First thoughts

March 14, 2007

We came back from Senor yesterday, and after a shower and long discussions yesterday evening now it’s time to start working on the things we learnt there. I won’t go into detail about the tours we took in Senor, as Janice  told about that before, and I will leave our “add-on” to be told by somebody else (because I did not experience the most important part and am so mad on myself I did not do it! Wait for one of the guys to tell you what there is to experience in this country….) We also had Julio with us for parts of the tour, and it was great getting his insight on everything going on in Senor and Xyaat. Especially valuable to me was his explanation about the political organization of the Ejido, which is the land on which a couple of communities are situated. Not all people in the communities actually have voting rights for the leaders of the Ejido, but only those that own land. The land-ownership and voting right is usually inherited, but only one of the children receives it. Apparently the other children then still have land to farm, but they do not officially own the land they are working on. This political complexity (there’s a bit more to it than what I share here) produces many problems. In our case, one of the leaders of the Ejido is against Marcus, one of the main people in Xyaat (besides Santos and Julia). As Marcus is not owner of land, he can not even go to the Assembly of the Ejido where all major decisions are taken. However, most of the people are actually in favour of Xyaat, because they have seen in the past that the tourism activity generates income for many families. Also, they give a substantial part of their profit to a project of environmental education, which I consider very important (especially if you have seen all the garbage on the side of roads and even hiking paths at the lagoon).  

These conflicts with the Ejido are something we were getting very worried about when Heber first told us about, and we had a long talk on Sunday evening about whether or not we were able to / should help in this issue. Our decision was that we are not responsible for internal conflicts and should not be involved in their resolution, not even try to engage in it. What I still think we could do is to make suggestions to Marcus and Santos– such as having a contract with the Ejido laying down the rules of the game, or also more transparency coming from the side of Xyaat. However, our involvement in internal problems should really not go beyond laying out thoughts during a casual talk…. One more thought to that: It came out during the last days that the situation is not as bad as it first seemed – so we have hope and should not let ourselves take down by these things. 

Sorry for writing a long blog without pictures – that’s because I still have an analogue camera 😉  On Tuesday, after we had our second tour, we sat down for quite a while to talk with Marcus and Santos about what actually their dream is and where they want to go with their tourism activity. It came out that they really don’t want a big thing, and their biggest concern is that they themselves, but also the people in the community they work with, give up their traditional way of living (working in the milpa – their fields). Marcus has not been on his milpa for 2 weeks now, and Santos is currently paying somebody else to care about it for him. This is very worrying, as they see tourism as a way of generating income to a big part of the community without giving up their traditional way of living. They actually would like to have a tour for about three days per week, and the other four days being able to engage in whatever activities they usually have. What they also said is that there might be other people from Senor wanting to work with them later, but at the moment, as it’s just a small group of people, they really want to have a limited amount of tours. This is really important for us to understand – here it is not about generating as much demand as possible, but about generating a very specific and limited amount of demand. I think this conversation was possibly the most important one we had so far…

What we also noticed, and Beth and me were talking about that in the car afterwards, is that the group of people is great, not only because of their expertise, but also because of the different ways of thinking, lifestyles, personalities. One example: Beth needs to force herself to think on a small scale and in very basic and easy parameters – which is what I am good at, which is my way of thinking. Me, on the other hand, I have to force myself to leave any environmental, social and cultural concerns outside for the main part, and to focus on business and tourism operations – which is what Beth and the rest of the team are good at.  

These differences also came out last evening then when we had the so far most effective discussion internally as a group. We were sitting together and just thinking about possible ways of structuring their pricing, organizing transportation, etc. So what we noticed was the various cultures we come from actually help us a lot to see the problem from a variety of angles and going beyond our usual horizon. Until now, I have not really tried to think much in my role, my task that I have here, it has been more an overall getting to know the area, the people, the offer. Today now is the time to start thinking about it – I am doing the cross-training part of the program, and I noticed that there are several people and companies that Xyaat works together with. Also, there are training initiatives in the region. This gives me a good starting point, and I will spend the morning today with studying the various websites we heard about during the last days. Then, in the afternoon, I’ll drop by the CTSK office to meet some of the people there. Unfortunately, Manuel, our main contact, is gone to Mérida today. From tomorrow on then, I hope to be able to start a focused work with them during some days. I am not sure yet how it will all look like in the end, but I think we should focus on a general roadmap for training that can be used by Xyaat, but also for other communities in the long run. Then, I want to give CTSK all the tools that they need to train people – the whole variety of ways how to learn, how to teach, how to hold workshops… some presentation and moderation skills and some examples for teaching material. Then, and this is the most idealistic and strategic part, I want to lay down some options of cooperation between the communities of the region working in tourism.  

I have to say, these are my imaginations now – but I have not even talked to anybody from CTSK yet. So, what I am writing down here may change substantially during the next days, depending on their input and the further discussions we have in our group.   There are probably loads of things that I forgot to tell, which are also important, also going on in my mind…. But that was enough now I guess – will keep you posted on anything happening here – so keep reading! 
Magdalena

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