Picturemy field notes and digital voice recorder
post by Brook
After helping Helen and Alex get settled, I left Oaxaca to spend some time in California.  I knew I was leaving them in good hands in their internship and with their amazing host family.  And I will be back soon to spend the rest of the summer in Oaxaca.
    But for now, I'm in Southern California.  What might be surprising, is that I'm also doing fieldwork on Zapotec here.  There is a large community of Zapotec people in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.  The last three days in particular have involved lots of freeways (the 101, the 405, the 5) and lots of Zapotec.  I've worked with my long-time Zapotec teacher Roberto Antonio Ruiz (a speaker of Tlacolula de Matamoros Zapotec), with another long-time Zapotec teacher and friend, Victoria Lopez (a speaker of San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec), and I got to hear a variety of Zapotec I had never heard before, when I met Moisés García Guzmán, from Tlacochahuaya.  Moisés is involved in a project using and teaching his language on YouTube.  Check out his and his friend's wonderful project here.  This kind of work is so inspirational and important and I was happy to meet Moisés in person and talk about Zapotec.                   

PictureTalking about Zapotec-- and in Zapotec-- at UCLA.
I've had other wonderful company this week, working with linguists Prof. Pamela Munro and Prof. Michael Galant and ethnohistorian Xochitl Flores-Marcial, Ph.D. Candidate at UCLA. 
        One thing I've been doing this past week is making digital audio recordings for an online talking dictionary for Valley Zapotec, supported by LivingTongues.  The Talking Dictionary is still in the works, but we'll be posting a link to the live web page within the next few weeks.  For now, you can listen to a recording of how to say "good morning" in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec (speaker Moisés García Guzmán).

PictureWe're home!
post by Helen
I have to admit, I was a little nervous about leaving home to live thousands of miles away for the summer. I had never been to Mexico before, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Despite whatever worries we may have had, Alex and I now feel completely at home here thanks to our wonderful host family! 
     Our host dad is named Filemón. He and our host mom, Vicki, both grew up in the nearby pueblo of Macuiltianguis in the Sierra mountains. Zapotec is Filemón's first language, and both of our Oaxacan parents have been teaching us  words almost every day! 

PictureVicki making delicious quitoniles from the garden
Vicki has been teaching us how to cook authentic Oaxacan food. Yesterday, Alex and I helped make pollo a la naranja for lunch. Everything we eat is picked from Vicki's incredible garden or bought fresh at a market. While we're there we sometimes pick up chapulines--one of my new favorite foods! It's actually dried grasshopper with chiles, and it's delicious. Alex and I have enjoyed them at family meals with people from all over the neighborhood, as our new parents have introduced us to nearly everyone in the neighborhood as 'nuestros hijas' (our daughters). 

Vicki's also teaching us how to embroider napkins with gorgeous floral designs. I'm so excited to start exploring a new hobby! Alex has made a lot of progress, and is almost done embroidering the stem of a rose!

We also have three host brothers: Andrei, Alan, and Pavel. We haven't been able to meet Pavel yet, as he's still finishing up his year at university. Thanks to Andrei and Alan, we've been able to really experience Oaxaca City from true experts! So far, we've seen a lake in the town San Andres de Huayapan, gotten a private tour of an art gallery in downtown Oaxaca, and seen the new superman movie! Brook has gone home and will be back in July, but she has left us in very good hands...

We're so incredibly blessed and lucky to have such an amazing family to live with for the next 9 weeks! 

post by Helen & Alex
Thursday was our first official day at San Pablo. All the photographs and documents we'll be working with are part of the collection of the anthropologist John Paddock. Paddock and his colleagues' work concentrated in the development of Oaxacan cultures as well as many other Mesoamerican cultures.  Helen and I were a little nervous at first, but we soon got the hang of working with the documents in the archive. We got much more comfortable after meeting Myra and Flor, two wonderful women who work in San Pablo's archive. They've been incredibly nice--showing us all the intricate steps of preserving and organizing Paddock's photos and documents. 

