Monday, July 30, 2007

The Last Dance

The Encuentros Zapatistas wrapped up on Saturday and so has my work here in Chiapas. I never made it out to the last leg of the Encuentros in La Realidad (Tojolobal Jungle) but it was a difficult two days from what I understand. The heat of course was brutal plus there were some issues with finding/harnessing electricity for the talks and of course for the dancing in the evening. The Zapatistas reminded me that even if you can’t dance, you can dance. It doesn’t matter if the lights go out or the band stops playing or if your resisting and struggling in a revolution you can always find time to laugh and have some fun and my last dance at Oventik was just that, FUN! I am exhausted from all the traveling I have done over the last two and a half months. I was able to see almost every corner of Chiapas, however, thanks to the grueling work provided to me by Frayba and CAPISE. The experience has been unforgettable and one of a lifetime. I’ll never forget the people that touched my life and I hope that I (us) made a difference in theirs. I am excited to return to Minneapolis to talk to people about my experience, keeping true to Alejandra’s words – “Don’t forget about us”. I feel like I have a million ideas swirling around in my head about a dissertation topic (or maybe four), and ideas for a new class to teach. The pictures I have taken of all the graffiti have turned out nicely and I am not sure what I am going to do with them yet but I think it would be cool to make them in to a little book. I have also begun creating a pretty extensive bibliography complete with not only books but articles, videos, websites, etc. and I am on to a fourth page already.
My sense of time has changed dramatically since I arrived in May. This is probably my sixth or seventh stay in Mexico but this time around I had a difficult time adjusting to a different concept of time. When someone tells you “horita” it means you’ll be attended to anywhere from the next 5 minutes to the next hour. If someone tells you “mañana” it usually means two to three days and if someone tells you “unos días” o “dentro de la semana que viene” then forget about it. I have caught myself over the last 6 weeks or so saying these exact things though, even telling the guy that comes to pick up the trash that I’ll be around “mañana”. So, there is already this cultural difference in the concept of time, but when one leave San Cristóbal (a major town/city) and goes out to smaller communities, many of these communities and all of the ones that I visited do not change the hour for day light savings time. Once you leave the city there are two different times. There is the “hora de Dios” and the “hora del gobierno” which many kindly refer to as “la hora del Diablo”. The communities, from what I understand, don’t change the hour because, 1) it is an act of resistance against the government and 2) they don’t have electricity, which means it really doesn’t matter what time it is, you get up when the sun comes up, work all day, and go to bed when there is no more light. Needless to say Zapatista communities are on God’s time. This puts a whole new twist in teaching beginning Spanish speakers “¿Qué horas son?” In short, even though there is no time zone change there still exists a time change, if you know what I mean (right, Kelly).
One of my last stops today will be at CAPISE to drop off some pictures to send back to the communities that I visited and also to say thank you and good-byes.
I hope all of you received the postcards I sent and if not hopefully you’ll receive them by the time I see you next. Thank you to everyone that has helped me along the way and thank you for all the emails and support from home.
Starting on Wednesday (Aug 1), I am going to take advantage of already being in Mexico to travel north to hang out at the beach for a while with my sister and my wife before returning to Minnesota. Enjoy the rest of your summer where ever you are, I have heard that is has been quite hot the past month in the upper Midwest, I hope it passes by the time I return home. Un fuerte abrazo para todos and I’ll see you all at the end of August. We’ll talk soon – Te jk’opon jbatik ta yan k’ka’al – the Tzotzil (Bats’I K’op) sounds better.

From the mountains of the Mexican southeast, JT

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ven a bailar con nosotros!

