by Tom & Karen, friends of CdK
Our Unforgettable Journey
We, Karen and Tom, accepted an offer from Drew at Casa de Kids to visit an indigenous village in the Chinantla area of the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca. Our journey was unforgettable.
The best part was getting to know our host and CdK student, Eraclio. He is an amazing young man with motivation, positive energy, and a vision for his future that includes working in Canada. Most importantly, he eventually wants to return to his village. His vision includes using his education in mechanical engineering to design and build a water system for his village.
Our journey started with a 4 hour drive to La Esperanza, a small town in the heart of the Chinanteca people. Then we entered the closed territory driving 40 minutes down a steep road to arrive at the river in the bottom of the valley. We drove through tropical vegetation as well as areas that are being cleared for corn and cattle. After parking at the river, we crossed a handmade footbridge, then ascended the other side of the mountain on foot. The hike took us to the village of 18 houses through tropical vegetation and beautiful vistas. We were welcomed by Eraclioʼs father, two sisters, his brother and sister-in-law and their two smiling children. They all live in one cement block house with compacted dirt floors. There is minimal furniture and the beds are each made of plywood and blankets. The house has no plumbing or running water, but outside is a constant flow of fresh water coming down from the mountain.
The women prepared meals for us including delicious tamales in smokey room, designed only for cooking and eating. Preparing the meals is quite a job as there are no nearby stores nor markets. Everything in the village is carried up the mountain on foot or by burro. Villagers grow corn on the hillsides, and then later it is ground by hand. Chickens and ducks are raised in the yard, and the land provides fresh fruits and a few vegetables. All the food is prepared over a low stove fueled by locally gathered firewood. The women get up at 5 AM to build the fire, carry water, and begin the cooking for the day.
In our conversations with Eraclioʼs family and neighbors, we were told that they have seen jaguars come into the village. Dogs are posted and tied during the night to bark and scare them away. The jungle is also home to toucans and other tropical birds, armadillos, snakes, and other small animals. Trees such as banana, papaya, and mango surround the village along with numerous tropical plants.
Ancient stone ruins of their ancestors are a 15-minute hike from the village, and are now covered by the jungle. The large cut, placed stones of the base of the structures are obvious and about 10 feet tall; one side of the main structure is about 400 feet long. Nearby is a small waterfall and cold stream the children play in and damn up to create a swimming hole.
Eraclio took us on a tour around his village where we got to see the school rooms and the two year old Internet tower; Internet access is for those who buy a passcode, good for a few hours. Because the low-voltage electricity is weak, coming from solar panels, they have NO computers, televisions, nor appliances. During the Covid pandemic, Eraclio has been keeping up with his classes and homework online solely on his phone. He is very much looking forward to getting back to in-person classes in Oaxaca where he can attend his laboratory classes and mingle with his new friends.
We were struck by Eraclioʼs ability to bridge two worlds. Having grown up in this isolated village, he is adapting well to life in Oaxaca city, although he said it was hard at first. He told us he misses his family and his village and he visits often. In addition to his native Chinanteca language, he now speaks fluent Spanish and is studying English. Because of his education and exposure to the larger outside world, he has developed an awareness of how special his village is. He is excited about the new road being built to his village, with the help of the Mexican government. He thinks it will help improve the lives of his people. But he also understands the importance of preserving the natural environment in his area and hopes to take steps to slow deforestation occurring in the area. We feel so fortunate to have been able to get to know Eraclio, to gain some understanding of his life in his village, and to see the future that is possible for him because of the help of Casa de Kids.
Karen Frey & Tom Sughrua