The beginning of the end…

August,19th,2014


The beginning of the end…

This journey is almost finished…

IMG_4333

The river in San Rafael

I left San Rafael yesterday, it was a sad goodbye but I leave with my heart full of joy and great memories !

The women prepared us a great meal! They prepared a soup with turkey in it, and some tamalitos (made of corn).

Deborah, Julo and Damaris were there, and we all celebrated at Gilberta’s house.

IMG_4525

Women cooking

IMG_4566

Deborah, Damaris and Julio

It was a busy day, the women arrived at Gilberta’s at 6 in the morning to start cooking. They were all smiling and making jokes, as they always do!

IMG_4531

preparing “tamalitos”

IMG_4567

women cooking

IMG_4530

Berta and Elvira preparing tamalitos

The women gave me a gift! A beautiful black huipil!

They are so nice, I was very moved…

IMG_4557

Abelina teaching me how to do some weaving techniques

They also helped me set up the warp on my backstrap loom, so I could be able to weave on it at my home back in Mexico.

IMG_4535

Abelina setting up the warp

IMG_4558

Me, weaving!

At the beginning of the day we were all very happy, Deborah and Julio arrived at 11am, but as the hours passed we started to feel sad. I couldn’t believe I was leaving that day!

IMG_4572

Eating and having a good time at Gilberta’s

But the hours passed quickly and by 3 in the afternoon, we had to go.

We all had tears in our eyes… it was a very moving goodbye!

But I know it’s not a goodbye.. it’s just a see you later!

 

IMG_4575

Mishel, Karen and me

 

 

IMG_4584

The women and me (and the Handwoven magazine)

IMG_4588

The women and me… the goodbye!!

I’m in Guatemala City right now… feeling kind of strange!

I spent 2 months living with these women and I got used to everything. Things like making tortillas, seeing women carrying stuff on their heads, or walking in the mountains became normal to me.

It’s amazing how we get used to things!

And here I am.. back in the city, where normal things like taking a shower with hot water seem amazing to me!

It was a great experience! One I will never forget.

Our paths cross for a few months, weeks, days, hours…. Seconds! But I will carry these women and their families in my heart for life.

IMG_4392

Berta, Elvira, Fulgencia, Abelina and Gilberta (from left to right)

I learned great lessons and meeting these women with great souls, so connected to nature, will make me a different person.

And I hope you will carry  a little bit of these women in your heart too…

This week Deborah will take me to visit some other places in Guatemala, and I’ll be finally going back to my home in Mexico City on Saturday.

So I say “wiila wiib” (goodbye) to you for now….

This is the END of this adventure… but I’m surely the BEGINNING of more!

 “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nim-

Wiila wiib’

Rocío Mena

 

Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

August 16th, 2014

versión en español

Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

 “Thread is sacred! He knows, and he feels…”

IMG_4407

View form Gilberta’s house

That’s what the women told me, when some of the threads we dyed with cochineal were full of knots, just after we finished washing them.

We were all trying to fix them, and while doing this, they told me:

 “ Threads know…they always know when we are in a hurry or when we are not happy. That is why we need to be in a good mood while working with them.

Right now, the thread is mocking us, because we were desperate to go, and now we are full of knots.

 When we are not happy, is better no to continue weaving or working, because the thread can feel it, and it gets difficult to continue.

 When we are weaving and we are in a hurry, it takes us more time to finish! And when we are weaving without any pressure or bad emotion, everything flows and we finish very quickly.”

IMG_3228

cochineal

IMG_2997

Fulgencia working with threads

All this time, I was very impressed with their ability to untie knots. They do it in such an easy way! Flowing, like dancing with the thread!

Unlike me, sometimes I can  spend  a lot of time trying to untie a knot, without any luck.

Now I understand it! They are like having a conversation with the threads…. And they have a natural skill to work with them!

That’s the way they interact with the world and with nature! Flowing with life…

IMG_4218

Abelina weaving on the backstrap loom

A couple of weeks ago they told me a similar thing about corn.

They say that is better to eat the corn they have planted. Because that way it has more “ uk’ux” , more HEART!

That’s how the old wise mayan men call it.

IMG_4173

Elote (corn)

They say you can feel the connection with corn, because you saw the plant grow and you worked the ground.

It’s like having a connection with all living and non living things! They feel and they listen …and LIFE talks to them in amazing ways.

I eat “Elote” (corn) in Mexico, but I buy it on the stores… This week I ate “ elote” here , they brought it from one of their fields. It was coming fresh right from the field to my hands.

And it’s amazing to tell you… it feels different…!

I would like to think that maybe I felt the corn’s “uk’ux”(heart).

IMG_4081

Elote (corn)

Gilberta’s House

I just moved to Gilberta’s, she has finished her house! Unfortunately I will be staying here only for 6 days! (instead of 13, as I did with the other women).