Hola compas! I have returned yet again to San Cristóbal after a very intense few days of preparation and a grueling excursion with an organization called CAPISE (the link to their website is at the right). This time around the work was much more intense than the work with Frayba. We visited Caracol V “Roberto Barrios” first to meet with the Junta and to be authorized to go work in communities that are in resistance. The Brigadas were created by the “Comosión Sexta” from the Caracoles asking that national and international people visit territories and communities that are under constant threat of being pushed off their land. We visited a total of three communities in order to listen to their stories and to document the multiple human rights abuses that are occurring. It is so sad to see big political party murals painted on the walls and on the side of government vehicles, including the police, with saying like “Chiapas – deeds, not words” or “Working for all of Chiapas” when it is blatantly obvious that a large part of the population is being excluded though a strong and conscious effort of the state and local government with help from paramilitaries.
Again, the communities we stayed in and the people who received us were amazing and very happy that we had come to visit. We were in the “Zona Norte” and let me tell you, it was/is hot! In the North and North eastern part of Chiapas the main language spoken is Ch’ol, so I wasn’t able to use the Tzotzil I have been learning over the last month, but some of the kids were more than eager to try to teach you some. From what I was able to understand from the Ch’ol/Spanish mixed conversations children do not being to learn Spanish until they are about 9 or 10 years old. So few of the children speak Spanish, the women almost never (very few exceptions), but usually most of the men speak Spanish to an extent. Spanish is a second language for me as well so we usually joked about the time and effort required to learn a foreign language. One of the great things is that we were always learning from each other, especially language. I’m not sure how useful some of the words and phrases I learned are….for examples, the Tzeltal word for “slingshot” is “ule”. (A lot of the little boys carried them around). Also, the Tzeltal word for “star” is “ek”. Ch’ol for “let’s go bathe (in the river)” is “k’uts’e u’me” (spelling?). Where some of the boys would teach me how to look for ocote (wood with dried tree sap that helped to start fires quickly) and teach me about very “local knowledge”, and I would tell them about how fast airplanes go. The people were always very grateful that you came to visit and walk and talk with them in this time of struggle, hoping someday they could get on an airplane that travels 950Km per hour to come visit you to learn how you live and how you resist “el mal gobierno”.
It was very eye opening seeing how isolated many of the places we visited are. Some days we traveled up to 8 hours in the back of 5 different pick-up trucks but only covered a distance of 120 km, which speaks to the lack of infrastructure proving that the state and local governments are not really “Working for Chiapas”.
I’m going to spend my last 2 weeks here in San Cristóbal trying to help CAPISE revise the documentation/interview form/guide that is used by brigadistas to try to record as much information as possible when visiting communities.
This weekend, however, we plan to attend the Encuentros. The Encuentros begin this Friday, July 20th at Caracol “Oventik” about an hour north of San Cristóbal. The Encuentros will be a chance for the rest of the world, with an invitation from all the communities living in resistance, to practice what the Zapatistas try to do daily. There will be round table discussions to learn about the current situations in Chiapas concerning health, education, organizing, work, autonomy, women’s rights, etc. The idea is to observe, listen, and ask questions in order to understand how others resist and organize but to also learn more about oneself and to reflect on the work that is being done in your community as well as here in Chiapas. We will be going to Oventik for sure, but I am not quite sure if we will make it to Caracol Morelia. Our Brigada did receive, however, a direct invitation from the Junta de Buen Gobierno at Caracol Roberto Barrios to attend the Encuentro in Carcol Morelia because the Junta is planning on being there. They want us to “Ven, ven a bailar con nosotros!”, the Junta wants you to know that they are inviting you. “C’mon, come and dance with us!”
I have so many stories to tell and pictures to show all of you when I return. The blog doesn’t do justice to the photos I post. Plus, I have so many stories there is no way I can type them all out on the blog for you all, lo siento mucho pero así es.
I almost forgot, El Sup will be in San Cristóbal on July 19th so we might get a chance to hear him speak, if not we’ll see him at the Encuentros for sure. That’s all for today…keep on resisting!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Li’oyoxuke, K’u xa-elanik?

