Monday, April 04, 2011

Matia Martinez from San Miguel Lachiguri

The first thing you notice about Matia Martinez is her smile. It’s always there — rain or shine — accompanied by her infectious, effervescent laugh. Just being around Matia makes you smile. Clad in the vibrantly-colored traditional dress of her Zapotec people — handwoven garments in brilliant reds, oranges and purples, intricately embroidered with flowers — she beams a kind of ebullient joy that draws you to her.

At 34, Matia has four children and several grandchildren, including the beautiful Arlet, pictured here in her smiling abuela’s arms. She lives in San Miguel, a small village of about 500 people about 200 miles north of Guatemala in Oaxaca, Mexico, with her husband, 40-year-old Ladislao “Lao” Solano. Lao’s coffee farm is a brisk three-hour walk from their home in San Miguel, where Matia holds down the fort, cooking and cleaning and tending to the needs of her bustling family.

Despite her sprightly, feminine appearance, Matia is one tough cookie. You often can find her heading out into the jungle, her old rusty .22 caliber rifle slung over her shoulder, to hunt for some meat to add to her family’s staples of frijoles (beans) and tortillas. On a recent hunting expedition, she and a friend stopped to stake out a deer in the distance. As they watched quietly in the darkness, Matia spotted a viper slithering a bit too close for comfort. So she aimed her gun and shot it in the head. Ha! Take that! Then, grinning that marvelous grin of hers, she picked up the carcass to save for later. (It made a tasty meal and a very fine belt after she was finished with it.) Matia continued hunting and was thrilled to return late that night with the snake and a deer.

At 4 a.m., two hours before anyone else in her family arose from slumber, Matia was already up, gathering wood in the misty sierra rain to make a cooking fire in her rustic stacked-rock outdoor pit. By the time her family was wiping the sleep out of their eyes, Matia already had butchered the deer, salted some the meat, hung it on a close line to make jerky, and begun to roast the head over the fire to make a delectable mole stew. When the family gathered to eat, Matia gleefully sucked the marrow from the bones, smiling and laughing as deer fat crackled and spat from the fire. As soon as she was finished, Matia marched down to the banks of a nearby creek and started scrubbing muddy clothes over a well-worn rock. Smiling.

Matia, Lao and their family are hardworking, industrious people who find joy in the simplicities — and adversities — of life in San Miguel. They suck the marrow from its bones, enjoying every last bit. Partnering with Growers First has given Matia and Lao opportunities to draw even more blessings from what they have. Not long ago, the family was able to buy a horse, which makes the trek to and from their coffee farm much easier and more efficient. Lao can carry more than twice as much coffee back on the horse and is able to transport his neighbor’s coffee as well. Lao’s coffee farm has done so well, in fact, that he was able to offer harvesting jobs to 20 village men, husbands and sons and fathers who otherwise likely would have emigrated to the United States to find work. The whole community has benefited from Lao’s work with Growers First.

It’s hard work, for sure, but a labor of love that produces so much good fruit. And for Matia, clearly, a whole lot of joy.