Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

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.

Fight, Flight or Hide: Danger, Covid-19, A Rant

North Carolina rates of infection are on the rise. We are in the Bruised Red, Uncontrolled Category. This is alarming. We may not be in the Top 5 outbreaks in the Southern States, but we are inching there. Wherever we are, whomever we are, we are at risk. And, in the face of what we perceive as danger, our normal response — according to the mental health experts — is to either run away or fight.

These days, many of us are also in hiding. I should be in hiding because I’m a fighter with a loud voice. No amount of precautions help me. No mask wearing. No frequent washing and using hand sanitizer. No six-feet of social distancing. Mostly because others don’t adhere to the guidelines.

NC Governor Roy Cooper extended Stay at Home Orders on July 16 to August 7, 2020. This includes:

WHEREAS, in Executive Order No. 141, issued on May 20, 2020, the undersigned urged that all people in North Carolina follow social distancing recommendations, including that everyone wear a cloth face covering, wait six (6) feet apart and avoid close contact, and wash hands often or use hand sanitizer; to reduce COVID-19 spread.

I made a mistake today. I went food shopping mid-Sunday morning to the Harris-Teeter supermarket in my Durham neighborhood. Why? I promised to help a friend.

Most were behaving pretty well. Everyone was masked. I stopped to allow people to pass me and made a wide swing around others when there was space. There were definitely more people in the store than at 8 a.m. on Mondays and Thursday, The Senior Hour.

In Produce, I hovered around the potatoes, onions and squash eyeing the best before touching. Okay. I’m not Speedy Gonzalez. A late 20’s-something (hard to tell with the mask on) swooped in three inches from me to pick an onion.

Excuse me, he said, as he reached in front of me, body leaning in my direction.

I said, incredulously, What are you doing? You are supposed to stay six feet away!

I said Excuse Me, he said, and turned his back on me, setting off.

Excuse me doesn’t cut it, I screamed through my mask. Do you think he heard me. I kept shouting, You are supposed to stay six feet away.

He went to another aisle, stone faced. I noticed he had a very short cropped haircut, shaved close to the neck. I wondered if that meant anything.

How dare you? I continued across the expanse of strawberries, peaches and blueberries, as if that would help lower my anxiety. Everyone else stayed far away.

I’m scary, right. I scream Stay Away.

Now, I’m smarter than this. I should know better than to go out food shopping on Sunday, when Duke students are starting to return, when the weekend habit of procuring vittles is ingrained in many.

There would have been any number of online choices: Instacart has been a delivery mainstay with choices such as Sprouts, Fresh Market and Durham Food Co-op. I have also shopped for pick-up at Harris-Teeter and at Whole Foods. I reconciled my decision based on some specialty needs for my friend.

Meanwhile, I must forgive myself, do better to calculate risk and remember to #stayinhiding and #staysafe and depend more on available services. I must stay conscious.

Life depends on it.

We are still here! Covering Faces in Oaxaca

I must confess it is difficult to be away from Oaxaca for so long. I have peripheral news to give you about daily life other than what we all read. I’m in the same boat as you … depending on others to tell me what’s going on!

Mostly, it’s the same story. The Orange Light is now on. Which means that businesses are opening up and people are back on the streets and in the markets — except for those who are disbelievers. It’s important now to continue to question the common sense of business as usual, here or there. (Name your location.)

Lucina and Kalisa with 60 masks

Kalisa tells me that she is still in hiding for the most part, and stepping cautiously and quickly in and out of Benito Juarez Market. Most of our guera friends continue to isolate, wear masks and keep distance when out and about. My family in Teotitlan del Valle is doing the same.

About the Photo Above: On the left is Alvin Starkman’s goddaughter Lucina. He and Arlene have been supporting her education for many years and she has just finished medical school. She will be taking 60 of our masks to a remote village (TBD) where she will do her public service at the end of the month. Kalisa has a repository of our masks that she keeps on hand to give to those in need. Alvin and Lucina picked them up the other day.

