Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
As human beings, we experience seemingly simple moments that sometimes resonate so deeply in us that there is no choice but to acknowledge the impending change that is to come as a result.
My first visit to Oaxaca was a weeklong foray tacked onto a business trip in Mexico City. I had been mulling over leaving my job for some time, and was in the midst of weighing the options for my next move. My work in international marketing and development for a university had provided amazing opportunities to travel the globe and forge new connections over the last five years, however I was feeling road weary and craving a home.
While sussing out options of where to plant my roots, my introductory trip to Oaxaca included a tour with Fundación En Vía, which took me to the home of a microloan borrower named Eulalia. I listened as she told her story and the years unfolded before us. It was evident that her personal experiences were woven into every fiber of her exquisite handmade tapetes (rugs). By the time I returned to my b&b where I was staying, I had decided that Oaxaca would be my new home, and working with En Via would serve as a part of my new chapter. Now, four months into my stay in the city, I couldn’t be happier and Eulalia is partially to thank for that.
To my delight, this Friday in July finds me back in Teotitlán del Valle at the home of Eulalia with a new En Vía tour group that I am co-leading with my Texan colleague, Susan, who covers the translations in facilitating the conversations with the borrowers.
Eulalia works from a tiny brick home, topped by a roof of arched terracotta tile that overlooks a series of rolling green mountains. Her property was passed down from her father, much like the specialized designs of her unique tapetes. Born and raised in Teotitlán del Valle, she is the youngest child in her family and chose not to marry or have children. Given this, Eulalia lived at home with her parents, caring for them until their passing.
Two long ebony braids sit on her back, tied with shiny royal blue ribbons, as she flashes a girlish smile and she picks up the materials necessary to demonstrate how to card raw wool for weaving. Not only does Eulalia weave some of the finest tapetes that I have encountered – edges flat to the ground, with specialty colors and designs that can only be found in her workshop – she is also cards, dyes and spins her wool by hand. In addition to this, Eulalia is an active participant in the free En Vía English classes, and has even picked up a bit of French from another weaver that she occasionally works beside. These skills emerge in combination with her sharp wit, as she moves to the spinning wheel and offers up the chance to the participants to give it a whirl in both English and French.
Eulalia explains that her interest-free loans are used to buy both raw materials for her tapetes, as well as elements for her workshop home. To date, she has invested in various items including a water tank, and she also plans to extend the home with a kitchen addition.
A stack of vibrantly-hued tapetes sit in front of the group as she places one after the other woolen treasure onto the pile. While the rich colors of specific designs are intriguing, her most sought-after pieces are her infamous dientes (teeth) designs that blend the natural colors of undyed wool in soft tones of chocolate, charcoal, cream and grey. As the visit winds down, we shake hands and file out of her home along a narrow dirt path.
One of the tour participants is carrying a soft grey design by Eulalia under her arm, which she has bought for her place in Austin, Texas. The door to the van closes and we all openly covet her purchase on the way to the home of the next borrower. A tour participant from California motions with her left hand and notes that the visit has solidified a budding desire to move to Oaxaca in the coming months. I nod my head in understanding as she acknowledges the impending change, while her roots reach towards the Oaxaca soil in greeting to a new home.