post by Brook
In Oaxaca City, there are children, like this young girl, who play the accordion and sing on the street for tips.
    Last night, Viola (my four year old daughter) and I were walking up Alcalá, one of the most beautiful and lively streets in Oaxaca City, and we passed this girl. 
    As we came to the girl playing the accordion, Viola was fascinated.  She sat right down and watched her.  She watched and listened attentively for nearly 20 minutes.

Almost immediately, the pair of them became of great interest to people on the crowded street.  There must have been hundreds of pictures and videos taken of the two of them in that 20 minute period.   Every group that took a picture would put a peso, or five, or 10 in the girl's cup.
    Of course, they were a sight.  Two young girls-- not too many years apart-- with two very different lives.  Viola dressed in a Triqui huipil.  The girl playing the accordion in jeans and a sweatshirt.   It was beautiful and complicated. 

Post by Caroline

Katie and I have finally arrived in Oaxaca, after an exciting weekend in la Ciudad de México. I'm living with a wonderful host family in San Agustín de las Juntas. They are Zapotec speakers from Yalálag in Sierra del Norte, and they speak Yalálag Zapotec frequently at home, code-switching between Spanish and idioma -- and pausing to explain to me why, exactly, they're all laughing.

Tonight my host sisters, Ana and Sandy, gave me an exhaustive lesson in Zapotec vocabulary. We were talking about names for parts of the body. I had learned that "face" was rawa (in the accepted orthography for Yalálag Zapotec) and "neck" was yena by the time we moved on to arms (taka) and hands. 

"What's this?" I said to Ana, pointing to my palm.

"Rao taka," she said. "My hand's face." She pointed to her wrist. "This is yen taka," she continued. "My arm's neck."

For a moment, I was taken aback. I had never thought of my wrist as being in any way parallel to a neck, or my palm to a face -- but as I repeated the words back to Ana I realized that they are, in some fundamental way, the same. The words she was teaching me captured underlying symmetries in the human body -- in my own body -- that I had never thought to notice.

And this, I think, is why we learn new languages, and talk to people about their languages. New words force us to view the world a little differently. Words like rao taka in Zapotec, or the Tofa word chulan for snake, which translates literally to "earth-fish", or the Saxon banhus (body -- lit. "bone house"), open up our perceptions of reality. They force us to forge mental connections, to see patterns, to recognize that our perspectives are limited. I may have only memorized a handful of words, but Zapotec is teaching me to look at my palms and see faces.
Post by Alex
Yesterday San Pablo hosted the exhibition Revisiting Ancient Oaxaca: an homage  to John Paddock on the 15 year anniversary of his death. The event started with a viewing of Quetzalcoatl (1952 University of Southern California) a short film which retold the legend of the pre-hispanic god Quetzalcoatl with music composed by Paddock. Then a few of Paddock's students shared their memories of working and collaborating with Paddock. His dedication and passion inspired them and many others to do great work in the fields of anthropology and archeology especially in Mesoamerican and Oaxacan studies.   

PictureSee that little ticket in the corner? That's Helen's handywork!
We then toured the temporary exhibit displaying pieces from Paddock's collection. It was incredibly cool to see documents and photos that Helen and I actually had the privilege to work with displayed for the public. A lot of hard work went into this exhibition, and even though Helen and I really didn't have any part in the preparation of the event (apart from pouring mezcal for the reception) it was an honor to hear more about Paddock from people who knew him well and worked with him closely. It also made me think about the work Helen and I are doing in the archive. It's true at times organizing documents and cleaning photographs can seem a bit monotonous, but as this plaque says it's an important step in making his amazing collection accessible to the public.  

And the thing is, working with his collection makes me really want to share it.  There's something really cool and almost personal about reading the same articles, newspaper clippings, memos, magazines and letters as Paddock. I've read some of his correspondences that not only mention plans for archeological digs, collections in the Museo Frissel, and courses at Mexico City College (now University of the Americas) but also talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination.  I could probably also write full anthropology, archeology, and phycology theses based solely on the academic papers and studies in Paddock's collection. Well maybe I couldn't, but they are truly incredible resources for students and researches waiting to be discovered. 
Picturemmmm chapulines

So congratulations to Centro San Pablo and especially Nicholas Johnson for a  wonderful exhibition! Oh and just in case you were wondering the reception was pretty great too--nothing like chapulines and a bit of mezcal to end an academic event. 

