Tag Archives: oaxaca

Learning to Swim

By Randy Jackson

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” — Isak Dinesen

A kind of cultural cornucopia can bring fresh perspectives and new insights. When the land, the people, the climate are all different from what we are used to, it’s possible – if we are open to it – to learn new dimensions about something we thought we already knew. Spending time in Huatulco can offer such opportunities. As an example, in my time in Huatulco, I’ve come to appreciate new aspects of swimming.

I learned to swim as a child. As far as I can recall, like most children, I loved every moment in the water. Water meant playing. Amongst my band of childhood buddies, we named a small island (mostly a pile of driftwood) in the Columbia River after me because I was the first one (of us) to swim across the frigid brown spring waters (in doing so contravening all parental dicta not to do that). When I was a teenager, my high school was located within walking distance of a beach on a recreational lake. With our local hot springs pool below a cloud of shifting steam in the winter, and the coarse cinnamon sand beach in the summer, we teens had swimming meetup places free from parents the whole year round. Swimming throughout my childhood and youth remained synonymous with fun and play.

As an adult I decided to enter triathlons. This decision made swimming a more serious undertaking. Rather than swim for play, I swam for fitness. I began a long process of trying to learn how to perform the front crawl efficiently and for longer distances.

The front crawl is a weirdly complex series of motions performed while remaining face down in the water. Of all the swim strokes, the front crawl seems awkwardly unnatural, unlike anything seen in the animal kingdom. Almost all land animals know innately how to swim, moving their limbs while keeping their heads above water. What we call the dog paddle seems to be THE swim stroke of any animal with legs. However, camels, giraffes, porcupines, rhinos and, most notably, apes can’t swim. As an ape species, we humans have to be taught how to swim.

Worldwide, only about 50% of us know how to swim. The World Health Organization estimates that 320,000 people per year drown. Drowning, the WHO report, is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional death in the world. The CDC reports that in the US, on average, 10 people drown every day. Swimming lessons are not primarily intended to teach people how to have fun in the water, rather, they teach a skill set for survival.

As unnatural as swimming is to people, it’s curious that we humans have such a natural affinity towards water. In Egypt, at a place called Gilf Kebir, cave paintings dating back 8,000 years depict people swimming. How, in the eons of evolution, could a creature afraid of water and without an innate ability to swim – learn to swim? Could there be some evolutionary reason for this skill? Well, maybe – there’s the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.

In 1960, an English marine biologist, Alister Hardy, pointed out that hairlessness is virtually unheard of in the animal kingdom except where the creature spends a good deal of time in the water. He proposed a different evolutionary narrative from that of the mainstream. He suggested that in our evolutionary history, a group of apes were forced, due to competition, to scavenge for food such as shellfish from the sea. This led to certain evolutionary adaptations: principally, to stand erect as the apes would have to do in water to propel themselves and to keep their heads up to breathe. Second, to become almost hairless like other creatures who spend large amounts of time in the water. And third, that humans have an insulating fat layer between their skin and their skeletal system that no other non-aquatic creature has – including the great apes. Elaine Morgan (1920 – 2013), a writer on evolutionary theory, has helped popularize the theory of the Aquatic Ape in her books on evolutionary anthropology (she has a TED talk on this theory – https://www.ted.com/talks/elaine_morgan_i_believe_we_evolved_from_aquatic_apes?language=en ).

In Huatulco, I came to realize that my swimming life, parallel to life overall, had three basic phases. The fun and play of youth, the work and responsibilities of adulthood and midlife, and the quiet enjoyment of things in retirement.

My enjoyment of swimming in Huatulco actually starts as I head out the door for an early morning stroll to the beach. With a towel draped over one shoulder, my swimming goggles in hand, my 3-block journey to the Pacific begins. The street sweepers, the shop owners, and passers-by all smile and greet me knowing I’m off to the beach for a morning swim.

Occasionally, at this beach, I see someone who has outfitted their dog with a lifejacket in the water. This allows pooches, like people in aqua fitness classes, to paddle their limbs madly without much forward propulsion. Buoyancy and propulsion, however, do not necessarily mean swimming. Hippos, who spend about sixteen hours a day in the water, don’t swim. Their dense bodies cause them to sink naturally. Hippos propel themselves by walking or running along the bottom. They have masterful control of their buoyancy by regulating the air in their lungs. They bob along the bottom like astronauts skipping semi-weightless on the moon.

At the beach, the regular morning swimmers are typically returning from their swims when I arrive. Como la agua hoy? Hay medusas? (jellyfish). There is comradery amongst us daredevil adventurers, who, with a bit of practiced swim technique can leave the security of land for that other, and larger part of the planet, the world of water.

This water world offers an engagement with nature like no other. Viewing a beautiful panorama or listening to the crash of ocean waves can be wonderful experiences – except for all the many distractions. For most of us, our minds continue to churn on other things wherever we find ourselves. When immersed in water however, we leave those distractions behind as the “here and now” floods our awareness. And we begin. Reach and stretch and pull and kick – breathe – a rhythm forms – rocking from side to side – breathe – we glide through the water.

