A day in Oaxaca

15 November 2016. I am awake when the room’s telephone rings, at seven in the morning. It is Nava: she wants to know when we can meet because she wants to give me the pink issue of Taco de Ojo (magazine) before leaving. I tell her that this morning we are going to go to a village to deliver books to students. She wants to come along, because she has nothing better to do, she says, but I tell her it is best if we meet at two o’clock for lunch: we will meet up with Are and Tonna, the designers of Quatro Estudio, to say goodbye. I pack my suitcase and call Begoña. I manage to speak with her by reaching her on her mobile phone. I go down to the lobby and tell Roger Omar to come down. We quickly have some breakfast and leave the hotel at a quarter to nine to meet with Nicolás, who is waiting for us. Just as we arrive, he comes out of the door carrying a box of books. We will take two boxes to San Sebastián Teitipac. We get on the van and set off. San Sebastián is around 25 kilometres from the centre; it could take forty-five minutes to arrive. The journey is beautiful, through rounded hills. Nicolás tells us that he often runs through those hills. He has liked running since he was a child. The village where the school Unión y Progreso is located, seems to be running ahead of us, fleeing. We end up asking someone we encountered along the way if we are going in the right direction. Yes, the school is nearby, opposite the church. We arrive, we unload the boxes of books. Roger greets a lady who is making tortillas by a front door, who also recognises him. Music is playing from the school playground. When we arrive, two musicians are playing guitar and singing popular songs: ‘Gracias a la vida’ and ‘La muralla’. The children are sat around the playground in groups. When they see Roger, some shout. Others clap. Professor Ignacio welcomes us and asks us to wait until the song is over to introduce us. A teacher comes up to me to ask my name. I tell her, and also that I am a publisher. Ignacio is speaking through a microphone and asks the audience to clap for us. He asks that we sit on some chairs, next to the municipality’s authorities. We sit next to two women dressed as nurses. We were supposed to arrive at nine and it is nearly half past ten. We apologise. I suspect they have been playing the songs for a while, given the rich repertoire of the musicians. The event continues with a staging in which the teachers play a cat, a dog, a horse, etc., and talk to each other with words that mimic animals’ voices. Then, three children (two boys and a girl) interpret, or rather, read, a story by Juan Rulfo ‘No oyes ladrar a los perros’ (You cannot hear the dogs bark), which is not quite a children’s story, but it allows to be read in three different voices. The little girl who is narrating does not need a microphone: she is so enthusiastic her voice must be heard in the next town. When the reading is finished, Professor Ignacio, a grand master of ceremonies, announces a children’s choir, Los Colibríes (The Hummingbirds), who sing and dance. A hummingbird tries to encourage Roger Omar to dance with them, but he resists and they do not insist again. Then, the teacher announces an ‘award ceremony’: presents are to be handed out to the winning children of a contest to choose the motto of the school library and design its logo. The presents are distributed by the town’s vital forces, and I am assigned to give out the third prize, which belongs to Yael, a very bright boy whom I already know. He is one of the children who has a dream published in the book; he came to Oaxaca with other students from the school the day we presented the book at FILO (Oaxaca International Book Fair). The first prize was won by a girl who proposed the motto ‘San Sebastián del Libro’, in Zapotec, and drew a woman and a man holding a book in which all the houses of the village unfold. Afterwards, Ignancio announces ‘The Colibrotas’ (The Big Hummingbirds), ‘a group performing for the first time’, formed by the children’s mothers. Dressed in festive costumes, they hold baskets of sweets under their arms and throw sweets to the children while they dance in circles. Some of the men from the authorities’ group get up to dance and, since I am asked, I also get up. Roger sneaks away and stays behind a group of children; between rounds, I see him taking pictures. At that moment, there is a huge buzz at the school Unión y Progreso. Professor Ignacio takes the microphone again and announces that all the children of the school are going to make another book, and that it will be published by Media Vaca. Ignacio smiles at me, and from my seat, I nod, and make a gesture as if saying ‘go ahead’. Immediately, the moment comes to inaugurate the library christened as San Sebastián del Libro. We all move to a nearby classroom following a flower path. At the library’s door there is a ribbon waiting to be cut. Someone brings a tray with four arts and crafts scissors. They give me one too, but I do not cut anything. We all go into the library, children and adults, and around us, taking up four walls, are low shelves full of SEP (Secretariat of Public Education) books. Among them, several Media Vaca books edited by SEP for their Biblioteca de Aula (Classroom Library): three copies of Robinson Crusoe, one of No Time to Play, and another of Smell of Cookies. I show the books to Ignacio, who in turn shows them to the mayor and the councillor of Culture. We all take various photos with the