Oventic: A Zapatista Community

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I slept soundly for the first time since we arrived. We finished dinner and decided to walk around the city. We went to a bookstore owned by an American female who has lived here for 14 years. She left America in disgust it seemed and has not returned since. She seemed to side against the Zapatistas saying that they took over ranches belonging to poor farmers, pillaged them and then left. She said that it is obvious that they are not in this for taking back their land. I thought Linda was going to engage in a debate with her, but she kept her disdain and eye rolls to a minimum.

We found a local theater that is playing a movie on Sunday about the Women in the Zapatista movement. Hopefully, we will be back in San Cristobal to see it.

We walked to the mercado this morning to find the collectivo to Oventic (O-ven-tik). The mercado itself is an amazing place. It is where the locals and indigenous set up shop for the day. The streets are lined with merchants and the church yards are packed with sellers of native clothing, souvenirs, and hammocks. We discovered the collectivos leave throughout the day and that we had time to go back to the hotel and pay for another night. While on our way back, we stopped at the internet cafe to call home and get information regarding areas we might want to visit while in San Cristobal.

We left in a packed collectivo after a long walk back through the mercado. Collectivos are essentially 12 passenger vans filled with at least 15 passengers. Nonetheless, the trip was a beautiful ride up and through the mountains. The hills were full of grass, trees and occasional row crops with areas of large rocks that appeared volcanic. As we passed by the houses, I was amazed by the difference in the quality of life of those in the city versus the mountains. Words cannot describe the conditions of the mountain dwellers. I hope to be able to take some photos on the ride back. On our way out of the city, we passed a military checkpoint and were fortunate to not be chosen for a search. But, who knows what will happen on the return trip.
On our way up the Mountain, we passed by several communities and many shacks (homes) that were in complete disarray. However, I noticed as we passed the first sign that indicated we were entering Zapatista territory that things appeared more organized and not as dilapidated. The houses were still built from very rustic materials, but they appeared to have more and seemed to care more about the land. There was less trash strewn about and overall more organization of the homestead.

I had a really hard time seeing all of the Coca Cola advertisements on the houses. Coca Cola is everywhere down here which is understandable. All of the bottled water, or a majority of what we have seen is bottled by Coca Cola. However, to see large placards of Coca Cola plastered on a shanty home disgusts me so much that words cannot describe.

Nearly an hour later, we arrived in Oventic, a Zapatista community. I think Linda and I nearly dropped our jaws when the collectivo pulled over to drop us off. We were the only ones to exit here and we were facing a long gate with 2 armed guards wearing the traditional EZLN black ski mask. While we were approaching the area in the collectivo, we saw signs announcing that we were in Zapatista controlled territory and from what I understood, the Mexican government does not even pretend to have control here. Rather, the Zapatista Law is in full force and effect.
To be honest, when we arrived, I asked myself what the hell I had gotten myself into. I had a fear I would be shot on the spot just because I am caucasian. As we approached the fence, Linda explained to them why we were there. They let us through the gate and guided us to a shack where we were “processed in,” but before they did that they confiscated our i.d.’s and took them inside to see if we were allowed to enter. Once we were inside the “shack,” they asked us for our identifying information and wrote it all down.

After processing us, they advised us we would have to get further permission from someone else for Linda to ask questions or to take any photographs. We were escorted to another small building and told to wait outside. Outside this “shack,” were three others waiting. One appeared to be a local man, the female was from Argentina, and another younger guy was from Jalisco, Mexico. After several minutes, the Mexican local was allowed to enter the “Gobierno’s” shack and after several more minutes the young girl and guy were allowed to enter the building next to this one.

While we were waiting to obtain permission to take photographs, three Zapatista girls were sitting outside the building next door sewing. They kept looking over at us with a smile. Eventually, they worked up the courage to come over and ask me if I wanted to buy a shirt they had made. The girl who made it hid it inside her shirt and pulled it out when she came closer. The funny thing as that they directed their contact to me, the only caucasian surrounded by four latinos. I guess I looked more like a tourist.

About an hour later, we were finally allowed to enter the building next door. A male and female Zapatista were inside wearing the traditional black ski masks. The male asked to see the questions Linda had written on a piece of paper. When she asked her first question of the female, the male Zapatista immediately began to answer for her. Linda told me later that he said the female did not want to answer, but it was apparent to me from the beginning of the conversation that she was not allowed to answer. That fact alone really made me question the truth behind their women equality propaganda. Maybe for them, it is a step forward, but by American standards, it doesn’t appear to be much of a step at all. Yet, I must remind myself that our standards are not necessarily best for all.

