Sunday, August 19, 2012

Adaptation in Comaltepec

View of the Sierra over a roof primed for future construction
We descended 40 minutes down a winding dirt road off Mexico 175 to the Chinantec community of Comaltepec, population around 2000. We joined the last day of a conference on adaptation to climate change in indigenous communities held by COMET LA, Community Based Management of Environmental Challenges in Latin America. As I understand it, COMET LA is an EU-funded research initiative based in Cordoba Spain and involving collaboration with academics, NGOs, and practitioners in Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Comaltepec was hosting as a sort of model for participatory and successful community decision making enabling effective natural resource development and economic gains. (Click title to read and see more.)
The conference was surprising only in its familiarity: the same language of co-benefits, winners and losers, distribution of gains and losses, and action in the face of uncertainty. Five and half hours of listening had my head spinning and I had nothing but empathy for the restless high school kids in the back of the auditorium. I was curious to know who they were and what they thought, but didn't find or make the opportunity to find out.
The conference seemed familiar, except the setting
and the audience
Community and government understanding is low, and yet REDD pilot project proposals are needed as early as September
With a missed opportunity to make the conference (itself about the importance of being participatory) participatory, the most interesting part was the town itself: how people lived, the humbling hospitality, and the striking sense of community that even experienced in an instant was both wonderful and oppressive, right down to the 7:30am community loudspeaker announcement for kids to wake up and come to the music performance asap and for us to eat breakfast there and then. Turns out most kids want to leave, go to the U.S.
The front yard of the house where I stayed
The kitchen in the breakfast comedor
Making cornmeal, corn grown behind the house
This earthquake-prone town got phone lines two years ago, before that young kids acted as "topeles" (runners - apologies for the phonetic spelling) relaying messages up and down the insanely steep streets. (Someone who grows up doing that could become a pretty amazing endurance athlete!) The new bank of Internet-connected computers in the main town building has become the hangout for kids, who wear the same jeans and clothing as every other teenager I've seen in Oaxaca, evidently live in homes that cook hearty food on wood stoves, likely even make their own tortillas, and feast on chips, soda, and packages of cookies during a conference break. The local coffee is Nescafe heaped with sugar. I wonder how it all fits together, the community, the hard work, the junk food, the specter of diabetes, the trash from endless bottles of bottled water drunk every day, the Internet streaming in... No fewer contradictions and complexities than anywhere else I suppose.
Paco and an UNAM economics professor head to lunch (or whatever meal happens at 3pm)
Not a menu sort of place!
Photo opp of the town from the bus ride back to Oaxaca, four hours twisting down mountains

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