Category Archives: Health Care

Injustice, Coping: Fine Oaxaca Black Pottery Maker Goes to Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Right now, there’s mango cardamom chutney cooking on the stove. It’s a clear, cool day after a series of heavy rains and the sky is brilliant blue. White puff clouds hug the mountain just beyond my reach, and I’m thinking about the injustices in our world and how people cope.

In about three weeks, I’m leaving Oaxaca and traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the International Folk Art Market where I’m volunteering. For artisans, it’s a privilege to be invited to this juried and highly competitive exhibition market.

This year, the market welcomes Jovita Cardozo Castillo, an exceptional master artisan of black pottery from the Oaxaca village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is her first visit outside of Mexico and to the United States, as part of Innovando la Tradicion and associated cooperative Colectivo 1050 Grados.

I appeal to you to give to The Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign to help cover her expenses to travel, sleep, eat and ship her beautiful work. And More!

Jovita needs all the help she can get! Why?

Wayfinders 04 | Haz que Jovita llegue a Santa Fe, NM. from Innovando la Tradición a.c. on Vimeo.

Jovita’s husband, Amando, a fine potter, too, and head of their family workshop, has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a pretty rare disease with unknown causes. Medical researchers believe it is linked to the Zika virus. The couple have three children. Amando is in hospital for the past two months, unable to speak, with paralysis and the prognosis isn’t clear. The family has spent more than 150,000 pesos for public health treatment. This is a huge sum in Mexico, equivalent to about $10,000 USD. The long-range implications of a head-of-household not working will have a huge family impact.

Donate Here!

Note: If you are making the gift from the U.S. or Canada, please log into Generosity with your Facebook account. Otherwise it won’t work because we just discovered this Indiegogo donation site was created in Mexico! So Sorry! Don’t use your email address. It won’t work. Many thanks for your support.

Or make your gift with PayPal to:

They won’t have to pay a transaction fee if you send it to family/friends!

One of the children stopped going to school for a semester to help at the ceramic workshop, since they have orders to fulfill and Amando is not able to work. 

Jovita does not want you to feel sorry for her and was reluctant for us to share this very personal information about family circumstances. She wants your support for the Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign because she is an exceptional artisan and nothing more.

 Celebrating the Humanity of the Handmade

But that is not the complete story, and the family situation makes this appeal even more urgent and necessary. I talked about it with Kythzia Barrera and Diego Mier y Teran, who lead Innovando la Tradicion. They spoke with Jovita, who agreed that without support, the financial stress on the family for out-of-pocket expenses to go to the Folk Art Market would be a burden they would not easily recover from.

Will you help? Any amount will make a difference.

I don’t personally know Jovita, but I know her work. I know that handmade Oaxaca artistry and craft take time, is a family heritage, is multi-generational and the best quality can be hard to sustain as some cut corners and turn to more commercial production methods.

 Help for Jovita

$1,331 raised toward $8,000 goal. That’s 17%. We can do better!

What your gift will help underwrite:

  • Market registration fees
  • Air and bus travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Lodging and food
  • Shipping cost (I can’t imagine what it costs to build wood shipping containers, package and send pottery to make sure there is no breakage!)
  • More possibilities for Jovita, Amando and their family

If Jovita sells out without encumbrances, she will have the funds to help her husband recover. Will you join me as a donor? Thank you.

All my best, Norma




12 Health Tips for Mexico Travel: What NOT to Eat and Drink

  1. Only drink purified bottled water OR ask for un vaso de agua de garafon — a glass of water from the big blue purified water bottle
  2. Only brush your teeth with purified bottled water.
  3. Do not use tap water for drinking. Hand washing with soap is okay.
  4. Keep your mouth shut when taking a shower!
  5. Never believe it if an establishment says the water is filtered.
  6. Never eat anything “on the street” or in market stalls if it is raw. (I rarely eat anything in markets, either, unless it is well cooked.)
  7. Don’t order a lettuce, fruit or raw vegetable salad unless it is in an upscale tourist restaurant and you know they disinfect the food.
  8. Avoid sushi-style fish. Order fish medium or well done and meat cooked to at least medium. Medium-rare will work in upscale restaurants but it will likely arrive more on the raw side.
  9. Use hand-sanitizer liberally.
  10. Look for restaurants that are crowded. That means the food turns quickly and is fresh.
  11. Carry an Rx of Ciprofloxacin with you. Yes, it’s a powerful antibiotic but it works to kill any bacteria in your system.
  12. Find a pulque bar that serves aguamiel. It is a natural digestive that can ease intestinal problems.

