Thursday, July 7, 2011

Week 2 in Oaxaca

One of most memorable experiences that happened this week was going to a weaving cooperative. There is a little town not too far from Oaxaca, which bases its economic income off of the making and selling of rugs. The cooperative was started several years ago by a group of women who wanted to become economically independent from their husbands. In rural parts of Oaxaca it is tradition for women to be bound to their duties at home and thus, they rarely have a chance to leave. Some women who wanted independence created the weaving cooperative to change this. At first, the men resisted the change and tried to keep women “in their place”. The cooperative went through some ups and downs over the years; most recently the business has settled down and become more stable. According to the women, when the men began to realize that the rugs were a good source of income, they began to encourage their wives in the cooperative. This complete turn-around surprised many of the women, but the women openly accepted the men, some of whom are still weaving with the cooperative today.

When I heard the story of the weaving women, I was not surprised at the hardships that they received from the men. To me, it seems that even though Mexico and the United States are completely different countries they still experience some of the same stereotypes about men and women. Men are looked at as the “breadwinners” of the family. However, after just spending some time in Oaxaca for a couple of weeks I am starting to see that this stereotype is falling away, similar to American culture. In the clinic, it is common for men to bring in their children to receive treatment. This behavior breaks the gender roles and is probably something that could only be witnessed in the last couple of years.

After learning the story of the weaving cooperative, one of the women there performed a cleansing ceremony, also known as a limpia. The limpia is a ceremony that is meant to cleanse a person of their physical and mental ailments. Because we attended a group limpia, we received a mild version of the ritual. The ceremony started off with the mixing of herbs and alcohol, then a handful of herbs was rubbed over specific points on our arms and head. The herbs were then placed in our hands and we were asked to remain sitting with our eyes closed until everyone had received their treatment. I thought it was ironic that the majority of our group is pre-medicine, but we were all receiving an alternative treatment.

The limpia reminded me of the value in alternative medicine; and that just because I am premed, does not mean that I should discount such practices. In fact, after the ceremony I began to think about my own career and how I would love to combine all forms of medicine. To me, it is upsetting that most people in America are quick to discredit alternative treatment. But here in Oaxaca it is common for people to receive many different kinds of treatment, ranging from clinical physicians to witch doctors. This open-mindedness is something that I hope to carry back with me to America.


  1. Ash, since you seem to be interested in the concept of combining traditional medicine with alternative medicine, I think you should read a book called "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down". It's about a Hmong family's struggle to help their young daughter, who has a severe case of epilepsy. Lia's doctors and Lia's parents often have different views on what's best for Lia, a problem confounded by a language barrier. The book is an ethnography, so you also learn a lot of interesting things about the Hmong culture. It's a good read and makes you think a lot about how we do medicine in America.

  2. I second Amanda's suggested reading of "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down". It is a great ethnography.