Oct. 31st, 2006

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We got on the road yesterday morning at 8:15 which was only 15 minutes late. Not too bad by Mexican standards. 20 of us went to see a previous Quaker work project in Vicente Guerrero, a small village neighboring in Tlaxcala state. The trip there took about 2 hours, after which we were greeted by Clara and Rogelio, two of the major 'shakers' in the village government collective. We were served a remarkable breakfast, all of it made by hand. Steaming stacks of tortillas from locally grown corn, hot from the grill, kept appearing from the kitchen, freshly made cheese, fried eggs covered with well cooked pinto beans, pan de los muertos for the upcoming Day of the Dead, fresh fruit and freshly brewed coffee and just when we thought we couldn't eat any more, tlacoyos appeared. Doña Margarita was a bit late in getting to breakfast with these slightly thicker corn tortillas filled with frijoles refritos and topped with shredded cheese and salsa. AND then we went for a very long hike into the woods, well down into a valley where their new water system sits, some 7 kilometers outside of town. Down a unpaved, irregular path. And then back up again. At an altitude of 8500 feet.

The water project was majorly impressive, particularly when they shared what had been there prior. As a child, Rogelio had to climb down to the cistern at the bottom of this ravine, 7 km outside of town and cart as much water as he could carry home. Now its gets bloody cold in those mountains, particularly in the winter. Water freezes over and as a child he had no shoes! Gave me chills just contemplating that daily chore. The women of the village made the trek down to do their laundry there at the sistern and then had to haul the wet clothes back up the mountain to town. Trying to wrap my mind around just what kind of work all this entailed, leaves me nearly speechless. Now the village has running water, that's pumped electrically up from the ravine, thru pipes they laid themselves, by pumps they maintain themselves. I swear I will never take a faucet for granted again.

I was pretty damned tired when our group got back to town, and sure enough there was another huge meal waiting for us. Paco, our guide, along with several others disappeared for a bit to score some Pulque. Maguey cactus is cultivated in a number of parts of Mexico for tequilla production, but there's more than one species of the plant. Not all are suitable for making Agave tequilla. In this part of Mexico, a species is raised that's used to ferment Pulque, a beer-like drink. Paco and Memo returned with a recycled soda bottle filled with a milky, slightly thick, yeasty quaff for us all to have with our meal. And another sublime meal it was. They made a interesting Milanese de Trigo. Milaneses are generally some type of meat that's been pounded flat and then grilled. This was made by coarsely grinding organic whole grain wheat, and mixing it 2:1 with egg and then adding garlic, finely minced onion, parsley and I suspect some cilantro. the dough was then chilled and then pressed in a device similar to a tortilla press and then each milanese was flash fried in oil. These came with a mildly pickled slaw they had made, avocado and beans, plus more of the seemingly endless supply of tortillas. There was also a refresco of guayabana, a large bowl of sliced papaya, both red and yellow, plus another large bowl of halved oranges.

After lunch I was highly tempted to revive the tradition of siesta, something this community does not practice. Between the trip to the warter project an the size of not one but two meals, I was in no mood to take another hike. However, the town council president arrived and so off we went, this time to tour the town on foot. The man's civic pride was palpable. He absolutely glowed showing us the school buildings they've built, the clinic,(staffed 24/7 for emergencies), the paving stones in their streets, which have SIDEWALKS! (even the ones they haven't paved yet!), the band-stand/kiosk, the playground for the young children, the basketball court for the older kids, the 'telesecondaria' of secondary school which is part televised, part taught in person. It was all very impressive. Moreover, they've done most of this themselves and voluntarily tax themselves collectively, to make and maintain these social improvements.

We arrived back at the community hall and kitchen, where I was hoping to sit down for a bit, but clara had other ideas. After giving us a brief talk about maintaining the local ecology, by planting native crops that are organinc and not bioengineered, she carted us all out to the edge of town into an area that was part meadow, part woods where each family has a plot to raise food for their own consumption. It was nightfall when we got back to the communal space.

I thought we would be packing up to head out, but there were other plans that I had not personally yet heard of. There is a sweat lodge in town, and they had spent the day heating it for us to take a sweatbath. I was unprepared for it, without a change of clothes or towel, as were 3 others (I must have been away from my desk when that memo was circulated!) Friends chose just how much they wished to disrobe and then entered the lodge. A few went down to their skivvies, some where prepared with bathing suits, and some dispensed with things altogether and went insided, well, in the altogether! I remain too inhibited, but then I was not prepared, nor was my last experience of a sweat lodge a good one. Fainting is never a fun experience. They were in the lodge for a solid hour, and then finally emerged one by one, where Clara dutifully doused each of them with a couple of pitchers of cold water. I had grown somewhat impatient waiting for them to emerge, BUT the look on each of their faces when doused was priceless.

Finally, we were given a "light" dinner, though frankly, I'm not certain they understand what a light dinner is. There was a fruit salad, a many pitchers of a hot fruit tea to drink, more pan de muerto, and a huge deep flat bottomed bowl of Quesadillas right from the grill. I had a plate of four put right under my nose. Food was not really what I was wanting, so I ate just two, and passed my plate over to Darcy sitting next to me, who dispatched the remainder. We finally got back on the road for Mexico City a quarter past 9, leaving half of our group behind as they were planning to get to another previous work camp project nearby. Shortly before midnight we arrive back at the Casa.

I have more to share that I will hold for tomorrow, except for something I was told this evening, when the remainder of our group returned to the Casa. The work site they went to was one where Letitia, an English Friend who was with us had worked at 45 years ago. The owner of the small general store in that town, passed them on their arrival, only to stop and back up, when she recognized Letitia, calling to her, "Lety!!"

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