Tsal Sik, Tsal Kak’al: Climbing The Mountain

One of my favorite memories from my time in Zinacatan is the day that I climbed the mountain with Doña Juana’s mother.  Doña Lupe went up on the mountain every day to take her sheep to pasture.  Curious about where she went with them I asked her daughter and granddaughters if I could accompany her one day.  That was possible, my friends said, but they warned me that it might be difficult because she did not speak much Spanish, and I had limited Tzotzil.

Still, a few weeks later, when the sheep clattered out of the pen and Doña Lupe followed with her walking stick, I went with them.  We climbed up the steep trail that I knew from walking back from the cemetery on the Day of the Dead.

The sheep ran ahead, stopping sometimes to scratch themselves on rocks along the way.  Doña Lupe smiled and said, “pulga” meaning flea.  I could sympathize; I had lots of bites from fleas myself, from the dog in the house where I was living.

Finally after about half an hour of steep walking the sheep spread out into a field that was on an almost vertical incline next to the path.  Doña Lupe followed them, and indicated that I follow her. However, half way up she said “Espera. Sientete.” (Stop. Sit.) I think she was worried I was going to fall.  So I sat amidst the dirt and rocks and small brown shrubs and bird-watched.  She went further up with the rest of the sheep and sat, re-plaiting her silvery-black hair.  Sometimes she threw rocks down at the sheep that were straying too far into the corn besides us, or yelled at them, “Bu Ch’bat?” (where are you going?)   It was quiet, except for the wiry trill of a hummingbird and the movements of the sheep in the shrubbery.

After about an hour I climbed up to where she was, offering her some clementines.  The clouds came in and it was suddenly cold. I put my sweater on.  Then the sun came out for a moment and it was hot. She said in a mix of Tzotzil and Spanish, Tsal sik, Tsal kak’al, asi esta el serro. (The cold comes and then the sun, that is how the mountain is). We managed to communicate well enough with our two broken languages cobbled together. We shared water, talked about the land, osil/tierra, as well as the festival, k’in, for the Virgin de Guadalupe that we could hear going on down in the valley.  She also said that when she was “chiquito” she watched her father’s sheep.

It was one of the most memorable days of my stay there and I think that it illustrates in many ways my experience in Zinacantan.  As Doña Lupe said, Tsal sik, Tsal kak’al, asi esta el serro. (The cold comes and then the sun, that is how the mountain is). Sometimes dealing with the primitive living conditions, bathing with buckets, sleeping on a plank bed, adjusting to strange foods was difficult.  There were many moments of miscommunication among my contacts and friends.  However, I also became a part of kinship networks, and managed to exist within the friction of culture, the different languages.   I became intimate not only with the traditions and people but also the landscape around me, the mountains, and the spirits.  As Anna Tsing, Kath Weston and Elizabeth Povinelli[1] have all discussed in various ways, culture is a matter of both the local and global, the relationships between different people, and genealogies, something that I experienced first hand in Zinacantán.


[1] This was originally written as the final part of an essay for my WMST 601: Epistemologies, Stories that Knowledges Tell course.  I decided to leave my conclusion as is, including the theoretical parts.  If you are interested in more of the theory, check out Friction by Anna Tsing, Gender in Real Time by Kath Weston, and Empire of Love by Elizabeth Povinelli. Also, you can access our class blog at http://wmst601fall10.blogspot.com/ which has notes and explanations about the texts.

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