From My Friend Winn in Oaxaca: Inside and Out

This just came to my inbox. I can alway rely on Winn to report about what it’s like on the ground in Oaxaca. These are extenuating circumstances! I told her, “This is so beautiful. So stunningly clear. So eloquently expressed. I am in awe of your ability to write from your heart to say what you will. A reflection that expresses the feelings of many of us.” And, I asked her permission to post it here. She agreed.

24 July 2020

And life goes on … in the time of cholera, no, Coronavirus. We will all remember this time, and mark our milestones as “just before lockdown,” or “during our time at home,” or “once we could finally travel again,” certainly.

My time continues in Oaxaca. Been here since the first week of February. My phone app tells me I’m still booked to fly back to NM [New Mexico] on August 19, the first day that international flights are promised in and out of Oaxaca. But now, when I check for updates, it is with a shrug of the shoulders and a “we shall see what we shall see” attitude.

In my Jalatlaco house, I have my “entertainment stations.” There’s the comfy red chair with its lamp and a spot for the cup of coffee, for reading. (My pile of books-in-process right now includes Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer, Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes, and Jane Smiley’s Moo.) There’s the splayed-out cardboard duct-taped together to make a smooth flat surface and laid atop the twin bed in the downstairs bedroom, for puzzle-making. There’s the lawn chair in the driveway-garden area with a turned-over wooden box for the bottle of water, for playing solitaire or listening to podcasts or checking news, email, or WhatsApp messages on my phone. There’s the table for breakfast or playing Cribbage with Phyllis or more reading. There’s the other comfy red chair with remote controls and laptop close at hand for the hours of binge-watching (love those Korean series!) and dining alone in front of the TV. There’s the outdoor garden where I water and trim plants that are bursting forth in this lovely weather. And I just move among those stations throughout the day, after my morning walks out into Centro for necessities (mostly comestibles and cash). Upstairs, my stations are for daily-elementals tasks—toothbrushing, showering, laundry, and of course, sleeping.

The other day, my neighbor Judi drove me to Home Depot to get a new pump for the garrafon (the 5-gallon water bottles that everyone uses for drinking-cooking water). It was my first time in a car since Judi and I went grocery-shopping in early June, and only the third or fourth outing since mid-March. Never again will I take for granted the luxury of being able to drive wherever I want to go, and the feeling that everything I want or need is within reach because I can simply get behind the wheel and go get it or see it or visit it. Yes, of course, I could get a taxi, but they are high-risk ventures these days, possibly loaded with contagion, so I walk … and walk … or just stay home, where I have control and feel safe.

The other day, as I walked across Llano Park toward the neighborhood grocery store, I saw a lone man doing tai chi. An old man, moving with some stiffness but with beauty and tranquility. I slowed my pace, and then as we made eye contact, I Namaste-ed him and he back to me. The group of women with whom I’ve been doing tai chi in that park for some years now has not met since mid-March, and still cannot do so. Oaxaca is in code-red again, according to Mexico’s red-light/orange-light/green-light classification of Covid danger zones, so the yellow tape has gone up again around all the parks and plazas and no groups can gather in any public places. But a lone tai chi practitioner, or a walker, can duck under the yellow tape and proceed without hassle from the ubiquitous police, who are mostly a benign presence here. Even the lone runner I see often, who runs around that same park with seven or eight dogs—of all sizes and shapes—can get his exercise and make a little money keeping those dogs entertained and healthy, without hassle.

But oh, how I miss my tai chi ladies, mis Reinas de Tai Chi and our regular sessions, which give a sweet structure to my schedule. I miss seeing the families who come to the parks together. I miss the bounty and energy of the open-air markets. I miss the long, chatty coffee-dates with friends. And outings to nearby villages on market day or for a museum show or a festival. July is typically a riotous month in Oaxaca; it’s the month of Guelaguetza, with vendors and dancers and parades and fireworks all over town. But it’s been quiet this month, eerily quiet. The church in Jalatlaco, a block from my house, has been broadcasting music on Sunday mornings and then a loudspeaker mass, for the neighbors who are afraid to come to the church for services, but then the churchyard, typically a place for gatherings and food vendors and weddings or quinceanera celebrations, goes quiet again for the week. Only the morning bell of the garbage truck, the distinctive cries or sounds of the street vendors who pass by, the jingle of the gas truck, the barking of a neighborhood dog, or the occasional late-night bass-playing from a nearby house break the prevailing quiet.

