Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chiapas Diaries: Day 2, Part 2 - Our First Day with the Zapatistas

This is the fourth diary in a series about my recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, to meet with and learn about the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgent movement made up of several ethnic groups, and their food and agriculture. On our second day, we went to an indigenous market in San Cristobal de las Casas for food and then went to stay with the Zapatistas. This diary tells about our first day working with their Agroecology team.

(I went with the group Schools for Chiapas, an organization that works with and provides aid to the Zapatistas. Check out their website if you are interested in either traveling with them to Chiapas yourself, or simply buying some artisanal goods or coffee produced by Zapatistas. Aside from the obvious politics involved in supporting Zapatistas, you are supporting human beings who live in extreme poverty and work their asses off to educate themselves and their children and provide for basic needs like water and health care.)

In the last diary, we had just gotten into the Caracol (the administrative center for one of the five Zapatista zones in Chiapas) and made requests before the Board of Good Government ("Junta" for short).

While waiting for our responses from the Junta, we carried our luggage to the “office.” The small building – the only office for a non-Zapatista organization in a Caracol – consisted of two rooms filled with bunk beds, plus a few tables. The beds did not quite have mattresses. They had pads that was thicker than a yoga mat but thinner than a mattress. The pad on the bed I chose looked like it had mold. I made a comment about wanting a non-moldy pad for my bed, and realized that it might not be feasible and I was probably being a pain in the ass. So I followed up by saying, “I mean, I don’t exactly expect the Marriott.”

Susan replied, “Oh, this IS the Marriott.” Later we had a discussion and she said that she really meant it that, around here, this IS the Marriott. We’ve got beds, running water, a gas stove, latrines, electricity, a crockpot… compared to your average peasant in Chiapas, we’ve got it made.


The office, which has a concrete floor


Inside the office


The kitchen, which has a dirt floor


The dishwashing station outside the kitchen. We couldn't get the water to come out of the tap, so we unkinked a nearby hose to get water, and then kinked it and put a rock on it to turn the water off.


Inside the kitchen


A mural on the kitchen: Unity, Victory, Liberty, Democracy, Justice, and Peace


Oso the dog, who invited himself into our office


A poster for Schools for Chiapas


The school that Schools for Chiapas helped build. It's a secondary school (more or less a junior high) that boards a few hundred kids


Squash growing in a guava tree


Another pic of the squash


Guavas

Susan and Peter got to work getting their answers from the Junta and putting the kitchen in order. I tried to sleep off my migraine. A little bit later, they called me to join them in a meeting with Agroecology. I wasn’t about to miss that.

Zapatistas have a number of “promotores” (promoters) of various categories, such as health, education, and agroecology. Education promotores are basically teachers in Zapatista schools. Health promotores work in the Zapatista hospitals. Promotores are unpaid but they receive housing, food, clothing, and health care while they are doing their jobs. We were to meet with the Agroecology promotores of the region. They were a group of guys, each of whom lives in a community that might be as far as 11 hours by bus from the Caracol. Each man has his own milpa to tend, and also helps the others in the zone with agricultural problems. I found it strange but cool that agroecology – an unfamiliar word to most Americans – was the norm here.

Before the meeting, Peter offered to show me the Agroecology guys’ garden. They were growing chard, plus an unidentified brassica crop that had been entirely eaten by pests. Nearby, I also saw the herbal pharmacy’s garden, which was full of medicinal herbs. This Caracol has two pharmacies – one that is only herbal, and another in the hospital that has both “Western” and herbal medicine. Their use of herbal medicine is not a hippie alternative thing. When you are living as a subsistence farmer with little cash, herbs are often your only choice.

The meeting was about a problem the Zapatista farmers have had lately, and an experiment we were helping them with to try to fix the problem. Within Chiapas, farmers grow either one or two corn crops per year. Those in the colder areas grow one crop and need to store it for 10 months until the next crop is ready to start harvesting. In the warmer areas, they grow 2 crops and they need to store each one for about half the year. Lately, bugs (“bichos” in Spanish) have been eating a huge percent of the stored corn. The corn runs out after 7-8 months in cold areas and 2-3 months in warm areas. This is particularly problematic because corn prices drop at the time of harvest but rise as the year goes on, making it even more difficult for the Zapatista families to buy corn when they need it if they lose their own corn to pests.