Occasionally, I will experience a sense of efficiency and flow that more accomplished swimmers often speak of. For me, those moments are few and brief, but wonderful enough to keep me coming back for more. After all these years, I am still trying to learn how to swim properly. I’m slow and my front crawl needs work, but more than ever before I now understand what I want out of swimming. I seek the quiet thrill of moving through the water smoothly and efficiently. With luck, and more time in Huatulco to practice swimming, I can continue learning new aspects of swimming.

I Do Not Want to Go Back to Normal! Re-Learning the Craft of Storytelling

By Susan Birkenshaw

A friend of mine is a fine art photographer; to keep herself occupied, she has been revisiting her travels by looking at her past virtual albums. She shares one new photo each day with the world and tells us a short story about her memories of that image. She is not following any set timeline or single trip – simply what catches her interest on any given day. As I write this, she states that it is Day 176 of lock-down in Buenos Aires, Argentina – she has lived there for many years and has no intention of changing that even in the face of the pandemic gripping the world at present. My friend is one example of numerous creative ways we are finding of keeping our brains active in the face of difficult and changing times.

In most cities around the world, the options for activities have simply been closed to help the population stay strong and safe. This means – art galleries are closed; restaurants have been forced to shrink their seating, create take-out menus or to simply close their doors; movie theatres are closed; schools for any age are just re-opening (not necessarily a good thing) and even churches are unavailable. The way we survive has changed and isolation has become a new way of living for many.

As we pass the time in isolation, the most common thing I have watched is that many of my contacts share stories of their successes and down times with equal passion. We seem to want to share our “airtime” – written, video call or even new hobbies – with our connections to show we are alive, surviving and moving forward.

After following my friend’s retro travelogue for so many days, I began to ponder what I really miss about my “early days” and to look for a common theme in what I learned as I went through my life. As you probably know from my previous articles, I have been blessed to be able to travel extensively throughout the world, to have lived in several vastly different places and to have experienced numerous cultures. I have learned many things about the history, the arts, and most importantly the storytelling of many of those cultures. So, it is not surprising to me that what I really miss and want to learn more about is just how stories and cultures are passed down through the years.

You might be interested in what triggered this longing – earlier this summer I was looking for something to decorate my freshly painted bright red door and I remembered the trip we had taken to the Canadian Maritimes in 2017. There, the lobster fishing industry had been in trouble for many years, so many people spent their off time and long winters creating folk art from the floats, traps and even the ropes and wires involved in their industry.

I ventured to create a door decoration in the same manner. After a number of tries, I have succeeded with bits of driftwood between four red birds to match the door. I painted each bird in the same manner I had seen in Nova Scotia, using left-over door paint and extra craft acrylics to add a variety of wings, beaks, and tails for simple fun. My project was quite time consuming, complicated and a learning process.

I remembered that the artist I chose to emulate was a man who lives on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. Barry Colpitts carves every one of his pieces to be fun, whimsical and have a story behind it. Family, neighbours and events are all favourite subjects of his. Maybe, after many more attempts, my folk art will shine through as his does. The “Not for Sale” pieces adorn his home inside and out, but if you get there, take a wander into his workshop just to get lost and mesmerized by his stories.

After my folk art effort, I have been wandering down memory lane and remembering that each of my major travel memoirs holds a specific experience of storytelling, passing history from generation to generation.

One of our adventures took us to Machu Picchu. On the way, we stopped for an overnight home-stay at Lake Titicaca (between Peru and Bolivia); this huge body of water is the largest freshwater lake in South America. It is also said to be the highest of the world’s large lakes. It sits at 3810 metres (12,500 feet) above sea level. From the shore, we took a small boat to Taquile Island to “enjoy” our local home stay – from their docks we climbed up another 300-plus feet. The ancestors of the Taquileños, who have occupied the island since pre-Columbian times, paid homage to the Sun God – that’s a lot of cultural stories to be chronicled.

The Taquileños created a small welcome event for us. Each family gave us appropriate garb to wear for this event. My blouse was a beautiful display of large red roses and poppies, with splashes of sunshine, and greenery. The blouse had obviously been lovingly preserved for many years. Once in the communal hall, we learned that the culture had created their own unique method of communication through these blouses. Our group consisted of 16 people – 9 women now dressed in 9 white cotton blouses with entirely different embroidery on the front. We learned that each design represented its family. The stories included their way of life, the background, where they originally came from and possibly even the types of animals that were involved in their lives.

There is virtually no electric power on this island, so before we began stumbling back to our host house in the very dark, we were reminded that the embroidery on each woman’s blouse was specific to each hostess, to each of the homes, and if we got lost or needed help on our way, all we had to do was knock on the next door, show them my shirt and they would get us “home”!

When we were taking our leave the next day, we were also told that it was impossible to purchase one of these beautiful shirts as the husband in each family creates these beautiful works of art. They create them for their new bride for the day of their marriage. His story for and commitment to his coming marriage and the beauty that would be their lives together – all carefully embroidered on his gift. I think that they did not tell us this tidbit until we were done – no damage, no spills and back in safe hands. While this experience was only two days, it truly is one of my most memorable and humbling experiences. I must think that these blouses could even be a burial outfit, as the young women of the culture would receive their own upon their marriage – my imagination runs wild!

