Kate in Mexico

Kate, a senior psychology major, is participating in SMU-in-Oaxaca during Winter Term. The group will spend two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and then travel to the Sierra Madre mountains for a week. While in Oaxaca, the group will take classes on ceramics, weaving and painting with talented craftsmen. The students also will engage in a service learning project, will enjoy Mexican traditions related to the holiday season and will collect oral histories.

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Arts, crafts and grasshopper powder

We have been a very busy bunch of travelers. Our days are full of rich cultural experiences, and our nights have been filled with fine dining and other meaningful holiday celebrations. It is hard to believe we have been here less than a week, as we have already done so much.

ValenteNiete.jpgWe got to have arts and crafts workshops with two native crafters. Our day started in San Bartolo at the home and studio of Valente Niete (photo left), who is a member of the famous Niete family for black pottery. He did a demonstration for us, showing how he makes a pot without any mechanical wheel.

He uses two small bowls, representative of the sun and the moon, and turns a block of clay into a beautiful pitcher. Black pottery is completely made from the earth, as the “glaze” used to keep the material shiny is really quartz rubbed on the partly baked clay. He made the adventure look so effortless, and then he let us take a turn.

Well, the clay that he so carefully molded was very hard. We worked hard just to break small pieces off the block. Valente’s son Francisco was there to help and oftentimes do our pottery. Two group members managed to make pots; the rest of us stuck to sculptures of sorts. I made a bird that is reminiscent of the arts I took home from kindergarten class. We had a great time and enjoyed having very soft hands after using the clay.

JacoboAngeles-sm.jpgAfter a brief lunch, we went to the home of Jacobo and Maria Angeles, who are famous for their wood creations. The little animals that are so finely and delicately painted are his best-known work. He also gave us a demonstration, this time focusing on how he creates such a wide variety of paint colors from things in nature. He used limestone, pomegranate, lime and many other things. The wood he used is a special tree found only in Mexico, and he showed us the various female and male trees. It was interesting because the trees varied so much in weight even though they appeared the same.

Jacobo’s entire family has followed in the trade, as has Valente’s. It was interesting to see many children studying their skill so carefully and hoping to one day be as good as their parents.

BoysAttire.jpgWe finished our day with a very nice resturant called Los Danzantes. The group went out dressed in our new Mexican attire (photo left). Dining in Mexico is a very leisurely process – we have spent three hours dining most of the nights we have been here. The resturant was outdoors but had a retractable roof and space heaters to warm it up.

We all were a bit suprised to learn the seasoning we have become accustomed to being on almost everything is actually grasshopper powder, but still had no problem finishing our meals. Salads are very different in Mexico, so many of us are feeling partially vegetable deprived. However, at Los Danzantes we were able to have a salad – but there was no dressing.

We finished dinner around 11 and were all quick to hit our beds. We are all getting excited for New Year’s and hope to have some downtime before the evening festivities start. Tomorrow we are going to travel to Mitla to visit ruins and a petrified waterfall.

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