Yesterday was an opportunity to relax and reflect at Las Huertas swimming park. A series of natural geothermal pools and rivers. After a morning of swimming and a picnic lunch, students returned to the retreat center for reflections, a session on global economics, and a discussion on some of our intentions for social actions we plan on taking once back in Canada inspired by our time in Mexico. After supper, our group led the sisters and the CREAR staff in a Eucarist church service and closing celebration. It was an emotional evening and many tears were shed as students began to say goodbye to their Mexico experience. In a few minutes we will begin our long journey back to Regina. See you soon!
Saturday morning after breakfast, students participated in a debriefing and reflection of Friday’s experience in Ahuatlan, then had a session run by the Hermanas de Guadelupe, the Benedictine nuns who run our retreat center. They told us about the long history of the center as well as their work in establishing and supporting base Christian communities in marginalized parts of Cuernavaca. The students then departed for ‘the peoples neighbourhood'(Colonia Alta Vista) a base Christian community in and around one of the main ravines in Cuernavaca. This would be the beginning of a 24 hour home stay experience where small groups would be paired up with local families and become short term members of a Mexican family. The home stay pushed student comfort zones, forced them to communicate as much as they could, to take part in family work, leisure time and connect with a new culture. Student experiences varied greatly socio economically and culturally, and the incredible stories from travellers afterwards demonstrated both the incredible hospitality of the locals as well as the differences between households. One group got to split time between two homes and help care for young children, another group had the opportunity to attend a dance party in celebration of a baptism, two groups were toured around the city and got to see Cuernavaca at night through the eyes of a local, and yet another group attended Sunday morning mass and had an intimate breakfast with the priest afterwards! After spending 24 hours together with families the community came together to celebrate and reflect on the cultural exchange program. Students and families alike were gushing over the experience and the students have not stopped talking about the home stay since. Upon arrival back at the retreat center a fair trade cooperative artisanal market came to talk to our group and to have a chance to sell their beautiful wares. The students have reflections in a few minutes and tomorrow a morning of fun and relaxation at a natural swimming park! Hasta la proxima!
This morning after breakfast our group boarded a bus to Amatlan, an indigenous village one hour from Cuernavaca. The scenery enroute was dramatic with sweeping mountain vistas and striking rock formations. Upon arrival we were recieved and welcomed into the family home of Nacho Torres, an indigenous leader, vetrinarian, activist and spiritual practitioner. Nacho recounted a survey of Nautl history and religion as well as an exploration of the impact of Spanish colonization on the indigenous peoples, more recent economic development based on the private ownership of land and services like water, education and health. After a delicious meal in the Torres family home, Nacho lead the group on a mountain hike to an indigenous sacred site (“place where two rocks meet”) where he lead us in a ‘water ceremony’. We hiked back through the village flanked by an army of local dogs as the sun began to set. Tonight after supper we will take a cabs to the zocalo where students will have an opportunity to see the sites, and shop at the artesenal market. Tomorrow, after morning sessions at the retreat center, students will depart for their overnight home stay! Hasta proxima!
We began our day with a visit to an indigenous village where students learned about the hard work of sustinence agriculturalists by grinding dried corn, making dough, and baking their own tortillas. After a feast with the family, we trekked to the ancient ruin of Xochicalco where students climbed pyramids, and learned about ancient Nahuatl culture. Afterwords we were invited to a community center in a local town to dialogue with anti mining activists who are organizing to protest a proposed Canadian owned open pit gold mine that would displace communities and likely cause considerable environmental damage. After stopping for home made ice cream, eating dinner and reflections at the retreat centre students are now playing board games before what I really hope is an early night. Sorry for the short entry but I need to sleep. Hasta Proxima!