Our most recent travels before COVID-19 were to Asia in October/November 2019. Primarily travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia, we had the opportunity to visit and explore a variety of craft shops producing some of the most beautiful things we had ever seen – hand-tooled silverware, lacquerware, and mostly prized intricate scarves in both silk and cotton.

Every Cambodian has a krama – a scarf of various colours and patterns which is widely accepted as the symbol of their country. It is most commonly made from cotton – often woven by the local women and worn and used in a variety of ways – warmth, personal covering, belt, baby carrier, marketing bag (to and from), pet carrier or even mask for protection. In the time we were in Cambodia, we did not see anyone without a krama and if we asked them what it represented, we were often told “everything” – family, practicality, and beauty. Mom usually designed, created, and then passed on the first one – with her stories woven into the threads.

The common theme in each of these craft studios/shops was that the stories and skilled craftsmanship behind had been passed down from generation to generation. The patterns on each product all had great personal meaning to the craftspeople and these interpretations were readily shared. Any questions we had were willingly answered and the openness filled us with welcome.

I find it interesting that my memories of the krama are mirrored by my experience in a vastly different country. Over the ten years we lived in Ecuador, I collected makana, scarves produced with the ikat technique of weaving. I love the texture, warmth, and fine detail of each one. The one atelier we frequented was a short drive from our home in Cuenca, Ecuador. La Familia Jiménez live and work in this small open-air adobe home. Here they work hard to protect and grow the knowledge from generations from long before them in weaving and dying methods.

My memories from my first visit are still strong – they showed us how they used a variety of plants, insects, flowers, nuts, and minerals to make specific colours. The purple is made from part of an insect with a bit of water – add lime juice to this purple – blazing red! Then they showed us how they weave and create each pattern – painstaking patience, back-breaking movements and long hours sitting on the floor in a backstrap loom.

Ikat patterns are often similar to each other; they all have themes of strength and passion, but as time goes on the family ventures out to be a bit more innovative in designs and stories to be told.
The dying process can be months long in a barrel of colour – these colours are then mixed to find the exact colour the artisan has in mind. Tightly wrapped bits of string create a unique dyed pattern. There are never two the same – the designs are personal to each family member and like the background stories, each has a different woven ending. (Thanks, Tina Paul, for reminding me of this.)

Surprisingly, my most enduring learning about storytelling, fables and customs being passed down each generation comes from the Inuit culture. I have learned from Bryce and Natali, the owners of http://www.inuitsculptures.com, that there a number versions of the background of these small fascinating pieces. They all have stories, meaning and value to the carver and the collector alike.

In the beginning days of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company (circa 1830), the traders found the toys that the Inuit carved for their children were both fascinating and valuable. While the locals simply saw these beautiful, imaginative, and inventive pieces as way to distract and entertain their young ones, the fur traders chose to trade them for day-to-day items. Today they are highly prized and collectible artifacts.

Creating narratives – tangible art or simply the spoken word – has been with us since before history. Right now, we cannot wander the world, and I find myself trying to keep my brain from daydreaming in the past to avoid feeling sorry for myself. My reading has moved from whodunits and biography to stories with more fantasy, history, and mystery. As for telling my own stories, I’m not likely to be taking up the fabric arts or carving beauty out of rock. I’ll be going down the paints and crafts road – a bit messy, but my own stories! Clearly, this will be coming with new adventures, as travel and learning may never be the same again.

Photos for this article were taken by the author, and from http://www.spottedfrog.ca, http://www.incaworldperu.com, http://www.eluniverso.com, http://www.cuencahighlife.com, and http://www.withapast.com.

 

Learning Mexican Spanish

By Julie Etra

Spanish was established as a distinct language around the 13th century, distinct from Catalan and Portuguese, when Alfonso el Sabio (Alfonso the Wise), assembled his scribes in the courts of Toledo to document various subjects, including astronomy, law, and history, thus acknowledging it as a written language. Spanish, like its cousins, was considered a Latin dialect, the Romans having invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 206 B.C. It is laced with Arabic words, such as almohada (pillow), as the Moors, from Morocco, arrived on the Peninsula about 711 (and were conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella in Granada in 1492). It is the fourth most common language in the world, following English, Mandarin, and Hindi. Standard Spanish can be considered Castilian Spanish.

Oaxaca, the name of our home state, is not a Spanish word. It is derived from the Nahuatl word Huaxyacac, which refers to a tree called a “guaje” (Leucaena leucocephala) found in many parts of Mexico. The name was originally applied to the Valley of Oaxaca by the Nahuatl-speaking Mexica, aka Aztecs, who had conquered the region.

Here are some helpful words and phrases to help you with your coastal Spanish.

Let’s start with “cool,” an American word supposedly coined in the 1930s by saxophonist Lester Young to describe something as intensely good.