Tomorrow morning I am leaving on a documentation excursion with the Centro de Análisis Político e Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas (CAPISE), there is a link to their website on the side bar. So, it will be back to the Lacandón Jungle but this time a little farther north. I better explain the picture of our little jungle buddy. My Lacandón guide called the bug in the picture "un chicharro", they don't bite or sting but are about the size of matchbox car and they are loud! I had no idea that much noise could come out of something that size. When they move their wings it sounds like a hollow buzzing/rattling like when you used to put baseball cards in your bicycle spokes, but a lot faster and a lot louder.
Unlike Fray Bartolomé, CAPISE focuses on finding concrete facts that will help create reports and document human rights abuses in Chiapas. The first stop on our 8-day journey will be Caracol “Roberto Barrios” in the northeast corner of Chiapas near Palenque. There, we will meet with the Junta de Buen Gobierno to get out assignment(s). More than likely we will be traveling everyday or every other day on this trip. Depending on the situations in the surrounding communities the Junta will either bring people to us at the Municipios or we will go out to their communities to listen and document their stories.
One of the most difficult things I have had to deal with thus far is the uncertainty. Depending on what happens “today” dictates whether or not something will or will not be happening “tomorrow”. Which means you never know when you are leaving – at what time, when you’ll be back, will a truck/car/van/bus be by to even take you back, are these people coming, should we wait longer, she we ask somebody again (usually the same person). There can be a lot of down time but at the same time the traveling and the work is intense.
I have been taking a Tzotzil class for the last two Saturdays, 3 hours a day, or better said like this… Ta jchan k’opojel ta bats’i k’op. I am hoping to use some of it but again it looks like I’ll be going to another Tzeltal speaking zone. My ears are becoming very tuned into listening for Tzotzil, however. I hear a lot of it at the market and I am waiting for an opportunity to jump in and use what I know.
I may be able to use it more when the “II Encuentro de los pueblos Zapatistas con los pueblos del mundo” (2nd Meeting of the Zapatista peoples with the peoples of the world) come around at the end of July. We are planning on attending the first half in the Caracoles Oventik and Morelia, both in Tzotzil speaking zones. If you want to sign up and attend here is the website: the link is on the side bar as well, and I think you can read it in English. Sometimes I cannot remember what language I heard or read something in and many times it is hard to try to remember the English word for things, it just sounds better and is clearer in my Spanish brain certain words, phrases and ideas.
I will be talking more about the Meetings later and as we approach the dates of the Encuentro. Lek oy, ja’ jech, chibat totiketik xchiuk me’tiketik. (ok, that’s it, see you all later – or more informally – chibat che’e [me voy pues]).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Room with a View

Viva Marcos!

