Tarahumara get much-needed corn
By PILAR PEDERSON
CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – Donations from citizens of the Big Bend Region of Texas and beyond once again propelled me 470 miles and down into the barrancas of the Sierra Madre Occidental. I had last visited the municipality and town of Batopilas, Chihuahua in early February (see The Big Bend Sentinel and the Presidio International issues of February. The mission then was to purchase and distribute 10.5 metric tons of corn, maize, and salt.
This was the result of a small plea submitted to the papers in the waning months of 2011, describing crop failure and the attendant suffering which I had witnessed first-hand. The response from readers was without hesitation and hugely generous. This time I carried $18,750 in silver pesos – $1,500 USD – stashed in secret places in my car.
When I arrived in Batopilas, the town was alive with a fiesta surrounding the annual accounting from the presidente, or municipal mayor. It is a sort of “State of the Union” report and is a big deal in Mexico. In addition, they were gearing up for the departure of the Silver Trail Convoy which was scheduled soon after the presidente’s report. Citizens, cowboys and mountain men would be riding from Batopilas in a couple of days, bound for the capital city of Chihuahua, some 400 km distant. This reenactment of the historic mule convoy which transported silver bullion from the Batopilas mines to the railroad in Chihuahua City between 1880 and 1910 has been staged annually since 2008. It has been my good fortune to ride with them each year. This was how I saw the devastation to Tarahumara homesteads wreaked by the drought.
Rain came to the Sierra this year, but late, so much corn withered before water arrived. The bean crop, planted later, flourished until grasshoppers descended, destroying much of it. The rivers at canyon bottom are flowing again but the danger is not past. Even if rain continues recovery will take years.
Six of us headed out on Monday, October 8. Our first stop, a tiny Conasupo grocery store. Government controlled pricing made it possible for me to get my corn here at the bottom of the canyon more economically than I could buy it from a farmer-producer up on the plains. Our pesos purchased 2,500 kg corn and 200 kg beans. This translated into 100 dispensas, or distributions.
About 20 traditionally dressed men and women from the remote hamlet of Coyachique were waiting for us. All helped in re-packing the 50kg sacks of corn and beans into smaller bundles. Toward the conclusion of the operation, I paid the storeowner, counting out my $19,000 pesos with trembling hands. Pictures were taken, hands were shaken, and, hoisting their heavy bundles onto their backs the villagers started the arduous vertical trek to their homes. As had happened before, scrupulous care was used in assuring that no household received more than their fair share.
With the pickup loaded, we departed for Santa Rita. I feel safer on a mule than in a pickup barreling up those precipitous, one-lane tracks with vertical pitches at the edge of a crumbling dirt shoulder. But barrel we did, and arrived safely thanks to the skill of Presidente Leonél, our driver.
After my visit in January, Santa Rita is the village that I recall when lying in bed at night. The pinched and bedraggled faces of the people I met there seared me. It was good that we returned. Many, lacking seeds or belief in coming rains, have not planted. There is very little water. In the community numbering close to100 souls, five have died of hunger-related ills, three of them children.
Santa Rita’s inhabitants did not know we were coming. We hollered and sent messengers afield, and in a short time about forty people gathered, mostly women. They remembered me and received their dispensas with faces that said spoke volumes.
We also sent bags of food to a threadbare group of families we had met the previous day. A young woman described in broken Spanish going up on the mountain to harvest wild chiles, which she was able to trade for a small tin of flour. That was all the food she had in her house.
The 15 remaining sacks we entrusted to the Presidencia to deliver to another very poor community of about 40 people. A total 27 riders and 31 mounts making up the Silver Trail Convoy left Batopilas, bound for Chihuahua. I accompanied them for the first week of the journey. Riding through the Sierra Madre Occidental I saw the conditions of the fields. The hunger will continue. To my eyes, it looks like only half of the crops will yield.
We still need your help. Cuauhtémoc Food Bank is mounting a campaign to amass 200 tons corn and beans to deliver to the Sierra in early December. The objective is to support the Tarahumaras in the region of Retosachi, near Batopilas, with basic nutrition during the cold months of November through April of next year. Every dollar you give will be applied to purchasing corn and beans.
I was enjoying an evening with my Silver Trail friends prior to leaving Batopilas when a Tarahumara man approached me and asked, “Are you Pilar?” I answered that I was and he continued, “Did you bring corn to El Platano?” When I affirmed that I had, his face lit up like the sun and he grabbed my hand in both of his, saying, “I had nothing to eat and you brought me food.”
To contribute, please send donations to Pilar Pedersen, P.O. Box 342, Alpine, TX 79831. Information: 432-837-9980/432-837-7320, or email@example.com.
Alpine writer JIM GLENDINNING contributed to this report.
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