|Courtesy of Linda Bello Ruiz|
I was walking across the quad of Willamette University on a unseasonably-sunny afternoon in March when she swept into sight. An elderly woman with the stature of a grandmother and the unforgiving mien of a tenured academic was leading a group of addled celebrity-worshiping coeds across the grass.
She could have stepped out of a dungeons and dragons game -- clad in a massive gold cloak and carrying a walking stick that could easily be mistaken for a wizard's staff. I thought she could be Gandalf's mother.
But I would have been wrong.
It was Margaret Mead. The purveyor of teenage Samoan sexual freedom. That was before a large portion of the anthropological community turned on her and attempted to eat her in one indigestible lump.
She was a pioneer in drawing her conclusions about anthropology from field work she conducted herself -- often living amongst the people she studied.
That memory of her under full sail with the convoy of dinghies in her wake came back to me while I was signing up for my own cultural immersion sponsored by a church acquaintance, Linda Bello Ruiz.
Linda was quick to point out this is not a tour where the participants are driven from point to point to be told "look at this," only to be herded back on a bus after 15 minutes or so. Instead, she calls the trip "experiential."
In early March, a small group of us will board a bus and head off for four days of experiences in the Mexican state of Michoacán. That would usually mean Patzcuaro. But not this trip. We will penetrate Michoacán just barely past our hotel in Zamora. The bus trip will be the first day.
Days two and three we will meet at an area outside the village of Chilchota (which means "place of the chiles," and that would be enough to get me there). This will be our opportunity to learn more about the Purépecha -- the only Indian culture that had the military power to withstand the Spanish invasion.
As Linda says, it is not a tour; it is an experience. The village women will show us how to do (and expect us to participate) embroidery, pottery, natural medicine, and food preparation. (Of that list, the last one piques my interest. Others will be piqued by something else.) There is even the promise of various ceremonies -- sweat lodges, bonfire dancing, and "fire ball" games.
I am particularly interested in hearing about the most recent studies exploring the theoretical links between the Purépecha (through their language and monumental architecture) and the people who we now call the Inca.
Day four will be a shopping trip to Tlaquepaque -- which I will most likely spend walking the streets of Guadalajara -- having my own Mexican experience.
I am going on the trip because it is miles outside of my comfort level, and I need to feel uncomfortable now and then. Life in Barra de Navidad is starting to slip into the same comfort-numbing routine I wanted to avoid in Salem.
Besides, my experiential meanderings through Michoacán have the possibility of being a Carlos Fuentes moment. And that will certainly be worth an essay or two.
Linda tells me space is still available on the bus. Join us.
We can walk some new paths. And eventually we will find space to sit upon the ground and tell sad tales of dead kings.