Several years ago, and with Peter and Susan’s help, the Zapatistas began growing a few thousand neem trees to try to tackle this problem. The neem trees are now old enough to begin harvesting leaves and seeds to use as pesticides in the corn. Peter and Susan picked up an enormous amount of neem in three forms during our afternoon in San Cristobal: ground leaves, ground seeds, and neem oil. The Zapatistas, for their part, had built four identical sets of two mini storage units for corn. The sets were placed in four locations within the zone. In each pair of storage units, they planned to store corn: one with neem, and one without. At the end of the experiment, we would weigh each set of corn to see how effective the neem was in preventing bug damage.


A pair of mini corn storage units, built for the experiment

The meeting felt long and tedious, but little was accomplished. In between exchanges in Spanish, we would speak in English while they spoke among themselves in Tzotzil. The Agroecology team was incredibly excited about doing an experiment, but it seemed like they wanted to throw in a large number of variables, and we worried that the experiment would not be well controlled. We left with plans to meet them again the next day.

After the meeting, cooking dinner did not happen. Peter and Susan have a kitchen next to their office, but we hadn’t had the time to start cooking beans or even boiling water before it got late, and we were out of bleach and soap. I picked up bleach and soap at the store, and Susan bought ingredients. Then Peter suggested we skip cooking and eat at the Caracol’s restaurant instead. So we did.


Empty soda bottles outside the Caracol's store


A mural of Che Guevara

We walked back up the hill (the entire Caracol is on a hill) to the store, which doubles as a restaurant, and ordered. Our choices were: chicken, eggs, or quesadillas. The store also sold all kinds of sodas, donuts, pastries, some candy, and sweet rolls made of refined white bread. (And the Zapatistas are suffering from a relatively new diabetes problem.) Long story short, we ordered, ate, and went to bed. And I was very glad I had brought a roll of toilet paper and a flashlight, because both were needed for middle of the night “bathroom” (i.e. the grass outside the office) trips.

Chiapas Diaries: Day 2, Part 1 - Something's Weird in Zapatista Territory

This is the third diary in a series about my recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, to meet with and learn about the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgent movement made up of several ethnic groups, and their food and agriculture. On our second day, we went to an indigenous market in San Cristobal de las Casas for food and then went to stay with the Zapatistas. Only, when we got there, they wouldn't let us in...

(I went with the group Schools for Chiapas, an organization that works with and provides aid to the Zapatistas. Check out their website if you are interested in either traveling with them to Chiapas yourself, or simply buying some artisanal goods or coffee produced by Zapatistas. Aside from the obvious politics involved in supporting Zapatistas, you are supporting human beings who live in extreme poverty and work their asses off to educate themselves and their children and provide for basic needs like water and health care.)

I started day 2 by showering, dressing, and packing. All ready to go, I checked the time and realized I had a half an hour before I needed to meet Peter, Susan, and Lia (the Brazilian professor joining us) in the hotel lobby. I decided to sneak down the street for a breakfast at Casa del Pan.

The food at Casa del Pan is clearly aimed at American tourists. It’s organic, local, and vegetarian. I ordered café con leche and 2 fried eggs over a tortilla with mole. To cut to the chase, the food tasted great. It came with bread and jam, and the jam – guanabana, I think – was so good I could have drank it. Then I went back to the hotel, got my luggage, and met everyone in the lobby.


Zapatista imagery in a mural in Casa del Pan. Even though this restaurant has nothing to do with the Zapatistas, they are using Zapatista imagery. This is pretty common in Chiapas. Many businesses or non-profits use Zapatista imagery to get business or donations even though they have nothing to do with Zapatistas.


My food at Casa del Pan

We put the luggage, Peter, and Lia in a cab, and Susan and I walked to meet them at the indigenous market up the street. Quickly, we picked up some food as well as several tamales (for breakfast), and then decided that yes we could all fit in one cab with our luggage to drive to Oventic.


The market








Mmm... fresh chicken


Beans - look at the biodiversity!


Agrochemical store in San Cristobal. They've even got the Paraquat ad translated into Tzotzil (the local indigenous language). Should we thank Syngenta for their cultural sensitivity for doing that?


More agrochemicals

On the drive there, Peter pointed out the military base near San Cristobal that the Zapatistas attacked in the early days of their revolution. The brilliant part of their strategy, he said, is that they blocked off the road so that the military from the lowlands could not reach the highlands, and then kept all of the troops in the highlands occupied fighting at the military base. Meanwhile, Zapatistas all over Chiapas took the land of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful landowners. (More on this later.)

