Final Post

As the last days of Wake Forest class this semester are upon us, professors Dr. Simonelli and Dr. Gatewood are busy grading the students for their overall class performance for the Chiapas program and their final projects.  Below you will find paragraphs from each group of students about their project.  Each group chose a specific way to help out one or more of the cooperatives that we visited with in Chiapas.  Not only did this course provide for an amazing educational experience in a foreign country, but we have been able to incite actual tangible change that we hope will aid the cooperatives in their futures.

Lunatik: Will Owens, Spencer Slocum, Aaron Bullock, Jessica Forkosh

We performed a textile market analysis for Lunatik by writing and publishing a survey which was distributed to friends and family. Our findings follow: for the men’s shirt the band collar just isn’t going to fly. Furthermore, most men responded that having a single breast pocket was a purchase qualifier. Based on the survey, 31% said they would prefer online for buying Mayan clothing. This in mind, we strongly recommended that Lunatik seek out an online platform from which they can distribute their products. We recommend the website and would be happy to help them break into this market if Lunatik asks for help.

Furthermore, we recommend that Lunatik greatly increase their accounting standards which, at this point in time, are hardly visible. By doing so, Lunatik will be better able to track their costs and revenues and be more transparent for microfinance institutions.

At the end of the day, the purpose for Lunatik is their social causes, not market share, revenue growth, and profit. But if Lunatik follows some basic business practices they will undoubtedly be able to generate more profit which they can use to further advance their social causes.

Mayan Curriculum Supplement: Sarah Crosier, Kaitlyn Hudgins, Emily Bachman

This project hopes to explore Mayan heritage by using firsthand information and original writings and illustrations by modern Mayan people in order to create accurate primary source supplements for all ages of education. The results will hopefully highlight important facts and aspects of ancient Mayan culture in accordance with North Carolina Public School Curriculum guidelines, and raise awareness of the modern Mayan people’s livelihoods. Because this was not the focus of our time in Chiapas, the program is in its conceptual stages still. For the project to materialize we will need to identify, with the help of Mayan communities, the appropriate information to highlight in the sources, based on what they think should be communicated in a public school education curriculum. We will also need to gather the quotes, stories, drawings, photographs, and video footage to include in the supplement package, and to create the content of each part of the supplement. Additionally, the curriculum will need to be checked against the public school requirements for the unit and eventually be marketed to and tested by teachers. The pioneer material will most likely be the children’s book and DVD components to be used in an elementary school setting. It would include an informational story book in a “from kid to kid” perspective and format. The book will include photographs and illustrations by modern Mayan children. The format for both the book and DVD should be focused on learning a couple of important cultural aspects, approximately 5 Mayan words, and the similarities and differences between ancient and modern Mayan life. We are really excited about the potential of our project and the impact it could have in classrooms across North Carolina and even in Chiapas.

Maya Vinic: Ellen Hart, Camille Morgan.

For our project, Camille and I originally intended to create an Etsy page for one of the weaving cooperatives that we met in Chiapas. However, upon realizing that there were many unanticipated challenges in this, we decided to adopt the “cooperative spirit” of never-ending flexibility and make up a Plan B on the spot. Because no one had yet taken on the coffee cooperative Maya Vinic for their project, we decided to delve into creative ways and strategies to improve their marketing techniques for the United States.

So the next day we got up bright and early to drive all around Winston Salem, hitting places like Whole Foods, Starbucks, Krankies Coffee, and World Villages to see how they marketed and branded their coffee. Once we started really brainstorming, our project blossomed and took on several different angles. We explored WFU students’ coffee preferences in a survey, and based on what we saw of the image-making strategies of the businesses we researched, we came up with a couple of new prototype coffee bags that Maya Vinic could use as inspiration if they chose. Camille also had some great ideas, like making coffee sleeves out of recycled burlap bags, or partnering with a pottery cooperative to sell coffee mugs.

The project may be completed for the class, but by no means do we intend to stop working to find ways to assist Maya Vinic in their marketing. Currently I am translating documents, websites, and social networking pages, and we are also excited to say that, if all goes well with the taste-testing, Krankies coffee in Winston Salem is considering buying from Maya Vinic as well!