First of all, I am not quite sure how to put two weeks into one blog entry, so I’ll try to give some of the big highlights. . When we arrived in Nuevo Rosario late that afternoon, Moritz and I set up our hammocks and unpacked our backpacks. It was a pretty amazing feeling knowing that everything you were going to “need” and eat within the next two weeks you just carried on your back for half a day. So, let’s see what we have, beans, rice, coffee. Hmmm, what else. Rice, coffee, beans. What is this? Pasta! Yeah! Pasta with beans, rice and coffee. Almost everyday there was someone from the community who brought us tortillas. We had a lot of visitors, the children coming by most often to see what was new. The photo is of Marcos and I playing with my camera. I have more of him and his brother and sister and a few of them wearing my glasses, in which they were very interested. One of the community leaders, sent her husband “el responsable” or “el encargado”, the guy that is in charge of what goes on in the community, to bring us tortillas that she had made. A few days later we stopped by to chat with her and the first thing she said to us was “Did you get the tortillas?” “Yes”, we told her, “they were fantastic.” She went on to say that she was gone for 3 days and she never heard from her husband, (el encargado and her husband) if he gave them to us or not. She was so worried about us receiving tortillas. I was blown away. They both work so hard doing everything in their power for this little community. They are trying to set up an autonomous school, attempting to bring in an health promoter once a week, all at the same time working in the milpa, taking care of their children, etc., etc., yet they were worried about us having tortillas to eat for breakfast.
Sleeping in hammock in the jungle is not as glamorous or relaxing as one may think. The smallest movement or body adjustment just maybe the making of a possible disaster, whether it being the hammock coming untied to the not-so-sturdy “wall”, falling out, or even trying to swat that mosquito buzzing by your ear could cause you another 30 minutes of adjustment before you can get situated to sleep again. My hammock wasn’t the greatest so the majority of the time I slept on the floor. I found a board and I put it on the slanted red dirt/clay floor and then my sleeping bag on top of that and vóila!…a bed. Some nights it was difficult to sleep with the mice and lizards and bugs of every sort coming to visit. The mosquitoes weren’t so bad, what was bothersome was the ANTS! They are huge and when they bite it is 5 times worse than a mosquito bite, but going to the river to bathe in the cool water usually helped soothed our insect bites, if only for a short while.
The river (el Río Jataté) where we would swim and bathe and wash clothes was one of the main disputes between Nuevo Rosario and another community on the other side of the river called Jerusalén. The community of Jerusalén is composed of members of the paramilitary groups OPPDIC and ARIC, both are linked to MIRA (Movimiento Indígena Revolucionario Antizapatista). Nuevo Rosario sits on land re-taken by the Zapatistas, which was previously uninhabited. However, once families began settling there the community from the other side of the river began harassing them. In January 2006 members of OPPDIC entered the Nuevo Rosario and set fire to a corral and some of the land as well as cut down and stole some 28 rolls of fence. In February 2007 OPPDIC returned, this time allowing their cattle to onto Nuevo Rosario land. The cattle destroyed and ate the community milpas (community corn gardens that provide food for the families) and set fire to 300 coffee plants destroying the entire “cafetal”. Again, these are just of few of the violations Nuevo Rosario has had to endure.
The dispute has to do more with land than with politics. The people of Nuevo Rosario state that the border between the two communities is the Río Jataté, which is about a 25 minute, walk from Nuevo Rosario and covers a considerable amount of land. There is a very small stream that encircles about one half of the community that has to be crossed in order to go to the Río Jataté. This stream is what the people of Jerusalén believe should be the border of the two communities. I’m interested to hear of new developments (hopefully we’ll see him at the Encuentros Intergalácticos at the end of July). I left on a Tuesday and there is supposed to be members of the JBG coming by the end of that week to try to sign a deal with the other community to solve the land and border dispute. One thing I keep thinking about is would there be as many aggressions and attacks on Nuevo Rosario if they were supported by the Zapatistas or not?
As we listened to and recorded peoples stories they always reminded us to tell the Human Rights Center to keep sending people like us to live with them in their little community. Just the mere fact that we are there is enough to deter threats and aggressions. Plus, it also allows the families to live and work in peace and their children to play and bathe in the river without the fear of violence from the neighboring community.
The two weeks passed quickly, faster then I imagined. And, I would have never had imagined that it would have been so hard to leave. The people of Nuevo Rosario really touched our hearts not only with their stories, but also with their determination to live in peace and dignity in the face of adversity and violence waged against them in their humble community all the while maintaining some of the biggest and most genuine smiles I have ever seen.
Do you remember the words of John Ross? Well, the people of Nuevo Rosario are truly engaged in a “War Against Oblivion”, it is ever present in their words, their work, and their smiles. Upon saying our goodbyes to the families, one woman step forward and grabbed our hands and said, “Don’t forget about us.” We all had tears in our eyes and even this is difficult for me to type as it already has taken me about 10 minutes just to get this sentence down…
She also wanted us to send “saludos” to our families back in our countries. So, everyone, a big hello and wishes of health and happiness from the people of El Nuevo Rosario, Municipio Autónomo en Rebeldía “Francisco Gómez”, Caracol “La Garrucha”, Tzeltal Jungle, Chiapas, México.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Welcome to La Garrucha

The sign reads, "You are in Zapatista Rebel Territory. It is here that the people govern and the government obeys". No doubts.