We continue to make and distribute masks.

A friend told me the risks in the villages are still high and people are dying, especially the vulnerable elderly. Numbers, I’m told, are in high double-digits, for some villages where commerce is a way of life.

Still accepting gifts. To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

We continue to make and distribute masks, albeit as I said earlier, at a slower pace. But, your gifts continue to be welcome.

Representative weaving examples from new project

I am working on a new project.

Soon, I will receive a shipment from a remote Oaxaca coastal village. The women there grown their own cotton and use natural dyes to color it. They formed an outstanding 16-member cooperative, but they have no Internet presence — no knowledge of technology and limited marketing savvy. I will help them sell during this time of scarcity.

Photo by Ana Paula Fuentes

The box contains a dozen beautiful hand-woven textiles fashioned into garments that are a perfect weight for summer. Here in North Carolina, it’s been over 90 degrees and this will continue for another couple months. Clothes that breathe are essential for this climate and many other parts of the USA.

I will post photos and prices here as soon as the box arrives.

Made by hand, indigo and wood bark fine gauze blouse

Continuing Thanks from The Oaxaca Mask Project: Alvin Starkman and Eric Zapotrek

We continue to make and distribute masks, although at a less frenzied pace! This week, Alvin Starkman from Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours picked up 60 masks from Kalisa Wells in El Centro. He gave 20 to folks he knows in San Dionisio Ocotepec. Villagers in San Pablo Guila asked Alvin if he could get them more masks, so he brought 20 there, too. Twenty more will go toa small village TBD where Alvin’s goddaughter, La Doctora Lucina, will do her servicio social.

Mask recipients in San Dionisio Ocotepec made by Telarcito Lindo

We had funded the making of 100 more masks in Tlacolula de Matamoros under the supervision of Eric Ramirez, the English-speaking owner of Zapotrek. Eric is a knowledgeable adventure guide who has a superb knowledge of history and archeology, among other things. Early in The Project, he asked how he could help. He identified a seamstress who needed support. We sent money via Western Union.

We make masks, pay the sewists, and give the masks to those in need for FREE. The project is funded by donations.

Eric handing out masks in Tlacolula

This week, Eric gave more masks to vendors and customers in the Tlacolula Market.

Now, Oaxaca has gone from Code Red to Code Orange, using the traffic-light (semiforo) system of identifying the severity of C-19 spread. Many of us think this is done for the reason of boosting the economy, not because the disease risk has diminished.

Masked recipients in Tlacolula

Kalisa reports that on her masked forages to the Benito Juarez market, most are now wearing masks inside.

In the barbecue dining section, Tlacolula Market

But, we can see in Tlacolula that the story is different. There are still maskless vendors and shoppers. It’s no different there than it is in the USA. Some people want to protect themselves and others. Many are “non-believers” as if mask-wearing was one form of religion.

Still accepting gifts. To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

Sewn masks with hang tags for use and cleaning

Here, in my own Durham, NC, apartment condo building, where there are 90 units in a historic downtown repurposed tobacco warehouse, despite the signs, many are not wearing masks in public spaces. It is so frustrating and I find myself getting angry at the mask-less who ignore the printed and email messages that masks are required in the public spaces.

What are their excuses when I ask, Where’s your mask?

The mask-less in Tlacolula

Oh, I left it in my car. I forgot. It’s in my apartment. I just went out for a quick errand. Oh, it’s in my pocket. I was just out for a bike ride. Or, it’s dangling around their neck. What to do? Steer clear. Make a wide arc around them. Take a deep breath.

Tortillas and bread, Tlacolula Market

Meanwhile, all over the world, rates of infection are increasing, deaths are on the rise, and I’m still scared and being super cautious.

Tia (left) and Butch, taking it easy in Teotitlan del Valle

And, I’ve been worried about my dogs. But, they are well-fed and cared for by my host family in Teotitlan del Valle. Mostly, I guess, I’m missing them — our daily walks in the campo with the vast landscape of mesquite and cactus, purple mountains casting shadows on the valley, the green of summer rains. You know that smell of rain when everything is fresh.