When we arrived at the Caracol, things proceeded exactly as Peter had said they would – sort of. A woman with her face covered by a red bandana was standing guard, so we approached her. She called two other guards, both masked men, who took our IDs. But that’s where the normal process broke down.

We had unfortunately arrived at a bad time. Each of the five Zapatista zones in Chiapas is led by a Board of Good Government (or Junta for short), and the Junta is made up of people from each of the zone’s municipalities, chosen by a consensus process from the municipality’s General Assembly. While serving on the Junta, the members also have to do their farm chores at home to grow their corn and beans for the year. Thus, the Junta in Oventic has three parts that take turns serving. The government switches from one group to the next every Sunday. That’s what was happening when we showed up, and because the Junta was occupied, nobody was around to decide whether to let us in.


The gate, and beyond it, the Caracol

While we waited Peter and Susan announced they were going to the bathroom. When they came back, I asked where the bathroom was. The answer was what I had feared: it depends on which tree you choose to pee behind. Shit. I’ve peed outside exactly five times in my life and it’s not something I do unless it’s an emergency with no alternatives. Peter said the Caracol had a latrine. I decided to hold it.

We all sat down for what was turning into a long wait. Feeling sleepy, I made a comment about coffee, and Peter told me that the Caracol’s store would sell me one. At once, I went to the store and ordered café con leche without thinking about it. Even before the coffee showed up, I realized I was getting Nescafe, which I refuse to drink. I took two small sips before deciding it was too disgusting to even attempt drinking. Unfortunately, the two sips I took had an immediate effect. I had to go to the bathroom NOW.

I asked Peter again about the bathroom. Just pee anywhere, he said. “What if I don’t have to pee?” I asked. Dig a hole, he said. Shit. “With my hands?” I asked. Use a stick, he said. I thought back to the tiny trowels I saw at REI, sold for just this purpose. When I saw them there, I was glad I didn’t have to buy one. I guess I was wrong.

I’ll leave the rest of that story to your imagination. Ultimately, the Caracol let us in. Another group that was trying to get in, a few tourists, were turned away. Peter and Susan said again and again that something strange was going on. They also noted that the Zapatistas likely would not tell us why things were strange. They don’t tend to give too many explanations, and when they do, they do it on their own schedule.

But at least we were in. The first order of business was going before the Junta. Peter and Susan had typed up their requests very clearly, making enough copies to give several to the Junta so that all could follow along. With these in hand, they sat down to wait on the bench outside the Junta’s office. “We call this ‘Junta-waiting,’” Susan told me. Great, more waiting. But this time the wait was not long.


The building that houses the Junta

We were soon allowed in to a fairly simple room, with masked men and women sitting at a table and chairs in front and with rows of seats facing them. We first shook hands – each of us with each member of the Junta, repeating “Buenos dias” and “Mucho gusto” so many times that it felt insincere – and then sat down. Peter and Susan made their requests. The Junta sometimes asked questions to clarify the requests, and sometimes talked amongst themselves in Tzotzil, their native language. Next came Lia. She asked to observe their education system, and was immediately denied. Specifically, they said that in the past they allowed this but now they did not (and gave no reason for the change).

Then it was my turn. I spoke in English and let Peter translate for me because this seemed too important for me to fuck up just because I speak Spanish like a gringo. I told the Junta who I was, and what type of work I was doing. I mentioned how much I enjoyed learning about the indigenous people of Bolivia, and then asked if I could visit a milpa (a cornfield) to see how their crops grew here, and if I could speak to their Agroecology team about farming in this area. Peter translated my words into language that sounded much more revolutionary than the words I had used in English (i.e. talking about the struggle and resistance of the indigenous in Bolivia). The Junta gave no immediate answer.

Last, I asked if I could take pictures, since Peter told me we could take no pictures in the Caracol until we were given permission. Peter asked, and the answer confused me. When we got outside, I found out what had happened. Peter asked if I could take a picture with the Junta, and they said no to that. Ultimately, they decided I could take pictures of things, not people, and that suited me fine. But Susan said the Junta always likes having their pictures taken and they’ve never said no to that request before.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chiapas Diaries: Day 1, Part 2 - Introduction to Zapatistas

This is the second diary in a series about my recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, to meet with and learn about the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgent movement made up of several ethnic groups, and their food and agriculture. On our first day, we left Tijuana for the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, and drove from there to the yuppie-friendly city of San Cristobal. That afternoon, I walked around the city a bit, and at dinner, I got the big orientation to the Zapatistas.