There are three common ways to say something is cool.
padre (this widely accepted term means “father”)
chido
perrón (literally, “dog”)

And then there is chingón. This is a bit more intense and means something outstanding, super, and is very slangy. Watch it with this word as conjugations have totally different meanings. Chingar, the verb, is very vulgar in Mexico. Chingadazo means easy and quick, as in a quick and easy recipe, but also means a forceful blow. (The -azo suffix is very common, for example slamming a door is a portazo, derived from puerta). And chingadera, well, that means everything is screwed up, annoying, much like the US expression “SNAFU”; it also means to be far away in a nebulous place, as in hasta la chingada. You will hear these, but I don’t recommend using them.

HANDY EXPRESSIONS

A menos que: unless, as in “unless the flight is late.”
¿A poco? and No me digas: Both mean REALLY? As in “Are you kidding?” or “No way!”
¿A ti que mas te da?: What’s it to you?
¿Como vas? ¿Como te vas?: How are you doing? What’s happening?
Con permiso: Excuse me – literally, “with permission,” as in when you want to pass in front of someone; perdon also means “excuse me,” as in when you bump into someone or want to get someone’s attention.
Cuanto antes, en cuanto: as soon as
De vez en cuando: from time to time
Estamos a mano: We are even, as in when you pay your bill.
Mas vale tarde que nunca: better late than never
Ni modo: Too bad, tough luck
Para llevar: to go, as in food to go
Por si acaso: just in case
¿Que tal?: What’s up?
Sale vale: okey dokey
Sin son ni ton: neither here nor there, it does not make sense
Tengo ganas: I feel like it, I have the urge. As in Tengo ganas de regresar a Huatulco – I want to go back to Huatulco! Or Tengo ganas de llorar – I feel like crying.
Vale la pena: It is worth it.
Que pena: What a shame. (Also, que lastima – What a pity.)

HANDY VOCABULARY

Atajo: shortcut
Ballena, caguama: big bottle of beer
Banda: group of friends, clique
Chavo/chava: kid/child
Chela: beer (instead of cerveza)
Degustar, probar: taste, as in try a taste
Disponible: available
Eso (literally, “that”): That’s right, looks good, quite so, thumbs up
Garrafón: the 5-gallon jug of water
Grupo: band (music)
Hielera: cooler, essential for llevando las chelas a la playa
Huevos revueltos: scrambled eggs; huevos bien cocidos: over hard; huevos tiernos: over easy
Lana (literally, “wool”): money
Los invitados: guests, like those coming for dinner, as opposed to huespedes (hotel guests)
¿Mande? ¿Como?: What? Say that again? (used almost exclusively in Mexico)
Nunca: never
Próximamente: coming soon, like a vaccine for COVID 19
Quizás, a lo mejor, tal vez: perhaps, maybe
Pausa, descanso; break (as in take a break) – Tomar una pausa. Tomar un descanso.
Sino: in addition, on top of it

SLANG

Although we extranjeros may not feel comfortable actually “slanging,” we hear a lot of these common sayings.

Dale: Give it your all, everything, best effort
Fresa: snob (literally, strawberry)
Fuchi: smells bad
Güey or wey: dude, as in ¿Que honda güey? What’s happening, dude?
Hasta la madre: fed up
Huacala or Guacala: gross, tastes bad
Hueva: laziness, noun with same import as the adjectives
perezoso or flojo. Tirar/echar la hueva, tener hueva: to be doing
nothing
Porfa: short for por favor, please, Also porfi, porfis
¿Q’ hubo?: What’s happening?
¿Que onda?: What’s up?
Sale, dale, vale: Ok, let’s go! Let’s do it. Also, sale: See you
later.
¡Simón!: Yes! i.e., with enthusiasm
¡Ya basta!: Enough already!

Octopus: Intelligent and Agile, But Also Tasty and Nutritional

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Octopus (pulpo) is a boon for the economy of Mexico. The country is the third largest producer worldwide, with most of the boneless invertebrate mollusk shipped to Spain, Japan and Italy. While there are about 300 species of octopus, most of the Mexican fisheries harvest only two types; Maya (red) and Vulgaris (patón). Almost all (±95%) the nation’s octopi (plural is also octopuses and octopodes) comes from three states – Baja California, Campeche and Yucatán, the latter boasting over 65% of the nation’s production. It’s no wonder that pulpo is such a popular menu item throughout the country.

Inhabiting every ocean, the octopus is really quite a fascinating sea creature, so much so that I occasionally question whether or not I should allow it to continue to be my go-to restaurant dish in high-end eateries. But my taste buds typically trump all.

Octopi are the most intelligent of all invertebrates. Some scientists believe they actually have individual personalities. We know for certain that they are predominantly solitary animals, with uncanny problem solving and survival mechanisms that would make Darwin proud, yet their lifespan is no more than five years, and at times as short as six months.

Octopuses have been known to play with toys, unscrew lids, solve puzzles, interact with human caretakers, display different temperaments including opinions about people, build dens out of rocks for inhabiting, and even place a rock on the entranceway once safely at home to preclude entry by predators (e.g., depending on the particular oceanic region, they include seals, eels, halibut, other fish and even larger octopodes).