Guests enjoying the reception
Browsing the Paddock display
Hard at work behind the scenes
post by Helen

Watching Food Network has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, but now that I'm sort of an adult, I've been trying to minimize the watching aspect of food preparation in favor of actually learning to make things. Today, my amazing (and very patient) host mom taught me how to make tortillas!!

The tortilla-making process is pretty complex. It starts with corn. After you take all the corn kernels off the cob, you have to boil it with agua de cal (calcified water) in order to remove the outer shell of each kernel. After the corn boils for a while, it is washed very well in order to get rid of any traces of calcium. Then, the corn is ground with a mortar and pestel until it becomes masa (basically corn batter). 

Then comes the really fun part! 

Vicky has a special prensa (press) for tortilla making that I got to use! In order to flatten the masa into a tortilla shape, a small ball of masa is placed between two thin, circular pieces of wax paper and put on to the tortilla press. Then, all you have to do is lower the top of the prensa and press down hard in order to flatten the masa into a circular shape.  This process is repeated until all sides of the tortilla are evenly flattened. 
Me smushing some tortillas into shape
Finally, the tortillas are put on a big grill over an open fire and heated until they are slightly brown and incredibly delicious!
The hard part is taking it off without a spatula...
Finally, the tortillas are ready to eat! Learning how to do this has been one of the highlights of my week!
post by Helen

Ever since I started planning to come to Oaxaca, one of the first things I wanted to see was the famous Tule tree--also known as Ahuehuete. As hard as it to believe, this tree has been alive for about 2,000 years and is both the largest and the oldest tree in the world! 

Last weekend, our host brothers Alan and Pavel took us to the pueblo Santa María del Tule to see the tree for ourselves. Ahuehuete is located in the courtyard of a beautiful church which was built in 1751--a very historic and yet relaxed atmosphere for one of the botanical wonders of the world. Thank goodness our stomachs were full of delicious empanadas amarillos, we definitely needed it to  fuel ourselves for the arduous work of excessive picture-taking. Despite all that I heard about the Tule tree, I felt completely unprepared for how huge it actually was and as a result I took about 40 photos--none of which really capture how cool it is. 

Some random yet interesting facts about the Tule tree:
-It's 135 feet tall
-It weighs 1,119,844 pounds. Yeah. 
-It circumference is 139 feet, making it slightly wider than it is tall. 
-According to our host brothers, legend has it that the Tule tree used to be three separate trees that fused together.
-There are tons of really cool knots in the bark of the tree which take the shape of animals. We saw a lion, an elephant, an iguana, and a fish!

Citation: All random/interesting facts taken from

(Note: please click on the pictures to read the captions!)

To continue on the theme of trees, Alex and I woke up on 4th of July to a pretty moving surprise. Our host father File told us that they were going to plant trees for each of us in the family garden to commemorate our time here. They chose to plant the trees on the 4th of July so that the planting could also serve as a celebration for us. Now, even after we leave Oaxaca, there will always be part of us growing outside the house. 

We were so moved we didn't really know what to say (I still don't really know what to say.) Our host family is pretty incredible. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, so here are some photos of us planting our trees in order to make up for my lack of eloquence on the matter. 

(Note: you can click on the photos to read captions)
Post by Alex
So we have a lot to talk about. 

This Monday was our first day working with Janet, who teaches the course about Zapotec of Teotitlán del Valle at San Pablo. Our first task was to create some materials for a children’s Zapotec class—little booklets with animal, greetings, and numbers in Zapotec. Then we started to plan for Tuesday and our first trip to Teotitlán. We planned to meet with Janet’s aunt to record some simple greetings and numbers for the children’s class as well as minimal pairs (words that mean different things but are the same except for one key element). Because Zapotec has contrastive tones, we hope these recordings will help us compare each different tone in the language. Janet said her students have a lot of trouble with this, so Helen and I are going to try to create a kind of tone guide for her to use in class. 
PictureView from a street of Teotitlan
Tuesday we left San Pablo around 10:30 to go to Teotitlán. It’s about a 45 minute ride away from Oaxaca City. We were going to take a bus but there was a cab that went just to Teotitlán so Janet, Helen and I hopped in. I’m not sure it’s common anywhere in the US, but this cab was kind of like a mini bus. It was a regular taxi car but it would stop at bus stops and pick up passengers who were going in the direction of Teotitlán. So it was like we were sharing a cab with whoever happened to need a ride! A bit more expensive then the bus but much cheaper than taking a taxi all by yourself. 