(I went with the group Schools for Chiapas, an organization that works with and provides aid to the Zapatistas. Check out their website if you are interested in either traveling with them to Chiapas yourself, or simply buying some artisanal goods or coffee produced by Zapatistas. Aside from the obvious politics involved in supporting Zapatistas, you are supporting human beings who live in extreme poverty and work their asses off to educate themselves and their children and provide for basic needs like water and health care.)

I began by exploring the shops in the Zapa mall once more, and then headed out to look for the two other artisan markets Peter had pointed out. I found one, but found it to be full of crap from China made to look like Mexican handicrafts. I might not have known they weren’t legit, if it weren’t for the abundance of alpaca sweaters (identical to the ones sold from Bolivia) in nearly every store. I left, disgusted, and was no more than a block away when I realized I was walking right past the chocolate store.

The chocolate store, whose menu I found confusing, had a display case full of truffles. The menu offered delicious sounding choices like chocolate with cardamom, chilis, vanilla, or mint. Finally I asked if they had hot chocolate. Oh yes. That’s what the menu was for (it just didn’t say the words “hot chocolate” or “to drink” anywhere on it). I ordered a small cup (which was truly a small cup, maybe the size of 2 espresso shots) of semi-sweet hot chocolate. And it was HEAVENLY. Then, sad that we wouldn’t be in San Cristobal long enough for me to try everything on the menu, I left and walked back to the Zapa mall. I bought a purse, a change purse, a small embroidered picture, and another shirt, and walked back to the hotel (getting lost only once).


Oh heaven


Cacao pods and beans


Mural in the chocolate store


Green shirt I bought (It looks cuter when you try it on)


Detail of embroidery


Orange shirt I bought


Detail of embroidery. Notice the snails dressed as Zapatistas


The rest of my purchases. The change purse says "Women for dignity."


A street in San Cristobal


A street in San Cristobal... with a Best Western. Better that than McDonald's I guess.


A major plaza in San Cristobal. The yellow building is the cathedral


Anyone else have to watch La Catrina in high school Spanish class? Check out this picture!


Get your hot dogs here


Cotton candy

When Peter and Susan came back, they dropped off the neem products they had picked up, and then we all headed out together for dinner. On the way there, Peter gave me the Zapa-tour. The Zapatista insurgency began here, in San Cristobal, at midnight on January 1, 1994, when NAFTA took effect. Few police wanted to work on New Years Eve, and the police on duty that night were all Zapatistas. In no time at all and with no casualties, the Zaptistas took over the town hall in San Cristobal and three other cities. There were casualties only in one city – Peter estimates a few hundred – where the fighting lasted a few days and the Zapatistas lost. (More on this later.) Peter’s heard accounts of Mexican soldiers going into the hospital and shooting wounded Zapatistas (or indigenous people who looked like Zapatistas but weren’t) point blank.

With our short tour completed, we continued on to dinner. They chose a restaurant called Emiliano’s Moustache, which referred to Emiliano Zapata, a figure in the Mexican Revolution and the namesake of the Zapatistas. The menu wasn’t terribly vegetarian-friendly, but the mini soft tacos we made from the cheese and cooked onions we ordered plus the salsa and cilantro already on the table were delicious.

As we ate, they gave me their orientation spiel. First, no giving gifts directly to children. The Zapatistas do not want to raise their children as beggars. Instead, all gifts should go to the governance board, and they will distribute them fairly. (This system also serves to prevent an unfair system in which families who live nearest to places where tourists or visitors come get lots of gifts and other families get none.)

Second, the water at the first place we are going is filthy. Don’t drink it. All water must be boiled or have drops put in it. To wash dishes, we wash everything with soap first, rinse it, and then dip it into a bleach solution and allow it to air dry. Everything you eat should be cooked or peeled, and even then, make sure the knife you use to cut your food is clean.