Photography Distribution to all Cooperatives: Caroline Dignes

For her project, Caroline gathered photographs that the students had taken during their time in Chiapas at cooperatives to send to each cooperative.  Since they usually do not have access to good cameras ,these photos will be unique and well done.  Each cooperative will receive their own photographs, which they can then use for marketing and other promotional materials.

Ecopeful Research: Stephanie Edwards, Ella Douglas, Caroline McCandless

Ella, Caroline, and Stephanie independently undertook three various research topics so that once combined and collaborate could assist Emily in her venture of forming a business selling fairly traded goods. By studying the motivations of the Fair Trade movement coming to America, current market strategies of Fair Trade businesses, and the resultant attitudes of consumers towards these strategies Emily will be better informed and can skip the mistakes of former projects and have a more successful beginning. In addition to research directly helping her business, the founding of a Fair Trade Club at Wake Forest University will be looked into. This will help to increase education on the subject to students and will help organize businesses like Emily’s to come to campus and sell their products directly to college students.

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Program Wrapup

Hello everyone!

By now, all of the students are back into their regular Wake Forest routines.  It has only been two weeks since the trip but the rigor of a week of class here already makes that seems like awhile ago.  However, students are not yet done with Chiapas.  As they continue to reflect upon their unique experiences that happened all too fast in one week, they are also in the process of planning and implementing their final projects.  More information will be provided about those as the students turn in their proposals in the coming weeks.

Final Day, March 12

On Saturday, the students had the freedom to spend their last day in Chiapas as they pleased.  Several groups formed and split apart to visit museums in San Cristobal, go hiking, or just enjoy people watching around the city center.

I ventured with Dr. Simonelli, Dr. Gatewood, and Bethany to find the local Museum of Cultural History.  Outside the entrance we encountered an old woman making a traditional Mayan wedding dress on a back loom.  We had the special opportunity to speak with her for a few moments about the dress and she even allowed us to take pictures as long as we bought some of her servilletas, or napkins.  I also could not resist some of the tiny animalitos that only cost about 10 pesos.  Also in the area two young women were selling items they had made, including wool animal figures and handbags.  One of them had a young daughter named Lola, who was wearing the traditional wool skirt, and was definitely the cutest baby I had seen the whole trip.  She allowed me to take pictures as I promised to print out copies to give back to them in return.  Dr. Simonelli explained to me that many foreigners often make those types of promises and do not fulfill them, but I made sure to return later that afternoon despite the pending hailstorm.  The old woman and 2 young girls were so excited when I returned with the pictures that they started happily chatting in Mayan and pointing at different elements in them.  Of course I could not understand what they were saying but definitely felt their gratitude and returned to the hotel feeling quite content.

Throughout the afternoon, a strong hailstorm fell in San Cristobal.  The students who had gone hiking did confront some interesting weather but made it back to the hotel safe in time for the evening events.  Before our final group dinner together at TierrAdentro, the group received a lecture by Dr. Bob Benfer entitled “The Sun in New World Colonial Churches”.  In the churches of San Cristobal, at certain times of the day light beams can be seen emitting from the windows of the domes.  Though this phenomenon has only more recently been realized, many churches throughout the region were built in such a manner that they record when the eclipse occurs.  While I certainly cannot accurately relay all of the astronomy behind this phenomenon, I found it quite intriguing that this is only now being discovered and understood in churches that are a few hundred years old.

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Friday, March 11


Today was our first rainy day, but we still managed to get to the coffee cooperative in Comitán called Tziscao.  It was interesting to visit this cooperative in particular because it is a part of an ejido. Earlier in the week we went Maya Vinic, and Tziscao sells through Maya Vinic due to the licensing that Maya Vinic has allowing them to export. Unfortunately we could not make it to the Lagos de Montebello where other aspects of the cooperative are located. We learned about the cooperatives history, which included programs that taught the production process but fell through to governmental issues in the 1990’s. Rosalín explained to us that his father was one of the founding members of the cooperative and taught him the importance of collective success based on his father’s experiences with liberation theology. Rosalín personalized our experience by allowing us to try some of his coffee. William “Guillermo”  Owens said, “not only was I able to try the coffee, but I also tried a toasted coffee bean straight from the production line, it was good.” We then headed back to the vans where we were off to our next destination:  Amantenango del Valle!