books. Then we return to the playground where a party is taking place and it seems like we will finally be able to hand out the copies of Oaxaca and the diplomas to the participating children. Jokingly, I say to Roger: ‘Now they will all leave, you will see’. Ignacio takes the microphone once again and announces that we can now go and enjoy the barbecue. I think he says ‘barbecue’. The truth is that we are so shocked we can no longer hear or understand anything. Roger approaches him to explain that we have brought boxes with books and that we would like to give them out; and also, that we cannot stay for lunch because I have to catch a plane in a few hours. The children have hurried away and we have to call after them. In the midst of the chaos, we hand out the books as best we can, and only a few diplomas. And that is considering they all have their names on them, because Roger has gone through the trouble of writing them the night before or early that very morning. A father, who we had previously met at the Oaxaca presentation, gives us some ‘molcajetes’ (traditional Mexican mortal and pestle), which may well weigh two kilos each. He tells me he is writing a story about San Sebastián Teitipac, and that he would like for me to read it. I give him a business card and encourage him to send me an excerpt. Roger continues to hand out diplomas, and I draw a few cows on books, diplomas, and notebooks. We quickly say goodbye to everyone around us (although most of them have gone to the barbecue) and head towards Nicolás’ car to return to Oaxaca. The three of us are rather puzzled. Everything was going smoothly until they announced the barbecue. We thought perhaps there has been a misunderstanding, that they had expected the hand out in the afternoon. In any case, having had the tables and the microphones already set up, and the children in place, it would have been easier to take advantage of the occasion. We would have called the students one by one to come out to the centre of the playground and receive their books and diploma, and the children would have read their dreams, as we have done in other places. Once in Oaxaca, we stopped by the ONE (hotel) so Roger could get his suitcase. His FILO invitation has finished so he must move to the hostel where he arrived the first day. Nicolás leaves him at the hostel’s door and me at the Banamex bank, next to the Henestrosa library. I take out money to pay the diplomas and the dream booklets, as well as the rest of the Quintas posters at the IAGO (Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca). At the fair, I say goodbye to Mónica Palomino and give Nancy Mariano the Books for Tomorrow collection I did not give to Claudio Aravena, moderator of the lecture, because he brought his own books from Chile. I pay the pending amount at the IAGO and then we meet for lunch with Are and Tonna, Nava and Roger. Are takes us to La Biznaga, a restaurant we know well because we have been with Freddy several times before. I am happy to be back. Areli is interested in the publishing house’s plans. I tell her I would like to make very popular and very cheap books, perhaps bound with a stapler. After lunch, Roger departs: he is meeting with one of Nicolás’ friends who wants his help with a project she is doing about the residents of her village. Are and Tonna return to their office, and Nava and I walk to Quintas’ print shop. Gabriel (Quintas) has done a new test run of the typographic poster I have commissioned him. We settle the invoice and I give him instructions on where to deliver the work when it is finished. We say goodbye until the next trip. Nava accompanies me to the ONE hotel, where they have to pick me up to take me to the airport. On the way, he takes pictures of all the graffiti we encounter, particularly those of Nino, who gets his work erased (but not entirely) and paints over them again, writing ‘Do not erase them, please’. At a quarter to six I am at the hotel. Two chauffeurs arrive. One leaves with two passengers, but the other must wait for a lady who, at five past six, said she had to go back to her room to pack her suitcase and would be fifteen minutes. We wait. A third car arrives. I ask the second chauffeur if the lady who has gone up could be taken by the car that has just arrived, so I could leave with him at that moment: traffic in Oaxaca is complicated and I would rather leave in good time. The two chauffeurs find out that the lady’s name appears on both of their passenger lists, so they decide I should leave first. At that moment, the lady appears, exactly fifteen minutes later, and we all drive to the airpot in separate cars. The chauffeur is very friendly, and when we arrive at the airport I give him the last copy of Oaxaca I have left, and draw a cow in it. The plane is delayed by half an hour. In Mexico, contrary to my expectations, no one comes to pick me up. Despite everything, I wait for forty minutes, and finally go to find a taxi. At the Geneve (hotel), they assign me a room in a different wing of the building from last time. I call Lluvianel, coordinator of FILIJ (International Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair), to let her know I have arrived, but it goes to voicemail. It is late, I do not try again. I write the chronicle of this day, a long day. Before going to sleep, I read the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita: Nuevas ficciones. It may look like a book of dreams, but it is not.

Vicente Ferrer

Photograph by Roger Omar.