Today is my last tour serving as a guide for En Vía, and I am sad to leave.
When I came to Oaxaca for the first time in November 2013, after I had retired from my role as an art therapist for women and children in Vermont for many years, I was interested in responsible tourism and micro-financing for women, so I took a tour with En Vía.
That experience impressed me deeply, as I met the women who were raising chickens and running abarrotes in towns far outside the central hub of Oaxaca. The tour was well organized, guides were friendly and informed, and the van was comfortable and safe. I noticed how the schedule worked and meetings were met on time. Meeting, talking and eating with the women borrowers was a special treat.
I admired the model and philosophy of En Vía, after having worked for 40 years with women living in poverty. I wanted to volunteer to work for En Vía, but was distracted by an opportunity to make art with street children and visit an orphanage in Oaxaca. This was satisfying work as well, but often children didn’t show up for after school projects. I was disappointed in that. Volunteering often means taking buses on long distances or lugging materials to the site. My “executive director” self became discouraged.
I spent winters here and when friends of mine come to visit me, we always go on a tour with En Vía. The quality of the experience never failed to impress me. They usually bought a rug, a blouse or a bag. They were thrilled with their purchases and equally at having met the artist. I went to several fundraisers at the EnVia “campus” and found them to be friendly, delicious, displaying beautiful artifacts the women made.
Several of my friends here in Oaxaca had become tour guides or translators and always seemed very pleased to be doing so.
This year, my fourth winter in Oaxaca, I heard there was a position open for a tour guide and I immediately contacted Mica. Mica is an exemplary manager and trainer, meeting her solidified my impression of En Via as a well organized and capable organization, staff and volunteers, alike. Mica trains and gives feedback like no other supervisor I’ve ever met. I believe all of the staff would agree.
After a month of training and practice, I went on my first tour as a guide. There was a lot of support and little pressure. I wanted to represent En Vía well. I naturally refer to the program using “we” and “us”. This demonstrates the inclusive welcome I feel. We know that income from our tours is the #1 source of funding for loans to the women. I want our guests to be fully satisfied with their experience.
Being invited into the homes and studios of the women borrowers is a precious opportunity. We meet them and hear about their businesses and goals and how the loans have supported their businesses.
We sit and eat with them and meet family members as well. The old man, father of our cook for the day, proudly tucks in his shirt and buttons it up when I ask if I can take his photo. A four year old boy climbs on the loom while his 9 year old brother shows us how he weaves, and the beautiful blue rug he made. The mother of a borrower, a blind woman of 95, finds her way to the bathroom on her own by using her cane to slide along a clothesline, while two toddler boys romp around the patio, aware of her safety. A seven year old girl rolls out her own tortillas, puts them on the comal and serves them to us, with great pride. A mother sits by her developmentally delayed adult son, pats his knee when she rises to share her presentation. Family is precious here, most of us recognize this and appreciate it.
En Vía allows me to meet and speak with women and their families, to talk about their businesses, yes, but also to learn what oil they use to help with aching muscles, how married women wear their braids tied together, how some people leave the pueblo, never to return. Real life, tears and laughter, are parts of my experience as well.
It is to my advantage to listen to the conversations in Spanish (and Zapotec to Spanish) that are then translated to English. This is helping my Spanish, as well. Working with EnVia has been a wonderful experience for me. I leave in about a week for the summer and fall in Vermont. Mica has signed me up to work/guide for Day of the Dead this coming fall, and I am anticipating another amazing day with En Vía.
— Nancy Clingan