Photo Essays

Culture and Food and Healing (Mexico)

Photos and Captions by Nicole A Zuraitis

The moment I arrived in Mexico, I was immediately drawn to the people: their clothing, their demeanors, their poverty. This man was sitting, alone, with a straw hat that he may have purchased from the local market, on the steps to a small apartment on the stone streets of Oaxaca. He is protectively guarding his scooter, perhaps taking a break from work during the siesta. After taking this picture, I went for a walking tour of Oaxaca with our guide Jose Pepe, who showed our group the city and had us taste and experience Mexican culture for ourselves. Later that day, we went to the Mayordomo Chocolate factory, where I did the most research for my final project, and had a cup of famous Mexican hot chocolate!

Our tour guide, Jose Pepe, took us to the Mitla ruins, Monte Alban, which were situated on top of a mountain. The name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl word “Mictlan”, which means “Place of the Dead”. In the language of the Zapotecans, it is called “Lyobaa”, which means “Burial Place”. I found it interesting that hardly any flowers grew in the large expanse of the ruins: it took us 3 hours to walk the entire space. The only flowers I found were the small yellow dandelions, which sprouted at the roots of the Zapotec mosaic tombs. I am fond of this picture because the tiny flower seems larger than the enormous ruin in the distance. Conceptually, it aesthetically pleases me, and also makes me content to know that I found some life among the 'place of the dead.'

One of the most astounding places we visited was the weaving factory. The people who owned the mill were incredibly nice, and they showed us step by step how they spin, prepare and dye the wool after shaving it off their sheep. This picture is of a weaver who works on this sole rug for an entire 6 months before it is ready to be sold. Each rug that is made in the shop will take different amounts of time to complete. The design of the rug dictates the difficulty level and hours of labor to be spent on it. The print on the wall behind the man is the design the rug will take. For this particular rug, he will personally weave the details of over 200 birds into the wool. Every time he braids a different color of thread through, he manually lifts and closes the bar in front of him. He will do this until the rug is finished, and then immediately start a new one. When he is done with the beautiful rug, the owners will then sell it for maybe $600 American dollars. Such a painstaking art with such little monetary compensation was a real wakeup call to everyone on our tour to show us just how lucky we are.

In all of my travels, I seem to take many pictures of plant and animal life, including flowers. In this picture, I wanted to capture the beauty of the red Oaxacan flowers (my personal favorite), and also the sheen of Oaxaca's famous black pottery. I took this picture at San Bartolo Coyotepec, one of the most important pottery producing villages in the valley of Oaxaca. Doña Rosa Real de Nieto gave black pottery a shine when she accidentally discovered that it could be polished. What was surprising to me was that black pottery is mostly for decoration: the lead in the clay will melt into your food if you cook over the fire with it! However, the black pottery mill does make healthy cookware for those interested. My favorite part of the tour was when we watched Doña Rosa’s son personally make and mold the clay right before our eyes. He would then take a piece of quartz to shine the finished product. The black pottery is a piece of culture only found in Oaxaca, and if I’m lucky I wll be able to experience it first hand again. Until then, I have a picture (and a small jewelry box) to remember it by!

Walking through the streets of Mexico was both intriguing and heartbreaking. On the way to each new experience, whether it was a trip to a Zapotec healing spa, a chocolate factory, a ancient ruin, or just a walk to bravely taste the famous chappolines (fried grasshoppers), you would see so many gypsies and their children running about the streets, grasping your hand and begging you for money. I still find it difficult to walk past homeless people in New York City; impoverished children are impossible to ignore. I find this picture particularly touching because there is one gypsy Indian child (in the handmade cotton dress) and another child, dressed in contemporary fashion, playing together. This picture took place on the plaza in front of the beautiful gold church, Santo Domingo. I thought that encapsulating the unbiased liberty of youth was important here. Children have free spirits and want to have fun at any given moment: it was refreshing to see two children, with different parents and different ways of growing up, sharing the joys of playing together.