The first conversation I had about setting up a table at Xochimilco’s organic market was a long one. Usually there is a considerable process for venders to get in, and even a queue. Alfredo, the market manager gave me a big long look, as we leant against the church wall. He had a lot of questions, and I had a lot of pauses between sentences, searching for those elusive Spanish verbs. “I’m not going to sell anything”, I said, “I just want to talk to people about En Vía, and have a little table with information”.
He wanted to know all about us; it was obvious he wanted to be happy about our goals and ethics if he was going to support us in this way. I kept talking, and very soon he started nodding, and then to my delight, he started smiling. He was happy. And so was I! And thus I was given my own little space in the churchyard under the trees and my chance to promote En Vía in a new community of market goers. I soon began to realise that my time there would be very special…
Andrea, an obvious market matriarch, asks me from behind her full tables of salads what I am to be selling. She seems genuinely impressed as well as surprised when I tell her about En Vía. Bienvenido, she smiles and shakes my hand, and at that one word I could almost cry, at the pure joy of being accepted. A little later, having heard my story, the Italian baker approaches my table, and with him he brings a small walnut muffin and another bienvenido. A busking guitarist stops by and touches the beautiful natural green tapete that was woven by one of our borrowers in Teotitlan that now sits proudly on my table. Again, after hearing the cause, I am wished a warm welcome and good luck. The German leather artist sits down in the chair next to me. He smiles warmly; his brown leather stained hands match his coffee stained teeth. He hands me a chocolate biscuit, and we sit dipping them in cups of steaming fresh atole while I again explain En Vía’s story as well as my own.
When I am alone again, the little girl whose mother makes blue corn quesadillas approaches me and puts her hands all over the En Vía poster in front of me. She then asks me directly and sincerely if I am a boy or girl. With a quizzical air, she’s looking at my short hair, she’s looking at my clothes, and she’s fingering the pendants around my neck. Eventually she accepts my answer and decides that I will be, from then on, integrated into the games that she runs with some of the other children there. Some days I will be sitting eating and they will creep up as slowly as they can behind me and tap me on the back before running away laughing. I have taken this to be another way of saying bienvenido. Seeing this fun, Alfredo, making his rounds, laughs and kisses my cheek in greeting and asks me how it goes.
It goes well. I have had a presence at the market for four weeks now, using it as a new base for outreach in Oaxaca. I have spoken with travellers. I have spoken with ex pats. I have spoken to locals. I have spoken to people from other non-government organisations. In general, the response is one of interest and support for En Via. I am aware of the varying different ways of connecting with people (over food, with stories, with smiles) and I hope that by being there, amongst a truly wonderful community of venders, visitors, and friends, that I will be able to bring a little more attention to Fundación En Vía and the important work we do. Come visit me there, under the trees, and we can talk!
Story by Kim Groves and photos by Julia Turnbull