Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Returning to Chan X-Cayil after Two Years

When I first visited the marginalized Maya community of Chan X-Cayil eight years ago it was only a 30 mile trip, but took three hours to get there from Valladolid, the closest city and economic hub of southeastern Yucatan state. A few years later a new highway was completed, replacing the old, limestone gravel road, reducing the trip less than an hour. Although for several years some of the villagers have been migrating to Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum to find work, most of the community still dedicated themselves to traditional corn farming and other agricultural pursuits. In the two past years, however, more highways have been improved thus connecting the community with the highway to the so called Maya Riviera making travel from Chan X-Cayil to the tourist boom town of Tulum a mere hour and a half. Just a few years ago a scattering of pothole filled gravel roads meandered through the jungle making the less direct trip to the Caribbean coast a much more time consuming ordeal.

Due to this, the family that has hosted me since 2000 has undergone many changes. Two years ago two of the sons graduated from secondary school and the next day they left to begin working in Tulum. Since then, most of the men of the family have also gone there to work mostly in construction. The oldest son Jaime, however, travels daily from Chan X-Cayil to work at the Grand Palladium Resort just north of Tulum where he makes beds and cleans rooms. As an unprecedented reach into that part of the countryside linking two completely different worlds, the resort provides transportation for its Maya workers. The bus leaves the nearby community of San Pedro daily at 5am, passing through several other Maya communities on the two hour journey to pick more up workers and bringing them back to their villages in the evening.

The result of this new mobility that facilitates a further integration into the tourism based economy and the income that it provides is seen by my host family as a very positive development. Most unskilled jobs pay about $100 USD a week, good pay compared to the few dollars they may have earned before by selling firewood or corn and mostly living in a traditional subsistence-agriculture based economy. In fact, this is the second year the family has stopped making the milpa, or the traditional Maya cornfield and the basis of subsistence. With such a large part of the family working in Tulum, they now buy corn and also now have the resources to adopt more Western items like cell phones with cameras and MP3 players, new hairstyles, clothes and fashions. Some of the sons and daughters are now speaking less Mayan among themselves as they oftentimes prefer to use Spanish, their second language.

Until my visit two weeks ago, I would have never thought I would witness such drastically rapid cultural change. The family is much better off economically, but the less they speak Maya and as the milpa lies permanently fallow, thousands of years of traditions come to an abrupt end, and not only for this family, but for thousands of others.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Visit to Playa del Carmen

In the past 10 years at least a dozen Xualtez families have moved to the booming tourist town of Playa del Carmen about an hour south of Cancun. Every year I make an effort to see them and keep up with the changes in their lives. As part of my ongoing photography of young people, this year I am making an effort to take photos of children I photographed years ago. By doing this I am documenting their own development, whether it be toddler to teenager or child to adult, and the changes they are experiencing as they grow older. One of my most well known pictures is of Ana Ku Cocom who now lives in Playa del Carmen with her grandparents. Below is a comparison between August, 1999 and August, 2008. Ana is 12 years old. You can also look at the most recent pictures in my “Portraits” album for more from Playa del Carmen.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Trip to New Communities

On Saturday I took my good friend Doña Felipa, a midwife and herbalist, back to her village, Tibolon. We left Xualtez early where she had spent the week in the clinic giving massages. We passed through Espita and headed south into a very marginalized zone. We went through the communities of Nacuche, Kunche and San Pedro Chenchela where the blacktop road ended. We traveled on four kilometers along a traditional, rural sac beh, or white road until we reached Santa Maria. There the road had recently been blacktopped and we headed on toward Tibolon passing Uayma, Tinum, Dzitas, Xocempich, Piste, Yodzonot, Libre Union, and Holca. We reached Tibolon where we ate and rested for a while. We then travelled south to the municipal head of Sotuta, town of the Maya chief Nachi Cocom. Doña Felipa took me to a house that also doubled as a motorcycle repair shop where in their backyard, a very nice family charged us the equivalent of 1USD to show use the cenote which they called Dzonot Miis, or Cat Cenote. They had discovered it when they dug a water well and noticed that there was a huge cave filled with water under their backyard. I took a few pictures of the family, along with Doña Felipa’s compadres across the street and we went on to Tabi.

Tabi has an open cenote in the center of the village. While looking at it a man was eager to tell me the history of his community. Doña Felipa knows several herbalists and healers that live there and we went to visit one, Don Florencio, who she had not seen since he suffered a stroke. I realized that it was 85 year-old Don Florencio who had done a ritualistic cleansing of me 8 years ago. He is regaining some strength on his right side and has begun to work again as a healer on occasion. The rain clouds started to build as we headed farther east to the town of Yaxcaba. There Doña Felipa introduced me to Don Juan Bautista, the healer in charge of the local Center for the Development of Traditional Indigenous Medicine. As a strong storm passed over us and his gardens of medicinal plants, he told me about his work and how he is teaching his grandchildren how to also heal with herbs. The rain passed and Doña Felipa and I left going back toward Tabi. We passed through the community and on the western edge we noticed women participating in a novena at a stone shrine adorned with wooden crosses, candles and flowers. Their singing and praying coincided with the Cha’a Chaak ceremony being held by the men a few hundred meters down the road where I was invited to take some pictures. There was a big difference in this ceremony and that of Tixbacab about which I posted a few weeks ago. The altar was much more traditional as you will be able to see in the album below made completely of materials from the forest. The same rain that passed over Yaxcaba, also passed over Tabi. I was told that this was a good sign because the rains have not been as consistent as they usually are prompting the people of Tabi to come together and hold the ceremony again after three years of not doing it. Doña Felipa and I left Tabi and visited her new grandson in Sotuta, one of 35 grandchildren. I took her back to Tibolon, and then arrived to Merida late after a day filled with visiting new communities, meeting new people and having experiences that I will never forget.

See the album below for photographs with captions describing these people and places.

Sotuta, Tabi, Yaxcaba