In the courtyard, the avocado trees grow heavy with fruit, their slender branches tilting down to the earth below.
"Look!" Maria beckons to me, picking up a piece of the fruit fallen to the ground.
"That's how you know they are ready to eat." She delivers the ripening green avocado to my outstretched hand before returning to class.
I had met Maria the night before in the crowded streets around the central plaza of Tequila, where the market that had started earlier that day was stretching on long into the night. Tequila is normally a small, sleepy town best know for the alcohol that bears its name and the blue agave plants that are its main ingredient. This weekend, however, vendors have come here from all over Mexico with their colorful booths offering all sorts of goods and knowledge. Artesanias, fabrics, clothing, crystals: almost everything here is centered on traditional healing and medicine, as practitioners are gathering in Tequila this one weekend in the year for a conference, a series of workshops, and this market. In one corner of the open air market, there are chairs for massage and reiki; other stands have vast arrays of herbal remedies for just about any ailment you can think of. The square is abuzz with a certain energy, knowledge being transferred from person to person. There is know-how here that stretches far back into the history of this place well before it was Mexico.
A woman with short curly hair and a long sweeping skirt ambles over to us as we sit after the market on the steps. We are tired but contented, our stomachs full of traditional blue corn quesadillas, hearty as they were rich. We chat away with our new acquaintance and I quickly realize how limited my conception of tequila (sometimes dangerous party alcohol) is. Here is tequila central, and for many, it is considered a medicine in and of itself, within reason of course and with certain stipulations, only 100% blue agave, resposado which means tequila that has been aged in barrels for at least two months. One small serving in the morning and one before bed. “You drink this morning and evening,” Maria assures us, “and you’ll never have to see a doctor again.” There are blue agave plantations all around the town; the plant gets its name from its is blue-green hue. I find something wonderful about a plant as austere as a cactus being used for so much, not only for tequila but also to produce agave syrup.
“Come to class with us tomorrow!” Maria’s eyes glitter and although I’m not sure if it’s the tequila talking, my curiosity has been piqued. We readily agree and Maria leads us down a few winding cobble stone roads to the school and sports complex where the workshops are being held. She shows us into their make-shift camp, tucked away in an improbable little corner behind a water tower. In a few minutes, our tent is up as well and we are home.
Bam… bam… bam… bam. The sound of drums from the auditorium rock us awake at six am the next morning. Everyone is gathering to dance to the music, swirling in time to the drum beats to shake the sleep off their bodies and embrace the day to come. I am too attached to my dreams and I roll out of bed two hours later, eating a few pieces of fruit for a quick breakfast before class.
At the front of the room a woman, now our classmate, is shaking in grief, bringing to the surface a pain that had been lodged deep inside her for years. I'm unprepared for this scene, so intensely intimate and tears gather quickly in my eyes.
Elvia Angélica conducts this symphony of emotional pain and healing, with an otherworldly calm and poise. She is both teacher and healer; gracefully she melds tradition into this public psychotherapy session of sorts.
Three of our classmates stand around the woman in question, they too are transformed by this exercise; one represents her mother in front of her, her father standing by her 'mother's' side and her grandmother behind them. She kneels before them on the linoleum floor, an assemblage of offerings to her right: flowers, food, incense. The woman's cries are piercing. I am just an onlooker, but I remember that sometimes, bearing witness is its own form of participation. I watch as this woman wages a battle inside of herself, seeking forgiveness.
It is not a matter of forgetting, but a matter of healing.
There are no accidents in travel, I am thinking to myself. People come together, if only for a moment, if only for the duration of one class, our energies ricocheting out into the world in a way that is so daringly raw. I love the indigeneity of this place, how present and powerful it is here. I have so much more to learn.
I leave the classroom lighter, even with the weight of an extra avocado in my bag.