Jess Forkosh and Kaitlyn Hudgins

Amantenango del Valle Ceremony

In the car ride out from Comitán today, we stopped in Amantenango, the place where Dr. June Nash did her research. Dr. Nash described her experiences with Amantenango in the 1960s, when the highways barely enabled passage to the cities and the roads were where the devil Popul traveled. She described the ceramic craft production in Amantenango as a part of the creativity of the Mayan cosmos itself – the gods were artisans, and therefore a sense of pride in creativity is essential to the community of Amantenango. Ultimately, breaking away from a domestically controlled market allowed entry into other products, and led to the figurine production Amantenango is famous for. The marketing techniques have changed, the highway is no longer the means of travel solely for Popul, and products are sold on the highway.  Clay is mined locally, the ceramics are made in the community, and paints are prepared from natural dyes that change color in the firing. As we drove up, large blue roosters with pink, yellow, and green spotted crowns sat in pairs admiring each other’s beauty, jaguars lazed in the sun with graphic geometric spots, and pairs of turquoise, pink, and yellow birds greeted each other. We pulled into the plaza under a gray cloud, and piled out of the vans into the zocalo. Several men and women of the community sat in the church yard across the zocalo. We crossed the courtyard into the church, past St. Sebastian and several lit candles on the floor and glasses of poche (grain alcohol). The men were all sitting on the right side of the courtyard, wearing their traditional ponchos and several with red scarves on their heads indicating their high religious cargoes. The men shook maracas and an elder man played the guitar in a rhythmic repetitive song, as the women sat on the left and listened. We sat in the church listening to the traditional Mayan music while Dr. Simonelli explained they were waiting for the arrival of the black Jesus. It is a particularly special representation of Jesus as one of the people, whose image exists in four churches, the northernmost in Chimayo, New Mexico. As we filed out of the church, everyone began to get up in the courtyard to dance. We crossed the zocalo to the road, to see the entrepreneurs along the roadside and the bright pottery that had caught our eye as we drove in.  Dr. Gatewood found an extraordinary reinterpretation of a traditional Amantenango jug with leopards, and several students bought mugs to bring home. Written on many of the bowls was “Recuerdo de Amantenango de la Valle,” and most certainly we all will, with its bold colors and the rare opportunity to encounter a traditional religious ceremony.

Caroline Dignes

Walmart Visit

Okay.  We admit it.  We went to Walmart.  But it was for academic reasons!
After the untimely arrival of heavy, persistent rains drenching the city of Comitán, we were forced to construct Plan E of the Chiapas marathon.  The radio was somehow mysteriously crediting the wet, grey and chilly day to the mini-Tsunami due to hit the Chiapas Pacific coast, but whatever the reason, it was not a day to drive an hour into the cloud forest to visit the Tziscao Coffee Cooperative at the Lagos de Montebello.  Instead, we had a lively discussion with a co-op leader at the co-op’s roasting location on the edge of Comitán, learning about its particular economic and social organization while drinking good coffee to warm up.  Then, with a little extra time in our schedule, and in need of fresh bottles of water with which to nurture ailing tummies, we decided to visit the newly opened Walmart-at-the-edge-of-the Jungle.

This particular example of globalization sits in a mall, complete with Cineplex, which is literally at the edge of the jungle.  Our interest was in seeing if typical Walmart product lines and prices were replicated in this setting.  Would you be able to buy huge bottles of Ibuprofen, Faded Glory clothing and other Walmart regulars?  And would they be priced in a way that the average Chiapanecan family could afford to buy them?  This Walmart was, if you can imagine it, even bigger than your neighborhood version.  In addition to normal stock, it carries fridges and stoves, mattresses and other household furnishings.  And, as we learned, prices were not much different from those in the US.  With a Mexican minimum wage of $4.50 per day it is hard to imagine that too many folks will shop there.

We asked the members of the Lunatik co-op what they thought of Walmart and they commented that it could put all of the small shops out of  business.  Like our Zapatista friends in the Jungle, they said that they went there one day to see what it was all about, but had no plans to shop there.  In fact, the Walmart complex at the jungle’s edge is a little like an amusement park; a place to take the family to see the attractions if you happen to be passing by.