IMG_4408

Gilberta’s brand new house

IMG_4474

Gilberta

There’s no electricity yet! So we are using candles. It’s a different experience, and I think is ideal to spend my last days here this way… More connected to everything and without any technology.

IMG_4455

Gilberta’s house by night… no electricity!

IMG_4450

candles..candles!

This is my last week here in San Rafael! I can’t believe it.. time passes so quickly!

I’m leaving on Monday.. and it’s sad to think about it.

We have been dyeing this week, in order to make a review, and see if they have any questions!

But I think they are more than ready to continue on their own!

IMG_4461

yarn dyed with cochineal and madder

So don’t miss my last post next week! We’ll be having a goodbye party on Monday!

Deborah and Julio (From Mayan Hands) are coming!

Wiila wiib ‘

Rocío

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The four cardinal points

If you want to read the whole story, from the beginning! Click here.

July 30th, 2014

versión en español

The four cardinal points

For Mayas, the four cardinal points are sacred! They refer to them, and they bless them in a lot of ceremonies!

To me they represent their love to mother earth and nature.

This week, I changed my direction too, I’m staying on the other side of the mountains and closer to town. at Elvira’s house, the place where we have been dyeing since the beginning.

IMG_4141

Elvira’s corn field

IMG_4147

Corn field

Last Thursday we started our day by watching the MAIWA Documentary “Blue Alchemy, Stories of Indigo”. It’s a great film, and it shows stories from all different parts of the world.

I made the translation for them, and they were really touched by the part filmed in Mexico, where they could see an indigenous community dying with Indigo. The women of this community in Mexico make a cross before dying with indigo, just like a blessing, over the pot.

They really liked that, because to them the cross represents the four cardinal points. So now each time we start an indigo vat, we make a cross and we bless the cardinal points.

IMG_4060

Indigo vat

By watching this movie they could really understand where Indigo comes from and how people from other cultures and other parts of the world dye.

IMG_4043

Women reading the books

They are very interested in Natural Dyes, I’ve showed them some books and they really want to learn more about them.

They are even asking for some seeds to plant!

Everyday life

After watching the movie, we started dyieing. And we didn’t stop! Not even on Saturday or Sunday!

We dyed aproximately 70 pounds of yarn!

IMG_4089

Dyed yarn

IMG_4093

Cochineal, osage orange and madder

IMG_4155

Yarn at Elvira’s house

We had some problems…

I decided to grind the dried avocados pits on the coffee machine, but it didn’t work out! And I broke it!

Fortunately, I found out that in the same place they grind corn everyday, they have a coffee grinder. So we went there and they grind it for us! Problema solved!

But we did have to grind the cochineal by hand…

IMG_4073

Abelina and Fulgencia grinding the cochineal (red cochineal hands)

IMG_4053
 It’s really amazing how hard they work and how they do everything with a smile on their mouths!  Always laughing and making jokes!   That’s really something to learn from them.

They never stop, when they are not dyeing, winding balls or weaving, they are taking care of their animals (cows,ducks,hens,pigs), or working on their fields. Plus the normal housework because they all have kids and they need to take care of them.

Good quality is very important to them! and they pay a lot of attention to that.

They told me the other day: “Quality is very important because we want our clients to be happy with the product. If it’s not good enough, we need to find a solution and get better”

IMG_3574

Women packing the kits


Their persistence is incredible!

 Coming next…

We’ll keep up winding balls and making packages !

The kits are already out there! And they are selling like crazy!

Friendship Towel photo from HW

Example of the towels you can make with this kits

You can find them  by clicking here  or in this address:

http://www.cottonclouds.com/shopping/kit_info.asp?id=3074&cat=Weaving&panelID=2

 

Don’t miss my next days here! I will be moving to Gilberta’s and lots of new adventures.

Wilaa wiib’ (good bye in achi)

Rocío

 

 

 

Threads of life

July 13th,2014

Versión en español

Threads of life

IMG_3443

Preparing the yarn for weaving!

This week has been all about threads…about winding balls, counting yarn and weaving on the back strap loom.

IMG_3454

preparing the loom…

I’ve been thinking that winding a thread is just like life.

We continue turning and turning on the wheel of life just like we do on a winder, until we find a knot or a problem on our way, and that’s when we just stop.  Suddenly, we don’t know what to do and we start making the knot or the problem bigger and bigger. Instead of just trying to undo the knot, simply by loosening the threads.

IMG_3750

threads

When I was learning to wind yarn on the wheel, they told me it was very important to never tightening the threads. Sometimes it seems like there’s no way to continue and we get stuck. But we just need to find other way by loosening the threads.     Flowing! Like the river! Like in life…

IMG_3440

Preparing the yarn for weaving

This is one of the many things I’ve learned here! We should keep living! Flowing without making knots.

