Eulogy to a Dying Town

I stand at the edge of a desert cemetery watching the impressions that my feet make in the sand. It is a cool, sunny, mild winter’s day in West Texas. I look up at the ominous cypress trees and blink away the sun and then scan the graves that are brightly decorated with silk and paper flowers. “Even the flowers are dead,” I say to myself under my breath. And as much as I’d rather be anywhere but here, I have to admit that this is a victory, which is a horribly depressing thought. It is easier to mourn the dead than wonder about the dissappeared.  Continue reading

On Death and Dying

This is actually a post I meant to do long ago, but couldn’t find the right words. I’m glad I waited because I had the honor of seeing a presentation done by someone who does death midwifery and home funerals. The amazing woman who does this was one of my classmate’s at Sacred Journey School of Herbal Wisdom and she introduced the concept to us on the first day of class. For months I thought that meant that she specialized in still- births, and because I didn’t want to think about death I didn’t inquire any further. I can say with confidence that after 5 months of this class my fear of death has diminished greatly, and I was dying (pun intended) to hear her final project presentation about using herbs in deathwifery. As expected I was blown away. She spoke about how the modern funeral industry has taken the beauty and ritual away from death and has turned it into a vulgar and very scary thing. As a death midwife she gently guides the dying to the other side (preferably at home) and helps them come to terms with their passing. She spoke of sacred rituals, spirituality and love and reassured us that death did not have to be so terrifying, in fact if we came to terms with it we could truly find healing. These are ideas I’ve toyed with in the past, but to have it laid out in such a clear way was incredibly helpful and therapeutic. They are offering a very affordable workshop in June and I am so bummed that I will be out of town that weekend, but I’m sure there will be more. This is something I’d actually consider doing as a calling, which came as a surprise because just a few months ago I was one of the most death phobic people around. Actually, maybe it does make sense because phobias are obsessive thoughts, but that is a whole other story.  Continue reading

Fun with Fermentation: Part Tepache

Spring turns me into a bee. I find myself buzzing around this warm, beautiful city looking for wildflowers and sweet things to enjoy. This has made work a little difficult because I just want cook and go on nature walks, but I can’t…I have two jobs and bills so here I am hunched over a screen in an air-conditioned room. Though, I honestly enjoy both jobs and the room I am in is pretty nice so I can’t complain much. I also started the day with a nice glass of home-made tepache which is thick and delicious and makes this bee very happy.

Tepache is a fermented drink made out of pineapple rind, water, spices and sugar and it is so ridiculously easy to make that I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner. The thing is I rarely buy pineapples…I grew up in the desert, it just isn’t part of my diet and it tends to be expensive so I never feel compelled to have it. Continue reading

Girls: On the Perils of Becoming a Woman on the Border

My family has called the Chihuahuan Desert home for a very long time. On a recent trip home I asked my grandmother how long, and she wasn’t exactly sure, but the rumor was that my great-great-great grandfather was a Spaniard who married an indigenous woman and that is how our clan started. I’ve always felt the desert was in my blood, encoded in my DNA and running through my veins. As a child I would look up at the clouds in the endless blue sky or watch a sunset exploding behind those barren rocky mountains and imagine that my great-grandmother had done the exact same thing. I roamed the same streets that they had roamed on both sides of the border. Even then Cuidad Juarez was considered a dangerous place, but all I have is fond memories of a multi-cultural, transnational childhood. For me  Juarez meant culture, music, markets, and a bustling city that though only seperated by one mile of distance and a bridge (and now a fence) was a world apart from my home in sleepy El Paso. I have always had a strong sense of place because I deeply belong to my landscape, which I know is a rare privilege in 21st century America. It is a gift that I am very grateful for. Continue reading