I love it here, still, even in this long time of sequestration. I can stay safe here and feel strangely content. I send vicarious support to the Wall of Moms in Portland and other brave folks like them, to folks in the States enduring the shameless failures of the Orange one and his administration, to those out of a job or worrying about finances or the survival of their business, to my neighbors and friends in Taos and elsewhere. But here, in this time of solitude and introspection, and in the long run, I know that, if I (and we all) survive it, there will be value in what we are learning now.

13 responses to “From My Friend Winn in Oaxaca: Inside and Out

  1. Thanks for the compliments, surely, but mostly for the sharing of personal stories. I am heartened by the commonality and universality of concerns we are sharing, and by the ways we all are adopting to get through this time. I too have been meditating, with the help of the Chopra Center, and I’m not a meditator sort of person. The meditations help me center my thoughts on my own physical and mental health, and on actually seeing the small miracles that pop up around us–like a street dog that brings companionship to the solitary days, like a woman named Delfina who brings in produce from her campo south of town to sell on the street being right there in front of me with beets and lovely little carrots and fresh chard when I needed her (and them). Thank you, Norma, for enabling this dialogue, for giving us a way to share and learn and survive.

  2. My son in Vermont will turn 50 in December, I know I won’t be there. When this thing hit, mid-March, and I tried to return home, he was going to pick me up at the airport. The flight was cancelled 5 times. My daughter on the west coast, with my grandson, invited me to come stay in their smaller & seemingly safer town, duration to be determined. I’m still here, in Nayarit, and really cannot make friends. I’m in my home 99% of the time, and have found meditation and music to be life saving. I make art, and I’d love to make more SoulCollages, but I have very limited access to magazines. (Library is closed, and I know they have stacks of them in there) I refreshed my game of Solitaire, and call in the spirit of my mother with every shuffle. I adopted a little street dog who is my buddy, following me from room to room while I secretly teach him good habits. I’ll tell you, his nuzzling kisses and heartbeat remind me of touch and love and loyalty. I have trouble sleeping due to heat and ANTS, insidious ANTS, and I often have bad dreams, (my son trapped in a closed refrigerator) just that vile image, and then I wake and say “it’s just a dream” But I too have found some serenity through connection with my friends on Zoom and phone. I have a “safety bubble” with my daughter and grandson, and our relationship heals and blooms, respectively. I am part of a drawing group that used to meet in person in Oaxaca, and now continues online. My plans changed recently, I’m going to stay here in San Pancho, it is safer, I believe, and I have my family and the ocean. I’d love to return to Oaxaca, but also want to avoid flying. So I’ll stay put, as they say. While I may feel the loss of one child, I have the presence of another, and I am grateful. The revolution happening in the US, and the election, and economy, and global warming, and so much more, captures my heart and spirit, and I too, am grateful I have an income (social security) that allows me to donate occasionally. I sign so many petitions, and sincerely hope they have some effect. I light candles every day, and meditate, and hold those in my heart that are truly suffering at this time. Thank you Winn, thank you Norma, and all of those that are in this together

    • Oh God, Nancy, you make me cry with this tender and touching account of life as we share it now, alone, together through our written word, pulling us through in this common experience of isolation and grief. We are grieving what we have lost, our disconnections and constraints. I tear up because you are finding a successful way to include hope and purpose and gratitude in your life. You are building a discipline of paying attention to what is good. Just like Winn, to avoid despair, which is so easy to fall into. Meditating on Joy and Gratitude feels like it could be one of the few ways for us to get through this. Thank you for your honesty and for cari g enough about our common good to share your feelings here. Besos.