While octopi are deaf, their other senses are finely honed. Its head (mantle) contains all vital organs including three hearts, one of which pumps the blue blood through the entire body, and the other two through the gills. The suckers on its arms move independently of one another, enabling the mollusk to grip, taste, smell and manipulate. Each arm is therefore akin to an army of brains. The octopus jet-propels itself seemingly backwards head-first through the water, at a speed of up to 25 MPH. This allows it to easily both avoid predators and catch its meal (crabs, shrimp, young small octopi and other mollusks).

While the octopus is an invertebrate, it possesses a hard beak capable of breaking through the shells of its prey. The octopus’ soft body enables it to contort itself so much so that it can hide in between seemingly inaccessible areas of rock crevices, serving it well as both as hunter, ready to pounce, and hunted, out of sight sound and smell.

Octopuses are venomous, though almost none of the species are so much so that they can be fatal to human beings. However, the venom does serve an important purpose. The venom is contained in its ink; when the octopus is avoiding predators or seeking prey, its release of the dark liquid provides a smoke screen and temporarily freezes the predator/prey.

While everything about the octopus is impressive, its ability to camouflage is perhaps its most incredible feature. On the turn of a dime, the mollusk uses its sharp eyes to match the patterns, colors and textures of its surroundings. Given that it is colorblind, this ability is even more mystifying.

For the seafood aficionado, pulpo contains a large amount of protein, is a rich source of vitamins B3 and B12, and is packed with with potassium, iodine, selenium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.

We tend to relish the opportunity to steam lobster and spice up our lives frying up a plethora of shrimp recipes, but typically omit pulpo from our repertoires that impress house guests. Despite the attributes of octopi noted above, perhaps it’s time to try your hand at a recipe. While pulpo is usually rather expensive in restaurants, it’s much less so if prepared on a grill at home.

RECIPE FOR GRILLED OCTOPUS

For those residing close to the coast, of course it’s advisable to buy your octopus fresh from the fisherman. Do try to get him to clean it because it’s messy and time consuming doing it yourself. Mexican seafood retailers tend to sell them cleaned, frozen and ready to cook. This recipe assumes you are using a cleaned, frozen octopus.

1. Defrost, slowly in the fridge if possible.
2. In a large pot of boiling water, while holding onto the head dunk the body (arms) into the water three times before then fully submerging it and leaving to boil about 40 minutes (theoretically, that makes the tentacles curl up restaurant-style). You can add herbs, spices and/or salt to the water, but it’s not necessary because (a) it’s salty by nature, and (b) seasoning will subsequently be added.
3. Allow to cool for up to a couple of hours.
4. Cut off the arms where they meet the body.
5. Separately cut off the upper portion to close to where it meets the head, and cut into pieces an inch or two in size.
6. Marinate for an hour or so in olive oil, fresh minced garlic, salt, pepper and fresh chopped parsley.
7. Clean and oil the grill (use olive oil), and pre-heat to a high temperature.
8. Turn down the grill to 50% heat and immediately place each piece on it, in the case of the arms for 3 – 4 minutes each side, longer for the upper body portions.
9. Place the nicely grilled pieces on serving dishes, sprinkled with salt, pepper and chopped parsley, then lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Try it this way the first time, then for subsequent preparation experiment with different herbs and spices to taste.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca
(www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

This month at The Eye we have much to celebrate! When we put out the first issue in early 2011, I could not have predicted that almost ten years later we would still be going strong and putting out our 100th issue.

This is also our annual Food Issue and, as a restaurateur, it is one of my favorites to put together. However, this year feels a little bit different for me.

The unprecedented worldwide COVID situation is affecting how we relate to one another. We are reevaluating social norms; shaking hands is verboten, let alone the hugging and kissing which is so common in Latin culture. Standing too close to someone is no longer just rude but is seen as a form of aggression.

The restaurant experience as we have come to know it is changing quickly, with disposable menus, plastic-wrapped cutlery, having your body misted down with disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and of course there are the masks. Suddenly staying home seems a lot more fun.

With this in mind, we return to comfort foods. This is not a time for molecular gastronomy or expensive cuts of meat. It’s a time for eating close to home with seasonal ingredients. Make extra and send it to your neighbor – in sterilized Tupperware, of course!

And we need to evaluate these changes through a wider lens. Yesterday 4,158 people died from COVID while over 21,000 died from hunger. I do not say this to diminish those affected by this virus, but to encourage us to remain focused on the fact that many humans do not have the basics for survival. This ‘new normal’ makes providing those basics even more difficult. There are currently 70 million displaced people across the globe and half of those are women and children. Many are living in one of the various immigration detention centers or refugee camps around the globe. As the world came to a stop, they have not had the luxury of self-isolating. In addition, caseworkers, courts and immigration services came to a standstill, making the already long process they face, even longer.

The world has come to a halt to protect human lives. But why have we not stopped the world for the hungry when their numbers are so great and their power so little?

Thank you to our readers for being on this journey with us!