PictureHelen and I outside of Preciosa Sangre de Cristo
When we got to Teotitlán we first got to see a little bit of the amazing church. Walking in we immediately smelled the fresh flowers at the altar and side chapels. The patio was gorgeous as well with trees and flowers and a few decorations in preparations for a big town party that Janet says is going to happen next week.  We then went to meet with Janet’s aunt, but it turned out there was a miscommunication about timing, and she wasn’t at home. This left us with a little extra time to go check out the town museum. It had some really great pieces of Zapotec art  as well as a lot of history about the town and it’s traditions. One really neat tradition is  La Danza de la Pluma: a traditional dance with brightly colored costumes and A LOT of jumping, leaping moves.  

We then got to meet with Troi Carleton, a linguist currently working on a dictionary and orthography for Zapotec de Teotitlán del Valle. We had a kind of a training session about how the orthography compares to IPA and the many complications of trying to create an orthography. One struggle is deciding how to handle multiple pronunciations or pronunciations that vary from speaker to speaker. Do you write in each alternate spelling or chose one of the two (or three or four)? Another big question was whether or not to include tones in the orthography. Troi told us that a lot of younger speakers are beginning to lose or not use tones as much as older speakers. Because there is a lot of variation among speakers, would it make sense to try to include tones in the orthography? Troi told us that the approach right now is to leave it up to the speakers whether or not they write in the tone or not. What seems to be a theme in the orthography work are the needs and desires of the Teotitlán community. Accessibility and transparency for speakers of Zapotec de Teotitlán del Valle is key. 

After our exciting meeting with Troi, we were pretty hungry. I finally got to try a Tlayuda (the Oaxacan "pizza that Brook wrote about in the first post) and it was DELICIO"US.  Side note: I’ve been eating so much fantastic food while here I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back. The closest thing to Mexican food in Bryn Mawr that I know of is…Chipoltle. Now don’t get me wrong I love Chipoltle but it does not compare even a tiny bit to the amazing food here in Oaxaca. 

Then, finally, we got to record some Zapotec! Janet took us to her abuela’s house where we sat outside (in the company of some very noisy birds) and recorded Zapotec greetings, numbers 1-20, minimal pairs, and some animal names. Janet’s abuela didn’t speak as much Spanish as she did Zapotec so Janet helped us translate a bit, but we also got to try out some of what we had learned in Zapotec class! It was a truly amazing experience and tomorrow we’re going to work with the recordings to create materials for the kids’ course! 

We’re also planning a post comparing things we’ve learned in Zapotec de Teotitlán del Valle and Zapotec de Macuiltianguis but there’s still a little more work to do going over the orthography. Like I said before, it’s really tricky!

That’s what’s been going on this week, and little later we’ll post about some of the more touristy things we’ve been up to. 

Gaxagtiun! (see you soon) 

Troi Carleton:

Teotitlán de Valle Museo:

post by Helen

Sorry for the lag in blog posts recently, but things have been crazy busy! Alex and I have been celebrating the birthdays of our host-brother Andrei and our host-father Filemón--a very exciting week!

We've also been spending our afternoons studying the Zapotec language variant from the town of Teotitlán del Valle, but on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, we wake up extra early to go to paleography class. For those of you unfamiliar with the discipline of paleography (as I was) It turns out that paleography actually is as awesome as it sounds. Essentially, paleography is the discipline of transcribing ancient documents. 

PictureThis is our wonderful teacher, Claudia
Most of the things that Alex and I are transcribing are documents from the 1500-1600s: photocopies of wills, royal provisions, and business documents that are housed in an amazing archive here in Oaxaca. Most of the work involves deciphering not only the intricate script but also memorizing the commonly-used abbreviations and symbols. It's hard work, but by the end of our time here Alex and I will hopefully be able to read any kind of document imaginable (maybe even my own handwriting...)

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.