  3. your essay strikes at my heart and soul. it is not the alone-ness that has gotten to me. i have lived alone for decades. but living back in oaxaca after traveling through mexico for a year and a half with 2 month long stops here and there and alighting back in oaxaca now for 4 months, having no nightlife, music or restaurants is depressing me intensely. i want to open a nightclub and that plan will be on hold for god knows how long.

    • Hi Deborah. Thanks for writing. We are pickled cucumbers packed into a pickle bath and sealed tight. That’s what this feels like to me multiplied by most of us. We are all on hold. Some of us are sliding backwards down hill. All our plans for manifesting a meaningful life are set aside, sometimes gone forever. I’m sorry. I totally understand!

  4. Winn I love your perspective of the situation and the way you described each station and it’s function. I miss my friends and freedom to just get in the car and go. I hate being scared of going anywhere though I probably get out more than most of my friends. My mom loved to tell me that when I was a little tiny girl I would cry everyday at sundown. Now I love sunsets but usually when it is over a wave of loneliness creeps in, like a heavy fog. I catch up on news recorded earlier when I was still basking in the sun or piddling in the garden and then try to watch a movie on Netflix or Prime. Finally I’ll read a while but I do have a hard time concentrating and finally turn off the last lamp, and I all alone in the dark. Many nights I thrash around with horrible worries, and stupid thoughts., triggered by current events. In the Rio Grande Valley, the southern most area in Texas bordering Mexico, where I live, funeral homes are full, my neighbor died Tuesday in his sleep so it could have been Monday. His body was not picked up until nighttime because funeral homes are full. I think a lot of Stephen King’s book THE STAND and mass graves and all these horrible things that could happen to my boys and their wives and my grandkids. I hate these horrible thoughts and worries and this isolation.

    • My heart and soul are with you, Bitty. It’s a wonder anyone can sleep. I’m having a hard time, too, and I’m trying melatonin . Verdict not in yet. I wish there were easy answers and I could help with words to soothe. I’m in much the same boat you are — basically worried about the state of our country and how we will personally survive this. So many unknowns. And, of course, the great orange peril is a sycophant tyrant who is steering us away from democracy. Walking helps me, but I also get down. Sending love. Norma

  5. Lovely!

  6. Well stated. I have my car, my big yard, endless sunny days and yet the malaise creeps over me like a wave. I miss my kids, friends, travel, hell just going to the grocery store or farmers market without worrying about the virus.
    I don’t expect miracles but the shameless behavior of our government and their inability to do anything but cause more trouble seems designed to steal our collective hope.
    Dreaming of better days ahead.

    • I’m struggling similarly. The endless days with very little purpose now that I don’t have my tours and Oaxaca life. The malaise is exactly how to best describe a sense of purposelessness that includes isolation and grief. Even daily walks only help somewhat. And then I have to catch myself and say, I am a woman of privilege, born into whiteness, retired with a modest though dependable income, and with many attachments and connections around the world. As you say, Jenny, I think the despair also comes from the seemingly insurmountable acceleration of a nation gone awry, in the muck of culture wars, led by a tyrant who has no respect for democratic principles. I can’t find good movies to watch to distract me from this homophobia, racism and divisiveness. I actually feel like renting a car, putting on an adult Depends and driving across country to be with my son. But, that’s a dream, too. Basically, life is canceled and hopefulness is fleeting.

      • Wow, I hear you. I’m missing my son in Philadelphia. Such a long and unimaginable drive. Plus there is the quarantine issue and driving thru red states. Yikes!!!!
        I think it’s the open ended ness of this situation that’s hard to take. If someone could give me an end date I could knuckle down and deal with it but like you everything that gives me purpose is snatched away.
        I try and behave like an adult but today I’m not being very successful.

        • Yo! También. Biggest hugs to you, Jenny. We must believe this too will pass and we will escape unharmed. As will our loved ones. My son in Huntington Beach reassured me he and his novia are being super cautious.

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