When will I be able to return? A gnawing question that has no answer.

Please tell everyone you meet to wear a mask! Stay safe. We are in this for the long-haul.

Mostly Jewelry Sale: Mexico Collection

My sister and I have assembled these pieces from our collection and to offer for sale. Many are earrings. Some are small and go well in this time of mask-wearing as they won’t get hung up on the ties. The larger pieces are perfect for social distancing al fresco dinner parties with one or two others (who are as careful as you are) with at least six feet separating each of you. I’m picnicking from time-to-time with a trusted friend and feel comfortable removing my mask when I’m sitting at a safe distance. Then, I wear my big earrings and lipstick! Many of the pieces were collected over the past 20 years from various places we have visited in Mexico — Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puebla, Chiapas, Michoacan, and even New Mexico. We want to offer them to you at very attractive prices.

To Buy: Send me an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, address, and item number. I will send you a PayPal invoice to pay with credit card, adding on $12 for USPS mailing to anywhere in USA. Happy to combine multiple items with one mailing fee.  

#1. Oaxaca filigree sterling silver and amber earrings. 3″ x 1-1/2″.
Was $225. Now, $145.
SOLD. #2. San Juan Chamula, Chiapas glass beads, 18″ + ties. Was $95. Now. $65.
SOLD. #3. Marcasite, white sapphire, sterling silver & 18kt. gold. 1-14″ x 1/2″
Oaxaca. Was $185. Now, $125.
#4. Onyx + pearl, silver filigree, Oaxaca. 1″x1/2″. Was $145. Now, $95.
#5. Gold Filled Dainties. Amethyst. Moonstone. Hooks. 1″x5/8″
Was $155. Now, $95.
#6. Mexico City. Sterling Silver, posts. 3/4″x3/4″ Was $145. Now, $95.
SOLD. #7. Crotchet and button necklace. Mexico City. Was $55. Now, $25.
SOLD. #8. Spratling Monkey Pendant. 2″x1-1/2″ Jade + Brass. Was $185. Now. $110. New Spratling Stamp from original mold, made in last 10 years.
#9. Sterling silver Brigitte Huet Maya Gods Pendant, 1″w x 1-1/2″ long,
Was $185. Now, $155. Lost Wax Casting.
#10. Tane Silversmiths, Mexico City. Sterling and Gold Filled Ring. Size 6. Was $128. Now, $95.
#11. Onyx and Silver Earrings. Posts. 1″x3/4″ Was. $150. Now, $95.
#12. Puebla Talavera Beads & Silver. 20″ w/5″ dangle. Was $135. Now, $65.
#13. Taxco Designer Melesio Rodriguez. 950 Sterling. 1-1/2″x1-1/4″
Was $195. Now, $135.
#14. Bangles. 9 pieces. Enamel. Sterling. Alpaca.
Fits small wrist, 6″ diameter. Was $145. Now, $75.
#15. Vintage, Puebla, Mexico. Sandcast. Sterling + Pearl Butterflies. 2″x1-1/4″
Was $165. Now, $110.
SOLD. #16. Taxco Designer Melesio Rodriguez. 950 Sterling. 1-1/2″x1″
Was $195. Now, $135.
#17. India. Sterling Silver Lotus Dangles. 2-1/4″x3/4″
Was $135. Now, $85.
SOLD. #18. Spratling, Copper + Lapis Lazuli Pendant. 3-1/2″x2-3/4″
Was $145. Now, $110. Includes cord. Stamp is New Spratling, Taxco. It’s the Spratling mold, made in last 10 years.
#19. San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Two Mini-Stuffed Animals. Was $50. Now, $25
#20. Zinacantan, Chiapas, back strap loomed belt. Cotton.
33″ long x 2-1/4″ wide + 16″ ties. Total 49″. Was $85. Now, $45.
Use it as a Guitar or Bag Strap, too.