Zuzka’s Journal Chiapas 2003
Coming from the States, a place of much fear and apprehension at this moment, proved to create an interesting perspective on this tour for me.
Getting past the country tranquility and steep geography of this highland region was a welcome respite from newspaper headlines. Arriving in our first village, Acteal, we descended into it via a steep staircase leading from the road above, well-guarded by elders in traditional white dress and the owners of the stores along the road. We had a huge audience that watched quietly and with great attention, being roused only when we ventured into their midst, typical of many of the audiences we encountered.
Afterwards we were invited to stay in an unoccupied house, and we slowly moved our belongings from the community building, where we had set up, into our room. At the same time, a lecture had begun under the tent in front of the chapel. In the last rows sat the old women and women with babies, and I snuck up and crouched behind their benches, out of my curiosity. One shrunken, toothless grandmother was laughing and pointing at me. She was the image of my clown character, La Abuelita, and I heard her say as she winked in my direction “look, she is just a girl!”
In front, a Christian pacifist group was teaching about other communities in struggle in the world, a map of the world spread out on a whiteboard. The subject: Iraq. Some of questions: How far away is it? What culture do they have, what language do they speak? What religion do they belong to? I thought I could hear the people listening trying to translate their lives into the desert landscape.
In the evening I visited La Tienda de Mujeres with Heather Pearl, which was the village«s store of handmade wares. One of the smaller purses had this embroidered phrase: Tierra sagrado de los martires. There was also a book printed in English about the massacre, whose majority of victims were women. The woman serving us in the store showed us a photograph of her sister in the book and she told us they don«t know where the bodies of the dead are.
That night we all spent a little time socializing with another group of extranjeros (foreigners), about five young men from France, who were travelling through the region acting as observers in these villages. I understood that having foreigners present is an important component of protection for these places. They are the manifestation of a connection with the world as well as providing communication with other communities of the world.
Nuevo Yibelho is a town carved out of a brown slope, dusty and hot, and I was taken out of my shyness by a man, an uncle, who embraced me upon sight. We were immediately treated to food in the house of a newly-made mother and given a room in a hut to rest in afterwards. The performance was a play of two strange looking groups enjoying the sight of each other. Rudi, in his schoolboy suit and wrecked black felt hat, pulled red hankerchiefs out of the ears of jug-shaped women covered in rainbow thread. Que« extra–o!
The only show we had scheduled that wasn’t so well received was a contradiction in terms. The village of Los Platanos (or “The Bananas”, not “Bahamas”, but “Bananas”) was a very conservative town with its community life strongly focused in the activities of the church. The building of the church stood high on an outcropping of the slope where this town was located, and we were invited to change and rest in the brothers’ quarters, a small separate building off to the side. Looking out the window facing away from the church I saw it was all downhill from there. Heather and I made up a patty-cake song for a girl peering into the barred window (Clau-Dia!)as we waited for the church service to end, as we were performing in the open area en frente de la iglesia (in front of the church).
Our spirits were very high and Rudi and I threw ourselves into the pre-show warm-up with much butt-kicking, but I was distracted from Rudi’s magic by the spectacular sunset playing right behind a part of our audience. Because of the smoky atmosphere from the fires burning in this unusually dry season, the sun was a neon orange, and it was framed by a cascade of almost vertical slopes topped with blunt nubs. Long story short, in this otherworldly place, we took an opportunity during the show to sneak into the church and disappear into its cool darkness with giggles and clown glee. We closed the doors and waited a moment, only to emerge with nothing to show for our actions. We were told later, after we ended the show early, that most of the people didn’t like the performance, because it was “of the world”. So the bananas rode out of The Bananas with food for thought and a forlorn cry: “Adios! Los Platanos!”