For us, the visit to the Walmart circus ended with a brief stop to sample the rest of the worst of globalization’s legacy: BK in Comitán.

Dr. Jeanne Simonelli

The Santo Domingo Artisan Market

Right next to the intricately designed Santo Domingo church in San Cristóbal is the Santo Domingo artisan market. Spread out in a park-like area with dozens of individual entrepreneurs, the products throughout this market look exactly the same, making it hard to differentiate one artisan’s goods from another’s. As a result, however, consumers can enjoy extremely low prices. This is the key aspect that separates cooperatives such as Jolom Mayaetik from the individual artisans in the market; the artisans in the market sell the exact same, low quality, indistinguishable goods at low prices while co-op artisans specifically try to differentiate what they sell, either by making it of higher quality or through a unique design, so that they can find their own niche and then sell their goods at higher prices. Unlike other markets I have visited in the past where I am followed and bothered by sellers until I buy or leave the market, Santo Domingo entrepreneurs never approach me, but instead, are usually sitting behind their stand, waiting for customers to come to them. As one of their many customers, I certainly enjoy this calm environment, making me easily want to return, but at the same time, it makes me wonder how sales at the Santo Domingo market compare to those who take on a more aggressive approach as I’ve observed in other markets.

Stephanie Edwards

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The following passages are reflections from those on the trip that cover our adventures of the past couple days.  The students are currently packing and are looking forward to waking up tomorrow morning at 4am to head home!

Thursday, March 10


One of my favorite and most insightful visits was to Lunatik—a woman’s weaving cooperative in Comitán. Lunatik was founded by 4 women in 1994 that had the vision of educating women and children about their rights and the goal of becoming economically independent from the government and the violent men in their lives.

Their goals in tow, the women organized two primary activities. Their main motive was social advancement. They hold workshops for women and children to educate them about the social problems around the issues of gender, violence, and human rights, among other concerns. These workshops are meant to educate, empower, and present possible solutions. One woman said “It is an avenue for expression and awakening”.

To become independent and fund the workshops, the women needed a source of income. To this end, they began weaving and embroidering shirts and other textiles. Over the years, this has become an integral, but not a complete source of income. The women sell mainly to friends and family. At one point, they had a store in San Cristóbal which has a much more robust tourist market than Comitán. This store was not profitable and was closed.

As a business student, I am very interested in the finances behind such a venture. The women didn’t have any form of accounting for their costs. A few months ago they received a 3000 peso loan (approximately $300), which they used to purchase materials for their textiles. They were not sure how many textiles they could make out of the materials purchased, how much material any one piece of clothing used, or even the time it took them to make a given piece. This was incredibly interesting, but troubling to my paradigm which emphasizes tracking costs and revenues at all parts of the value chain. At the same time, though, it reflects their culture and the primary purpose of their cooperative: social advancement. The women went on to explain that they received an order of 1,000 shirts but declined because it would have “turned them into a factory”. I was awestruck. I did a rough profit/loss on the project and they would have made approximately $10,000, though it would have taken them some time to complete the order. Lunatik could accomplish so much for their social causes with that money. At the same time, it provided a wonderful juxtaposition between the pure capitalism that I am preached in school and the social entrepreneurship practiced in Chiapas. Whereas capitalism seeks to profit, get ahead, gain market share: a “perro eat perro” world. Lunatik, one woman explained, did not exist to get ahead financially. Their goal was to take care of their families, to advance their social causes, and “to survive”.

