Thursday, June 26, 2008

Place of the Cloud People

Early this morning we headed into the mountains to a town called Tlahuitoltepec for a midwives conference. Dr. Elu told us the drive would take 4 hours but we had Mario Andretti behind the wheel and made it in about two and a half. In 45 minutes we went from dry arid land into the lush tropical pine forest. Pines trees in Mexico?!

The town is one of those places where the lack of access to contraception smacks you in the face. There is just no getting around the child to adult ratio (and here, there are very few men).

The Mixtecas seem very stoic to us, though the kids run and scream and, while we were there, most of them spent their time playing soccer in a courtyard where the walls were painted with the words “no playing soccer here.” A few of the women surreptitiously took photos of Tanitra and we think it’s because they don’t often see Asians (she’s been claiming to be from Veracruz with some success but I guess she can’t fool the Mixtecas). On a side note, the Mixtecas call themselves "People of the Clouds." They live high up in the mountains beyond the fog. As we were standing on the cliffs we could see whiffs of clouds engulfing the valley below. We tried to be respectful when taking pictures of the Mixtecas. They don't like getting their pictures taken because they believe that their soul is captured in the image.

The regard between Dr. Elu and the midwives is clear. She said when she’s around them she feels happy “because they are the experience and the hope.” But, as is the case all over the world, these women are indigenous and are generally not treated well by the larger society.

The midwives expressed a lot of anger that they are not respected by doctors at health facilities. One talked about how it’s very important to the Mixteca that they bury the placenta when a child is born but at the hospital they just throw it away. This is shocking for the Mixteca but the hospitals seem not to care and so the women prefer to use their traditional midwives.

This area (in the state of Oaxaca) is known for an adult band and a children’s band. We had heard someone warming up on a trumpet for much of the morning and it made me think of how awful it was for my mom when I was learning to play the flute. But, when the band set up and started playing, they were terrific. In fact, I was really impressed that they played several songs without a conductor – that’s quite a feat for musicians with many more years experience.

Despite the music, lunch was (again) stoic. The women in village cooked huge pots of food and unloaded them from the back of a pick up truck. We had tortilla soup with chicken, tamales as big as my arm and, of course, Mescal (that was poured into Jose Cuervo bottles from gasoline containers). Apparently, after meals, the Mixteca dance because we were treated to quite a show – including, of course, Dr. Elu.

And then Mario Andretti got us safely back down the mountain.

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