Vicki Reitenauer is on the faculty of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. She was honored to have participated in Natik’s service-learning trip to Santiago Atitlán in January 2014.
Concepción’s hands move with an amazing grace as she simultaneously makes tortillas and teaches us, her visitors, how it’s done. We’ve come to her house to talk with her about her participation in Natik’s Just Apparel program, to bear witness to her story…and, it turns out, to try our own hands at tortilla-making.
As Concepción continues her work, pure poetry in motion, Dolores translates her Tz’utujil into Spanish, and Heidi or Ryan turns that Spanish to English. Then we change direction, as English becomes Spanish becomes Tz’utujil. Like the tortillas, patted and turned and patted and turned, we work our words into shapes we can all take turns eating.
Take a little water—not too little, not too much—and cover the inside of the hands with it. Scoop a small amount of dough—not too little, not too much—and clap it into a smooth-edged disc. Where Concepción’s hands are all ease and assurance, mine feel clunky and strange, more like baseball mitts than actual human hands, but something resembling a tortilla results and gets placed alongside the beautiful ones on the stove.
Later, we will sit with Concepción and her children, admire her embroidery, wonder about how a woman survives civil war and the kidnapping of her father when she was seven years old. Her children will shyly flirt with Heidi and Ryan’s baby girl, Grace. We will feel gratefully humbled by the honor of this family’s hospitality, their welcoming of us into their home.
First, though, the tortillas are finished. They seem to jump from the hot griddle into Concepción’s steady hand. She asks me if I’d like to taste, holds out a small pot of coarse salt. Mine’s a raggedy-looking thing, but, thanks to all that Concepción has done in preparation for this moment—buying the corn, having it milled, gathering the wood, building and tending the fire, mixing cornmeal and water, making a place for us beside her, blessing us with her teaching—it tastes so delicious I want to cry.
Over their winter break, students from Edgewood College in Madison, WI traveled to Chiapas. There they joined with students from a local university, UNICH, to work on several projects in the fields of La Florecilla and at a park in Zinacantan. When asked for responses about how the experience changed them, this is what they wrote:
One thing that I really loved is that we not only got to experience Mexican culture but we got to experience different indigenous cultures as well. Going to Zinacantan and La Florecilla were two of the coolest things I have ever experienced and that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people that we met were so kind and so welcoming. It was shocking to me that they would be so warm and friendly to people who come from a different country; it was something that I was not expecting at all…
The connections and experiences that were made in Mexico are something that I will remember for the rest of my life. There aren’t really words that could describe how amazing and well this trip went…I hope that I have the opportunity in the future to travel back to Chiapas with my family because it is such a cultural and beautiful place.
It was fantastic to see how much value is placed on sustainability. Here in the United States we’ve given a special name and special (higher) price on “organic” food. In La Florecilla it’s just called food and costs hard work.
Beyond the biological need, food brings people together. For us, meals in La Florecilla were a vital tool in bridging cultural borders…I felt like part of the community, like part of the family, more so than I have ever felt anywhere else in the world.
I would first like to start my reflection by saying that this trip was one that will always be in my mind and heart. I learned so much and had so many life changing experiences in the eleven days that we were there that I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to.
One of my goals that I think easily accomplished was me not being so shy…For the most part I really pushed myself out of my shell and tried to be fully immersed in the group.
I also learned as much as I could about the culture down in Chiapas, and I can say that I have come home with ten times more knowledge about the Mexican culture then I had before traveling down there. For instance, going into the indigenous communities was a totally different experience then walking around San Cristobal, and even the differences between the different indigenous communities provided an insight that opened my eyes to the diversity in the cultures.
I will hopefully be able to reflect on this trip for the rest of my life and I can’t wait to continue to let it change my life in a positive way.
We’ve been so busy that we skipped last week’s blog. To make up for it, below are “several thousand” words worth of highlights from the Natik Guatemala Service Learning Trip:
Starting with early morning on Lake Atitlan…
Flags fluttering in the central plaza on a windy day…
Going for a ride in the local luxury transportation…Washing tires for the Puerta Abierta tire playground project…Lots of hands lightens the work and lots of tires means lots of stuff to play on…
…and it’s not over yet! We are looking forward to the blog posts of the trip participants!