GCD 10: Oaxaca, Mexico

[Dialogue Theme]

25-29 March 2015

Dialogue #10 – our decadal event – took us to the verdant tranquility of the El Encuentro retreat near San Lorenzo, in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. Amid old farm buildings, rolling hills and luxuriant greenery, we addressed topics such as sustainability, what it’s like to be discriminated against, and the liberation movement in Oaxaca. Our local host treated us not only to culinary delicacies in the heart of the land of cacao and mole, but also to the historical and mythical ruins of Monte Alban.

 

In 2015, the decennary Dialogue took us back to the new world, and a private sixteenth-century “casa artesanal oaxaceña”. We had intended to meet in Oaxaca several years ago, but global and political issues got in our way, and we have been aiming for this stunning location again since then. Thanks to the endless generosity, hard work and personal engagement of our local host, Henning Zorn, we had the great pleasure of meeting in Oaxaca, Mexico for this celebratory Dialogue.

 

We have found a country hacienda – “El Encuentro” – situated in San Lorenzo Cacaotepec. This village lies approximately 20 minutes from the centre of Oaxaca. in the Etla region of the Valles Centrales, not far from the Benito Juarez National Park. It is also home to some of the cultural riches of Mexico’s earliest inhabitants (the Mesoamerican Aztecs) dating back as far as 11,000 BC. 

 

Derived from the Nahuatl world “Huaxyacac” for  a tree in the mimosa family of legumes (Spa.: guaje; Eng.: Wild Tamarind, White Leadtree or White Popinac) common around Oaxaca, the city is a center of indigenous people and languages in Mexico, as well as one of the largest producers of agave and grain. Oaxaca was designated as a World Cultural Heritage site in 2010 in recognition of “the earliest know evidence of domesticated plants in the continent”. Combining modern and ancient, Oaxaca also offers an interesting venue given the civil unrest around marginalisation of the poor in 2006, and strikes that arose as a result of highway construction and public service issues in 2008.

 

The 11th GCD officially began at  6pm on Wednesday, March 25th 2015  and developed at a meandering pace until  Sunday, March 29th 2015 at 12noon , though a few intrepid adventurers arrived a few days early to benefit from the warm weather to see the surrounding state of Oaxaca. Beyond dialoguing, we also took the opportunity to discover some of the largest pre-columbian ruins of the civic-ceremonial center “Monte Alban”, a site steeped in culture and mysticism, as well as controversy due to cultural heritage, sacred sites and questionable archeological practices. The city of Oaxaca also lured us with live street music, picturesque architecture, delicate and exquisite handmade crafts and glorious food. Oaxaca is the center of the cocoa trade in Mexico, and both the cocoa beverage “xocolatl” and various savoury sauces called “mole” (many of which also include cacao) have their homes here.

 

The topics for the tenth GCD centred around “balance” and “sustainability”, and included aspects such as Education and Social Compromise, Facilitating Techniques for Dialogue, Racial Disparities and “Changing the System”, and brought us into contact with a local Social Project “The HUB in Oaxaca” and face-to-face with “being in the middle” of discriminatory behaviour.

 

El Encuentro is an old country home, extended over the years in a mixture of Zapotecan and Mixtecan styles. The house is built in the traditional style, with a central atrium surrounded by domiciliary buildings, with openings toward the outside as well. It is located in the countryside, away from the tumult of the city, and offers a peaceful retreat to relax, reflect and recover. 

 

The casa is located in San Lorenzo Cacaotepec, (originally Cacahuatepec), a small  agricultural village that lies in the hills near Oaxaca, on the opposite side of the valley from the Benito Juarez National Park. Its name is an amalgamation of the name of the town’s patron saint and “Hill of Cocoa”, which refers to the planting of a rare cocoa tree by one of the settlement’s leaders many centuries ago. This area has been settled for more than three millennia, and still boasts inhabitants speaking the indigenous languages. Located at 1600m above sea level, the hilly surroundings are a mix of scrub brush and trees, as well as desert-like terrain.

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