Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Final blog entry

Sorry for the long silence since our last entry. Needless to say, much has been happening here and we want to let you all know that we are alive and well south of the border. Between the Swine Flu, minor earthquakes, and the daily slaughter of the narcotraficantes, some of you may think that we are in danger, if not already dead. But no, it takes more than a pandemic, natural disasters, and mass beheadings to bring us down!

As for the Swine Flu, it was indeed a reality here, but for the most part contained in Mexico City (DF-distrito federal). In DF they closed all restaurants, bars, theatres etc and they even canceled masses for the first time in over 100 years! Nearly everyone wore surgical masks, and handshaking and kisses were strongly discouraged. Needless to say, the topic dominated the news here and it felt like we were living in a Sci Fi movie. Life throughout the country slowed down considerably as people were told to avoid any place where there may have been large gatherings of people. All schools were shut for two weeks. However, as of two days ago the government proclaimed that the epidemic was under control and the country for the most part could return to life as normal.

Influenza Porcina

(Swine Flu)


P          igs, it appear, are finally getting the

O            pportunity they have so long awaited

R         evenge on the pork-craving, deep-frying

C            arnivores who have so cruelly and thoughtlessly

I           nflicted pain, suffering and death upon them for so many years

N         ew strain of virus, No vaccine

A         nimal Farm Revisited


As for our time here, it is diminishing rapidly. We finished our workshop at the school and it went well. Since we worked with a smaller number of children than anticipated, we still have some sketchbooks and art supplies left. We are getting involved in a center for migrant families near Puebla. It is a very interesting project that is putting together a theatre of the oppressed presentation, cultural performance etc. for a planned visit to New Haven, Connecticut, where most of the men from the village migrate to work. Many of the forty women involved have not seen their sons or grandchildren for ten to fifteen years. We plan to give a workshop to the eight organizers so that they can take over during the summer. The idea is to tell their life story in their sketchbook, so that when we return to Mexico next fall, they can put a book together written and illustrated by themselves. Another project is called Lee Mexico (Mexico Reads) a government program to promote reading in poor areas that do not have easy access to books.  It is a very grassroots organization and offers some very interesting possibilities. Marie has been asked to train teachers at la Universidad Iberoamericana in Puebla, at the "Secretaria de Educacion Publica" and at the school we worked at in Tlaxco.  An avalanche of activity toward the end of our stay!

 The most interesting future projects are near Puebla and Tlaxacala, so we are considering moving nearer to one of those cities. Atlangatepec has been a very good experience, but we think it is time to move on to something new. Both Tlaxcala and Puebla offer much more socially and culturally and we are ready for that now. We went to Guatemala to renew our visas at the end of March and Marie did her workshop in Oaxaca on the way to the border. We came right back into Chiapas where we spent two wonderful weeks, four days on La Palma, a tiny island of fisherman surrounded by mangrove swamps on one side and open sea on the other.  From there, we headed off to San Cristobal de las Casas and the Mayan ruins in Palenque. Mexico is an incredibly diverse country, and we feel very fortunate to have had the chance to explore a small part of it while we were here.

Some of you have requested that we include some of our sketches in this blog, so we will accommodate you.

Hola, Marie here… I will finish this blog with a small paragraph. I have canceled my flight to France. Part of me is really sad not to see my mother and friends but also relieved. I do not think that it is a good time for flying, as the world seems to be flipping out with worries about contamination from Mexico. 

Being here for the last six weeks will allow me to enjoy the peacefulness of Atlangatepec  a perfect place for introspection… Start working on our children's book, a story about the right to not emigrate and how the maguey cactus made that possible for one family.

Reflect upon our 9 months stay in Mexico, and get involved in the migrant center before we leave so we have a better idea of what to expect when we come back in the Fall. Although it took a while for opportunities to present themselves, things have taken off and as we prepare to return to the States, we feel the need to return to Mexico next fall to make our efforts here these past nine months worthwhile.

Beside the projects, I have given two three-day workshops for Mexicans, one in Oaxaca and one in Puebla. I never even considered giving three-day workshops in Spanish before arriving here, but both went very well and I intend to repeat the experience next year.

One of the most important parts of our stay in Mexico has been to realize the importance of the "pedagogic "aspect of what I do and love to do. I have been approached by a few teachers who have asked me to train them so that they can integrate "sketchbooking" into their curriculum. It has been a great experience to be able to share this amazing tool at a different level than my regular workshops, although, I will resume these in Oregon and in Oaxaca in the summer and fall.

Last news…The last night of my three-day workshop in Puebla, Deek tripped on a piece of metal sticking out on the sidewalk and fell face down and broke his nose. He had to get three stitches and was operated on last Thursday. Today, he is looking like his own self, ouuf!


This will be the last blog before we go back to the US. We may not have been very prolific in keeping in touch but what can I say…. We did what we could, considering our life here in Tlaxcala and our limited blogging skills.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

¡Adelante NiƱos!

