Saturday morning started with a visit to the San Cristobal de las Casas Rotary Club, where Nancy and I were to make a presentation about StoveTeam. We were told that the meeting started at 9 a.m., so being norteamericanas, we showed up right around nine. We should know better by now--we were the first ones there. So, we took a few laps around the plaza to wait for the meeting to actually begin.
Around 9:45 enough people had filtered in that we joined the meeting, where we greeted each of the 50 people individually and then sat down to the most enormous breakfast we had ever seen.
At about 10 a.m. the meeting started in earnest, and I presented our mission and model in Spanish to the group, who nodded frequently as I discussed our observations over the past few days of the high levels of poverty and need for improved cookstoves. The club was very welcoming and expressed an interest in working together to create a new stove factory that would serve the nine indigenous groups living throughout Chiapas.
After breakfast, cake, and a sandwich to go, Nancy and I waddled back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of our team. Helena and Julio of Madre Tierra picked us up for an outing to San Juan Chamula, which is locally famous for a church that blends Catholicism with the indigenous beliefs of that area.
Unlike previous Catholic Churches in Latin America that I have visited, this church had no pews. Instead, the floor was covered with pine needles. Families sat on the floor and prayed loudly in their local languages to altars made up of soda, eggs, and elaborate formations of candles, which burned until they melted to the floor. There were flower arrangements covering every inch of space along the walls, except for where there were statues of various saints. Each saint’s garment had a mirror on the front to show you the reflection of your soul. While you would normally see angels or gilded patterns on the ceilings of a typical Catholic Church, this particular church had paintings of animals, the sun, moon, and stars instead.
After leaving the church, I asked Helena why the families had offerings of eggs on their altars. She told me that it is common for families to bring in a sick family member or friend and give them a ‘reading’ to figure out what the person is suffering from. The reading entails rubbing the egg (or sometimes a live chicken) all over the unwell person’s body, and then cracking the egg (or killing the chicken) to read the symptoms. When we were visiting the church, it was clear that a chicken had recently been used for this exact purpose as there were several men cleaning blood off of the floor.
It was truly an incredible experience, and if you’re ever in Chiapas, I highly recommend a visit to the church of San Juan Chamula.