"Esta pa'alla, no mas, cerquita"

I’m back. I spent the last 2 weeks in the Lancandon Jungle in a small community called Nuevo Rosario, the picture is in Nuevo Rosario at sunset. When I say small community I mean just that, small. It is made up of 8 families and about 35-40 people in total. I believe in the last entry I mentioned something about going to Nuevo San Pedro, well, that changed. Frayba, the Center for Human Rights, gave us a letter to take to the Zapatista Junta de Buen Gobierno so that they would clear us to stay in a community in resistence to observe and document the situation being lived in Nuevo Rosario.
My friend and I left May 28th, 2007 at 6:00am from San Cristóbal to the town of Ocosingo just north and east. We packed into a 12 passenger van with our backpacks loaded to the gills with everything we would need for the next “15 días” (2 weeks), hammock, sleeping bag, clothes, water purification drops, silverware, a pot to cook our food and make coffee, etc. After the 2 hour winding trip out of the mountains we finally arrived to Ocosingo much to the delight of the woman sitting next to me who made good use of her motion sickness bag. Once in Ocosingo we found the market and next to it a large enclosed parking lot which reminded me of a large airport with trucks coming and going every which way but going out of Ocosingo no farther than 200Km or so. We found a truck that was leaving for Caracol #3 “La Garrucha” at 10:00am. So, we waited around for another 2 hours and by chance met up with two other brigadistas, a Spanaird and a Swiss, who were on their way to the La Garrucha as well. By 10:00am (we didn’t actually leave until closer to 11:00am) it was already blazing hot. We helped a family load their things into the truck along with ours, including their turkeys and chickens. Sitting in the back of a pick-up truck for 3 hours with 7 people, a few young turkeys, a couple chickens and chicks in 100 degree weather, dust blowing everywhere and sticking to your sweaty body with the road winding like a snake, moving from asphalt to gravel to even worse gravel and the driver dodging washed out sections of “road” was quite a rollercoaster ride.
We arrived at La Garrucha around 2:00pm and welcomed by some of the members of the Junta……….At the end add spiel about JBG. The Junta was quite busy so they offered us a place to put our things and we hung our hammocks and waited for our turn. While waiting to present out letter to the Junta, my Spaniard friend and I got in on a game of basketball. As some of you know I’m a hockey player and I know next to nothing about basketball even the Spaniard made fun of my shot saying that it looked like I was trying to throw a shot put. Needless to say us foreigners were taken to school, even though the Tzeltales we were playing with were shorter than us.
Later that evening we finally were able to sit in front of the Junta and present our letter hoping they would give us the ok to leave for Nuevo Rosario for observation. After some deliberation and a few questions that we had difficulty understanding because of the Tzeltal/Spanish mix we were told to wait outside and they would come find us later. It wasn’t until the morning that we finally heard from the Junta that we were allowed to go to Nuevo Rosario for two weeks. By that time, the one and only pick-up truck had already left from La Garrucha to Ocosingo. So we went out and waited at the road trying to flag down any and every car/bus/truck that passed by. Over a span of about 5 hours that was a total of 5 trucks. We finally got in a “camioneta” (pick-up truck) and returned to Ocosingo but by the time we arrived there were no more trucks leaving that evening.
I stayed in a little hotel in Ocosingo that night. I took my last hot shower I was going to have for a while. We got up early and hopped in a “combi” (one of those old Volkswagon vans) and for 10 pesos (less than $1) we set out on the road south from Ocosingo toward Altamirano. About half way to Altamirano we were dropped off at the side of the paved road and told by the driver as he pointed in I don’t know which direction that “Ejido Campet está por allá” (Campet is just over there). We grabbed our packs and watched the combi take off down the road and we just looked at each other in a moment of “what just happened”. It felt like one of those movie scenes where someone gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere and the car speeds off and then there is total silence and the feeling of, well, I guess we’ll start walking.
I was not ready for that hike and it was NOT "just over there". Carrying my heavy pack in 100 degrees walking down the gravel road to Campet with no breeze was physically taxing, I found out real quick what kind of shape I was in. After a solid 30 minutes we made it to Campet. Once we arrived in Campet some little tour guides welcomed us with a million questions, ¿De dónde vienen? ¿A dónde van?, etc. (Where are you guys from? Where are you going?, etc.). A couple of kids were ready and willing to show us the way to Nuevo Rosario. We walked through Campet to the single track trail that would lead us another 25 minutes to Nuevo Rosario. When we got the trail I was already tired and I when I didn’t think this road could be anymore difficult, it was. A switchback trail straight-up the side of this STEEP hill. It was difficult keeping my balance with my pack and the mud didn’t make it any easier, plus every 200 yards we had to cross a barb wired fence. The most important part is that we made it. Obviously, I have a lot to write and to tell and I will stop here for now. It seems like a good place to rest because that is the first thing we did when we arrived in Nuevo Rosario…rest. JT

P.S. I never got to ride on a horse but a few riders passed us along the trail offering us a ride. We refused because people kept telling us that "está pa'allá, no más, cerquita." (It's just over there, a little further), which usually means you have at least another 20 minutes of hiking to do.

