There is a supernatural warmth about Mexico. Sure the temperature is in the mid-80s and the sun is strong all day. The people just look warm. There are brand new babies everywhere and two out of three women between the ages of 15-45 is pregnant or nursing. People seem to eat ice cream cones all day long. No one has acne. Everyone seems to like their body. Parents genuinely like their kids.
On Sunday in a Oaxcan tourist market, I met an eight-year-old girl named Estrella (that translates to Star) who, in collaboration with her grandma makes little cell phone bags. When I met Estrella, I had been in Mexico less than 12 hours, most of it sleeping, so an eight-year-old felt like a safe place to start using my rusty Spanish. Estrella´s business is to draw pictures of whatever she wants on a piece of cotton (cowgirl, tree, flower, farmer). She then embroiders what she can and her grandma finishes them up. Estrella makes 5 pesos (about 35 cents) on each bag. After interviewing Estrella on her business model and art skills, I shot a photo of her with the bag I bought for my daugter Lucia.
At the Abastos Market, the market of the people (where we saw not one gringo), I ate divine tamales oaxaños-- they come wrapped in a giant banana leaf and inside are the traditional tamale incredients plus mole negro. Even with the random chicken parts I found in my tamale they were still divine. Luz, the proprietor and I had a nice long platica (chat). She told me that her little restaurant has been there 22 years. At the Abastos market I also bought pillow cases to embroider from Maria who turned 8 that day! Feliz cumpleaños Maria. My pillow cases have love birds with the words ¨Tu eres me amor¨ in an arch above.
Not all of my contacts have been as charmed as my interlude with Estrella and at the Abastos market. One afternoon, while having a solitary moment in the plaza, a short blood-shot-eyed fellow sidled up next to me on the stairs where I was sitting watching a campesino speaking about something political I couldn't quite understand. Juan was so complimentary of my accent (and my boobs). Where had I studied? Had I been to Belgium? He'd recently been deported from Cincinnati after a 12 year stay. After enough eye-boob contact, I made a quick, not very polite exit.
Jorge, the dueño of our bed and breakfast grew up very poor and never knew his father. But he is from one of the original Oaxacan families. His grandfather was 100% Zapotec. Jorge wrote a book for his children to explain his life. It was really easy, he said. In a short time Jorge churned out 186 pages that his daughter (who is a professor in Spain) is working on getting published. Today when I visited Monte Alban, the ruins of the Zapotec people, I thought of Jorge´s grandfather.
Making contact takes effort, especially in another language. Initially it was scary to use my Spanish to all of those people, but I'm so glad I did.