While inside the shack, I noticed all sorts of Zapatista propaganda on the walls. However, what stood out were the posters and murals of Che Guevara. I realize he possessed similar goals, but he was from Argentina and “liberated” Cuba. Albeit similar, I would think they would want to adopt their own identity entirely, even if they used him for inspiration.

From what I know of Marcos, he is an admiral man in that his mind is open and loving of all. He is articulate and educated, passionate and charismatic. But, who is he? This question plagues everyone. Linda has encountered many interesting responses to this question. Many have said he is not Mexican because he is too prepared or well-spoken. For many, such a statement is an insult to the Mexican people and I agree. To say Marcos cannot be Mexican because he is smart essentially says that Mexicans are not intelligent enough as a culture to produce such an inspirational and intelligent descendant. In my opinion, the Countries that are not as “well off” produce some of the most intelligent, inspirational and motivational people. I feel that those “better off” get lazy. They have nothing to fight for. Often, we, as Americans, are culturally and socially inept and unaware of the World around us. We’d rather build McMansions, drive nice cars, and are often clueless about anything, but what underwear (or lack thereof) Paris Hilton wore to the club last night. At this very moment, I cannot think of one modern-day inspirational American.

So, we are sitting in the shack, and I am honestly scared shitless. I am afraid to move and am all too aware of every movement I make as I am afraid they will wonder why I am there since I am so fidgety and nervous. So, I tried to focus my movements and adjusted slowly in my seat. Linda asks several questions and I hear the guy repeat himself many times and I can tell despite the language barrier that she is not getting the information she needs for her Thesis. After about twenty minutes, she finishes and asks if there is anything I would like to add. Obviously, I cannot add much to the conversation considering I have no clue what was said. However, I threw out a couple of questions nonetheless. Based upon the responses, I am sure I was not much of a help.

We left the shack and were told to wait outside of the “Gobierno’s house” to get permission to take photographs and to visit the school. While waiting outside for nearly another hour, I asked to use the bathrooms. We were led to a four-wall shanty, but it was occupied. Once the door opened, a man came outside carrying a bucket and I was not sure what to expect when I entered. I assumed it would be like a porta-potty, but was surprised to find an actual toilet inside. The interior was wet from top to bottom with razors lying around and the facilities were primitive to say the least. I went to the bathroom and held my long hair so it would not fall into the wet table in front of the toilet. After we finished going to the bathroom, we realized there was a man showering right next to the bathroom in a four walled structure without a roof. It was similar to what you see in an island movie without the beach ambiance. Before we went to the bathroom, several men in the community were watching us from between the buildings and were smiling at us as if they were waiting to see our reactions.

Afterwards, we continued waiting for a short bit and were finally welcomed into the Gobierno’s home where we went through the same song and dance for the 3rd time (names, County, occupation and organization). I, of course, sat there without saying a word. We entered with two other young people and were “welcomed” by 3 masked men and 1 woman. Based upon the configuration, I could not help but wonder if the female was the secretary. Again, another contradiction to the equality they promote. While inside the Gobierno’s home, I observed a Pennant flag from Wesleyan University which I found interesting considering its quasi Ivy league status. Furthermore, there was a photo on the wall of a little blond-haired child on a tricycle. She was in a backyard with wooden fences. The backyard seemed similar to one from the U.S. These things sparked my curiosity. I wondered if they were sent by supporters or brought by visitors.

After several minutes in there, we were given our “pass” or permission slip to be in the community and to walk around. This pass allowed us to travel down the hill to the school and to take photos of the area. However, we were only allowed to take photos of murals and those Zapatistas who were wearing masks. Everything else was off limits.

While down by the school, I observed a mural that said, “Democracy in education… Justice in education.” Yet, I did not observe any girls in the classroom. All of the students were boys which might explain why we saw those three young girls sewing shirts earlier and not in school. Two of those same girls ended up “guarding” the gate later while we were outside waiting for the collectivo. Prior to that, we had asked permission to take photos of the two guys at the gate with their masks and they would not allow it. I ended up turning off the flash on Linda’s camera and took about four photos from in between my legs while we were sitting on the other side of the road. It was pretty exhilarating knowing we still could have gotten into serious trouble.
We left in the collectivo after waiting more than an hour. As usual the collectivo was full with about 14 people in a 12-seat van. On the way back, I was able to take some photos out the window of the houses and the people who live in the mountains.

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