Will Owens

Tenam Puente:

The women of Lunatik walked us through a Maya ritual of thanks and fertility.  It was a unique experience for us as well as modern Mayans who are relearning their indigenous cultures.  We performed this ritual in the partially excavated Mayan archaeological site of Tenam Puente.  The ritual site consisted of a circle of red, white, and yellow flowers.  Inside the circle were four candles – red, yellow, white, and dark – marking the cardinal points.  East was represented with a red candle which means the sun and new beginnings.  The dark candle embodied west which is night, death, and also rest.  North had a white candle which was connected with the ancestors.  South was represented by a yellow candle which shows the fertility of corn.  In the center of the circle was a blue and green candle representing the sky and earth respectively.  These are important colors in the Mayan tradition and are often combined when painting crosses and temples to show the connectedness of the three planes.  With the two candles there was also incense burning in a clay pot, bananas and citrus fruit, yellow and blue corn, and white seeds.  Before beginning the ritual, we had to line up in a single file to be purified by incense to ask permission to perform the ritual.  After that we formed a circle around the flower circle.  Then we attempted to light all the candles, it was okay if they went out but we could not blow them out.  We bowed to the four cardinal points and to the center in gratitude for the gifts of life, fertility, health, rest, and the connectedness of all life.  Then we read about the significance of the day in the Mayan calendar.  We heard about the characteristics of the day and the horoscope of a person who was born on this day.  Afterwards we took a fertility offering by taking some of the corn, seeds, and fruit.  Once the ritual was over we took some of the flowers and placed them on the top of one of the temple ruins.

Ella Douglas and Caroline McCandless

It’s not uncommon in Tojol-ab’al culture for a departure in conversation to last thirty minutes. “I’m going now. Well, you go then.  I’ll see you soon, I’m leaving.  Hope to see you soon, go now”. And so on.  Dr. Louanna Furbee, emeriti anthropology professor from the University of Missouri, spoke with us about her project in revitalizing the ancient Tojol-ab’al Maya language of southern Chiapas.  Dr. Furbee and her husband, Dr. Bob Benfer, work with six other partners in Comitán, Chiapas at the Tojol-ab’al Language Documentation Center. The center is an independent entity aimed at documenting, revitalizing, and preserving the Tojol-ab’al language. The center works with several indigenous communities to promote what they term “contagious education”, the idea that anyone can learn the language and teach it to others.  The center has successfully documented and normalized the language, translated and broadcasted radio announcements, published programs online in English, Spanish, and Tojol-ab’al, and participated in a number of socio-linguistic forums. Currently the center is looking for ways to outreach more into the communities through Tojol-ab’al children’s books, calendars, guidebooks, Bibles, and other educational means.  We enjoyed learning about the Tojol-ab’al Language Documentation Center and efforts made to preserve culture, language, and history of ancient Maya of Mexico.

Bethany Hope Henry, University of Missouri


On Thursday we visited the city of Comitán. There we checked out several cooperatives, toured the Mayan site of Tenam Puente and ended up staying the night. During our stay in Comitán we were able to observe the city and it was a lot different than San Cristóbal, where we had spent the majority of our week. Driving into the city, you would not have known we were in Mexico: we saw a Wal-mart, Sam’s Club, Subway, Burger King, and many more. This city was very commercialized and could have been any town. Later in the day, when I first walked around I quickly noticed that the women dressed in much different clothing than what we were accustomed to in San Cristóbal – they all dressed very western. I did not see one woman in traditional dress during our stay. Also, while walking around there were no vendors on the street trying to sell goods.

The city was beautiful, great Spanish architecture, large walking streets, a huge square and an immaculate Catholic church in the center. When we checked out the main square it was not hard to miss the high-end men’s store or other non-traditional shops. Many members of our group felt the city had a very “European” look and feel. Several of us checked out a guide book and it explained the history of the city and a little bit of background that I believe is the reason for this difference in atmosphere. The city is a “Ladino” city, meaning it is a place where many of the people who immigrated here were not indigenous. The city’s culture developed around values and customs of the non-indigenous life. For example the women who we met at Lunatik were brought up without emphasis on their culture. They are only now beginning to learn and embrace their culture. Only recently however, more indigenous immigrants have come to the city to try and make a life for themselves, but they are not in the city center.

Aaron Bullock

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Topes a Toniná

“There are 113 topes on the road between the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, and the Maya archaeological site of Toniná, just fifty kilometers to the north. One hundred and thirteen concrete obstructions across the highway, designed to slow you down. There are round topes, flat topes, ribbed topes, wide topes, high topes, reversed topes, and if you try to pass through Chiapas oblivious to her ongoing struggle, your heart will be wrenched out, bent, folded, punctured, and you will slow down and see beyond the curtain of tropical flowers and the pyramids and palaces of the Maya past.”

