Food, Living

It takes a village… the building of our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School

picmonkey-collageI have been involved in several building projects while living in Mexico but none has been as exciting or as rewarding for me as our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School. Located in the village of Zimatan, I wanted the building to fit in with the architecture of the buildings in this rural area. Most of the houses in the village are rectangular with small windows and galvanized metal roofing. Since our cooking classes showcase the beauty and dignity of Oaxacan cooking, our building needed to be a testament to that as well. In the same way a mole recipe evolves using the ingredients of a particular area, our building needed to use materials that were found around us; river rock, stone, wood and I felt the same should be applied to labor.

Village life is very gender segregated. Women in my village are not even permitted to attend town meetings unless they are the ‘head of their household’- meaning they have no husband. So I was more than a little nervous as this project was my first time building without a husband to negotiate and deal with decisions such as where to put the septic tank.

Blandino, the mason, and his two sons, who live in the village, collected rock from around the property to build our retaining wall and patio. In other projects I have been involved with we always ordered our cement blocks already made from the hardware store. Blandino mentioned that Andres, a man in our village, made blocks, so we decided to make them on-site. This decision led to us having a higher quality block, it was about the same price as buying the ready-made blocks, but we also created a job.

Seeing Andres make blocks was amazing. All cement was mixed by hand, poured into molds and then set in the sun to dry. When it came time to get a door, the metal smith in the village made one and the electrician who installed the lights lives just a few doors down.

In the cooking classes I talk a lot about the dignity of what we term ‘women’s work’- cooking, housekeeping, child rearing. My experience of being a stay-at-home mother in Mexico during my daughter’s early years was life changing and forced me to reevaluate my own ideas about gender. It was the beauty of this time that led me to want to give cooking classes.

I always have thought of the cooking classes as a way of shedding light on the dignity of ‘women’s work’ but as I look around the cooking school it dawns on me that the building is truly a testament to the beauty of ‘men’s work’.  Much in the same way it takes a village to make a tortilla; men to grow the corn and women to grind, form and cook it on the comal, our cooking school is the product of a long line of tradition.

For more information about our classes: www.HuatulcoCookingClasses.com

Living

Election Thoughts

libertycrying1

It’s an awkward situation. You can hear your neighbor next door raising his voice, punching a wall, talking shit. Should you say anything? Is it any of your business? It’s so ugly. The voices get louder, he’s calling her all sorts of names, the kids are crying and then a fatal punch… boom.

It’s late. I should be in bed as I have to get up early, but I am drawn to the election results like a bad accident and as the numbers go up in favor of Donald Trump I feel sick. I am not American- is it even my problem? Am I entitled to feel the complete disgust that is washing over me?

I loved the posts earlier in the day of women flocking to Susan B Anthony’s grave because it highlighted the importance of gender in this election- wait… that is still too narrow, as ‘election’ implies that for just this moment, as though it is important- because maybe something just happened. But that’s not it… Gender is ALWAYS the issue. Yet, it is the issue that gets brushed aside like some Mad Men ad exec asking a woman to bring him coffee with a hearty guffaw and then calling her uppity if she dares to protest.

The election season in the US has been a shit-show, a live-Jerry-Springer for those of us on the outside, but during the whole thing I have been amazed at how gender has taken a backseat to ‘black-lives-matter’ and the economy (women still earning 77 cents on the dollar with men in the US) with a gentle pat on the back and condescending ‘we’ll get to you later dear… calm down.’

In many places throughout the world, women are denied access to education, married as children or forced into human trafficking. Gender issues transcend race by being inclusive of the majority of the population and yet in this past election were sidebars. Anti-women propaganda and behavior was labeled ‘inappropriate’ rather than criminal and women’s issues were barely discussed with any real seriousness.

With the results of the US election, I feel a great sadness for the women that came before me. For the first time, it feels like their strides have been too short. I feel sadness for myself and my daughter, for the women in my Mexican village who are not allowed to attend town meetings, for the single mothers of the world, for women earning half of what men earn, for the women who believe their sexuality is their greatest asset, for the women wishing they had a voice in their own homes, for the women who need to work against ‘feeling’ like a victim in a society that victimizes them every day with a worldwide political system that belittles their power.

I am so tired of Donald Trump and the culture of slicing and dicing up our self-esteem and measuring our worth. I am sick of the American media machine that had a female candidate defending being ‘nasty’. Enough! There are more important issues and they involve humanity. They involve slowing down the ‘hate and winning machine’ and working on ‘empowering, cooperation and finding solutions.’

What do you say to your neighbor when you see her the next day with a black eye and a swollen lip? I don’t know.

 

 

Living

Supporting Girls’ Education

PicMonkey CollageFifteen is a magical age- in Mexico it is the time of quinceañeras and celebration as girls teeter on the brink of womanhood. It is also the age of high teen pregnancy rates- especially in lower income areas. The report — “Maternity childhood” Population Fund United Nations (UNFPA) revealed that Mexico is the leading nation in teen pregnancies with the alarming rate of 64.2 teen pregnancies per thousand births. Generally speaking, teen pregnancies are associated with poorer living conditions and the girls receiving lower levels of education. Girls with a higher education level, with a dream for the future and with a hope of success are much less likely to get pregnant.
A few years ago I met Johanne Lalonde in one of my cooking classes. In my classes I talk a great deal about the magic of the tiny village where I live- just 25 minutes from a world-class resort area but a world away- with no telephones, internet and many households still cooking on open fire, growing their own corn and maintaining an incredible amount of self-sufficient living. The village has a kindergarten, an elementary school and a secondary school (grades 7, 8 and 9)- making it possible for children to be educated within the village until that magical age of 15.
I started to notice that while some girls continued studying to high school even though their families now had to cover transportation costs to attend the high school in a neighboring village- many did not. Many got pregnant.
While some studies point to the lack of contraceptive education or acceptance with regards to teen pregnancy. I firmly believe that education, visualization and hope of a future are much bigger factors. Young women and girls need to proactively choose their future.
From this idea, Johanne and I started a program we named ‘Sigue Estudiando’ (Keep Studying) with the goal of keeping girls in school. One girl from each grade in secondary school would receive a scholarship towards her future educational needs.
Unicef reports in their study on gender equality ‘Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.’
When we support girl’s education we are supporting not only the individuals but helping communities to break the cycle of poverty. We are in the second year of the program currently have 6 scholarship recipients and while it is early to track the success of such a program, I have no doubt that it is having a positive effect. I asked last year’s recipients to write a letter to Johanne and I was very moved when one of the young women succinctly wrote that the biggest gift, more so than the money, was the knowledge and encouragement that came from knowing someone was caring for their education.
If you are interested in helping or getting involved please contact me through The Eye.
theeyehuatulco@gmail.com
Currently I am trying to get laptops for this years recipients- if you would like to donate one or have a gently used one that you don’t use, please let me know.