Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

The women are mostly 12-20, but others are older, 40-50 years. I ask the women, through my guide's translation, "What is an American like?" They're very tall -- it's always a surprise. Maybe because foreigners eat more or they have things people in the village don't have. How are American's strange? Skin color & clothing. Indians eat mostly with fingers. Many Indians have some forks & knives, but not usually.

They try to imagine what the place is like that Americans come from. They are surprised by the big buildings in Mexico City: it's beyond their imagination.

I'm trying to ask if they would dump their culture for money. I ask, If you had more money, what would you change and what would you keep the same? She says that they wouldn't do embroidery. They would travel, but keep their home here in the village, or in San Cristobal but come back to Zincantan for festivals.

My guide says "they do have hygiene" in Zincantan. Not from what I can see, but I guess what he's saying is it's better than Chamula. Here, the chickens are running around loose and everyone is barefoot and looks pretty dirty. They get 30 pesos for 2 days work, the lowest pay in Mexico. My guide says that they're happy just working, they don't give commercial value to their time.

One woman has a silver star on her tooth. I feel sorry for them, so I give them 500 pesos for 6 place mats they'd normally sell for 180. They giggle, and my guide translates: "If you have so much money, why don't you take a woman from the village?"

We drive away. Mist invades the city: it's clouds, we're up in the mountains high enough for that. My guide says the villagers their garbage and have trouble with polluted rivers. Farmers burn their fields to prepare for the next season: that's rudimentary agricultural practice. After the winter they burn the plants; less work than pulling plants out. The land here is so fertile that it doesn't matter if they do this. In Oaxaca, the land is not so fertile, and they're forced to use every part of the corn because it's so valuable. My guide seems proud of this.

Their education is bilingual. The teachers were coletos, who didn't speak the local language, so the government has tried sending Indian teachers. There's educational reform happening. At 3 years, they go 3 years kindergarten, then 6 elementary, then 3 secondary school. They will be obliged to go to high school also for grades 10,11,12. They use satellite TV to educate.

Back in San Cristobal, we go to a restaurant so I can keep quizzing my guide. I feel filthy all over having visited the women in Zincantan and handled their tablecloths. This place is a bar / restaurant. It's smoky from cigars. We go to a balcony on the 2nd floor that runs all along the edge of the place. Below is the bar and an area that must be a dance floor.

This isn't a place tourists normally go to! Tables are not wiped off, bathroom no soap. Tables are tiled. Stucco walls with that uneven yellow coloring. The ceiling has wooden beams and all glass letting diffuse light through from the setting sun. Off to one side, downstairs, drums, organ, speakers, set up for a band. Vines hang from the ceiling. Chairs are carved wood: blocky flowers & painted bright colors. There's a severe-looking guy in a "gym" t-shirt with short-short hair and mustache & beard. A necklace with a stylized Christian cross.

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