– Jeanne Simonelli, Uprising of Hope, 2005.

Today we all experienced the topes.  Though we were tourists at a historical site, the background of the past few days has given us the ability to see firsthand and also reflect upon the struggle Dr. Simonelli is talking about.  The cooperatives we have visited, and surely the ones we will be visiting soon, were started for reasons that include events we have not experienced personally in the United States.  The massacre of 45 innocent people while they were praying in church incited the start of Maya Vinic to help those who lost family members and who were desperate for a sustainable life.  The theater performances and workshops of FOMMA has given Maya women a chance to not just express themselves as humans but also the skills necessary to create a sustainable and independent life.  These are unique educational experiences that are showing a true side of the effects of development, and will be the basis of our instruments for change.

Below Camille Morgan discusses her excitement about visiting Toniná:

“Mayan archaeology is one of the reasons I chose to participate in this class and alternate spring break.  Today we traveled to Tonina to visit the archaeological remains of a Mayan city-state.  To say I was excited would be an understatement.  After having a very early breakfast we loaded into the vans around 8:00am and took a two hour drive to the site.  The roads were thankfully wider and considerably less sickening than previous van trips.  We had the privilege to follow an amazing tour guide who showed our group all that Tonina had to offer.  To experience that great civilization and to touch the walls of their magnificent structures was truly an honor.  Live music being played in the valley could be heard echoing throughout the walls, really making the ruins come alive with the Mayan spirit. Our group made it up to the eighth level, the top most point of the pyramid; from that point we were able to set eyes on the whole valley below.  It was an incredible sight.  We headed to lunch after roughly two hours of exploration, finished our meals and took a look at the museum.   After another two hour drive we were home again and certainly glad of it.  It had been a long day.  We had braved the heat and the height s to experience Mayan culture in all its majesty.  Only time will tell if we eluded the chiggers!”

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International Women’s Day

In honor of el día de la mujer, our first event on Tuesday was a visit to FOMMA (Fortaleza de la mujer maya), this time just a short walk from the center of town.  FOMMA is a theater group started in 1994 by Maya women from indigenous communities who needed an outlet and a sustainable way to become independent and self-sufficient.  For them, theater creates concienciación, which does not have a direct translation in English but means more or less an “awakening” or “arriving at consciousness”.  Not only does this group provide a means for the voices of Maya women to be heard through performances everywhere, but the center also provides a number of different workshops including learning how to sew, how to use computers, how to cook, and learning about sexual violence, maternal death, human rights, and self esteem.  These are available at the center in San Cristobal but the 6 women of FOMMA also travel into the rural communities to spread their knowledge.

After learning about FOMMA, the women did a performance for us about migration to the United States and how it affects those who are left behind.  During group reflection later in the day, the most important part of this performance, especially for those of us who are from border states, was hearing the other side of the story.  FOMMA does not just do theater about one theme but rather a wide variety spreading from violence, alcoholism, and machismo, to the effects of globalization.   During the discussion following the play, one of the actresses noted that these are such important topics because as they have found in their travels to perform, they are experienced by people all over the world and not just in Mexico.

Below is more commentary on the play by Emily Bachman:

“We had the privilege of watching the play called “Buscando nuevos caminos.”  It was both written and performed by the bilingual women at FOMMA (who speak Spanish in addition to their indigenous Mayan languages).  I was very grateful to see the immigration issue from a perspective other than that of the American press.  By exposing a number of the hardships that these immigrants face, the women emphasized that it is out of economic necessity that these people choose to leave mexico.  At the end they called for the people of Chiapas to stay, fighting for their rights here in Mexico so the home of their ancestors can remain their home and the home of generations to come.  FOMMA works toward this goal by providing the workshops mentioned above and by finding strength in unity.  The women of FOMMA solidified in my mind that Mexican immigration to the US will not simply stop due to the building of a fence or an increase in troops at the border.  If Mexican people are not given economic opportunities at home, they will find them somewhere else.  FOMMA and other cooperatives, therefore, through their efforts toward autonomy and justice for Mexican people, are working at the root of the issue by improving people’s lives so they don’t have to leave home in the first place.”

