Celebrating the Zapotec way

Celebrating the Zapotec way

Liesl Driver
Cazidde’ guinie’ diixaza. (Estoy aprendiendo a hablar Zapoteco). I’m learning to speak Zapotec. I’ve been in Juchitan a little over a week now and feeling more adjusted to the life every day. I can’t lie, the first couple days I was frequently wondering, “What am I doing here??” But it has only gotten better with time, as I knew it would. I guess I just had to get over how I thought things were going to be and accept and learn from how they actually are.

When I got into town, I was picked up at the bus station by my professor’s family and taken to Oscar’s house. All the students, there are six of us, are staying with Oscar. Oscar is a very unique man. He pretty much grew up on the street with no formal education but yet has so much to teach us. He speaks Zapotec, which he learned once he moved to Juchitan several years ago. In addition to the classes we already have, he likes to give us his own while we are around the house.

The first few days I spent my time touring the city and market. Our host does not provide meals, so we have been scoping out good, cheap places to eat as well. Once classes started we had the mornings free to explore followed by class at 4 p.m.

Juchitan is not really how I pictured it at all. I guess you could say it does not feel as “indigenous” as I thought it would. Some people are dressed in traditional garb from day to day, but the majority is not. In the center of town there is a huge market where there are all sorts of fresh fruit, vegetables, turtle eggs (yes I have tried them, twice now), and clothing.

There are not that many cafes to go to, but the other students and I come to the one café with air conditioning almost daily. I’d have to say one of the hardest things to adjust to about this town is the heat, it’s incredibly hot and most places do not have air conditioning, like where I’m living and where we take classes.

I have had four days of class now and already learning quite a bit of Zapotec. Technically the classes are five hours a day, but our professor has been very flexible with that because it’s difficult to concentrate and continue to learn new information for that long. So far we have started learning the basics of a new language, such as greetings and basic questions like “How old are you?” Everyone I have talked to has said it’s easier for a native English speaker to learn Zapotec than a native Spanish speaker due to certain sounds that exist in English but not in Spanish, such as the “j” from the word John.

My favorite day of class was yesterday. Instead of having a formal class, we went to see a traditional celebration, giving us a chance to practice Zapotec with native speakers. It was a celebration for one of the Saints that had been going on for the past four days. It was under a big tent with a big aisle down the middle for dancing. The women were sitting on either side while the men had to sit on the outskirts. There were two live bands that played, they each had their own stage on the ends of the tent and switched back and forth.

When we first arrived only a select few were dancing but by the end the aisle was full of dancers. Almost all the women, and quite a few men, were dressed in traditional clothing, beautiful shirts with embroidered flowers with long skirts. It was great to get to know some of the people of the town and see a typical celebration.

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