I’ve been observing how they weave on the back strap loom; they received some new orders so they ‘ve been weaving and weaving beautiful scarves.  I really like the back stripe loom, actually I ‘ve just finished my first piece.

IMG_3754

I’ve just finished my first piece on the back strap loom

Maiz, mazorcas y más (Corn)

I spent this last week at Berta’s house. Living in this house was a different experience, they speak Spanish almost all the time, so it was easier to communicate. The past few days had been about learning and discovering how things are done here.

I learned how they prepare atol (traditional beverage made with corn) and how they prepare some other traditional dishes, like boshbol ( leaves full of corn).

IMG_3553

Boshbol (leaves full with corn)

IMG_3545

Preparing dinner

 

IMG_3559

straining “atol”

I also got to see “the Molino” where they go every morning to grind corn for making “tortillas”.

IMG_3462

“Molino”- grinding corn…

IMG_3522

“Molino” seen from the outside

IMG_3513

Corn ready to make “tortillas”

IMG_3473

I found out that a regular family buys approximately 100 pounds of corn each 10 days. It’s amazing how their whole life turns around corn. Everyday I get more and more evidence on how their whole alimentation is based on corn.

Almost all of them have cornfields, and they eat from their own crop  or 9 or 10 months depending on the season, and then they have to buy the rest on the market.

Berta was saying the other say:

“We prefer to eat the corn that comes from our own field, because somehow it tastes better and we get more out of it. When we eat from the land we have worked, it has more uk’ux (heart).

It’s the heart of earth!  ” uk’ux ulew”      The holy mother earth!

Right now they are worried because it hasn’t been raining, Rain is very important in this season because it’s the harvest time, so if it doesn’t rain soon, all the harvest will be gone and the prices will increase a lot next year.

Coming next…

I’m moving to Abelina’s house this weekend. She is Berta’s sister so I’ll be just next-door.

Days pass so quickly! I can’t believe my days with Berta are over, but I have met wonderful people and I leave this house with my heart full of great memories!

IMG_3740

Berta’s family and me

 

 

A very different world!

June 26th, 2014

Versión en español

Women carrying baskets on their heads while crossing the mountains and the river. Gorgeous shining stones, lightning bugs and green mountains… This is how my life looks like this days!

A whole different world from the one I’m used to.

IMG_2931

View from the mountains

Image

Fulgencia weaving on her backstrap loom

Image

the view from Fulgencia’s house

Fulgencia’s house

IMG_1128

Fulgencia

I’ve been living at Fulgencia’s for the last few days and it has been a great experience for me. Life begins at 5:00 a.m., when the women go to the “Molino”, to grind “maíz” (corn). Then they start preparing “tortillas”,.  They call this procedure: “tortear”. Twice a day, every day this is their life.

IMG_2948

Tortillas on the wood stove

 

 

Actually they tried to teach me how to “tortear”. But apparentely I’m not very good at it! I hope I’ll get better with practice. It was amazing for me to see this, cause even though I’m mexican, I’m from the city , and I wasn’t familiar with this process.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2950

Fulgencia preparing the tortillas

The first day

Let me tell you the story of how we carried things from Elvira’s to Fulgencia’s house. I thought we would have to ask for a pick up or something, because we are talking about 5 women and pounds and pounds of yarn, plus extra materials.  But instead they decided to do it their way! Carrying the yarn and stuff on baskets on their heads. I was so impressed!

We walked for half an hour like that, crossing through the mountains and  across a river. I was having trouble doing that without any baskets on my head! Imagine them!

They look gorgeous wearing their “cortes” (traditional skirts) and the baskets on their heads, walking in the most gracious way.I understood that the clothes they use fit perfectly in their everyday lives.  Somehow crossing  the many rivers is easier when you are wearing a “corte”.

This is the only picture I have for now:

IMG_2883

Elvira and Gilberta carrying supplies on their heads

Languages

They are always speaking in “Achí” (Mayan dialect), and that has been challenging for me, because most of the time I don’t undestand anything they are saying!

It’s easier for me to communicate with children and men, I guess because they speak spanish all the time when they go to school or to work. And I think the women are not used to speaking spanish, since when they are together as a group, they don’t need to.    That just surprises me , I wouldn’t have thought it would be like that!

I know that in other houses they only speak spanish, but we’ll discover that later.  For now my whole world is in “Achi”.

 

The family

Let me tell you about Fulgencia’s family. They are very kind and loving people, and I’ve been able to see how close they are as a family.

Fulgencia and her husband have three children: two boys (14 and 18), and a girl (16).

