Last week we went on an excursion to San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, a small Zapotec town in the mountains near Oaxaca de Juarez, knowing nothing about the excursion plans other than that it would take about an hour to get there via windy, mostly unpaved roads through the mountains. Bonine saved me from puking my guts out in the back of a 15 person conversion van. And the views were amazing.
When we got there, we learned that we would be spending the morning talking to the students, ages 13-15, of the local preparatory school. As we stood uncertainly in a clump in the middle of the giant cement basketball/volleyball court, the students timidly came out of their classrooms and formed a line behind their English teacher. After some insistent prodding by professors on both sides, we formed little groups with the students and started talking to them about their lives, answering questions about Chicago, the US, and exchanging jokes. At one point M and I sang our national anthem at the request of some Mexican students and in exchange for them singing theirs to us. M also jokingly introduced a female Mexican student to all 3 boys in our program after learning that she wanted to move to LA and was in search of an American boyfriend.
After a lunch break, we broke into informal games of soccer and volleyball, and then basketball. It was really fun playing against the students, even though they seriously kicked our butts. Height apparently does not make up for practice, age, and being used to the high altitude.
After the sports matches, we took a guided hike through the mountains. The town, which is still governed collectively according to Zapotec custom, had built cabins using citizens' collective labor and materials, in order to build up an ecotourism industry. So we hiked up to the cabins and then through the mountain pastures, meanwhile learning about a tree worm problem that was decimating the forest, local plants and animals, etc. Of course, we had no idea we would be enduring a vigorous hike, so many students were wearing extremely inappropriate outfits (flip-flops, shorts, etc.). But luckily no one broke an ankle.
At the end of the hike we were treated to a talk by Omar, a guy who runs an NGO called Ollin Tlahtoalli (Zapotec term for oral stories). He has been collecting and videotaping village elders from around Oaxaca, recording their oral histories. But his organization also offers courses on English, sports, literacy, etc. to help improve village life. It was a really inspiring presentation (even if his video editing skills needed serious work).