12 Grapes

Excuse my silence I’ve been…indisposed. If you are anything like me you are probably feeling pretty rough this morning. Perhaps, it was all the holiday food and booze or the fact that the season is over and you now find yourself more out of shape and broke. I accidently ate gluten on several occassions because it is hidden in everything and sometimes I don’t think to ask until later. Whatever, it was worth it and I’m learning. I’m lucky to work primarily with Mexicans which means that I get to ease back into work until Monday because Sunday is El día de los reyes magos  (Magical King’s Day), which marks the official end of the season. This is an interesting holiday where three kings come and leave presents in or by your shoes and you eat a cake with little plastic baby Jesuses (is that the plural of Jesus?) hidden inside,  whoever finds the Jesus(es) gets to throw a party…or chokes to death. I never really celebrated this holiday, but usually somebody in my family had the Jesus cake so we would go over to their house to partake, but by that point it did not matter who found the baby Jesus because there would be no more parties for awhile as everyone was exhausted and sick of each other. Continue reading

What the Maya (Didn’t) Say in 2012

Last Friday when social media was abuzz with bad end of the world jokes there was actually something amazing happening in Mexico. Something that showed such dignity that for the first time in a long time I dared to hope.

For those of you who know me you know the rap. Mexico is in crisis. The economy may not be tanking, but the human right’s abuses and a widespread acceptance of corruption leading to impunity make for a nightmarish situation. It is hard to get numbers, but  it is not out of reason to say that since Felipe Calderon declared a War on Drugs there have been hundreds of thousands of causalities. There is little hope that the new President, Enrique Peña Nieto will change this since he is basically a pretty boy puppet of the PRI, the corrupt party that “democratically” ruled the country for over 70 years (1929-2000). Slightly, more surprising than Mexican voter fraud is how un-informed we are in the United States about Mexican politics and history even though we share  nearly 2,000  miles of border. If you want to learn more I’d reccommend checking out Molly Molloy’s Frontera List, anything by Melissa del Bosque or John M. Ackerman and if you are really interested Charles Bowden has written several books worth looking at. I personally think that is some of the best stuff out there on violence in Mexico in English.

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Unfortunately, silencing dissent is nothing new in Mexico and that is what brings me to the Maya. If you don’t know about the Zapatistas I strongly encourage you to do some research. Basically, they are indigenous people (different groups who are descendents of the Maya) from the southern state of Chiapas who have formed a mostly non-violent “army” to protect themselves from a State that has a long history of abusing indigenous communities. They gained faim mostly due to their internet presence in the mid 90s back when internet activism was uncharted territory, and are known for occulting their faces with ski masks and their  spokesman, the blue-eyed Subcomandante Marcos.  This is a gross over-simplification of the movement, but I could write dozens of posts about it and still only be scratching the surface.

On December 21st, 2012, 40,000 indigenous men, women(some with infants in their arms), and children, marched  in perfect formation, through the cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Comitan, and Altamirano. What is amazing about this march was that it was done in complete silence. In a country where words often mean nothing their silence meant everything. For nearly two decades they have been organizing and in those two decades there have been considerable efforts to stop them. Politicians aren’t going to listen to their demands, but they can’t deny that they are a force to be reckoned with and with social media their struggle is once again taking place on a global stage. I have never seen a march conducted with such dignity and unity and I was frankly saddened when most of my friends did not even know it was going on. I probably wouldn’t have either if I wasn’t such a twitter addict.

The date they chose was no coincidence. Not only was it the end of the Mayan calendar, but it was the day before the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Acteal  where 45 members of an indigienous pacifist group were killed for voicing support of  the efforts of the Zapatistas. This bloody event was carried out by “guerrilla” armies supported by same party of the very recently inaugurated president who also has employed guerrilas in the past when he served as governer of the state of Mexico. I really hope he was scared when he saw how organized they were and that he realized that the people are tired of the fighting and violence. Peaceful protest is becoming the norm  in a country being torn apart by violence. In a country where activism is often frowned upon. Maybe it really is the beginning of a new era.

Feel Good Herbs

I will be the first to admit that I am pretty tightly wound. Sure, I can be a good time and my sense of humor teeters on the absurd, but underneath all that I’m a bundle of nerves. I have suffered from insomnia since I was an infant and get really stressed out with too much external stimuli which when coupled with a wreckless restlessness means that… I’m a bit of a loon really. All this stress has meant that I have suffered from digestive issues or a “nervous stomach” for most of my life. Luckily, I have a Mexican grandma!

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(Me, as an anxiety-prone Mexican child) Continue reading