See you in October,

Jane

Al Pastor and the Lebanese Influence on Mexican food

By Julie Etra

Yum! One of my favorite Mexican dishes is Tacos al Pastor, layers of marinated meat, slow-cooked on a spit with a vertical flame, slivered up and served on a warm corn tortilla with all the side fixings. The spit, called a trompo (“spinning top”) in Spanish, slowly rotates as it cooks the al pastor, which in Mexico is usually pork. Marinades vary, but can mostly be classified as “adobo,” which includes achiote and ground red guajillo chilies, resulting in the reddish colored meat. The pastor part, which means “shepherd,” is derived from the verb pastorear (“to herd”), as this fixture in Mexican street food is actually Lebanese in origin and the corresponding meat was lamb (pigs are not herded). In the Middle East, the dish is called “shawarma,” and originally consisted of spiced lamb roasting on the slow-turning spit and served on pita bread; when it arrived in Mexico, the pita eventually became a wheat flour tortilla (as in tacos árabe). This method of cooking on a rotating spit is also customary in Greek food, e.g., the gyro (think gyroscope), a meat sandwich of beef, veal (oh no, not a fatted calf), lamb, pork, or chicken.

Lebanese Food Comes to Mexico

Records show that the first Lebanese arrived Mexico in 1892, initially concentrating around Puebla and to a lesser extent Mexico City and the Baja. At the time, Lebanon was not a distinct country but part of the immense Ottoman empire. The immigrants were largely Christians fleeing political persecution, and they rapidly assimilated in Mexico.

The first Middle Eastern restaurant in Mexico was opened in Puebla by Yerbagues Tabe Mena y Galeana in Puebla in 1933. Called “La Oriental,” it was located at Avenida 16 de septiembre, #303. Since lamb apparently was difficult to find and expensive, and since the Mexicans preferred pork, the family quickly adapted. Traditional Lebanese spices, such as caraway, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger were gradually replaced with Mexican spices but tacos árabes are in part defined by the wheat flour tortilla, not corn.

The restaurant moved to its current location near the zocalo in 1942; it’s at Portal Iturbide, #5. The sign reads “La Oriental: la cuna del taco Árabe” (“The Eastern: the birthplace of the Arab taco).

Speaking of spices, there are numerous spices not originally Mexican but over the centuries and decades have found their way into Mexican cuisine, e.g., cumin (comino in Spanish) and cilantro.

Cumin, which seems indispensable in so many Mexican dishes, is in fact from the Mediterranean, introduced to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores. Cilantro (called coriander when you are referring to the seeds) is related to cumin, as they are both in the carrot/parsley/celery family. Although its origin remains uncertain, it is also most likely from the Mediterranean and it has been in use as a spice and as a medicinal plant for about 5,000 years. There are references to the use of coriander in the Old Testament (in Exodus) and The Arabian Nights. Coriander, too, arrived in Mexico with the Spaniards, along with cinnamon (canela) and cloves (clavos).

Lebanese Culture in Mexico

Who are some famous Mexicans of Lebanese origin?

Number Uno has to be Carlos Slim Helu, better known as Carlos Slim. I have to assume, dear readers, that most of you know he is the 5th-richest person in the world, the wealthiest Latin American and worth about $68.9 billion US dollars, but did you know he is of Lebanese descent? Slim is the son of Julián Slim Haddad (born Khalil Salim Haddad Aglamaz) and Linda Helú Atta, both Maronite Christians from Lebanon. Slim’s father emigrated to Mexico from Lebanon at age 14, apparently to avoid conscription in the Ottoman army, making Slim first generation on his father’s side. His mother was from Chihuahua, but both her parents were also Lebanese immigrants. The Soumaya Museum in Mexico City – and most of its contents – are the gift of Carlos Slim.

The actress Salma Hayek Jiménez, aka Salma Hayek, is also of Lebanese descent. She was born in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Her father, Sami Hayek Domínguez, is Lebanese, having emigrated from the city of Baabdat, Lebanon. Her mother, Diana Jiménez Medina, is Mexican/Spanish (her maternal grandmother and great-grandparents were from Spain).

The supermarket Chedraui, aka Super Che, is one of the two big box stores in HuatuIco and is part of a chain of super stores founded by the Lebanese immigrants Lázaro Chedraui Chaya and his wife Ana Caram in 1927 in Xalapa, Veracruz. First known as Port of Beirut, this highly successful chain now includes stores in the United States in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas, under the names El Super and Fiesta Mart.

A Brief History of Cooking

By Randy Jackson

Today, perhaps more than any other time in human history, food has been elevated on a cultural pedestal of reverence. The depth of knowledge and appreciation for a wide variety of cuisines among so many people seems to be a cultural characteristic of our times. Celebrity chefs, food shows and food networks, never mind food pictures posted on Instagram, are only a few of the many indicators of this interest. The term “foodie” was first coined in the 1980s and is now in common use. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a foodie as “a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not only out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby.” Travel, immigration, and the abundance of food and ingredients from all over the world have all had a hand in this current cultural obsession with food and cooking. However, today’s modern hipsters of cuisine are only the most recent green sprig of growth in the long history of cooking.

Our evolutionary record shows the harnessing of fire coincided with the growth of the human brain relative to body size. This development took place roughly 1.9 million years ago. Harnessing fire had multiple benefits to humans, but chief among them was that it allowed the cooking of food. Cooking food increases the caloric value and reduces the energy required to digest it. Cooking food also enabled early humans to eat certain tubers and roots that were otherwise inedible.