P.P.S. I am attaching some information I typed up trying to learn more about how the Zapatistas organize themselves and what is all this business about Caracoles and Juntas de Buen Gobierno. So here you have a very brief overview.
In late summer of 2003, the Zapatistas reorganized the structure of autonomy in the Municipios Autónomas Rebeldes Zapatistas (MAREZ), which would now be administered from Caracoles by Juntas de Buen Gobierno (JBG). The word ‘Caracol’ takes on a double meaning. The literal translation is ‘conch shell’ which represents the Zapatistas’ five political cultural centers spiraling outward from the center and the sounding of a conch shell is used to summon the community to meetings. From these political cultural centers is where the JBG are based. Each Caracol is administered by a Junta de Buen Gobierno (JBG), which is loosely translated as ‘good government committees’. Here I provide a list of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno and the autonomous municipalities they govern.

1. Caracol Mother of Caracoles-Sea of Our Dreams – Meeting at La Realidad (Tojolabal Jungle). JBG “Hacia la Esperanza” (Toward the Hope) – Autonomías: General Emiliano Zapata, San Pedro de Michoacán, Libertad de los Pueblos Mayas, Tierra y Libertad

2. Caracol Whirlwind of Our Words – Meeting at Ejido Morelia. JBG “Corazón del Arcoiris de la Esperanza” (Heart of the Rainbow of Hope) – Autonomías: 17 de Noviembre, Primero de Enero, Ernesto Che Guevara, Olga Isabel, Lucio Cabañas, Miguel Hidalgo, Vicente Guerrero

3. Caracol Resistance Until the New Dawn – Meeting at La Garrucha (Tzeltal Jungle). JBG “El Camino del Futuro” (Road to the Future) – Autonomías: Francisco Gómez, San Manuel, Francisco Villa, Ricardo Flores Magón

4. Caracol That Speaks for All – Meeting at Roberto Barrios (North). JBG “Nueva Semilla que Va a Producir” (New Seed That Will Fructify) – Autonomías: Vicente Guerrero, Del Trabajo, La Montaña, San José en Rebeldía, La Paz, Benito Juárez, Francisco Villa

5. Caracol Resitance and Rebellion for Humanity – Meeting at Oventik (Highlands/Los Altos). JBG “Corazón Céntrico de los Zapatistas Delante del Mundo” (Center of the Zapatista Heart Before the World) – San Andrés Sakamchén de los Pobres, San Juan de la Libertad, San Pedro Polhó, Santa Catarina, Magdalena de la Paz, 16 de Febrero, San Juan Apóstol Cancuc

The Juntas de Buen Gobierno administer five Zapatistas Municipal Rebel Autonomous Zones (MAREZ) grouping together 29 municipalities that includes 2,222 villages, a total nearing 100,000 people (Ross).
The Sixth Declaration from the Lancandon Jungle continues with more detail how the JBG’s are operated: “[. . .] we are passing the work of safe guarding good government to the Zapatista support bases, with temporary positions which are rotated, so that everyone learns and carries out this work. Because we believe that a people which does not watch over its leaders is condemned to be enslaved [. . .]”. Since the initiation of the JBG’s in 2003 there has been continued self-learning and continued exercise of the Zapatista saying “mandar obediciendo”, or “govern by obeying” the will of the community. That is to say the Zapatistas continue to develop their worldview and administer autonomy in the region based on practice. Their experiment with participatory democracy and the promotion of dialogue, meetings, and exchanging ideas with people from the entire world helps build consciousness.