Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Day 2: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

First stop: Na Bolom: House of the Jaguar, created by two explorers, Franz and Trudy, that bought it to keep the Indigenous cultures alive. They came many years ago to explore Chiapas, making first contact with many groups of Indigenous to find out what they needed, communicating on behalf of the government.

The house was amazing, filled with photographs, artefacts, Indigenous instruments, clothing, maps of the exploration excursions. Photos of Franz and Trudy, sculptures  of jaguars and other animals. It felt really spiritual and warm, and respectful to the Indigenous people, who can be so marginalised, and it made me feel so insignificant and lame... just another traveller that comes to take a look but doesn't contribute in any positive way. It made me feel very humble.

After that we'd worked up a (humble) hunger. On the way to Na Bolom we'd seen a sign for a restaurant so we went in and were happy to find a really tiny place for...Mexicans. (They're hard to come by). It was the front room of a house with a few tables, a few locals, and us. We were all served at the same time like in a big event, five people in this small room. Delicious soup with pasta to start, and the most delicious salsa verde ever, which we ate in tortillas (copying a local). Yum! Then we had pollo en mole. Yum, yum, yum! Cleaned the plate without looking up or talking once (oops!). And I mustn't forget the agua de fresa - also delicious. All for 35 pesos - about 2 quid.

Next on the agenda was the Museo de Medicina Maya, about Mayan belief, medicine and practice. It showed all types of plants and animals that are used for various ailments and illnesses, and we watched a video about motherhood, more specifically, giving birth. The woman is on her knees, leaning forwards against her husband who is sitting in front of her. The partera, (the midwife with no medican qualifications) pulls the sash tight across her tummy to help the baby come out, continuing to do so, each time lower and tighter. If the baby doesn't come, she gives her a raw egg and other things I can't remember. Watching it, I thought how incredibly dignified: fully dressed, on your knees when the baby pops out into the hands of the partera, who is standing behind the Mother-to-be.

Next, we searched for the Museo de trajes regionales, and when we had given up and were going, we looked through a doorway and it was the museum. When we walked through the courtyard, we passed by a group of people sitting together, one with his leg out and another man, apparently treating it. I didn't see anything apart from a bare leg and lots of bottles. I thought, someone's curing someone, and then I thought, how random - in the middle of a museum!

There was a room filled with traditional Indigenous costumes, from head to toe, maybe thirty or forty, and they were beautiful. Handmade bags, shirts, shawls, coats, with feathers. Animal skins, intricately weaved with colours. Here were more photos of men, women, groups, of Indigenous. We went from room to room (the curing group moved to a more secluded area), and then we got to a room, of which an entire wall was covered with pictures of burn injuries, and severe injuries that must have come from infections or diseases. There were newspaper articles and thank you letters. It turns out that Sergio Castro is an engineer, but has dedicated his life to treating Indigenous people for free. In one article, I read that the Indigenous don't trust whites or Mestizos (European and Latin mix), or even other Indigenous groups, but many come looking for help from Castro. It described one man who had fallen into a fire and had both legs amputated, and post-op was sent home from the hospital. Three weeks later, when Sergio visited him, his wounds were rotting.

He is something of a guardian angel to those people, with no money and little access to healthcare. He is Godfather to over 60 children - the people's way of honouring him as it is a huge honour to be Godfather in the Indigenous culture. There isn't much information on that museum, but it was so educational and touching, and, I guess, saddening. But with a silver lining. 

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