And so the sketching adventure has begun! Pens, brushes, colored pencils, and glue sticks work their way across white pages. At times silence fills the room, and then moments of adolescent exuberance shatter that silence with a sort of creative chaos. Exactly what is to be expected from a room full of eleven and twelve year-olds. 
We started the workshop right after Christmas vacation by giving each child the materials they would need for the weeks to come. They were thrilled to have their own sketch book and the freedom to put whatever they want into it. 
The first visit focused on personalizing their "portada" (cover). We left plenty of our two-hour time block for a sketch walk to the nearby river, one of the kids' favorite spots. They came back with some fantastic contour drawings and all kinds of natural treasures to glue in their sketch books. This is the first sketching experience for all of them, and they welcome the prospect! They are very receptive to any tips we give them, and seem to be ale to incorporate them into what they are doing quite effortlessly. 
Our second visit introduced the kids to a "Bio-Poem", which they could include with their self-portraits if they so chose. Some of the kids chose to use photographs of themselves for the "portada" and played with colors to add a personal effect. Regardless of how they designed it, they were all extremely original and creative, and they loved doing them. 
We have also been playing a lot with collage, and the kids are doing a great job integrating them into their sketches. Once an idea is presented, they run with it. It is a pleasure to see how uninhibited and eager to experiment they are. 
Sketch walks are a regular part of our visits as they give the kids an excellent opportunity to observe their surroundings in an intimate way. At their age, it is often difficult to slow down and observe. The sketching seems to have a magical effect on them. Instead of roughhousing and running about, they stop, focus, and record.
It is important to not here that are trips to "La Escuelita" in Tlaxco are now much easier and far less time consuming. The reason for this is that we are now the proud renters of "El Vocho" (the bug), a 1984 VW Beetle that belongs to the director of the school. Instead of what was an hour and a half to two hour, three bus, journey, we can now cruise to the school in the comfort of "La Mariquita" as we affectionately call her, in twenty-five minutes. She navigates the potholes (of which there are many) with grace and ease, and despite her many idiosyncrasies, she has changed our lives for the better. Life is good, the kids are great, and the workshops goes very well. We are learning a little more everyday. We are also learning about the intricacies of blogging, so please bear with us as we work out the kinks. Hopefully, one day we will be able to produce a blog that appears the way we intended it to look!
In the next few weeks, we will be starting a four weekend workshop with families from Atlangatepec, where we live. The village is full of history, dating back to the time of "La Conquista", with countless stories, and legends that are still alive. We see it as a great opportunity to combine words and graphics with young and old working together to record them. Each family will get a sketch book, pen, pencil, watercolors, and brushes and will work on the theme of: Un retrato de un pueblo (the portrait of a pueblo). We are looking forward to our new adventure and will keep you posted. Thanks again to all of you who have contributed to this project. Un abrazo a todos,   Marie y "Deek"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Home in Atlanga

Over three months have passed since we left Corvallis. In many ways it seems like yesterday, and in other ways it seems like it was ages ago. But no matter which way we look at it, it is "sin duda" time for our first blog entry.

There seems to be no end to the adjustments we need to make living here. As can be expected, there are "ups" and "downs" as the days pass by, but overall we are happy and realize how fortunate we are to be able to be here, following our dream.

We arrived in Atlangatepec (more affectionately known as Atlanga to the locals) on October 1st, loaded with our personal belongings and two heavy boxes full of sketchbooks and art supplies.
Our house is simple but very wisely designed, with a solar hot water heater, dry composting toilet, and a hay bale and cob bedroom located in back of the house. The surrounding countryside offers magnificent views of intense cloudscapes and smoking volcanoes. The sounds of burros braying and roosters crowing mingle with the clatter of buses bouncing along the rocky, dirt roads. Our adventure has started and we find ourselves in a very new reality. Life is good.

After getting ourselves somewhat set up, we went to visit the "escuelita" in Tlaxco where we are volunteering. As should be expected, there were some kinks to work out, we needed to get a better idea of how the school was organized and where we best fit in. We met with Lula, the director of the school, and after a tour of the school grounds, decided it would be best to start our project with the kids after Marie’s workshop in Michoacan in mid November. Lula felt it would best suit their schedule if I started first with some literacy projects centered upon the environment, and Marie would join in with the sketching workshop after Christmas vacation. Voila, a plan was in place.

The "escuelita" has a total of about sixty elementary age students, all from the pueblo of Tlaxco. The school was founded over forty years ago by our friend Alejandra’s mother, and has a strong environmental focus. It has its own recycle area, vegetable and flower garden, and dry, composting toilets. It is located on the upper limits of the pueblo in a high desert setting, very close to a river, a favorite destination of the kids. Alexandra’s father, Don Carlos Caballero, reforested the surrounding hillsides over forty years ago. The kids spend much time there exploring and enjoying nature. It is an ideal spot to slow down, observe, and sketch.

There is a plaque located in the schoolyard that tells much about the school’s philosophy. It reads:

The problem of the future of our forests is the problem of the generations that will follow us. The kids who attend this school are well in tune with their environment and are being prepared for that challenge.

Our plan is to use the theme of "Our Pueblo, Our Lives" to get the kids and parents to tell the story of their family, school, and community. We will also use children’s literature to serve as a springboard into the process. Below is an example of an activity based on a children’s book entitled " El coyotito y la viejita", which dealt with preserving the environment.

The acrostic poem vertically spells the phrase MOTHER EARTH. Here is the translation of eleven-year-old Adrian’s poem:

M Mother so beautiful and
A loved, you who are so good
D give us something that
R turns the countryside green again and that
E stays green forever
T There will be so many animals
I Iguanas, all kinds of birds
E Beetles off all types
R frogs and toads and fish
R rocks, small and large
A Enormous Trees Adrian H. R.

As we move forward with our project, we realize that we will have sketchbooks and supplies left over, as we will be working only with the older children at the school. As we make friends in the pueblo and become more established, we realize that there is "no place like home". This is where most of our time is spent and where we start to feel a sense of community. So, we have made an appointment to meet with the president of the town council to propose a workshop here in Atlanga at the local community center. In the meantime, it is off to the escuelita tomorrow to fully launch our project. We will keep you informed. Once we get this first blog posted, it will be much less of a technical challenge for us to do a second one. This first blog is proof that you can teach old dogs new tricks! Gracias Paula!
Hasta pronto, Mari & "Deek"