I think it safe to assume that grilling was the first cooking method. Studies of primitive tribes, even today, show how an animal is cooked (it’s estimated that there are more than a hundred “uncontacted peoples” worldwide, half of them in the Amazonian jungle). The entire carcass is thrown onto the open fire. The fire, along with some scraping, removes the fur. Then as bits of the animal are deemed cooked, they are cut or torn from the carcass and consumed. It’s easy to see the direct lineage of this form of cooking to the tossing of a piece of meat onto the barbeque today.

The earliest dishes beyond grilling were probably soups and stews. There is some evidence from Japan dating back 10,000 years of a type of stew made by putting flesh and water into an animal’s paunch and boiling it over a fire. No doubt soups and stews were being made much earlier than this. Once mankind had figured out how to cook in a container of some sort, it only made sense they began boiling up bits of almost anything they could find.

There is an ancient tradition in Oaxaca – still practiced – of making “stone soup.” National Geographic has a documentary showing this
(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/intelligent-travel/2010/10/04/mexicos_stone_soup/). The cooking method consists of putting water, vegetables, and fish into a smooth rounded depression in the rocky ground. Then a stone is heated on a fire before dropping it into this natural cauldron, and the soup is cooked. It’s easy to imagine how different flavors were discovered by experimentation or by chance when something new was added to the soup or stew.

Let’s not forget about bread. Archaeologists in Jordan have found the remains of flatbread made with wild barley and plant roots – about 14,000 years old, it predates agricultural practices by thousands of years. Societies all over the world have independently found ways to make bread. Mash up grains, add water to make a paste, fry on a hot rock – and presto! For example, the original inhabitants of what is now California developed a complex procedure to make flour for flatbread out of acorns. Source material for bread was everywhere once man learned to harness fire.

Harnessing fire and cooking required greater social organization and division of duties – there had to be fire tenders, wood gatherers, hunters, etc. A central fire also brought people together for longer periods, especially at night, which increased social complexity and likely helped in the evolution of language.

The Important Role that Grassroots Organizations Play in Oaxaca, Mexico

By Pete Noll

As I was thumbing through previous editions of The Eye during the start of our quarantine in amazing Huatulco, I was pleased to see a number of social organizations highlighted. After college, I took the path most followed by many of my peers and began a job in finance and sales outside of Los Angeles. Fortunately, that journey ended when I got the news that I had been accepted to join the Peace Corps and would be going to Guatemala.

Since then, I have transformed my vocational pursuit, or life strategy as I now refer to it, to working in social justice, primarily in the nonprofit sector. In addition, I went back to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to add to my academic portfolio of the theory and practice of public policy and management, with a focus on structural change. I believe that, while far from perfect, the nonprofit sector can provide a space and balance to address many issues that are underserved, intentionally or unintentionally, by the private and public sectors. I would include independent media as a fourth element, although we are regrettably seeing most of the content absorbed by a handful of corporate media outlets.

Since 1997, I have had the opportunity to work in both rural and urban centers in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. I have had the opportunity to un-learn a lot of my beliefs about top-down management and miracle market forces and, ultimately, have discovered the empowerment gained from participatory social processes.

I often refer to two sayings that I believe exemplify grassroots work. The first one uses the image of a person atop a donkey, with the caption “Only the donkey knows how hot the ground is.” You can draw your own reflection. For me, I have been humbled time and time again when I have left my preconceived ideas in the background and observed and learned from the local people and customs. In Oaxaca, the people have deep traditions in community action, like gueza, guelaguetza, and tequio, indigenous words (Zapotec and Nahuatl) for slightly different forms of reciprocity. I have been inspired by those forms of collectivism and solidarity. And thus, to my second adage: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, we go together.” I hold a strong belief that humankind is best served when we can focus on the common good.

For the past 11 years, I have collaborated with Puente a la Salud Comunitaria (www.puentemexico.org); in August I started a position at TASH, Inc. (www.tashinc.org), an organization that helped initiate and grow a nonprofit hospital, La Clinica del Pueblo, A.C., located in San Martín Mexicapam. Since 2000, TASH has been able to support a total of 15 organizations in Oaxaca in addition to La Clinica. During the pandemic, we have also given a grant to a civil society coalition, AMOax (https://amoax.ong.mx/), or Apoyo Mutuo Oaxaca (Mutual Help of Oaxaca), which is giving meals and supplies to low-income families affected by the situation.

One might ask how the Mexican government or private sector supports these organizations. The unfortunate response is their responses are limited, with only about 150 foundations compared to over 86,000 in the United States. However, charity or generosity is complicated and nuanced, as the society and culture practice social contributions in their own ways, such as the solidarity after natural disasters or community support to those who need help. Moreover, differences in tax codes – i.e., whether or not they incentivize charitable contributions – affects giving around the world. Mexico itself has an anti-money-laundering law that makes reporting on incoming funding more of a burden.