For the afternoon event the group was able to travel to Chamula, not far from San Cristóbal, to experience the Mayan celebrations of the end of the calendar year.  In the Mayan calendar there are 18 months of 20 days each, which means that there are 5 “lost days” at the end of each year.  It is basically their version of New Year’s Eve.  Men are dressed up in traditional costume for the celebrations and to reenact the Mayan creation myths.  As you will see in the pictures, those wearing the white wool are in traditional attire while those in the colorful outfits with the ribbon hats are the men who are supposed to be monkeys, one of the failed creations by the mother-father gods.  The streets were quite crowded and the bulls were exhausted.  A part of the festival, also seen in the pictures, is that the men in the white wool are in long lines holding onto a single rope, to which a bull is tied in the middle.  There were a couple of these groups, with different bulls, who would one at a time sprint up or down the street.  The men in the ribbon hats would alert the crowd by blowing on whistles, yelling, and sprinting in front of the men handling the bulls.  At one moment, a bull jolted toward a crowd of people, but everyone dove into a shop and the bull was pulled back into the middle of the road before there were any injuries.  This experience was quite an adrenaline rush for all of us.  As long as we watched what the locals were doing, we knew when to dart out of the way.

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Coffee and Weaving Cooperatives

Monday was a long day.  After another breakfast at TierrAdentro, the group headed back to the hotel to jump into our transportation for the next several hours.  Our first stop was at the Maya Vinic central offices on the outskirts of San Cristobal.  We had the chance to receive a presentation from members of the Board of Directors and even the president, followed by a question and answer session.  I can say with confidence that we all learned everything about coffee that we never knew before – from how it is made to how delicate the amount of time spent in shipping is to the quality of the coffee.  From here we had the unique opportunity to visit the area where the coffee is grown, Acteal.  Though it took a couple hours and a little bit of motion sickness to get there, the visit was well worth it.

Below is more explanation about Maya Vinic by Spencer Slocum:

“Our second full day in San Cristobal was jam packed, but very informative. We went to the Maya Vinic Coffee Cooperative where they make Fair Trade and Organic certified coffee.  In 1997, forty five people were murdered in Acteal while they were praying in their church. The coffee co-op was established in response to the massacre because they needed a completely sustainable lifestyle. Today we had the opportunity to meet with the board of directors of Maya Vinic at their office, where they roast the coffee. The president explained to us the process of making the coffee and also the exportation process. Right now twenty five percent of their coffee is sold throughout Mexico and the other seventy five percent is exported to the United States, Japan, Canada and Switzerland. We also got to learn about their goals as a cooperative, which include exporting roasted coffee beans, instead of “café verde”, and establishing themselves as a brand.

After visiting the office, we travelled two hours to the warehouse, where the five hundred associates drop off the coffee beans they have grown. The coffee beans are weighed and they are then paid based on how much coffee they brought. The coffee is then put in machines, owned by the co-ops and the outer skin is removed. After being de-skinned, the beans are sorted based on whether they are gourmet beans or transitional (not fully organic.) At the warehouse we were able to gain a better understanding of the coffee production process, as well as learn more about the history of the co-op.”

The ride back towards San Cristobal was not as bad as coming in, and it did provide an interesting view of rural Chiapas.  It is very mountainous, which I had not expected.  We also passed by many women and children who would stare into the car as we drove by – we are not exactly the type they see every day.

Before returning to the hotel we had a meeting with Jolom Mayaetik, a women’s weaving cooperative.  Though mostly brain dead at that point, the students had the opportunity to learn yet another intriguing cooperative history that was greatly affected by the height of the conflict in Chiapas.  The women of Jolom initially formed a group as a part of another facilitating organization called Kinal in 1991.  When they wanted more autonomy, the women decided to break off and form their own organization that eventually became Jolom.  Relatively, this is easy in the United States.  These are Maya women who did not know one thing about accounting, computers, business management, or even a word of Spanish, and they had to come up with a brand name and cooperative constitution in order to officially register.  But what they did know is that they had the rights as women to choose what productive work they wanted to do, on top of caring for their families.  Today, their woven products are such high quality that they are sold to museums.  Some of the women have even been able to travel to the United States and Canada to sell at anthropology and folk art events.

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