Third, be aware of the safety situation. We, as foreigners and guests, are safe. The people around us are not necessarily safe. The Mexican government has used tactics like assassination, rape, and arson to fight the Zapatista insurgency. The communities where Zapatistas live are typically mixed between Zapatista and non-Zapatista families, and sometimes there is hostility between the two. Don’t get paranoid, but keep an eye out for strange things within the Caracol. Tell someone where you are going if you go somewhere. And do not leave the Caracol without permission.

With that out of the way and dinner in our tummies, we left the restaurant to run three errands. First, we bought a pound of coffee to take with us to the Caracol the next morning. Second, we visited “the Posh lady,” a woman who sells a locally brewed distilled alcohol called Posh, which is made from corn and sugarcane. She served it mixed with your choice of hot fruit punch or hot pineapple juice. Either way, it was delicious. And last, we made one last stop by the chocolate store, so I could get one more cup of that magnificent hot chocolate. When we got back to the hotel, I fell asleep instantly.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chiapas Diaries: Day 1, Part 1 - My Yuppified Introduction to Chiapas

This is the first diary in a series about my recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, to meet with and learn about the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgent movement made up of several ethnic groups, and their food and agriculture. On our first day, we left Tijuana for the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, and drove from there to the yuppie-friendly city of San Cristobal.

(I went with the group Schools for Chiapas, an organization that works with and provides aid to the Zapatistas. Check out their website if you are interested in either traveling with them to Chiapas yourself, or simply buying some artisanal goods or coffee produced by Zapatistas. Aside from the obvious politics involved in supporting Zapatistas, you are supporting human beings who live in extreme poverty and work their asses off to educate themselves and their children and provide for basic needs like water and health care.)

As a rule, I don’t take red eyes. But this time, I did. By the time I heard about this trip and agreed to go, the two coordinators, Peter and Susan, had already booked a red eye from Tijuana to Mexico City, with a long layover in Mexico City, and an 11am flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez the next day. And since I had no desire to arrive in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, alone and then figure out how to get from there to our hotel in San Cristobal de Las Casas, I booked myself on the same flights.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when we arrived in Tuxtla. Exhausted, with a migraine, and cranky about it. There’s a bus that goes from Tuxtla to San Cristobal, but with three of us, it was only slightly more expensive to take a cab, so we did. Peter narrated the drive up (and I do mean UP, since San Cristobal is located in a valley in the mountains at 2125 meters above sea level). The area around Tuxtla is tropical dry forest, and it has wet and dry seasons during the year. Lately, the weather has been so wacky that the trees get confused and bloom at all of the wrong times.

Once we got into the mountains, we looked down upon the flat plains around Tuxtla, filled with farms. The farmers there are not indigenous. The indigenous people, the descendants of the Mayans, were pushed up into the mountains, often onto steep slopes where agriculture is much more difficult. (Peter and Susan noted as we boarded our flight to Chiapas that the travelers going to Chiapas are always much whiter than those on flights to other Mexican cities, and that is because there has always been less integration between the whites and the indigenous people here. Susan said, “It’s like Alabama.”)

The drive to San Cristobal was not long at all. We drove through town to reach our hotel and Peter pointed out a local gourmet chocolate shop (oh yes, I would be going there!), a good coffee place, and a few markets for both local handicrafts and for food. It just killed me to be arriving, tired as a zombie, knowing I would have less than 24 hours to see the city. Maybe my plans for an immediate nap as soon as we reached the hotel would have to be canceled.

The hotel, Posada Carmelita, was a beautiful and lovely very Mexican hotel. We were warmly greeted by Carmelita herself when we arrived. Once I got into my room, I immediately took a shower. We had left on Friday and now it was mid-afternoon Saturday, so I had not showered for at least 24 hours. Of course, I thought with trepidation, once we get into the villages, a shower every 24 hours was not going to happen. We were only staying here, in the hotel, for one night. I can’t remember a time in my life since high school when I didn’t shower at least every other day, save for the three days I just spent in an indigenous village in Bolivia.

Not too long after I finished showering, Peter and Susan knocked on my door. Time to go see the town. San Cristobal de Las Casas is a tourist town that appeals to both yuppies and backpackers. Susan pointed out certain areas of town that are popular to the tourists. “Very yuppy,” she said. “Yup yup yup.” Still, I couldn’t help but enjoy the city.