We started by labeling some beautiful photographs of pottery found in archeological excavations in Oaxaca. We then began to sort through different publications, some written by Paddock himself. His collection is incredibly impressive. I've had the privilege  to read correspondences between Paddock and other important anthropologists, archeological articles and drafts written from as early as 1932 to the 1990s, and publications from various academic institutions in Mexico and the United States. Most of what I have handled up until now has been  to do with archeology of Oaxaca and Mesoamerica but his collection goes far beyond that. 

PictureA demonstration in mounting negatives.
Helen pokes her head out from behind a large stack of papers every now and then to share Paddock's diagrams of a typical Mixtec village, old maps, or even books of poetry on Zapotec culture. Despite this wealth of amazing information, Myra's discovery of a map of Washington, DC was also very exciting. Helen got to point out to our new friends her home town right down to the street of her high school!  Another international treasure showed up when Flor showed us a print from a protest in Hong Kong. This incredible geographic and cultural expanse sometimes requires a little more effort. For example, many of the documents date back to colonial times and to read and categorize them requires skills in paleography. We are lucky to be working with Flor and Myra who can teach us a lot about the material! 

We learned that the work we are doing now is just the first step in what will be a huge project:  to first organize and then create an electronic catalog of the Paddock collection. There are still piles and piles of unopened boxes full of documents, photographs, and who knows what else! It's as if the four of us are unearthing treasures just like the archeologists in the articles...there's certainly a comparable amount of dust. 

post by Brook
On our way to San Pablo today, walking through the Zocalo, we saw people catching insects and collecting them in bags.  These insects were all over the place-- in the air, on the ground.  And easy to catch.  People had them by the handful, by the bagful.  The photo to the left was a bag full of these insects a five or six year old girl collected.
  We stopped to ask about what was going on and the woman we were talking to, a young teenager, offered me one to hold.  I have to admit, I was afraid to hold it at first-- it looks like a wasp.  But everyone had them in their hands, so I held the one offered to me. 
    These insects are called chicatanas and are a type of flying ant.  (They are harmless.)  I had certainly heard people talk about chicatanas before, but I guess I had never seen them.   It was amazing-- the number of them that there were, the ease with which they were caught, and the joy with which people were collecting them.
    Later on I was talking with a man I met and I told him we saw chicatanas in the Zocalo today.  He got very excited-- what time did I see them, he asked?  He was there at 6:30 a.m. and there were no chicatanas!  I asked if he wanted to collect some.  Yes, he answered right away.  They are so delicious.  They taste like butter.  Their tails, especially, are good.  He likes to eat them in a peanut-based salsa.  And, apparently, they only come twice a year.  Once at the beginning of the rainy season and once at the end. 
    I asked if they would be for sale in the market today, thinking they might.  But he told me no.  They would cost 300 pesos / kilo, he says, but no one collects enough to sell in the market.  Everyone wants to eat what they collect.  Maybe I should have caught some of my own!

Chicatana (image from http://costachicanuestra.blogspot.mx/2011/06/las-chicatanas-manjar-afrodisiaco.html)
more chicatanas (http://elbavaro.blogspot.mx/2010/06/las-chicatanas-las-hormigas-que-se.html)

UPDATE (June 15, 2013):  Flying Ant Salsa!

I got to try salsa made with chicatanas!  My friend, and Helen and Alex's host mother, Vicky served this delicious salsa with black beans, chicken, and potatoes.   (Helen and Alex were sous chefs for this wonderful meal.)   The salsa was very good and very spicy!  I certainly would not have known that there were chicatanas in the salsa if I hadn't been told.  Given all the other ingredients, I'm not even sure I can say what chicatanas themselves taste like, but I do like salsa made with chicatanas
a delicious meal, made even more delicious with salsa made from chicatanas
salsa made from chicatanas
PictureAbout to land!
Post by Alex and Helen
After a long travel saga, we're finally relaxing in our hotel room at Hotel Las Rosas! Unfortunately, things weren't always this relaxing...

