Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Meeting with Rebels

In the past week I´ve seen some of the most unusual and interesting things of my whole trip. After the San Simón experience in Xela, I moved on into the Chiapas region of Mexico, which is known for traditional Mayan villages and Zapatista rebels. Lucky me got to visit both!

I took a tour to a traditional Mayan village where we went into the church. It was a Tuesday morning and the church was completely packed! It´s technically a Catholic church, but the Mayans worship in their own way. They have their own names for the saints, and they use traditional ways of praying. They pray out loud, sometimes mumbling, sometimes crying, sometimes pleading, so the church is full of a constant murmur of prayer, as well as the occasional whistle, used to call a lost soul back to its owner. They put pine needles all over the floor, light hundreds of candles of different colors (a dangerous combination if you ask me) and burn lots of incence, so the church is filled with smoke and different smells. Then, as part of the prayers, they drink cane alcohol, called posh, and while they used to drink a fermented corn drink called chicha, now they use Coke or Pepsi...apparently the burping helps let out evil spirits! Finally, certain rituals, performed by appointed healers, involve passing a chicken over a sick person´s body, then killing the chicken...and during our visit we witnessed a chicken sacrifice: the woman waved the chicken around over the candles for a while and prayed, then held the chicken by her side and wrung its neck! I´ve seen a lot of churches in my travels, but this one was definitely the most memorable.

That evening, I found out that an autonomous Zapatista village in the area is open to visitors, so a few of us decided to check it out the next day. It´s an hour outside San Cristobal, where we were staying, and when we got there we went through a three-step, hour-long registration process where we showed our passports to guards in ski masks, gave our names and occupations, listed any organizations we belong to (I was surprised to realize I belong to no organizations whatsoever) and our reason for visiting. Then we were allowed in to meet with a three-person panel of masked interviewers. They took all this information again, and then basically asked us what we wanted to know. We were basically pretty clueless about Zapatistas so they had to start from scratch. They explained how they are mostly indigenous people fighting for people´s rights, and how they decided in 1994 "¡Ya Basta!" (Enough!) and formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and took over San Cristobal to bring attention to their cause. There was a lot of information, and well, I´ll let Wikipedia explain it to you if you are interested. We talked for over an hour and at the end they encouraged us to spread the word and encourage our friends and families to come and visit, any time, for as long as they want. So, consider yourself encouraged. As we left to wander up the street (the only one in town) and admire the multi-colored murals on all the buildings, we agreed that those were the nicest rebels we had ever met.

Unfortunately, the bug-infested internet place I am in now is kind of bad, and the computer is too slow for me to upload any photos. But in a couple of days I´ll be in Belize with nothing much to do but lie on the beach and sip pina coladas, so hopefully I´ll find time to put some up then. In the meantime, if you want to know what a Zapatista looks like, put on a black ski mask that shows only your eyes (if you have an Adidas cap to put on top of it that works too) and take a look in the mirror.