If you get sick, it can take 24-52 hours for the infection to pass through your system (it is a strain of food poisoning like ecoli infection). Stay hydrated with a Gatorade-type drink. Your symptoms will be vomiting and diahhrea and fever, Anything longer and you should seek medical advice. Most hotels will have a doctor who will make a call for a reasonable fee.

If you can get to an Ahorra Farmacia there will often be a doctor in an adjacent office who can examine you, diagnose and then prescribe. You can fill the Rx while you wait.


San Juan Chamula, Chiapas: No Photographs, Please

It’s impossible to take a photograph inside the once-Catholic church of San Juan Chamula.  It is a Sunday haven of pre-Hispanic mysticism, with folk practices that go way back in indigenous history.  Tourists are warned to tread lightly.


My body aches to take a photograph of the family crouched on pine needles in front of a sainted altar surrounded by a pile of eggs, a live chicken, and dozens of burning candles affixed to the tiled floor where the pine needles have been swept aside.

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Taking photos in the church is verboten.  Forbidden.  In years past I have seen village officials who mind the church protocol confiscate the cameras and memory cards of those who sneak a pic.  Impossible to be sneaky here. Sometimes, if a tourist resists, s/he is put in the local jail.

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Our group from Penland School of Crafts is compliant.  We tuck camera’s away into shoulder bags and backpacks. We are not going to tempt the fates or the village fathers.


A woman kneels in prayer singing in an ancient tongue, a melody pitched so that the gods will hear her.  Another keens.  Another weeps.  A shaman makes a blessing with an offering of coca-cola and mezcal.  Burping the fizzy drink is believed to cleanse the soul. Sunlight streams through the high side window and beneath the glow the people are bathed in shadow and light.  The space is illuminated.  Smells like piney forest, smokey candles, the burst of lilies and roses.

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Feet are bare and worn.  Feet are brown and calloused. Women’s furry black sheep wool skirts are tied at the waist with glittery cummerbunds.  Their blouses, silky polyester, are embroidered with intricate diamonds, birds, flowers, zig-zags and snap at the throat. It’s cold at 7,000 feet elevation.


This is sacred space, like being in a cave.  Here the human and divine spirit are one and belief is powerful. I guess no photographs are necessary to remember.


Beyond the church courtyard is a lively market place to buy hand spun and embroidered wool from the town, strange fruit, clothing from surrounding villages, meat, poultry, vegetables tortillas and bread. Amber and jade vendors hawk their wares. Little old ladies whose garments are beyond wearing, peddle purses, bracelets and keychains.

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Today, the plaza is lined with indigenous women and children from outlying hamlets, hundreds of them.  They sit on the edge waiting.  What are you waiting for? I ask one of them. She replies, we wait to receive an every-two-month stipend of 850 pesos. Soon, they form a line and hurry to the back of the government building. Their support is equivalent to $45USD per month.  Of course, she doesn’t want her picture taken.

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We organize arts workshop study tours with an educational focus. Contact us to bring a group!

Post Knee-Replacement Surgery and Return to Oaxaca

You haven’t heard from me since Thanksgiving, two weeks ago.  That’s because I’ve been flat on my back recovering, calmed by a drug-induced stupor from ample doses of powerful pain medications Oxycontin and Oxycodone.

I can’t remember ever having such surreal dreams, supercharged, electrified, day-glow wonders.  My mind took me to worlds I’ve never been, to the middle of a lightening storm of a Fourth of July fireworks show, up in space surrounded by the sounds of a rock band amplified for the universe to hear in one blast. No wonder there’s a black market for these meds.


It was then I realized I was hallucinating, I was on an emotional roller-coaster and needed to get off the drugs as soon as I could. As I sat in the hospital bed posing for the post-op glamour shot in my last post, I had no idea that moving through the recovery would be so difficult. And, I expected to be driving a car after two weeks.  Huh!