Our trip started uneventfully, as our flight from Philadelphia to Houston, Texas was right on time. Not long after we landed in Texas, we got the bad news that our 6:30 flight to Oaxaca had been delayed. Our departure time kept getting pushed back until our airline eventually cancelled the flight. Apparently, the Oaxaca airport has a curfew after which no planes can land, and we had missed the window of opportunity. On the bright side, we met a really amazing group of friends while waiting! The airline re-booked us for the first direct flight to Oaxaca at 9 am the next morning. Luckily, they also booked us at a really fancy hotel which was a fun diversion!

PictureWe made it!
The next morning, our flight went off without a hitch and we were in Oaxaca around noon! After a thorough security check, we got to our hotel (which is incredible) and started exploring the city. Our hotel is right next to the center of town, el Zócalo, and is also right behind a gorgeous church. We had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called La Casa de la Abuela. From there, we went and explored some beautiful artisan shops that sold handmade baskets, woven and embroidered clothing, black pottery, and alebrijes--brightly painted wooden animals. 

We briefly stopped by el Centro San Pablo to say hello and get a first look at where we will be working. We'll be meeting there tomorrow for a longer tour and to get a more in depth idea of what we'll set out to accomplish this summer.  In the meantime, feel free to browse our photo gallery (there are captions if you click on the pictures!)

PictureIt's possible that I overpacked...
post by Helen
It's really hard to believe that this is my last night at home! After a full day of frantically grabbing last-minute necessities, I've finally finished packing. I'm especially excited that my scorpion kit arrived on time! It took a long time to actually find one. (Tip: don't type "scorpion kit" into google, all you're going to get is advertisements for model cars.) Now that I am thoroughly protected from scorpions, I can focus on mundane tasks like getting to the train station on time! At noon tomorrow, I'll be getting on a train to Philadelphia to spend the night with Alex (who has graciously allowed me to crash at her house!) On Monday morning, both of us will head down to the Philadelphia airport, meet Brook, and fly to Oaxaca (with a small layover in Houston). I'm really excited to plan all the cool adventures we're going to have--and maybe even practice our Zapotec a little bit! 

So far, I've been reading some pretty cool books to get myself prepared to work at el Centro San Pablo. Unfortunately, this means that I will not be able to justify any trashy magazines at the airport--I still need to work on Zapotec greetings! Also, Lynn Stephen's book Transborder Lives is incredible and I'm having kind of a hard time putting it down. It's a very thorough work with a lot of personal interviews that explores migration patterns between Oaxaca and the United States. That summary really doesn't do the book justice at all, it really focuses on the lives of individuals who have to combat discrimination, harrowing migration journeys, and the ability to maintain indigenous culture in both Mexico and the US. If you have any free time, I would really recommend it. 

Thanks for reading my first blog post! Alex and I will probably post again tomorrow from Philly. Until then, I have to say goodbye to my parents and my three sisters (one of whom is a dog).

PictureThink my little cousin counts as a carry on?
post by Alex
After running around for the past week getting together supplies, filling prescriptions, and buying gifts, it is finally time to organize and PACK. There's always the worry of packing too much or not enough or forgetting something incredibly important. In the past I've left packing until the last minute, but with this trip I plan on turning over a new leaf (as you can see I'm only packing the essentials). However packing is just a small detail in what is sure to be an amazing summer.

post by Brook
Only three more days until we leave for Oaxaca.  I'm very excited.  I'm thinking of my friends and colleagues there, the work we plan to do, and of course-- the great food!  It'll be fun to share the experience with the young scholars accompanying me.  While Alex has been to Oaxaca before, Helen, Katie, and Caroline haven't.  I have to introduce them to tlayudas- right?  (For those of you who don't know, this is sometimes called a "Oaxacan pizza", but that totally undersells it!) 

What would be on your list?  What should we absolutely see? or eat? 
Amig@s-- ¿que debemos de visitar en Oaxaca?  ¿que debemos de comer?