In conclusion, if any readers are interested in engaging with any specific areas of health, education, environment, or a whole range of other possibilities, I am a promoter of collaborative efforts and you can reach me at pete.noll@tashinc.org. I live in Oaxaca City, while TASH currently supports projects in the Central Valleys, Sierra Juárez, and the Mixteca.

Mexican Mangos

By Brooke Gazer

Originating in South Asia, the first mango trees arrived in Mexico via the Philippines, in 1779. At one time, China dominated world mango exports, but Mexico now holds that distinction. In 2015, Mexico exported 277,000 metric tons (±305,340 US tons) to the USA, and 368,000 metric (±405,651 US tons) in 2019 – that was 18% of Mexico’s production. While Mexico currently produces many mango varieties, the two most commonly exported are the Tommy Atkins and the Ataúlfo.

Weighing up to two pounds, Tommy Atkins is a large mango covered with a green, yellow, and red mottled skin. Inside this mildly sweet fruit, the orange flesh is juicy but highly fibrous. Originally cultivated by a Florida grower bearing its name, Tommy Atkins may not be the tastiest of all mangos, but it is the favorite among importers throughout Canada, the USA, and most of Europe. This is due to its long shelf life and its ability to be transported with minimal bruising. The Tommy Atkins is grown extensively throughout the Americas and represents up to 49% of all Mexico’s mango production.

The tastier Ataúlfo mango is about half the size, with golden skin and flesh of a similar tone. Unlike the fibrous Tommy Atkins, this fruit has a rich creamy texture, the sweetness of honey, and a relatively small flat pit. It was named after Ataúlfo Morales Gordillo, a grower from Chiapas who developed this particularly delicious variety. In Mexico, Ataúlfos are grown commercially in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and Michoacán.

With its smooth buttery texture and sweet rich flavor, this could be considered the champagne of mangos. And just as the bubbly wine from France is protected for authenticity, the Ataúlfo mango is protected by Mexican Institute of Industrial Property. When other countries began producing and exporting the Ataúlfo, they called it a “Champagne Mango.” In some places, these sold better than the original Ataúlfo, since gringos had difficulty pronouncing and remembering the Spanish name. To make it more marketable, in 2017, the National Mango Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture renamed it “Honey Mango.” Whatever they call it, this is the same sweet fruit with a soft creamy texture.

Mangos are an important part of Mexican cuisine, and this country is proud of their contribution to the mango species. Mexico has not adopted the English names – here it is still referred to as Ataúlfo. Those of us living in Huatulco will have no difficulty remembering the name, which is pronounced A -TOOL-fo, and rhymes with Wha – TOOL- co.

Environmentalists suggest we favor eating locally grown food to cut down on shipping foods over long distances, thus reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. Mango transportation might be an exception. Like all trees, mangos absorb carbon dioxide from the environment and release oxygen back into the atmosphere in a process called carbon sequestration. While trucking the mangos to their final destination inevitably produces greenhouse gases, researchers in Nayarit and Sinaloa determined that the average mango tree sequesters two to two-and-a-half times the carbon emitted while transporting fruit to the U.S. In Chiapas, mango trees absorb seven times the carbon that is emitted. So, whereever you are, go ahead and indulge yourself.

Some people are wary of consuming mangos because they are high in sugar. They are, but they are also low in fat, high in soluble fiber, and rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, copper, and potassium. One cup of cubed mango equals about 100 calories, the same as a slice of bread or a four-ounce glass of dry white wine.

When I serve mangos at breakfast, guests frequently ask how I am able to cut the fruit in half, maintaining a smooth clean surface in the center? The answer is simple – I can’t, the mango is actually cut into three pieces. The center part is reserved for a different use, possibly a smoothie or chopped up and added to salsa. There are so many ways to use mangos, and one of my favorites is mango fish. In this simple recipe I prefer the juicer, less sweet Tommy Atkins.

Mango Fish

This will serve 4 people. I use dorado (which may be called dolphin fish or mahi-mahi up north), but any firm white fish will do.

3-4 Tommy Atkins mangos
oil for frying
4 pieces fish 1” thick, about 6-8 oz each (in Huatulco, ask for dorado en lonja)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 cup white wine
a few shakes of Valentina sauce
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro

1. Peel and slice the mangos, then cut about 1½ cups into ½-1″ cubes.
2. Put the remaining mango into the blender, squeezing all the juice from the skin and pit into the blender. Blend until the mango is a smooth purée. This should give you about 1½ cups of purée.
3. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with the oil and heat it; add the garlic and then the fish. Sear the fish for about 1 minute on each side. Remove it and keep on a plate. Do not wash the pan.
4. Pour the mango purée into the frying pan and use the wine to rinse out the blender. Add that to the pan and use a spatula to stir in any bits of fish and garlic remaining on the bottom of the pan. Add Valentina sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
5. When it comes to a boil, return the fish along with any liquid it may have sweated, and reduce the heat.
6. Turn the fish to coat it with sauce, and continue to simmer until the fish is cooked.
7. Add the mango cubes just long enough to warm them.
8. Place the fish and mango cubes over rice or quinoa and drizzle the sauce over top. Garnish with cilantro.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view Bed and Breakfast in Huatulco http://www.bbaguaazul.com.