Today, I get the staples removed. My plan is to return to Oaxaca just before Christmas. We shall see.  Meanwhile, I’m down to one oxycodone a day. I must say I could miss that dream I had last night, being somewhere amid an extravaganza of indigenous Oaxaca clothing at an expoventa the likes of which I have never attended before. Gourmet chefs in the adjoining hall prepared the most dazzling buffet of roasted root vegetables, squashes, corn, blue tortillas. The colors were a palette of freshness, goodness, deep magenta, ochre, spring green.  Perhaps this is a signal I’m getting my appetite back!

It’s what Blanche DuBois said,  “…. I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  Well, not exactly. I’ve been in the wonderful care of dear friends Chris and Jeff in their home. Cindy rescued me for outings when I thought stir crazy is a permanent state of mind. Dear Oaxaca and North Carolina friends called, emailed, visited and sent flowers. My Facebook friends gave me incredible support and lots of value advice. My family connected from California regularly via FaceTime. This helps immensely. Being alone, physical or virtual, during this type of recovery is not recommended.

Even with my partial knee replacement, great physical therapy sessions from Phil, and an excellent Duke Medicine orthopedic surgeon Rhett Hallows, M.D, the discomfort is real. But, the medications put a heavier burden on the body than I expected.  Here is my advice:

  • Talk with your care team before you leave the hospital. Understand the power of the medications and how to taper off the use of them before the Rx runs out.
  • Don’t go cold turkey. Don’t let the Rx run out without making your escape plan.
  • See when you can begin substituting Tylenol or acetaminophen instead of the Oxycodone to wean yourself off.
  • Take the laxatives prescribed regularly, your body shuts down with the drugs. Drink lots of water.

Most people go home from this “half knee” surgery in two days. I wanted to stay three. I was not allowed because insurance would cover it.  I’d say right now, I’ve turned the corner and by New Year’s Eve, perhaps I’ll be ready to dance again.

Today, I’m walking with one crutch, climbing stairs to a second story and eating breakfast.

And, by tomorrow, I will have quit the drugs completely!  Hurray. When I will have something else to say, I don’t know.



A Prayer for Guadalupe

Many women in Mexico are named Guadalupe in honor of the Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who many say was Aztec high-priestess Tonantzin and Earth Mother, adapted to the religious needs of New Spain.

Our Guadalupe is a woman in her early forties with thick, luscious long black hair that hangs down to her waist. Most of the time she wears it braided with ribbon in the local Zapotec style. Lupe is a widow and mother of three boys. Her youngest is age eight. She has aspirations for all her children to go to and complete university.


Lupe was just diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. Depending on biopsy results, the follow-up treatment will be either chemotherapy or radiation. We are waiting to hear.  As I write this, I am waiting for flights that will take me back to Mexico today. As soon as I get to Oaxaca, I will be able to find out more.

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The cost of the surgeon is 18,000 pesos. That’s about $1,350 USD, a substantial out-of-pocket amount for a weaver who is always working to make ends meet anyway. Then, there will be the cost of treatment. We anticipate that Lupe will not be able to work for a while, so there mayl not be enough to buy food or pay for school tuition and books.

Friends of Guadalupe:

Make Your Gift for Breast Cancer Treatment

Click the PayPal button above to make your gift. It will be deposited into my Oaxaca Cultural Navigator PayPal account and I will convert it to pesos and give your gift to Lupe.  If you want to send along messages or prayers for healing, please include this.  If you just wish to send money from your account to mine, my PayPal account is

Breast cancer does not discriminate and affects women of all ages, at all economic levels and in countries throughout the world. I am certain there are many stories like this one.

Lupe-2Several Oaxaca expat women have pledged to help Lupe with her expenses. If many more of us come together to offer a small gift, we can make a big difference for Lupe and her family and share the cost of her treatment and recovery. Will you join us?

Lupe says she wants to pay back what is given to her by weaving rugs and cleaning houses. We think that’s too much to ask for a friend recovering from this diagnosis and treatment.  We believe she needs to concentrate on taking care of herself.

Let us join together to do a small part to repair the world. Thank you, And, can I add your name to the Friends list?

Norma Hawthorne

Friends of Guadalupe

For a complete list of donors, click on the link above!