Words to Learn By

For anyone who has learned a second or perhaps third language, they may recall for you how interesting the process can be, particularly those words that seem to be packed with meaning, whether that be strictly information, but also at times nuance, history, and emotion.  My focus in this post is to relay to you some of the more important words (and photos and the end, but please read on….) I am learning through experience, especially via my travels to out-lying communities in which I work.  A hearty disclaimer here to say that I remain very much in the midst of understanding the depth of meaning to the these words from which I learn by, and likely will for another 3 years…..

“Migra” – short form for migracion (migration).  The national department for migration keeps very close attention to the movement of people and goods on the shared border with Guatemala.  I was unbelievably lucky my first trip out to several communities – having not known that we would be entering “border country”, which is patrolled by both migra officials and the Mexican military – on several occasions we were stopped but no one asked me to show identification…whew! a lesson learned, and now I travel with proper ID whenever heading out the “zona fronteriza”.  As a side note, MCC has a presence in this region due to all the way back in the 80’s when MCC worked with Guatemalan refugees who had fled their civil war-torn country to re-settle.  Recently while riding in a truck with a local campesino from the region, he told us of how hard the Guatemalan refugees have worked over many years to make a life for themselves on some pretty hard-scrabble land.  On another occasion, during the normal migra check-points, two young folks in my combi were asked to show papers and then quite handily escorted out….somehow the migra officials can identify those who are Guatemalan, and in particular those who appear to be on the move….

(La) Playa, meaning (the) beach – also related to people on the move, I recently understood the difference between the response to the question “A donde va” (where are you going?).  The response of “playa” without the “La” is highly significant.  Instead of meaning that I am going to the beach (aka vacation), it means I am headed to Playa del Carmen to work in some capacity, as a maid, as an attendant, as a carpenter’s helper….some have commented to me that they enjoy the work, often months at a time before leaving again back home to bring support to the family, while I also heard a sad story of someone who went, and worked in vain for several weeks on the promise of being paid.

Paro – meaning a stop, or in the case of Chiapas, surely means a road blockage in protest of real and perceived injustice (I say real and perceived here b/c I have a hard time understanding the depth of the issues, and so do many others!).  Needless to say, paros are an occasional occurrence – for example recently there have been paros on the highway connecting San Cristobal to Palenque, which travels through many Indigenous municipalities, which includes fascinating cultural and geographical places for thousands of visitors each year.  Issues around rights to access, and the fee usage that goes along (aka, I have to pay say 30 pesos to visit a place of interest….to whom should the money go, and to what end?) with it exist between and amongst the municipalities, and the state and federal governments.  Currently the federal government has an agenda of privatizing more land for big-tourism development, which of course hurts the traditional, small businesses that many families in the region rely upon.  With the history of land expropriation and militarization in this area, tensions run high, and paros are often their focal point.  One day, about 15 minutes after we had left, our combi choffure realized a paro was up ahead…so away we went, coursing through some mountain trails…at one point needing all the passengers to get out and push the combi through a wet section….it resulted in everyone in the combi having a great visit over the following hour (the typical is that everyone is silent/sleeping).

“Madru” (Madrugada) – literally meaning the middle of the night, or 3 in the morning, it is the general time of the day when many campesinos (especially the women) are rising to begin the day’s activities.  Its this word whose meaning has perhaps impressed me the most, as I spend time in the campo and learn about the way of life of Chiapas’ campesinos.  For many of us Canadians, we have often thought of Mexico as a place where things slow down to a more relaxed pace of life, having siesta and all (not that thats a bad thing, I had one today!), BUT I do wish to tell of the incredible hard work, dedication and holding to the value of not complaining, that characterizes the adults and children in the campo.  We have had numerous mornings leaving communities at 4 am, and its not so surprising to me anymore to see men out walking to their fields, women prepping the masa (corn flour for tortillas) for the day, and others getting their produce ready to take to market in the nearest city.  Just days ago, after realizing that several members had a time conflict with a seeding workshop that we had planned, the group asked if we could begin our workshop at 6 am so that no one would miss out!   And they all showed up, some even with their school-age children so as to give them an opportunity to learn as well (the humorous sidenote to my recent trip was the obvious observation that my hands, though I grew up on the farm and am working as an agronomist, are not in the same shape as the campesinos with whom I work…..thus Hilary now keeps picking at the healing blisters and says/asks, “daddy, working in the garden?”).

I have a few more words that stick out these days, and have decided to run a Part Two in this blog post….these include…Ecumenismo, Plaga, Criolla……

Below I have pasted a number of photos and some captions that hopefully give you a sense of the land and people with whom I work.  As a family, in considering both ourselves and the community of San Cristobal / Chiapas, we thank God that his hand is upon us…that he knows our coming and going…that the prayers of many do not go unanswered….and that he continues to redeem our fellowship one with another, and with his creation.

region of Amatenango, south of San Cristobal

high altitude town of Zapotillo

Pacayal Viejo, coffee community way back in the mountains

drying the harvest...1 cup kept me up most of the night!

Don Jorge's garden at Pablo L Sidar

Some women from the group in Pablo L Sidar making "pan" for a fiesta

Vegetables...to feed families and stimulate ecumenical community action!

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