meal finished with a warm pudding like horchata that took a minute to get used to but then only another to reach the bottom of the cup.

Instead of the Grandma's I smuggled home a pound of frijoles negro, a sugar skull and half a dozen sugar angels, between layers of dirty socks and a handwoven wool rug from Teotitlan del Valle.

We also ate at tiny kitchens in near by markets, an ecotourist restaurant run by an indigenous community on the bank of a crystal clear river. We ate at the end of an alley in a restaurant unlocked just for us and cooked by a single woman with what seemed like eighteen arms. "Can I help," I asked in broken Spanish.

"No, no, no," she answered. And for the hundredth time I was sad I didn't have the language.

But I knew how to say gracias and repeated it a million times. I was humbled by the generosity and spirit of the people we met. I despaired at the challenges of their country which so closely mirror those of ours but I also recognized our shared optimism that knows no borders.

Si se puede, they seemed to always say and I silently responded, yes we can. I couldn't have been happier to hear those words, yes we can, echoed loudly Tuesday night. They were an even better homecoming than a pot of beans.


J said...

That sounds like it was an amazing trip. It seems as though you got a lot more than you thought you would out of the trip. And the acts of kindness by most people can be astonishing. It helps keep us going in hard times.

Chile said...

What a lovely report and eye-opening trip. The food sounds wonderful and the people even better. Will you be going again?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! What a fabulous trip. Glad you had good news to come home to. I hope you'll write about GMO contamination of their corn crops. I'm very curious to learn more about that.

Theresa said...

How fantastic you went on such a trip! It sounds like you got to see, hear and taste reality - a much different perspective than what I hear from people who come back from their 'all inclusive' resort holidays to Mexico.

Donna said...

You went to Oaxaca?!! I was there about 20 years ago! I have some dear friends who live in Mitla. I'm glad you had such a good time. I hope we get to hear even more about it & see pictures!!!

Green Bean said...

How wonderful. What a truly meaningful trip that will stay with you as long as you live - long past the sugar skulls. :)

Kale for Sale said...

jennifer - Good point. It really is kindness that sustains us, isn't it?

chile - I can't imagine not going back but I don't have any plans to return. Just my imagination. We'll see. I didn't get enough time at those markets!

audrey - Thanks. I want to do a bit of reading and then I'll write up the story of how the contamination happened down there. The good news is they can tell the difference when they are eating GMO corn and their native corn. I don't think we can do the same here.

theresa - You got it. The trips are actually called reality tours! I wish I'd learned about them years ago. We talked about the beach holidays in Mexico and how the resorts are often owned by foreign companies and while the resources of the people are depleted the profits leave the country and little is invested in the communities of the people displaced. I don't want to be a wet blanket, the world really is stunningly beautiful, but in so many ways we use it like a machine and forget about compassion or consideration for people.

donna - I bet Oaxaca was a different place 20 years ago. We were at the ruins in Mitla at 12 noon on the day of the dead with firecrackers going off all around to call back and say good by to the dead. It was quite a few minutes and I stood still noticing it all. I'll show you only my best pictures when I see you in SF.

green bean - Those sugar skulls may last forever. I brought home sugar angels too. I couldn't resist. They are works of art.

Janet said...

Please post photos of the sugar skulls and sugar angels. Your trip sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy you have beautiful tomatillos! Hooray! And what a fabulous trip. It sounds like you had some similar experiences to mine in the Dominican Republic. Nothing like a little travel to different worlds to gain some perspective. I absolutely love Oaxaca. What an amazingly beautiful place with equally beautiful people!

P.S. I've given you an award. It's here.

Kale for Sale said...

janet - The sugar skulls are just for you!

melinda - The tomotillas are beautiful, aren't they? Almost immediately after I said I didn't get any the two plants started producing. They were worth the wait. ---Yeah, it's good to shake the old perspective up once in awhile. ----Many thanks for the award. It's very nice coming from you.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I just made a big crock pot of pinto beans as I was craving mom's home cooking. Is Rancho Gordo merely located locally or do they also sell products grown locally? (I can't quite tell from a quick review of its website).

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic trip! I've always wanted to go to Mexico, but it sounds like you go to experience a lot more than the common traveler. When I have an extra moment, I hope to click through some the links you provided.

Kale for Sale said...

garys - I should check with them again but my understanding is that Rancho Gordo beans are grown near Sacramento. And I sometimes make things up that I swear are true so I'm not always to be trusted. But in this case I think I'm right. Even if I'm not RG has the best damn pinto beans I've ever tasted and I'd eat them regardless of where there from. It would be one case where local would be damned.

kendra - If you go I recommend the grasshoppers! I kept asking if they were farmed or simply caught in traps but no one could answer. Both conclusions seemed plausible. There were mounds of them at every market and women walking around selling them every day. A good source of protein, everyone said.

Anonymous said...

Indigenous people around the world are some of the last cultivators of traditional agricultural products. Let's hope that GMO foods do not completely wipe out these "heirloom" varieties as they have many benefits - not only in terms of environment but also in terms of flavor.