For the last 13 years, the Zapatista movement of the indigenous people of Chiapas has attained global recognition as a preeminent people’s movement for open and representative government, basic human rights and respect for the Earth and all its people. While many know the story, few have experienced first-hand their daily struggle to survive in extreme poverty all the while maintaining their fight for land, respect, food, and the freedom to live by their culture.
Shipra and I were invited by Dr. Juan Manuel, a local physician we have close contact with, and Mere, a “promator” (community health worker), to travel to a Zapatista community in the hills of Chiapas. This, in short, is what we did:
- Meet Juan Manuel and Mere in front of Hospital San Carlos at 8am.
- Travel by “collectivo” (shared van) from Altamirano through valleys and cloud forest to Ocosingo
- Traverse bustling market, carniceria, and shops in Ocosingo
- Eat tamales and atole (milk and corn drink) for breakfast
- Leave Ocosingo by “combi” (covered truck), and speak at length with Juan Manuel about Mexican history and history of the Zapatista movement
- Pass military checkpoint, no hassle
- Arrive at Municipio Autónoma Olga Isabel, a large Zapatista enclave
- Met many Tzetzal “coordinadoras”, indigenous women from many pueblos in the area who lead and organize around the movement. They lead the Zapatista “communidades en resistencia” (communities in resistance). They speak Tzetzal, an indigenous dialect, and little Spanish, making introductions difficult.
- With Mere, ride “combi” up bumpy dirt road to trail head and hike uphill through jungle and pine forests. Dodge a black snake. Stunning valley views.
- Arrive at Campanawiitz, a small indigenous village of several wood, tin-roofed, dirt-floored huts.
- Mere and Solomon, local promator, administer vaccinations in Solomon’s home as Shipra and I entertain the children with hand puppets and silly faces. Children and adults curious of us. Farm animals abound – chicks, dogs, a pig. Small black and white TV, decorations with tricolores (Mexico’s red, white, and green) and with health education posters made by Solomon. Solomon’s wife cooks lunch in adjacent hut, the air thick with the fire’s smoke.
- Lunch with Mere and Solomon of homemade corn tortillas, rice and black beans.
- Shipra and I examine Solomon’s sister pregnant at 38 weeks (baby’s heart sounds perfect, head down) and father suffering from osteoarthritis, we think.
- Hike back to dirt road along a ridge with valley views, through corn and bean fields and several cows grazing.
- Ride combi filled with lumber back to Olga Isabel where we speak with several Swiss human rights workers invited there to witness the Zapatista struggle as observers. We watch a DVD on the Zapatista movement. It begins to rain.
- Take short combi ride through the night to Chilón, a nearby town, where we sleep at the gorgeous home of Nely, a “partera” (midwife) and friend of Juan Manuel.
- Eat heuvos rancheros and Juan Manuel sees a patient as Shipra and I explore the fantastic hilltop views of Chilón.
- Return to Olga Isabel. Juan Manuel sees patients at Clínica Autónoma Municipal, Shipra helps the women bake bread, I chat with the men and shoot basketball. It is a warm, sunny day.
- Two more combi rides: one from Olga Isabel to Ocosingo (2 military stops this time, no issues) and then from Ocosingo to Altamirano and home.
- Happily home and grateful for the incredible experience, we eat, shower (after 2 days), and go to sleep.