A sign on the street about climate change. It says "Change the system, not the climate"

We walked to a place that Peter calls “The Zapa Mall,” a café in a building with stores selling Zapatista artisan goods around it. Susan did not recommend the food, but I was too hungry to care. The tamales I ordered tasted great. I looked around at the shops while Susan tried to connect to the internet to get in touch with someone they had to meet up with to buy neem products for the Zapatistas. (More on this later.)


A poster in the entrance of the Zapa mall about the upcoming Cancun climate summit, and how climate change impacts Mexico. Notice that the bottom right says "No to transgenic corn! Go away Monsanto!"


A close-up of part of the poster, which calls climate change a socio-environmental disaster in Mexico

The stores mostly carried handmade embroidered products such as shirts, shawls, purses, coin purses, handkerchiefs, and more, as well as posters of local (spectacular) artwork. At first I was confused by the image of a woman with her face covered except for her eyes, embroidered on many items with slogans like “Women for dignity.” I thought women’s rights were very strong within the Zapatistas. And do they wear burkas here? What’s dignified about that?

When I saw the little Zapatista dolls, I understood. The dolls were all armed, masked men. Both women and men cover their faces either with black hats that cover their entire heads save for their eyes, or with red bandanas. The Zapatista imagery was just incredible. They showed flowers with Zapatista (masked) bees buzzing around them, corn plants with ears of Zapatista corn growing, and Zapatista snails as well.

Peter had already explained to me that the snail is a Zapatista symbol of communication. He had been saying for a while that we would visit and even stay in the Zapatista Caracoles. Now, my Spanish ain’t great, but I know what caracoles are because I like to eat them (or did in my pre-vegetarian days). I assumed that I must be wrong about the word in this context. Surely we weren’t going to Chiapas to visit snails. And yet, that’s exactly what caracoles means. It’s the name given to the Zapatista administrative centers in each zone because they are places for communication.

Peter explained that Mayan pictures often show people with a spiral like a snail’s shell coming from their mouth to symbolize speech. Plus there’s the idea of calling people to meet by blowing on a conch shell. And the shape of the snail’s shell symbolizes that the inside meets the outside as the outside meets the inside. The Zapatistas’ Caracoles hold their government for each zone, plus offices for each municipality within the zone, and women’s cooperatives that sell handicrafts. There are no weapons, drugs, or alcohol allowed inside the Caracoles.


The Virgin Mary was a Zapatista


A Zapatista mural. You can see here that they value their environment, biodiversity, and their communities.


A close-up of part of the mural. It says Indigenous Zapatista Agrarian Corn Movement. Corn is a BIG DEAL here in Chiapas.


Another mural


A display of hammocks for sale


The sign near the hammocks. It says that the hammocks were woven by political prisoners of the criminals known as "El Amate" and "Los Llanos," both located in the state of Chiapas. While they were weaving the hammocks, they were also weaving dreams of liberty and dignity. Resting in them may cause you to be infected with rebellion. Do you dare?


A Zapatista doll, a woman soldier. Usually the dolls are carrying guns but this one is not.


Zapatista embroidery. The ears of corn are Zapatistas.

I bought a green embroidered shirt, and then joined Peter and Susan, who had given up on the internet and simply used the phone to arrange their meeting. We sat in the café at the center of the Zapa Mall, having drinks. Then Peter Rosset walked into the building. I’m a huge fan of his work, but he was about the last person I expected to see in a small town in Chiapas. As it turns out, his office is located IN the Zapa Mall. I hurried over to introduce myself in person, beginning by telling him that I swear, I’m not stalking him (I friended him on Facebook and then got in touch over email a few weeks ago).

Peter Rosset is a leader within La Via Campesina, an organization I strongly support, and he’s written some brilliant stuff on agroecology and food sovereignty. And, he’s incredibly nice. A few minutes after I introduced myself, Peter (who I was traveling with) joined us. The two Peters (who already knew each other) decided to sit down and chat for a bit, and Peter Rosset joined us at our table. He told us about some of the plans for activism at the climate summit in Cancun, and we told him what we were here for. He told us he knew a Brazilian professor, named Lia, who wanted to meet with the Zapatistas to learn about their education system, and we offered to bring her along with us to meet with them.

Peter Rosset called her on his phone, and she came over and arranged to meet us at the hotel the next morning. With that arranged, Peter and Susan realized they had to hurry to get their neem, and told me to meet them at the hotel in a few hours. Everyone said their goodbyes and split up.