Her  husband works in Guatemala City, which is hours away, so he only comes home on weekends. The entire family is always involved with whatever a family member is doing.  The other day,  we were winding  yarn to be dyed and the oldest boy was very excited to be helping us.

Her husband also helped us all weekend long, giving us his ideas on how to solve various problems that arose. It is so encouraging to see the whole family involved in every aspect of each other’s lives.

IMG_2892

Fulgencia’s daughter preparing “tamales”

IMG_2872

Fulgencia’s son helping with the yarn

Sons of Corn

It’s amazing to see how their life is! So far away from technology and so close to nature. To the essence of things! They know the process of everything they eat and do.

And this week I could really appreciate this by following the process of corn!      After all, mayas call themselves “Los hijos del maíz” (the Sons of Corn)

IMG_2850

Maíz (corn)

 

IMG_2905

View from the top

Coming next week

We’ll start dyeing at Elvira’s house next week, and then I’ll be probably moving to Bertha’s house.        Don’t miss out on my new stories!

My first trip to Guatemala!

June 13th, 2014

Versión en español

 Arrival in Guatemala!

Image

Guatemala’s view form the plane

So I ended up going to Guatemala last March to work for a few days with the women of San Rafael and help them with the Natural Dye Project.

Deborah Chandler received Donna Brown, Diane de Souza and me in Guatemala City. I had never met them! I arrived to Guatemala, just trusting and excited to meet new people. interested in the same things I am interested in!  Naturally dyeing and community support.

 

San Rafael

Deborah took us to San Rafael, a small settlement four hours away from the capital! We spent four days with the women. Our main goal was to try  to figure out why they weren’t achieving the bright, vibrant natural dye colors they should, on the cotton yarns they were using.

ImageOn our way to San Rafael!

On our way from Rabinal to San Rafael

Image

Elvira’s house, where we did the dying last march

The Natural Dyes Project

It’s important to mention that this Natural Dye Project started a year ago, when Donna Brown and Catharine Ellis traveled as volunteers to Guatemala in order to teach these women the process of natural dyeing so that they could support their income as weavers. They sell their handwoven products to Mayan Hands, at a fair market price. Deborah Chandler, who lives in Guatemala City and is very involved with the Mayan Hands organization, made this possible.

Mayan Hands is a fair trade organization founded in 1989. They work with over 150 women in eight Guatemalan communities.

Brenda Rosenbaum, a Guatemalan/American woman is in charge of it. They will help these women sell cotton yarn kits in the USA. More about that interesting project in a later blog, so stay tuned as I report from the field.

Catharine and Donna taught the women in San Rafael how to dye with natural dyes last year. The idea is to sell cotton yarn to increase their income. Which is less than one dollar per day.

Image

Dying yarn

Image

San Rafael, Guatemala. Small settlement 15 min away from Rabinal

Image

yarn dyed with cochineal

Troubleshooting!

We went to Guatemala this year, because they were having trouble;  the colors were very pale. After having a lot of theories about why they weren’t getting the right colors, we finally were able to solve the mystery!. The mystery? We discovered that they were using baking soda, instead of soda ash !!! In English we can’t really see how they made that mistake, but in Spanish the words are very similar:  carbonato de sodio (soda ash)/ bicarbonato de sodio (baking soda)

So that was the main problem! They weren’t mordanting with the proper product!

Those days were a success, we got the beautiful natural dye colors and then I could see that the women were now very interested in the project!

Image

yarn dyed last march: cochineal,indigo,osage orange,pomegranate, madder, pomegranate/osage orange+indigo for greens.

Image

Dying yarn with cochineal

I can communicate with them in Spanish (even if their first language is Achí, a Mayan dialect) And that’s how I ended up with this Natural Dye Project (Tintes Naturales)

Image

All together at the end of the workshop!

If you want to hear more about this first trip to Guatemala, you can visit the Dyeing2weave blog written by  Diane DeSouza. You’ll find amazing photos and stories!

My trip to the United States

IMG_2244

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

It’s also important to mention that last month, I went to the WARP (Weave A Real Peace) conference in St. Louis, Missouri. I then spent almost three weeks with Catharine Ellis. She invited me to her beautiful home in Asheville, N.C. We spent that time testing natural dye formulas and learning more about natural dyes so that I could be ready to pass this information onto the women in San Rafael!

 

She taught me a lot!! And it was an amazing experience!! Catharine was great and I enjoyed meeting a lot of interesting people!

Preparing myself.. the last preparations!

So here I am for now, in Mexico City, my hometown, preparing for my journey. I’ll be in Guatemala next week. Sharing my experiences and adventures with you!

So don’t forget to register to receive notice of whenever I post a blog, so you too can be part of  my adventure!

I’m sure I will be learning a lot from these women and from this experience, and I hope I will be able to help them too.

Image

Sunset in San Rafael

Until next time, Adios!