Wow, what an incredible day! Our morning began with a trip to the neighbourhood of La Estacion, one of Cuernavaca’s poorest neighbourhoods. The students spent time dialoguing with mothers in their homes where they learned about the harsh economic challenges facing Mexico’s working class. Afterwards students visited a Mothers cooperative in the area that organizes school scholarships, runs a breakfast program and provides workshops and education for neighbourhood women. A tour of the Cathedral, central plaza and downtown preceded a delicious meal at a local restaurant. The afternoon was spent doing an exercise where students were challenged to purchase things from a shopping list using the daily minimum wage of Mexico (70 pesos per day). While shopping at the massive and very chaotic ‘People’s Market’. After supper and evening reflections at the retreat centre, students are currently trying to fit a days worth of social media into 20 minutes! (Wifi only exists in one small corner of the retreat centre). I have been so impressed with the respectful behaviour and high level of engagement from students today! I am really seeing students impacted by experiences and reflecting in deep and personal ways about the connections these have to their own lives in Canada. Tomorrow, we travel to an indigenous village and ancient ruin site! Hasta proxima!
We are here, safe and sound in Cuernavaca! We arrived at he Retreat Centre at 3 am, slept soundly (and briefly!), and have spent most of the day orienting ourselves to our beautiful surroundings. Our retreat centre is set in beautiful gardens and run by a lovely cohort of Benedictine sisters. We got to know our guides Kim, Ariadna, and Susanna who will be with us for the next 9 days. We had some orientation sessions, a theatrical exercise, did a guided walk around our neighbourhood and even had some time for frisbee, yoga, and Lycra tube games! The students are still a little tired but are in good spirits! We are preparing for dinner right now and tonight have a guest speaker from the National University who will be presenting a crash course on Mexican History. So far all are healthy! Hasta la proxima!
Safe and sound in Toronto. Time to relax, get to know each other and to take stock of why we are going on this delegation. Sitting in the Toronto Airport surrounded by luxery boutiques seems like it might make the contrast between Canada and the developing world even more apparent to travellers upon arrival in Mexico City. Speaking with students it seems many of them have been so busy in recent days with demanding course loads and the chaos of LIT to think about the trip. Now, there is nothing to do but be present and take in the world around them. The enthusiastic comments from travellers when we passed the Burberry and Gucci stores reinforces my conviction that students of privelige can experience profound and transformative growth from seeing the developing world, hearing stories of struggle and walking alongside those doing important justice work. Stay tuned!
While on tour you will encounter amazing places and people and while you might feel an urge to capture everything you see, I would advise you to be as selective as possible when taking photos. Experience the world around you unfiltered without a camera between you and the world and allow yourself to immerse. When you do take a photo be thoughtful about what it is you want to capture and why you want to capture it. Below is a video on taking great travel photos. Check it out
One of the emerging social justice issues you will bear witness to while on our delegation is the struggles that local farmers have over the control of their food supply. The Food Sovereignty movement “claims the right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international capitalist market forces (cf. www.viacampesina.org).”
You will likely encounter the issue of food sovereignty in the local context of central Mexico, but this local context is a very small part of a larger struggle against the global agricultural trend of large scale farming that tends to benefit large corporate food systems. Consider the following videos:
Farming First Video – This is a video that promotes a more farmer focused approach to growing food.
Ted Talk- This Ted Talk relates the issue of food sovereignty to a North American Indigenous perspective. The speaker discusses the way that local knowledge can help to inspire a more just and sustainable food system.
Dr. Vandana Shiva– A big part of the food sovereignty movement involves the saving and reaping of seeds despite the growing control big agribusiness has on proprietary seed technology. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a seed activist and is critical of genetic modification of seeds.
GMO Foods Debate– listen to this radio broadcast where experts on both sides of the issue present strong arguments for and against the use of GMO foods.
As residents of an agricultural province, how do you think the food sovereignty movement relates to farming in Saskatchewan? How might the issues facing poor farmers in rural Mexico be directly related to large scale farming in Saskatchewan?
With a global population predicted to grow to 9 billion people, how can food systems grow to ensure enough food for everyone without damaging the environment and small scale producers?
With it’s natural wonders, colonial Architecture, and close proximity to Mexico City, parts of Cuernavaca can lead visitors to minimize any suggestion that this is a poor and developing part of the world with a large underclass of people living in abject poverty. The two video’s below are intended to allow you to compare and contrast two perspectives on one place. The first is a slide show of the touristic sites of the city. The Second clip is not a tour of a poor neighborhood, just a single pan shot of a drive through downtown that gives many snapshots of daily life.
Consider the ways that homeless people, working class citizens, wealthy tourists from Mexico City and abroad can share space in one city? Based on your limited perspective, what are things the government must do to lessen the issues facing the cities poor?