Oaxaca Cultural Navigator: What will the future hold?

This is a big question as we try to live in the present and get through each day. One reason I turned my focus to creating The Oaxaca Mask Project, I have come to realize, is that it is a perfect distraction to keep me busy and helpful. I can think about NOW, not what will be.

Note: We will likely start the project up again in the next few weeks. Janet Blaser, a journalist who lives in Mazatlan, interviewed me yesterday for Mexico News Daily. The mask project story will likely appear in the next 10 days. We will begin accepting donations again then, ordering masks to be made, and giving them to people in need.

I started the project soon after I arrived in Huntington Beach, California, for what was to be a one-week visit with my son on my way to Durham, North Carolina. I was there for two months. Now, I’m in NC, just out of quarantine. My plan was to be here until the end of May and then return to Oaxaca for the summer. Now, who makes plans?

Meanwhile, the news came yesterday that Traditions Mexico is closing after 20+ years of operation. They set the bar for many of us who lead cultural journeys and tours in Oaxaca and Mexico. I want to acknowledge Eric Mindling’s passion, heart and generosity for opening doors to indigenous artists and communities over the years and send well wishes to all who have been part of his adventure.

Yes, COVID19 will take its toll in many ways.

On the Southern California coast, April 2020

What we have come to rely on will be no more. The familiar and the dependable will be no more. Life has changed and will continue to do so. We grieve the losses and must take comfort in making positive next steps.

We want to do more than survive! We want to thrive. We want to be with family and friends. We want to explore. For most of us, this is impossible now. I suspect that this will be the case over the next two years.

This got me to thinking about our own Oaxaca Cultural Navigator situation amid this virus and attendant path of destruction. We are a small operation. Tiny, actually. It’s mostly just me. I dream up the programs, organize them, contact the artisans I know and love, handle the bookkeeping, and make arrangements to ensure quality. Now, there is nothing to do but wait.

This is also about others. It impacts the artisans I work with in the villages. It impacts the local experts who provide the cultural guidance I rely on at the Oaxaca coast, in Chiapas and Michoacan, and yes, in Kyoto and Tokyo, to create a rich experience for our travelers. What will it be like for them who depend on people like us to appreciate their work and support them?

We have canceled the Japan textile study tour. We have canceled the Oaxaca Day of the Dead study tour. We are waiting to see about the December writing workshop and the programs set for early 2021. We read that there will probably be a surge in virus infections this fall.

When will we be be able to resume?

If you don’t travel for a year or two or even more, what will that mean for you? How will you make your future travel choices? Where will you go first and next? Will Oaxaca Cultural Navigator be starting over then? What will our collective future hold? Will we ever regain the confidence to travel on a plane or in a van with ten strangers?

Friends here and there are asking me: When will you return to Oaxaca? How long will you be in North Carolina? When will we see you next? My best answer is: I don’t know. Maybe September. Maybe October. Vamos a ver.

Right now, we must be focused on staying healthy and safe. It is difficult to know what the future will bring. Let’s take a deep breath and carry on.

12 responses to “Oaxaca Cultural Navigator: What will the future hold?

  1. Your tours are meaningful and participants see and experience what they never could on their own. Your connections with the weavers and their families are heartfelt and make a special experience for those of us lucky enough to travel with you. Have faith and use the time now to look ahead toward what is possible. Abrazos.

    • Dear Gail, thank you for this heartfelt and encouraging response. I am reminded of Viktor Frankl’s seminal writing in Man’s Search for Meaning. We find meaning in times of despair when we focus on hope and attending to the needs of others. This is how we can thrive in these times of covid19. Thanks for your support.

  2. Wow. All I can say is, I’m glad I squeezed in this trip to Chiapas with you & my dear sister & a now beloved group of other women. I hope & pray that these adventures with you are not over. I’ve witnessed how you educate, strengthen, support & love every single day as you weave together artisans & their clients, building cultural bridges that will last & reverberate for generations. I am astonished at the tapestry you weave; it is a process & a beautiful product you are creating.

    • Dear Julia, I’m so grateful to read this message, as it gives me hope and meaning to focus on the future and bringing joy to travelers and artisans. I will revisit your caring words as I put this part of life on hold during these times. We will take heart. We will be together again!

  3. after 16 months of travel and 6 months of living in oaxaca city, i have just returned on april 1st to find it a ghost town. i will be living here permanently because it is the most amazing city i’ve visited. i want to buy things from artisans to support them, but they’re nowhere to be found, of course. this is heartbreaking.

  4. Just Beyond Yourself
    By David Whyte

    “Just beyond yourself.
    It’s where you need to be.
    Half a step into self-forgetting and the rest restored by what you’ll meet.

    There is a road always beckoning.
    When you see the two sides of it closing together at that far horizon
    And deep in the foundations of your own heart at exactly the same time,
    That’s how you know it’s the road you have to follow.

    That’s how you know it’s where you have to go.
    That’s how you know.

    Just beyond yourself, its where you need to be.”

    Dear Norma, the road will be made clear. And many thanks for all of the great experiences Oaxaca Cultural Navigator has given me and us. As I said to the group in Chiapas, you, Norma, have changed my life and opened me up. And we’re not through yet!!!

  5. I shed a tear when I read Eric’s email yesterday. The tear was for the artisans who collaborated with Eric. And for what is gone… so, Normita, your message today was exactly what I needed. I’ll focus on staying healthy and helpful and look for new avenues to support those I want to see come through this experience with their livelihood intact. ¡Abrazos!

    • Hi, Barbara, we commiserate with the creatives who live their lives in Mexican villages, depending on us for their livelihoods. Tourism is such a big part of Oaxaca, we know. So, we will need to dream up new ways of supporting them from a distance using technology when we can. The world is a place of virtual relationship. How can we make it more personal is our challenge of the moment. Thank you for all your support. Your masks were beautifully designed and crafted!

  6. Norma,
    Your post touched me. Travel for me is everything. Connecting with people , learning about their home, appreciating their craft . These explorations are the fuel for my own creative life . Every little thing in my house has a story Whether from far flung places I haven’t been in thirty years or even just an old paper wasp nest or bird feather found on a neighborhood walk.
    Travel makes it impossible to be small minded or self centered.
    Lately I am painting the exterior of my house. Neighbors and friends think I have lost my mind but I’m in no hurry. Just a wall a day. It quiets my worried mind.
    I’m dreaming too. One day I’m going to get back on a plane, visit my son, return to Mexico, Europe even new places in the USA . For now I’m putting my faith in scientists. A vaccine or at the very least reasonable ways of living with this virus.
    What a year and it’s only May.
    Hang in there. Your tours are so wonderful and we all going to need one to heal the soul.
    Besos,
    Jenny

    • Dear Jenny, your eloquence is always so touching. This one in particular brings tears. We must stay hopeful and yes, I agree, trust that science and the scientists will find a way to make us safe again! Love, Norma

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